“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first cinematic endeavor was “Hercules in New York” (1969). It’s an atrociously bad flick. By the late 1970s, Arnie had improved as an actor and gave a surprisingly good performance in “Stay Hungry” (1976), playing a bodybuilder, which was appropriate casting and he held his own with the likes of Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. “Pumping Iron” was released in 1977 and chronicled Lou Ferrigno’s attempt to unseat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the “Mr. Olympia” competition. You wouldn’t think a documentary about buff men in speedos would make for a compelling watch, but the film was well received by both critics and general audiences. The 1980s then became the era of the action hero. Sylvester Stallone had the head star, establishing the characters Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the mix when he was cast as the lead in “Conan the Barbarian.” Directed by John Milius, this film is a loose adaptation of stories penned by Robert E. Howard. Hard to imagine, but Oliver Stone was actually one of several writers who contributed to the screenplay. At a young age, Conan witnesses his parents murdered by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan is then sold into slavery and becomes a pit-fighter when he reaches adulthood. For reasons unknown, his master sets him free and he becomes a renowned thief. After a series of adventures, Conan and his new companions are hired by King Osric (Max von Sydow) to rescue his daughter from Thulsa Doom, who is revealed to be a cult leader of sorts. Conan is more interesting in personal revenge and his haste leads to the death of his love interest, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). Mako plays Akiro the Wizard, who assists Conan in act three. Conan finally confronts Doom and despite Doom’s best efforts to talk his way out of trouble, Conan decapitates him, avenging his parents. Before the end credits roll, we see an older Conan on a throne, implying that this was merely his origin story and greater adventures await, promising a long running series of films. Unfortunately, there was only one mediocre sequel in 1984 and a remake released in 2011, which I’ve never seen. Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones” seems like a logically successor to Arnie in terms of physicality, but it’s hard to find someone with Arnie’s charisma, who can match his unique movie star persona. Fans love all of the carnage in “Conan the Barbarian,” but my favorite scene is when Conan is chased by a pack of wild dogs into a cavern and he discovers the remains of a king. Such an eerie scene that also hints at the character’s destiny.
“Conan the Destroyer” (1984)
Okay, so why is “Conan the Barbarian” enjoyable despite of its generic story and weak acting, while “Conan the Destroyer” is panned? Many complain about the PG rating. Yes, the violence was sorely missed, but the adventure still had potential. Sarah Douglas was a suitable antagonist as Queen Taramis. What annoyed me the most was the amount of irritating sidekicks Conan was saddled with. Mako being the acceptation. Also, this film does not deliver on the original film’s cliffhanger. I thought the sequel was suppose to tell the tale of how Conan became a king? But, when Princess Jehnna (Olivia d’Abo) suggests they marry and rule together, Conan balks at the idea and the movie ends with the same exact cliffhanger as the original. “Kull the Conqueror,” which was released in 1997 and starred Kevin Sorbo, was initially conceived as the third Conan film. “The Legend of Conan” is now in development, but taking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s age into consideration, you would have to imagine that Conan is already a king. One interesting tidbit about “Conan the Destroyer” was that Andre the Giant played Dagoth, the horned creature that Conan battled in the climax.
“The Terminator” (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature character. A cybernetic assassin from the year 2029. Writer / director James Cameron originally envisioned someone like Lance Henriksen for the T-800. An antagonist who moves stealthily, but after meeting with Arnie, James Cameron reworked the script. He knew how essential Arnie would be to the success of the film and even waited while Dino De Laurentiis forced Arnie to shoot “Conan the Destroyer.” Cameron used this time to work on the screenplays for “The Terminator,” “Rambo: First Blood, Part II,” and “Aliens.” This is an action / adventure / sci-fi flick, but also works as a date movie because of the romance. The story is really about Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Usually, I’ll find it hokey when characters in a movie fall in love so quickly, but it works here because these two characters were clearly “meant to be.” Reese traveled through time to protect the woman whose photograph had given him hope in the post-apocalyptic world. This leads to the conception of the future savior of the human race. So, by Skynet sending the T-800 back in time, it brings about its own downfall. By trying to prevent the birth of John Connor, Skynet inadvertently brings him into existence. But, of course, John Connor had already known that Kyle Reese was his father because his mother tells him. That’s all I’ll say about the time travel aspect of the story because the more you analyze it, the less sense it makes. The T-800 was the part Arnie was born to play. Such an iconic villain. He can’t be reasoned with. He can’t be bargained with. And he absolutely will not stop until you are dead!!! On some levels, I might be disappointed that he becomes the hero in the sequels. Not that I have anything against “T2.” Because of my age, I saw “T2” first as a kid and had a bunch of the action figures. Along with Arnie and James Cameron, the late Stan Winston is the man responsible for bringing the T-800 to life with his celebrated animatronics and makeup effects. “T2” was a real pioneer when it came to CGI, but the original was old school. Matte paintings, miniatures, and stop motion.
