Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blow out the Candles: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Born July 30, 1947

With skeletons billowing from his closet and his marriage dissolving before the eyes of the world, I thought it fitting to celebrate Arnold’s 64th birthday by reflecting back to a time when Arnold wasn’t headlining tabloids and governing California and he was just making movies.

He made a name for himself in the bodybuilding world winning the titles of Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia. Schwarzenegger hoped to use his bodybuilding career to segue into moviemaking and he did just that. After small roles in a few films in the early 1970s, Schwarzenegger raised his profile after starring in the bodybuilding film Pumping Iron. The film shows the rivalry between Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno as they both vie for the title of Mr. Olympia. Schwarzenegger won his final title before announcing his retirement from professional bodybuilding. Ferrigno gained his own victory of sorts when he landed the role of Dr. David Banner in the television series The Incredible Hulk, a part that Schwarzenegger had auditioned for and didn’t get.

Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilder physique was perfect for his breakout film role as Conan in Conan the Barbarian since the director wanted physically strong men in the film and cast several bodybuilders alongside Schwarzenegger. The acting in the film may be wooden, the special effects limited by the era in which it was made and the dialogue cheesy, but the film still holds up today as a thoroughly entertaining one.

In 1984, Schwarzenegger starred in what is inarguably his most famous role as a cyborg assassin in The Terminator. Schwarzenegger only had 18 spoken lines in the film. The line “I’ll be back” has become one of the most famous lines in film history.

Schwarzenegger became an international star in the 1980s in a decade when movie audiences were flocking to see action films and Schwarzenegger made several of them. Some of his most memorable movies were released in that decade including Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man, Red Heat and Predator. Schwarzenegger switched gears in 1988 when he starred in the comedy Twins opposite Danny DeVito. The film was a hit and Schwarzenegger was genuinely funny and endearing as the naïve, inexperienced “twin” brother to DeVito’s conniving, money-hungry counterpart.

In 1990, Schwarzenegger starred in two more commercial hits and two of my favourite Arnie films – Kindergarten Cop and Total Recall. The first was a comedy that paired Schwarzenegger with a bunch of kindergartner co-stars and the pairing proved positively hilarious. Total Recall saw Schwarzenegger return to his action roots and to the science fiction genre where he had achieved such great success with The Terminator.

Schwarzenegger’s career peaked when he starred once again as a cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film was the highest grossing film of 1991 and is among Schwarzenegger’s best action films. The film was a huge critical and commercial success and showcased groundbreaking special effects that still impress 20 years later.

Merging comedy and action, Schwarzenegger co-starred with Jamie Lee Curtis in the popular spy film True Lies. Schwarzenegger and Curtis were a comedic dream team, and it’s hard to decide whether this film is a better action or comedy film since it delivers so well on both elements.

Schwarzenegger’s most unique and unexpected role, Dr. Alex Hess in Junior, proved that he wasn’t afraid to take risks. In the film, Schwarzenegger plays a scientist who becomes pregnant as part of a scientific experiment. Although the movie flopped, it was not without some surprising kudos from critics. Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “I know this sounds odd, but Schwarzenegger is perfect for the role. Observe his acting carefully in Junior, and you'll see skills that many 'serious' actors could only envy.”

With his bodybuilder physique, strong Austrian accent, long name and average acting skills, Schwarzenegger had some big obstacles to overcome in pursuing an acting career, but he found roles that built on rather than undermined his physical and vocal characteristics to become a reputable action star in an industry that he seemed out of place in.

What are your favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger performances and/or films? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Nice write-up. Love Predator, Commando, and Conan The Barbarian!

    His cameo in The Expendables was great too.

  2. @Ty - glad you enjoyed the post.

    Arnold's early films, like Predator, Commando and Conan, are definitely the more memorable ones in his filmography and they're still fun to watch today.

    I havne't seen The Expendables yet, but intend to at some point.


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