In this new series of posts I’m going to list ten of my favourite films by some of my most loved directors and actors. While I may not have seen everything that they have done, I’ll catch up to them eventually. For some of the posts, I’ll be adding films I’m not as keen on to ensure a list of ten so be on the look out for your favourites. The ordering of most of these posts will not be strict and in most cases there will not be too much difference between my number 1 pick and my number 5 pick.
Welcome back to Top Ten Tuesdays. Today we’ll be looking at one of the true icons of cinema in the latter half of the 20th Century, and arguably the finest modern day example of The American Dream. Schwarzenegger has conquered in everything he has done, and though will critics will forever mock his acting ability and accent, he laughs at such minor squabbles knowing that he could still break their necks like a chicken’s. Arnie was the second movie star I understood as being an actor – a person who actually works in films as a job and that people pay money to go see a movie purely because he is in it (my first was Bruce Lee). In fact, I can still remember clearly having a conversation when I was no more than seven years old on who would win a fight between Arnie and Bruce Lee (despite the fact that Lee was long dead). We eventually agreed that, if purely hand to hand it would be Lee, but if weapons of any kind were involved that Arnie would be victorious.
Arnie has been busy since he returned to acting, and while he has had more misses than hits in his twilight years, each film has had its merits, whether it be an action sequence, one-liner, or simple weary raised eyebrow from the big man. For now though, I present my (slightly cheating) Top Ten Arnie movies. There are a number of decent movies skipped here, and while they each present some fine action or comedy they don’t compete (for me) with the greatness on display below. Lets waste no time.
10. Kindergarten Cop
Arnie has proven time and time again that he has great comic timing and understands a joke as well as any Eddie Murphy or other famous comedy laughter person. Of course it helps when the surrounding cast are strong, when the story is entertaining, and the Director knows how to play the strengths of everyone involved. Kindergarten Cop is the finest example of Arnie’s comedy, with a stellar support cast of villains, cops, kids, and white collar types. Not only is there a bunch of great one-liners and gut-hurting scenes (all the responses to Arnie’s questions which the kids give are gold), but there’s a perfectly fine plot in there too, with Arnie hunting down a criminal who wants to find his estranged wife and son (somehow becoming a teacher along the way). Some will likely choose Twins over this (and some freaks may even go for Junior) and while both are good I think KC just edges it for me.
9. End Of Days
The best of Arnie’s last few films before he hopped into politics, End Of Days plays well on a number of topical for the time, and still prevalent fears – fears that something apocalyptically terrible is about to happen, fear of loss, loneliness, and of giving up. Throw in some good old fashioned religious fear-mongering and a terrific turn by Gabriel Byrne, and this is one which deserves another look. It was the first time Arnie was not a superhero, instead being a broken, suicidal, alcoholic always one bad day away from blowing his brains out. Who better then to stop the Antichrist from bringing Hell on Earth? This is a grimly gorgeous movie with some superb action and a number of good supporting performances.
8. True Lies
Before Cameron became, “James Cameron, 3D Champion of the Oceans” he used to regularly make awesome movies. This was his final movie with Arnie to date (until Arnie is added to one of the Avatar sequels and immediately makes it awesome) and while it’s the weakest of the bunch, it’s the most fun. Poking fingers at various action blockbuster franchises, True Lies sees Arnie at his most charismatic as a terrorism-infiltrating spy who also must act as the white bread family man to Jamie Lee Curtis and Eliza Dushku. While each piece of action is superbly directed and thrilling, once again props must go to the surrounding cast and their escapades – Jamie Lee Curtis being drafted as a spy and changing from a straight-laced housewife to a super-hot vixen, and Bill Paxton as a slimy, cowardly, predatory pervert provide laughs and memorable moments. Remember the classics Cameron, come on!
7. Last Action Hero
Speaking of remembering the classics, John McTiernan was once one of the finest action directors in Hollywood, but recently he has been stuck in prison and declaring bankruptcy. The Nineties are known for a string of meta, post-modern, self-referential movies, with Scream, Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare being two of the most famous. Before those though, Last Action Hero sucked up the whole action genre – its strengths, weaknesses, its stars, its flops, everything, and made one of the best satires on a genre ever. The film is a treat for genre fans, and should be loved by movie fans as a whole, but for some reason it just didn’t fly with movie-going audiences at the time. Although it was a success, the big budget versus the returns wasn’t as wide a margin as was hoped, and critics were not impressed. It was love at first sight with me, and going back it’s as fresh as ever. Again, Arnie’s comedy chops are on display, making fun of himself and his career with a glint in his eye, and again there is a strong support cast with Charles Dance and Austin O’Brien being memorable. There’s a decent, silly rock soundtrack and a tonne of cameos, as well as wonderfully over the top action and its fair share of new and reused one-liners.
6. The Running Man
A more camp and cheesy retelling of King’s much darker novella, this is a roller coaster ride of violence and fun, with Arnie punching and shooting his way through a series of vicious games and powerful gladiator types. The film still works well today as a satire on entertainment – how we watch, the distance we put between ourselves and the horrors on screen, the increasing level of power networks have, and the money we throw and love we throw at our favourite stars for little in return (I’m aware of the irony in creating this list). But us action fans come for the killings and the stunts, and here we have a tonne of old-school glorious violence, with beefcakes beating the crap out of each other and not a lot of overblown stuff. Much of the action is basic one-man army stuff, but the surrounding visuals, and the inventive arenas breath life into each scene. There’s plenty of strong support too with scenery chewing from Richard Dawson and Jessie Ventura. Again there’s a decent soundtrack and a bunch of immortal one-liners. And some guy’s head blows up.
