Ahhnuuld. Before he became the Governator, Mr. Schwarzenegger was the biggest action star of the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. Commanding screen presence, along with the ability to do not only action films, but comedies as well, made Arnold quite the box office draw back in the day. Then came politics. Of course, he didn’t make a film while in office and therefore lost a lot of the fan-base he had built in his heyday. Looking back on his career, it’s difficult to pick a top 10 list for the man (although #1 was a no-brainer), as he had several films that were good and fun to watch, but not many that were considered ‘great’. He also had a lot of misfires, but there is no doubt that certain iconic characters come to mind when you think of his body of work. The ‘friendly’ rivalry between him and Sylvester Stallone was fun to watch during the 1980’s, with each vying to be the ‘biggest action star on the planet’.
That’s why when Stallone convinced Arnold to join him and bunch of other big name adrenaline junkies back to the big screen in The Expendables, it was a treat to see them together, albeit briefly. Well, this Friday, Arnold, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, Dolph Lungren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li, and Jason Statham join Sly in the much anticipated sequel. It’s going to be fun to watch…as was the first one. I have a feeling this installment will be much better and Sly is looking to add Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Clint Eastwood, and Nicolas Cage to the mix for part three. There is also a rumor that Mickey Rourke will be back as well. I think that Mr. Schwarzenegger can regain at least a bit of the fan base that made him the star that he used to be. He has several projects in the works…but more on that later. Here is my list of Ahnuuld’s top 10 films.
THE LAST ACTION HERO – I’m going to get a lot of sh*t for this one, but I really enjoyed this film. I thought it was fun, different, and highly entertaining. However, I do understand why most people were turned off by it. It was Arnold as an action hero, literally, but it was a much more lighthearted big budget action film with a somewhat silly premise. Arnold embraced the role though and made the most of it. Add in solid performances by F. Murray Abraham and Tom Noonan (as the Ripper), plus a proven action director in John McTiernan (the man did direct Die Hard and Predator) and what you have is an engaging piece of cinema. Very cool watching Arnold actually spoof himself and the action movie genre as a whole, while at the same time starring in a film that let’s him do all of the things that made him an action star in the first place. Most would say it’s not up there with some of Arnold’s more well known movies, and I agree, but dismissing it as a dud is not doing it justice. Watch it again…it actually holds up pretty well today. Rating:
10. TWINS – The first ‘big’ comedy starring Arnold was a big risk that paid off. At the time of it’s release, the studio wasn’t sure audiences were going to buy Arnie branching out to show a comedic side. Pairing him with funny man Danny DeVito was a smart move and the two of them really had great comedic timing throughout the film. Arnold also proved he could handle the dramatic parts of the role just as easily as the comedic ones. The premise is a bit silly and far fetched, but the film manages to make you forget about just how sophomoric the idea really is. Twins made Arnold even more bankable than he already was by showing that he could be much more than just an action star. His commanding screen presence, charisma, and likability here made his performance a joy to watch. One other tidbit – this was also the first major role for the beautiful Kelly Preston. Nearly 25 years later, the sequel, called Triplets, is being planned that would have Eddie Murphy join Danny and Arnold. Rating:
9. THE RUNNING MAN – Set in a totalitarian society, this action extravaganza featured Arnold as a man who is literally running for his life. Wrongfully accused of a massacre, he is imprisoned only to break himself and other inmates out. Once caught, he is chosen to be the next contestant on a show called The Running Man. He refuses, but then is forced to perform or two of his friends will go in his place. The film is a thrill ride that moves at a quick pace and never really relents on the cheesy ’80’s action. Arnold further cemented his action star status with this one and it also features a suitably sleazy performance by Richard Dawson (the actual host of Family Feud at the time). Watching the mega hit Hunger Games a few months back reminded me of the film a bit. Same basic premise, only one major difference. Hunger Games is a far more seriously toned film that The Running Man. Arnold’s film is pure popcorn entertainment. Rating:
8. COMMANDO – If ever there was a film that really could care less about critics reviews, it’s this one. An action film made strictly for it’s target audience – which at the time consisted of grown men who just wanted to see a one man army destroy everything in sight – Commando is not a technically good film. In fact, there are many noticeable continuity errors and some suspect acting from some involved, but at the end of the day, who gives a sh*t? The movie is all about Arnold’s one man wrecking crew and at 90 minutes, it moves at a brisk pace. A film packed with great one liners and Arnold doing what he does best, Commando is great fun and a typical mid-80’s mindless action feast. Plus, he has one of the best characters name in the business – John Matrix. Rating:
7. CONAN THE BARBARIAN – A film that stays faithful to Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery adventures, Conan was the perfect role for Arnold at the time. It definitely gave him a chance to show off his muscles and his ability to wreak havoc on anyone who opposed him. The best thing about this flick is the passion and intensity that was rarely seen in the fantasy action genre that took off in the 1980’s. Arnold went on to make a less than stellar sequel with Conan the Destroyer, but even it’s awfulness didn’t take away from just how good the original was. Conan the Barbarian jump started a wave of fantasy films in the early ’80’s, but none could really match the quality of it. The remake starring Jason Mamoa was released last year and really didn’t come close to the original either. Rating:
6. The Expendables 2 – A better film than the original, the sequel ups the ante by adding even more badasses to the mix. Both Arnold and Bruce Willis get bigger roles. Plus, Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins, and Jean-Claude Van Damme are added to the mix. Full review here.
