There are a lot of action heroes that have graced the silver screen. Of all of them, there is one man who towers over them all. You can attack his personal character or his political career but you can not scoff at his incredible run of successful movies from 1982 to 1999. We're talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Now, you may be asking yourself "why did his run stop in 1997? He made good movies after that." Yes, indeed he did make good movies after that, but 1997 was the year of Batman & Robin. This was the "jump the shark" moment for Arnie. The movie didn't ruin his career or even derail it, but it signified that things were changing for him.
It wasn't just Arnie though, George Clooney's performance left a lot to be desired (come on George, you didn't even change your voice between Bruce and Batman!) and there were horrible plot choices (wasting Bane as a zombie essentially) and it pretty much killed Chris O'Donnell's career. The movie was a stinker that dragged everyone down with it. Watching the movie in retrospect, you actually appreciate Schwarzenegger's over-the-top portrayal as Victor Fries in a "this movie is so bad it's good" sort of way. Schwarzenegger's one-liners are killer. They're so cheesy...but viewed through the prism of humor, they make the movie. That's why this article starts off with one of his worst films; even in a flop of a super-hero movie, Arnie shined, in a very unique way.
This is what Schwarzenegger brought to the table with every movie he was in during his reign as King of Action Flicks; an actor who never took himself too seriously but could still bring intense action and emotion.
It all started with Conan the Barbarian. Schwarzenegger had been in movies before and had already made a name for himself as a bodybuilder, but Conan put him on the map. His performance was fantastic, but the overall production made this movie worth viewing such as the score from Basil Poledouris. It was a great sword and sorcery epic that delivered incredible scenes and memorable lines.
The movie was plagued with some insane production troubles (read the great Cracked.com article about it here) but it still delivers in a big way. Conan the Destroyer followed up 2 years later and satisfied everyone desire for more Arnold cleaving people with a giant sword but '84 was a big year for him for another reason: The Terminator.
Of all of Schwarzenegger's movies, The Terminator had the biggest societal impact. It spawned his famous "I'll be back" catch phrase, it created a character that would show up 7 years later in one of the most successful sequels of all time and it showed a scary side to Arnie that we hadn't seen yet. And he did all of that with 100 or so lines of dialogue! While we're speaking of The Terminator franchise, Terminator 2: Judgement Day gave Schwarzenegger the chance to reinforce that he could indeed provoke emotional responses from his audience other than hoots and hollers during the action scenes.
Before Terminator 2 blew everyone away with it's awesomeness, Schwarzenegger went on a tear of successful action and comedy films that would propel him to the top of the box office returns. Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat, Twins, Total Recall, and Kindergarten Cop were immensely successful and cemented him as the #1 box office draw during this time.
My personal favorites of this era is a dead heat: The Running Man and Predator. The Running Man is an adaption of a Stephen King short story (written under his pen name Richard Bachman) and is the perfect Arnie vehicle. It's violent, it's thought-provoking, with social commentary pointing at our obsession with television and it's stars, and most importantly, Schwarzenegger gets a chance to nail some one liners.
Now we come to Predator. There might be other movies that have better dialogue or emotions or yada yada yada, but this movie is the greatest action movie. Ever. It's nothing but action! Not to mention violence, dudes with giant muscles carrying huge weapons blowing stuff up and fighting an alien bent on killing them for the pure sport. There exists no American male that had the capacity to view movies that doesn't love this one. Other than "I'll be back," Predator may have Arnie's most quotable lines ("GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!" or "Dylan! You son of a b**ch! or for that matter when he sees the Predator unmasked, "You are one ugly motherf***er!") It has Carl Weathers AND Jesse the Body Ventura in it, too! What's not to love? And that final fight...when Arnold, covered in mud, sets up his final stand and does the most primal of screams calling the Predator out...wow. Such an awesome movie. Check out the scream below!
Now that I'm an adult, I appreciate what Arnold Schwarzenegger accomplished. Yes, the man had issues with keeping his hands to himself (among other appendages). He was the coolest action hero ever, but he was also a self made man. After being a very successful bodybuilder, he came to the United States and started his own business as a brick layer before he was in any movies. He had no help from his family and built his considerable wealth on his own. He knows that nothing is given to you, you must earn it yourself. I'll end this nostalgic look at his movie career with this quote.
He saves us from the followers of Set, he saves John Connor from a liquid-metal-robot monster, he stops Richard Dawkins from making us watch reality TV, he saves the world from an alien hunter, AND he's a great motivator. GGR salutes you Mr. Schwarzenegger!