“I’ll be back” counter: 1
“Red Sonja” (1985)
Understand, I’ve only included this flick in the article because the backstory of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s involvement in the production was classic showbiz absurdity. “Red Sonja” was meant to be an offshoot of the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, but despite of Dino De Laurentiis being the producer, this film did not have permission to use the “Conan” name. Instead, Arnie’s character was referred to as Kalidor. He was also meant to only appear in a cameo, but he was kept on set for nearly a month and the film was edited to make Kalidor essential to the plot. It was almost like the real life version of “Bowfinger,” with an actor being forced to star in film through nefarious means. Is it any wonder that Arnie never worked with Dino De Laurentiis again?
“Total Recall” (1990) took a lot of flack for being an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with a high body count, probably because it was released at the height of his fame, but in “Commando,” Arnie can be credited with 94 deaths!!! Wow. This film was never one of my favorites. John Matrix sounds like such a phony name and musical score seems to be retread of “48 Hrs.” (1982). Also, I found Rae Dawn Chong’s character so unnecessary. Matrix needed to carjack her, but why the heck did she have to tag along for the rest of the movie? And Dan Hedaya’s Hispanic accent was pretty cartoony. Having said that, “Commando” might be the best of Arnie’s worst 1980s movies. If that makes sense. I’d rather watch this than “Raw Deal” or “Red Heat.” This film is also noteworthy as it was the inception of his “one liners.” It would soon become a staple of the genre for the hero to make a quip either before or after vanquishing a foe. Something that had already been done in the 007 films, but Arnie truly made it his own. The character Rainer Wolfcastle from “The Simpsons” is a very popular parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger and it was probably his performance in “Commando” which was most inspirational. Also, WWE Studios’ “The Marine” franchise continuously steals from “Commando,” rehashing the ex-soldier saving a loved one from kidnappers plot three times. To say that John Cena and The Miz are a couple poor substitutes for Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a vast understatement.
“I’ll be back” counter: 2
“Raw Deal” (1986)
Okay, so Arnold Schwarzenegger now goes undercover with the mafia? And no one is at all suspicious of his pretty thick Austrian accent? Also, his character’s wife is suffering from depression, so instead of supporting her, he fakes his death. How is her thinking her husband is dead not going to make her depression even worse? And all he does to fake his death is blow up his patrol car. If there’s not a body in the car, why would anyone assume that he was killed in the explosion? The reconciliation happens off camera, but apparently his wife was totally fine with his supposed death and surprise return. “Raw Deal” is a Steven Seagal movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Having said that, there is one supremely badass sequence with Arnie driving around a rock quarry in a leather jacket, shooting some anonymous henchmen while “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones blares.
*Arnie says “I’ll be RIGHT back,” this time, which doesn’t make my official tally.
“I ain’t got time to bleed.” This is the sort of movie that puts hair on your chest. The 1980s was the time for machismo. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. I won’t get into all of the behind the scenes drama with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the original actor inside of the Predator suit or the failures of the early dog-lizard-like design of the alien creature because the finished product shows no signs of the flawed production. Directed by John McTiernan, “Predator” succeeds as an action / adventure and a sci-fi / horror movie. It was definitely my favorite movie as a kid. Stan Winston was responsible for the iconic creature design. An extraterrestrial trophy hunter with dreadlocks and mandibles, portrayed by the over seven foot tall Kevin Peter Hall. Nowadays, all these CGI aliens from “Cloverfield,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” and “Super 8” seem to be the same slimy amphibian with claws. There’s nothing distinctive about their designs. The Predator’s vision is infrared, it can mimic the sounds made by humans, and can also be camouflaged by its surroundings. The Predator hunts by code. It shows good sportsmanship. It will not kill a human who is unarmed. But, if you are armed, it will skin you and rip your spinal cord out before polishing your skull up to keep as a prize. It stalks and kills every member of an elite military rescue team, who were trekking through a Central American jungle, building to a final showdown with Colonel Dutch Schaeffer. When Dutch lets out his primal roar, challenging the Predator, you know shit is about to go down. Never had Arnie been overmatched like this. He takes a beating, but when he turns the tide, he proves to not be a cold blooded killer. He shows mercy, only to have the Predator set off an explosive device. Arnie barely escapes with his life. At the end of “Commando,” he sports a few scratches. At the end of “Raw Deal,” he is totally unscathed. At the end of “Predator,” he looks to have been in several car wrecks. John McTiernan knew that for an action film to be successful, the hero needs to be put through the wringer. Something that he would carry over into the “Die Hard” franchise. “Predator 2” was released in 1990 and starred Danny Glover. It’s not as good as the original, but not as bad as some people gripe. Nobody seems to like that the film was set in Los Angeles, but the sequel needed to do something different. If it too was set in the jungle, it would’ve been viewed as lazy and unoriginal. Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to appear in any of the follow up films. Allegedly, he was to have made a cameo at the end of “Alien vs. Predator” (2004), but him being elected as governor of California put the kibosh on that. Robert Rodriguez developed “Predators” (2009) with Arnie in mind to reprise his role as Dutch, but the lead ended up being a new character played by Adrien Brody. Arnold Schwarzenegger > Adrien Brody.
