Spotlight On: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Often called the greatest American immigrant story of the 20th century, Arnold Schwarzenegger, immigrated to the United States, broke and without knowing any English. What he did have was a dream to make his mark on the world. Starting as a bodybuilder, Arnold worked his way up into acting where his charisma and physique made him stand out. In just a matter of time, he became one of the biggest stars on the planet thanks to a number of high profile roles in various action films. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle-bound physique, magnetic screen presence, and distinct accent turned him into one of the most iconic figures in movie history. His popularity was such that he was able to leap from the big screen to becoming governor of California to provide strong leadership during a particularly tumultuous time in the state. Epitomizing the immigrant success story in pursuing the American Dream, Arnold Schwarzenegger has become one of the most popular people on the planet, which is why we are shining the Spotlight on him.

Pumping Iron (1977): One of the most popular documentaries ever made, Pumping Iron fascinating look at the world of professional bodybuilding. It is here where a young Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the pop culture conversation. Focusing on the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition, a young Arnold is the odds on favorite, but young up-and-comer Lou Ferigno is working hard to give him some stiff competition. While Schwarzenegger ultimately wins, this hit film put both he and Ferigno into the public consciousness and set them on the path to stardom.

Conan the Barbarian (1982): Arnold had been in movies before, but this was different. A major motion picture built on the muscle man’s newfound success as Robert E. Howard’s famed barbarian. After Thulsa Doom destroys his home, a young Conan is forced into slavery. Once he is freed the fearsome warrior seeks revenge. Gathering a posse he seeks out to not only rescue a princess but kill the snake-transforming warlock who killed his parents. The “Crom”-spouting warrior proved to be the perfect lead role for Arnold as it played perfectly to his physicality and natural charisma.

The Terminator (1984)/Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): His performance as a mechanical killing machine made the Austrian immigrant into a household name and created an icon of pop culture. To this day, even those who have never seen these movies recognize the character he portrayed as being the epitome of an unstoppable badass. In 1984’s the Terminator he introduced the world to T-800 a machine sent back from a dark future with one mission: to kill Sara Conner, mother of resistance leader John Conner. The only thing standing in his way is fellow time traveler Kyle Reese, who was sent to protect Sarah in this dark cat-and-mouse game. When the time came for a sequel to this masterpiece, Arnold’s T-800 was reprogrammed to be on the side of the good guys as he had to stop the ruthless villain T-IOOO. This change in alignment is the reason why the T-800 is the only character featured on both lists of the American Film Institute’s Greatest Movie Heroes and Greatest Movie Villains.

Commando (1985): Remember when I said I’d put this entry last….l lied, because this list is in chronological order. After a stint in special forces, the awesomely named John Matrix is hoping to settle into a normal life. But, those who served with him begin being picked off by an unknown threat. Matrix discovers an old enemy has returned and has kidnapped his daughter to use against the former soldier in a plot to assassinate the president of a South American nation. This is Schwarzenegger at his best, kicking all kinds of ass while spouting off awesome one-liners in the process.

Predator (1987): By this time in his career, audiences saw Arnold as an invincible powerhouse. So imagine their shock when an alien warrior in the jungle smacked their hero around like he was a small toddler. This instantly gave credibility to what would become one of the greatest monsters in cinema. In 1987’s Predator, Arnie and led a team of fellow testosterone filled heroes like; Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and Carl Weathers, into a dense jungle on a secretive mission. One-by-one they fall to an alien being that is the perfect hunter, cloaked in invisibility and skilled at killing. Realizing strength alone will not help him, Arnold has to use his wits against the Predator stalking the jungle. To this day Predator is held up as an iconic film of the; action, science fiction, and horror genres and a great deal of the film’s success is based on the fact Arnold was at his peak.

Total Recall (1990): Imagine if everything you knew was a lie and given the right circumstances the real world would begin to bleed into what you think is reality. Douglas Quaid lives an ordinary life in the future, until he starts having dreams of Mars. Thinking this is odd, he checks out the Rekall Inc. service where he learns that his life has been a lie and that he must go to the embattled Red Planet. While this is a cool Arnold action flick, Total Recall still includes a number of the heavier themes of its Philip K. Dick written source material. Balancing social commentary and blockbuster fun makes this one of the most entertaining science fiction films ever.

The Last Action Hero (1993): A critical and commercial failure upon its release, the Last Action Hero was seemingly far ahead of its time. Schwarzenegger plays a hyper realized version of himself in Jack Slater an action hero beloved by fans, especially a young boy named Danny. Thanks to a friendly theater projectionist Danny gets a magic ticket which transports him into Slater’s action movie world. He gets the thrill of beautiful people everywhere, commonplace gunfights, and even a cartoon cat but for Slater this is the world he knows. The fantasy comes to an end when one of Jack Slater’s enemies comes into the real world, posing a brand new set of challenges for the cinematic hero. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, but now Last Action Hero is seen as a clever and meta commentary on the films Schwarzenegger and his colleagues made famous.

Jingle All the Way (1996): Say what you will, but this holiday classic was in regular rotation in my household throughout the season. Despite being a muscle-bound beefcake loaded with movie star charisma, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an everyday guy living in the suburbs. Being a workaholic he forgets the prized Turbo Man action figure he was supposed to get for his son played by Star Wars’ Jake Lloyd. With no other option, Arnie sets out on Christmas Eve to try to find the most popular toy on the market. This is where everything goes absolutely bananas as on his shopping excursion he deals with: the police, a Santa-themed counterfeit ring, a smarmy neighbor (played by the late genius Phil Hartman), and worst of all Sinbad as a villainous mailman. It all culminates in a ludicrous scene where Arnold is recruited to be Turbo Man at the local Christmas parade, while Sinbad battles him dressed as a supervillain. To this day nothing beats the joy of Lil’ Darth Vader learning his dad WAS Turbo Man, I guess he confused him with all the other muscular Austrian men in town. Jingle All the Way may sound bonkers….mainly because it is, but that is why it has developed a sort of cult following during the holiday season.

The Expendables 2 (2012): While Schwarzenegger made a cameo in the first film, the follow-up flick saw him kicking ass the way Arnold can. What makes the Expendables 2 such a major spot on his lengthy filmography is who was beside him in this ensemble. Alongside the star were fellow action film icons: Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, along with the contemporary favorites of the genre. This was the pie-in-the-sky dream of everyone who grew up watching these musclebound heroes.