Avid followers of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood career were given a bit of a treat this week when the 2013 remastering of The Terminator Blu-ray was released, a product that I recently opined most Arnie fans will find to their liking. Schwarzenegger’s starring turn as the emotionless cyborg assassin is widely agreed to be perhaps his greatest film role ever. But is The Terminator his greatest film? I break down my top five Ahhhnold films (or top seven, to be precise) below.
Honorable Mention: Pumping Iron – Watch this 1997 semi-fictional docudrama about the 1970s weightlifting scene and wonder why Arnold wasn’t cast in villainous roles more often. The behind-the-scenes look at the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition stars 5-time winner Schwarzenegger and relative newcomer Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk). Arnold’s not-at-all-concealed arrogance, grinning mind games, and carefully calculated psych-outs designed to slowly turn Ferrigno into an emotional wreck as the big day nears are legendary and worth the price of admission alone. Ahnold wasn’t a big star quite yet, but his raw charisma is at such ridiculous levels here that it was just a matter of time.
Honorable Mention: The Running Man – Not quite meaty enough story-wise to make my top 5, The Running Man is still quite enjoyable, anchored by Richard Dawson’s scenery-chewing turn as Damon Killian, the smirking host of a futuristic game show where felons are killed in a variety of gruesome ways for the bloodthirsty populace of a totalitarian state. Schwarzenegger is Ben ‘The Butcher of Bakersfield’ Richards, an ex-cop whose life is ruined when he disobeys an order to massacre a hungry crowd rioting for food. He and a couple convict pals are tossed into the ‘Game Zone’ and forced to escape several traps and rampaging ‘stalkers’. Basically what reality TV will be like in about 20-30 years. A classic Arnie selection.
#5 – True Lies
Now on to the top 5. After 1993’s disastrous Last Action Hero, the murmurings around the water cooler were that Schwarzenegger’s career may have finally jumped the shark. Arnold put these premature fears to rest with this excellent spy action/comedy co-starring Tom Arnold, Jamie-Lee Curtis, and a very young Eliza Dushku, not to mention a hilarious and all-too-brief appearance by Bill Paxton, as the sleaziest of sleazy used car salesmen. A career reviver in every way (and the most recent film on my list), True Lies put both Schwarzenegger and Curtis back on the map, balancing phenomenal action, genuinely hilarious comedy, and a little bit of sex appeal to create an enjoyable flick that still entertains nearly 20 years later. The story is so solid and tightly controlled that even Tom Arnold is funny, no small feat.
#4 – Total Recall
This 1990 Paul Verhoeven mind warper saw Arnold at the top of his game, this time starring as a sad sack blue collar worker named Douglas Quaid who undergoes the latest in virtual vacation brain engineering to temporarily escape his dreary vanilla life, becomes the victim of a botched procedure, and ends up getting chased up and down Mars’ underground tunnels by various baddies who claim he’s a secret agent. Either that or the procedure went just fine and it’s all in his head. A veritable fountain of one-liners, classic bug-eyed Ahnold acting, nutso action, and tri-breasted mutant Martian prostitutes, TOTAL RECALL is perhaps the most accidentally gutbusting Schwarzenegger movie of all time.
#3 – The Terminator
Arguably the role that turned him from a star into a superstar, Schwarzenegger’s most iconic role may be that of the Terminator, a near-unstoppable cyborg assassin sent back in time from the future by a globally-pervasive robotic army / defense network gone bad known as Skynet to kill the mother of the man (yet unborn) who will ultimately lead the human resistance. Phew. Arnold is all business, emotionless, destructive, and unrelenting, turning in an unblinking performance that still causes chills and anchoring a franchise that is still enormously popular three decades later.
#2 – Conan the Barbarian
The Terminator may have turned Arnold into a superstar, but he may have never been cast if not for his star-making turn two years earlier as Conan, the fictional Cimmerian warrior who carved a path of destruction throughout Robert E. Howard’s classic novels. Director John Milius wisely let legendary actor James Earl Jones do much of the heavy thespian lifting, while Schwarzenegger cut his teeth at the Hollywood process with a massive broadsword in hand and backed by Basil Poledouris’ iconic score. To top it off, Conan has one of the most ridiculously manly and sexist lines in movie history. Something about the lamentations of the women.
#1 – Predator
Predator may not be the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie overall (that honor arguably goes to Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Dutch Schaefer may not be the most iconic Arnold role ever (that honor probably goes to the Terminator). Predator is not even the home of the silliest Schwarzenegger over-acting (that honor unquestionably goes to Total Recall). But Predator is still, for my money, the most fun, most badass, and most entertaining movie in Schwarzenegger’s entire filmography.
Here, Arnold stars as ‘Dutch’ Schaefer, a cigar-chomping Army Major and ex-Green Beret who leads an elite squad (including Carl Weathers, Bill Duke and Jesse Ventura, to name a few) on various special missions. Pegged to rescue a high-ranking government official from a fictional Central American country, Dutch and his crew are instead stalked by a mysterious alien who hunts them for sport. Possibly in the best shape of his movie career, Arnold is also perhaps never more terrifyingly dangerous than in Predator, alternately stoic and enraged as his team slowly dwindles at the hands of their pursuer in the alien environment of the Central American jungle.
Alan Silvestri’s score is excellent, all Army rah-rah anthems before becoming interspersed with creeping portents of doom once things go south in a big way for Dutch’s team, effectively adding gobs of tension to what ultimately becomes a quite creepy film. Ostensibly a sci-fi action film, Predator is an extremely minor nudge or two from a full-blown horror. Regardless of genre, Predator is the ultimate Schwarzenegger experience – a hell of a lot of shooting, explosions, a frightening villain, and Arnold being Arnold. What more do you want?
So whaddya say? Did I get this so wrong that you are compelled to voice your outrage? Or did I get it oh so right? Either way, please make your thoughts be known in the comments below!