“The Running Man” (1987)
Long before “Battle Royale” (2000) or “The Hunger Games” (2012), there was “The Running Man.” Based on a novel written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, this film is both quintessentially 1980s and somehow still ahead of its time by presenting a dystopian future where the media, namely reality TV, has brainwashed the masses. The only difference between “The Running Man” and modern reality TV is that no one ever gets slain on “Survivor” or “Big Brother.” The stalkers on “The Running Man” all have pro wrestling inspired gimmicks. Professor Subzero, Buzzsaw, Dynamo, Fireball, and Captain Freedom, who was played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura. This was the second pairing of Jesse and Arnie, two future governors. Richard Dawson, the then host of “Family Feud,” plays Damon Killian. Killian was an excellent antagonist and one of the few adversaries in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film to have a comeback for “I’ll be back.” Killian replies, “Only in a rerun.” Wow. He dared to talk back to Arnie. The love interest was played by Maria Conchita Alonso. This was the first movie where Arnie gets the girl. Sandahl Bergman died in “Conan the Barbarian.” He rejected Olivia d’Abo in “Conan the Destroyer.” His relationship with Rae Dawn Chong in “Commando” was strictly plutonic and I don’t count the psychological torment he caused his wife in “Raw Deal” as a happy ending. WWE Studios took a break from rehashing “Commando” in 2007, releasing “The Condemned,” starring”Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The concept was similar to “The Running Man.” Convicts fighting to the death to win their freedom. The difference being the jungle setting and that this death sport was streamed live on the internet. Since the concept is so fertile, I’m actually surprised there’s yet to be a sequel or a remake of “The Running Man.” Maybe the popularity of “The Hunger Games” will facility this?
“I’ll be back” counter: 3
“Red Heat” (1988)
Despite of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hilarious Russian accent, this movie might be the lamest buddy cop flick of the 1980s. Personally, I’m more disappointed with “Tango & Cash” (1989) because Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell are two of my favorite actors, but that movie sucked. I’m less surprised about the poor quality of this pairing of Arnie and Jim Belushi. It’s just unfathomable to me that this uninspired film was directed by Walter Hill. The man who made “The Warriors” (1979). This film is just not a par with all the classic buddy cop films like “Lethal Weapon” (1987), “48 Hrs.” (1982), or even “Running Scared” (1986). There’s nothing special about the story. Arnie plays a fish out of water cop, hunting down the drug kingpin who murdered his partner. The few times this movie made me chuckle, it was Arnie and not Jim Belushi. Since I didn’t see this film as a kid, there’s no nostalgia for me. Arnie didn’t even say “I’ll be back” in Russian. A missed opportunity. In my opinion, this film is as forgettable as “Red Sonja.”
Critics are usually pretty hard on Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ll agree that he’s more of a larger than life personality than an actor, but in “Twins” he gives a genuine performance. He’s not playing a tough guy who spouts one liners. As Julius Benedict, he is sheltered, naïve, but always compassionate and selfless. Danny DeVito as Vincent Benedict was the perfect foil for Arnie with his smart mouth and wiseguy antics. These two played off each other so well in both the comedic and dramatic moments. Kelly Preston provided the eye candy. Not to objectify leading ladies, but she was pretty hot back then. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as brothers? I believe it was Leonard Maltin who said that “Twins” was a box office smash because of its poster, but beyond the inspired casting, this film succeeds on many levels. Director Ivan Reitman at his best. There’s plenty of laughs, but the climax was also quite suspenseful. Then, the film closes on a touching moment with the brothers being reunited with their mother. Me and my sister would quote this film a lot as kids. Arnie worked with Ivan Reitman two more times, as many times as he has worked with James Cameron. Evidently, there’s now a sequel in the works with Eddie Murphy being introduced as the long lost Benedict brother, but let’s wait and see if this project actually comes to fruition.
“I’ll be back” counter: 4