5. THE TERMINATOR – James Cameron’s futuristic sci-fi action saga began with this relatively low budget film that truly made Arnold a household name. At the time, you couldn’t have picked a better role for Schwarzenegger to play. Very few lines, albeit memorable ones…a commanding, imposing screen presence…and an iconic character that is still around 30 years later. Yes, the sequel is the superior film of the entire franchise, but props must be given to the film that started it all. Budget concerns and suspect special effects aside, The Terminator presented a solid, easy to follow plotline that basically boiled down to this. A robot from the future is sent back in time to destroy Sarah Connor, the one person that can alter the path of cyborgs taking over the planet…namely, her yet to be conceived child. A protector, Kyle Reese, is also sent back from the future to stop the cyborg from accomplishing his mission. It’s a fun film to watch…especially knowing now just how great the sequel is. More on that below. Rating:
4. TOTAL RECALL – Director Paul Verhoeven became known for his over the top, slick looking action sci-fi pieces back in the late 80’s/early to mid 90’s with the release of Robocop, Starship Troopers, and this highly enjoyable Schwarzenegger film. All of Verhoeven’s movies back then were a thrill to watch, even his descent into the suspense genre with Basic Instinct (and Showgirls, well, it is what it is…). As far as futuristic thrillers go, Total Recall has to rank up there with the best of them. Great special effects (well, at least for the 1990 time frame) and non-stop action carry the film. Arnold is perfectly cast as Quaid.. Say what you want about the man’s acting ability, I actually think he does a fine job with the role. The film is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick entitled “We’ll Remember it for You Wholesale”. In my opinion…director Paul Verhoeven’s best overall film. The remake starring Colin Farrell is now in theaters. Rating:
3. PREDATOR – This is a film that defines why Arnold was such a megastar back in the day. It wasn’t simply because he was who he was, but rather the characters that he played. Arnold’s best characters don’t have much of a backstory, nor do we really care about their past. Once Arnold showed up on screen, audiences knew they were in for an all out action assault. This is probably why his more recent films such as The Sixth Day or End of Days tanked at the box office. Those stories consisted of a darker, more involved history lesson for the lead character and to be honest, who really cares about that when Arnold is on-screen. Predator was a very suspenseful, very well directed action (by John McTiernan, who also made Die Hard and The Last Action Hero) sci-fi piece that launched a franchise…albeit one that gradually went south with each film (the AvP films included). Featuring a great male action star cast (let’s call it Expendables-lite) that consisted of Carl Weathers (aka Rocky’s Apollo Creed), Jessie Ventura (who was at the time a big name wrestler), Bill Duke and Sonny Landham (both of who were beasts). The two main draws of the film though, were Arnold and the Predator itself. Watching the title character dispose of all of these guys one by one is intense and the final battle between it and Arnold is very cool. Too bad Arnie didn’t come back for the sequel. Even though it wasn’t horrible, it would have benefited from his presence. Rating:
2. TRUE LIES – James Cameron and Arnold teamed up again (post T2) for this enchanting film about a U.S. Government Secret Agent who while trying to hide his real occupation from his wife, manages to also lose the romance in their relationship. She seeks attention outside of their marriage and that’s when Arnie’s Harry Tasker finally begins to take notice. Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays his wife Helen, makes the most out of her role and is a joy to watch. Another standout is Tom Arnold who provides some great comic relief in the film. He and Arnold have such great chemistry playing off of one another throughout the picture. Of course, this is James Cameron and none of his films would be complete without a rousing action packed finale. True Lies has one of the best, most satisfying third acts in cinema history. It keeps you on the edge of your seat! The movie is solid from beginning to end and it’s hard to find a flaw with it. Superbly acted, marvelously directed, and a simple, entertaining plot combine to create a stellar motion picture. This is a film, however, that really begged for a sequel. Too bad it didn’t happen. Rating:
1. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY – Was there any doubt that this would be numero uno? When T2 burst onto the scene 1n 1991, audiences had no idea the phenomenon they were about to witness. Let me tell you why this extraordinary sequel was such a success and why is was such a triumph for all involved. The villain. Robert Patrick was the ultimate baddie. Not only was his T-1000 a stone cold killer but his persistent pursuit of John Connor (portrayed by Edward Furlong) was mesmerizing to watch. The heroes. By far the best performance of her career, Linda Hamilton turned Sarah Connor from an insane crazy woman to a ferocious heroine by the end of the film. Edward Furlong was perfectly cast as the young Connor, because he embodies the ‘lost’ teenager character so well. Furlong does a good job giving us a glimpse of the John Connor that will eventually lead the Resistance to victory over the machines. The supporting players. From the doctors at the mental hospital to the people in the biker bar, there are several memorable characters and lines from the rest of the cast. The action, visuals, and storytelling. Ten years after the original (and ten years worth of new movie making technology), director James Cameron definitely released this film at the right time. Audiences were eager for the ‘next big’ thing to come out of Hollywood and T2 answered the call. Cameron’s direction of his masterpiece was extraordinary. The attention to detail was ridiculously well done and some of the visuals still manage to amaze, even today…and remember, the film came out more than 20 years ago. Another bonus, was that for a sci-fi film, the plot was easy to follow. And last, but not least…Arnold himself. Cameron’s decision to make Arnold’s T-101 the protector this time around, as opposed to it being the hunter in the first entry. By this time, Arnold’s box office draw had increased and so had his fan base. If he had been the villain ‘again’, audiences may have written it off as nothing more than a better looking version of part one. Making Arnold the ultimate hero in the film was a stroke of genius on the part of Cameron. It is a character that became instantly iconic. T2 was ahead of it’s time in a way, and still stands the test of time today. It is truly an incredible achievement in moviemaking…one of the many that have become fixtures of James Cameron’s career. The next two sequels were entertaining as well, but both lacked what made T2 so great. Lackluster villains…standard action sequences that didn’t really evolve what we had already seen…and the lack of Arnold’s presence (in Terminator: Salvation) were detriments to the franchise. I would still recommend both…just not highly. Will there be a Terminator 5? Rumor is that there will be and Arnold will have something to do with it…in what capacity, well, that remains to be seen. Rating:
I will admit that I’m more than a bit excited to see Arnold acting again. Despite his personal issues, which are just that – personal, I look forward to seeing his upcoming projects. Yes, I know he has aged A LOT (politics will do that to you), but he still has the charisma that made him such a box office draw way back when. If you look back at his career, it is actually very impressive and very broad. The action genre was a sure bet for him, but when he branched out to do comedy/drama it really showed how dedicated he was to his craft. Even though they didn’t make the list, Kindergarten Cop, Jingle All the Way, Terminator 3, and Eraser are all decent films. Bottom line is Arnold is a movie star in every sense of the term. His upcoming slate of projects include the action/drama The Last Stand, where he plays a small town sheriff…The Tomb, a prison film where he re-teams with Stallone…Breacher, an action film co-starring Sam Worthington…Triplets, the sequel to Twins, which is set to co-star Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy, The Expendables 3, which is inevitable…and perhaps, Terminator 5, which has been in discussions but has nothing definite yet. The man is indeed not wasting any time getting back into the swing of things. He, along with Sly Stallone, are two of my favorite action film stars of all time, so it’s great to see them continue to do projects that audiences long to see. As far as The Expendables 2, which opens tomorrow, I will be in the theater tonight at midnight.