Total Recall: Arnold Schwarzenegger's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Expendables 2 star.
He's been a bodybuilder, a bricklayer, a politician, and a restaurateur -- but for our purposes, Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been at his best when he's blowing stuff up in front of a camera, so it's with great enthusiasm that we greet his return to action in this weekend's The Expendables 2. Sure, Arnie isn't really the star of the movie, but with his political career putting his acting ambitions on hold for most of the last decade, we haven't had many chances to celebrate his greatness, and we couldn't resist taking the opportunity here. It's not a tumor, it's Total Recall!
Luring action fans to the theater in 1985 didn't come much more simply than putting Arnold Schwarzenegger in a sleeveless vest, handing him a weapon, and slapping the poster with the delicious tagline "Somewhere, somehow, someone's going to pay." Commando delivered as promised, starring Arnold as a retired Delta Force op whose daughter (Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped by an exiled Latin American dictator (Dan Hedaya) in an effort to blackmail him into assassinating his replacement. Loaded with heavy artillery and big explosions, Commando provides, in the words of Filmcritic's Pete Croatto, "one of the best arguments available for the action movie as pure entertainment."
It took a dozen years to make its way to theaters -- and did it without James Cameron -- but thanks to the durable mythology of the franchise and Schwarzenegger's welcome return to the title role, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines proved audiences were still eager for more Skynet-fueled mayhem. Starring Kristanna Loken as the first female Terminator, Nick Stahl as the new John Connor, and Claire Danes as his future bride Kate Brewster, T3 relied more heavily on special effects than storytelling, leaving some critics cold -- but for others, even diluted Terminator was good for a couple more hours of popcorn entertainment. "A sizable quotient of the movie's target audience just wants to see stuff destroyed," sighed the Chicago Reader's J.R. Jones, "and in that regard Rise of the Machines won't disappoint."
8. True Lies
The death knell had sounded for the big, dumb 1980s action movie with 1992's prophetically titled The Last Action Hero -- which, fittingly, also starred Schwarzenegger -- but James Cameron helped revitalize the genre with this light, funny, fast-moving thrill ride that boasted likable performances from not only its well-muscled star, but a crackerjack supporting cast that included Jamie Lee Curtis, Bill Paxton, and Tom Arnold at his funniest. Though it was heavily criticized for being misogynist and racist, True Lies combined with Speed to make the summer of 1994 feel a little like the 1980s never ended, and took Cameron's reign as a Hollywood action king to its logical conclusion while earning the begrudging praise of critics like the Globe and Mail's Rick Groen, who wrote, "However high your ranking on the culture scale, I defy you to watch this and leave the theatre without a whistled 'Wow' followed by a grudging 'That's entertainment.'"
7. Stay Hungry
Say it's the mid-1970s and you're making a movie with a part for an Austrian bodybuilder who plays the fiddle. What do you do? For Bob Rafelson, director of Stay Hungry, the choice was easy: Hand Arnold Schwarzenegger a fiddle. And the results weren't as silly as they might sound, either -- starring Jeff Bridges as the conflicted flunky of some crooked real estate developers who want to strongarm their way into ownership of a Birmingham gym, Hungry earned high critical marks for its assured storytelling and offbeat charm. "When the movie's over, we're still not sure why it was made," admitted Roger Ebert, "but we've had fun and so, it appears, has Rafelson."
Producer Joel Silver and Schwarzenegger teamed up twice during the 1980s, and the results -- Commando and Predator -- are among any action fan's favorites from the era. Here, Schwarzenegger must lead a team of tough-as-nails soldiers into the jungle on what's believed to be a rescue mission for prisoners of war -- but which quickly turns out to be a bloody fight against a dreadlocked interstellar hunter (played to perfection by the late, lamented Kevin Peter Hall). Silver's pictures from the period tended to follow a certain formula, but at this point, familiarity hadn't yet bred contempt -- and anyway, if Predator lacks a surplus of moving parts, it does what it's supposed to with cool precision. "It achieves a sort of sublime purity," sighed an appreciative Tim Brayton for Antagony & Ecstacy. "It is Action Movie, nothing more and nothing less."