5. Total Recall
The thinking man’s Arnie film, Total Recall even upon multiple viewings still can catch you off guard and won’t make sense and can be interpreted any number of ways. Arnie plays a dual role, something he has done a few times in his career, and here you don’t know who is good, bad, who to trust, or what is real as Construction worker Quaid has recurring dreams about Mars. There’s a lot to absorb here, with dreams within dreams, planted memories, brain chips, and three-breasted women all creating a visually and mentally stimulating paradise. It’s difficult to separate the action and plot in this one, because the film is so plot heavy, but the violence (as you would expect from a Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger collaboration) is wildly, wonderfully excessive. Throw in the trio of Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside as one group you’d never want to stumble into down a dark alleyway, or on the surface of Mars, and we have a brilliant, unforgettable nightmare.
Possibly the most perfect example of an 80s action movie – big star, one man versus thousands, dastardly villains, one-liner spewing goodie, guns, car chases, Hawaiian shirts, rocket launchers, synthesizers, muscles – it’s the most over-the-top, straight action movie on the list. Over the top for obvious reasons, but straight in that it doesn’t have any pretensions or a complicated plot, or anything that ever deviates from ‘you took something that belongs to me, and now I’m going to kill yo all’. It’s drenched in 80s, but it’s timeless, with a soundtrack so good they stole it for 48 Hours, with a template so flawless they borrowed it for Die Hard and with action so entertaining you could watch this every day and never tire of it. I should know – I’ve worn out several VHS of this, and I’m still waiting for a decent uncut BluRay or DVD version. You know the drill – one liners, Bill Duke, Sully Off a Cliff, let off some steam – Perfection.
3. Conan The Barbarian.
Of the classic era of Arnie movies, this was the last I saw. I was maybe 10 or 11 when I saw it for the first time (by this time I was already obsessed with everything Arnie had done) and again I loved it. It was funny seeing Arnie with a sword instead of a gun, and he had never looked so gigantic. There was sorcery and witchcraft, camels being punched, robbery, giant snakes, more one-liners, and a host of cool characters. It wasn’t until later that I truly fell in love with the film. To the untrained eye, the acting is wooden and the plot is plain, but to the more observant viewer we have strong performances from Max Von Sydow, James Earl Jones, Mako, and an invigorating turn from Sandahl Bergman. The plot may be one of simple revenge, but the script is peppered with gold dust by Hollywood’s finest writer John Milius, who lends the film the same sort of violent kinetic energy as Howard’s original stories have. The film was low budget, but earned over $100 million in cinemas (with home sales it currently sits at over $300 million). There’s also the small matter of it having, unquestionably, the greatest soundtrack ever written – there can be no arguing this fact. Poledouris has crafted a score as epic as any single piece of music ever written, and every piece is spectacular – usually your favourite soundtrack contains at most three memorable themes, but Poledouris has created something monumental. Like many Arnie movies, this is macho male fantasy at its finest, with Conan striving and struggling through a harsh childhood to become the greatest warrior in the known world.
Before making the seminal Die Hard, John McTiernan unleashed Predator upon unsuspecting audiences and proved to be another smash hit for Arnie. Probably the most macho movie ever made, it features the toughest group of marines ever seen on film thrown into a dense South American jungle and pitted against a fierce alien hunter. The action here is second to none, with some truly classic scenes and kills – the team completely mowing down acres of jungle with their weaponry is still breathtaking and hilarious. With wonderful make-up and effect from Stan Winston and co, another good soundtrack, and plenty of macho performances led by Arnie, Predator is another film that you have to watch if you accidentally stumble upon it while channel hopping in the wee hours. It’s also pretty clever too, with a winding plot about military men being expendable, and the fact that the Predator doesn’t show up until later in the movie, with the protagonists instead taking on local drug baddies adds to the paranoia and deception. Along with Aliens, this is the best man versus monster movie ever made.
1. The Terminator/T2
Remember when I told you I would only list ten movies? I LIED <Drops you off cliff>. The argument over which film is superior will rage on forever, and while both are wildly different in tone and budget, if not in execution, story, or style, I’m grouping this as one because it is clearly two parts of the same tale. There isn’t a lot I can say abouth both that haven’t been said already – flawless action, amazing performances, fantastic music, gripping story, emotion, comedy, horror, drama, the only real Terminator films are perfection. We all love Sarah; we all want to be John, we all cry over Reese, and we all want our very own Terminator. If Arnie had never made another film, I imagine that his performance in The Terminator would have been hailed by critics looking back at it. It is the greatest love story ever told. T2 still outshines every big budget bonanza that comes out today from a special effects and action perspective, and the main reason for its strength (outside of Cameron’s vice-grip direction) is that it is all about character. Take a hint blockbuster wannabees – there’s zero reason for me to watch or care about your films and all those millions spent on CG and explosions and crap if your characters are not fully fleshed. Not only are these two films my favourite Arnie movies, they are my favourite movies of all time. I only wish that deleted scene where Reece points a gun at Sarah had been included in the original cut. Hasta La Vista, baby. Hasta La Vista.
Sound off in the comments about your favourite Arnie movie, and let me know if I’ve missed any movie you hold dear!