Today The Last Stand will open in theaters and while the film itself is not one I’m particularly juiced up over, it does hold some interest in that it will be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in almost a decade. Once the world’s biggest movie star, Arnie now returns to an industry that has changed dramatically since his departure and didn’t exactly treat him well in the years leading up to his run as California’s governor. I’m not sure that Arnie’s return will be truly triumphant but there’s no denying the pull he has with a good chunk of moviegoers who hold on to his glory years. Last week I attended a screening of The Last Stand which Arnie attended and stood amongst a crowd of hundreds, possibly thousands, who went absolutely bonkers the second he stepped onto the red carpet. It was a reminder of what a strangle hold this guy once had on the industry and gave me cause to take a look back at the first act (or so he would hope) of a true movie star’s career. (If you’re unfamiliar with The Collected Works, the object is to rank the subject’s films from worst to first, with first regard given to the films themselves and then the performances of the subject. I also exclude cameo/limited support work unless it’s a supremely memorable part.)
Films I haven’t seen: Hercules in New York, Stay Hungry, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Raw Deal, Red Heat (I’ve seen Red Heat at some point but not so recently as to remember anything about it, which I am thankful for)
21. Batman and Robin – Mr. Freeze Rotten Tomatoes score: 12% This is an easy pick for the bottom of the list as I have long held that Batman and Robin is one of the worst films ever made. It’s not Schwarzenegger’s fault, per se, that the movie is so appallingly bad but he also doesn’t do much to make it better. At this point (1997) things hadn’t been great for a few years but this was a sad indication of what was to come.
20. Last Action Hero – Jack Slater Rotten Tomatoes score: 38% Last Action Hero is one of the biggest disappointments of my young life (I was 10 when it came out) and one of the biggest flops in the movie history. This movie was EVERYWHERE. There were ads, there was a video game, there were action figures, I think they even had a deal with Burger King or Pizza Hut or something. It was built up as an event film. Then it came out and it was horrible and, oh by the way, it opened against Jurassic Park, the biggest movie of my childhood.
19. Junior – Dr. Alex Hesse Rotten Tomatoes score: 32% This was Arnie’s attempt to show that he could do comedy. And what’s funnier than a pregnant man, haha! As it turns out, a lot of things.
18. Collateral Damage – Gordy Brewer Rotten Tomatoes score: 18% I think this movie showed the limit to Schwarzenegger’s range. On paper, Collateral Damage should have been his change to show a grittier, more intense side than had been on display in most of his absurd action movies but he just couldn’t muster up the acting ability to make it work. It wouldn’t have been a good movie regardless but Schwarzenegger did nothing to help it.
17. The 6th Day – Adam Gibson Rotten Tomatoes score: 41% This is the movie that spelled the end for me with Schwarzenegger. I remember my friends and I renting it, thinking, “Hey Arnie’s in this, it’s gotta be fun, right?” We probably hadn’t really paid attention to a Schwarzenegger movie in a few years and had blocked out all memory of Batman and Robin. And then we watched this and found new regret for our choices in life.
16. End of Days – Jericho Cane Rotten Tomatoes score: 11% If, in 1999, you’d never heard of End of Days but I came to you and read the movie’s plot summary, you’d definitely guess it’s a Schwarzenegger movie, right? “At the end of the century, Satan visits New York in search of a bride. It’s up to an ex-cop who now runs an elite security outfit to stop him.” Now that sounds like a movie that would HAVE to star Nicolas Cage but in 1999, that had Arnie written all over it. It’s a terrible movie but it gets a few points for Gabriel Byrne’s solid take as the devil.
15. Eraser – US Marshal John “The Eraser” Kruger Rotten Tomatoes score: 36% Every time I make one of these lists there’s always at least one movie that I know I’ve seen, probably a couple of times, that I just don’t really remember all that well. Eraser is that film here. I can recall thinking it wasn’t that bad but that Vanessa Williams was a beating. I’ve got pretty much nothing else here, sorry.
14. Jingle All the Way – Howard Langston Rotten Tomatoes score: 17% It seems that those of you just a few years younger than I am count this as one of the truly great Christmas movies the world has to offer. I was a little too old to be in the target market and wasn’t too interested in it when it came out and as such, only saw it for the first time a few years ago. It was…um…very Sinbad-y.
13. The Expendables – Trench Rotten Tomatoes score: 41% I included this one even though it took me longer to write this post than it did for Schwarzenegger to film his part because it was the first time we’d really seen the big guy on screen in a long time. He famously took a huge sum of money to walk in, say a few cliché lines, and walk out but his cameo was one of the highlights of the “film.”
12. Conan the Barbarian – Conan the Barbarian Rotten Tomatoes score: 77% It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen Conan and it definitely hasn’t aged that well but there’s an undoubted appeal to it from a guilty pleasure standpoint. This was basically the film that put Schwarzenegger on the map and he’s not half bad in it considering he was a body builder and not an actor.
11. Commando – John Matrix Rotten Tomatoes score: 69% I only just watched Commando for the first time and OH MAN WAS THIS MOVIE MADE IN THE 80s!!! This movie has everything ‘80s. Montages! Horrible pop music! SUUUUPER cheesy one liners! Close ups of Schwarzenegger’s ripped biceps! A completely worthless love interest! Dan Hedaya! It isn’t a good movie in my mind but boy, is it fun.
10. Kindergarten Cop – John Kimble Rotten Tomatoes score: 50% Unlike Jingle All the Way, I think I was in the target market for this one but my parents wouldn’t let me see it when it debuted. It does serve as perhaps Arnie’s best comedic work as he is actually and genuinely funny in a couple of places and of course it did come equipped with one of Schwarzenegger’s best lines. It is, in fact, not a tumor.
9. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – Terminator Rotten Tomatoes score: 70% I was a little shocked to learn that T3 stands at such a lofty score on Rotten Tomatoes as I pretty much assumed most people hated it. It’s an easy target if nothing else. But I’ve always kind of had an appreciation for the movie and if nothing else I think it holds up as one of the better years-down-the-road-do-we-really-need-this-sequels of the last decade.
8. Total Recall – Doug Quaid Rotten Tomatoes score: 84% Some Schwarzenegger fans may consider it sacrilege to list Total Recall so far down the way but I hold firmly to the belief that your opinion of the film depends on when you saw it. If you saw it in 1990 when it opened you think it’s a great sci-fi action piece that should never be questioned. If, however, you stumbled across it on basic cable 8 or 10 years down the line like I did, you recognize its abject cheesiness pretty quickly.
7. The Expendables 2 – Trench Rotten Tomatoes score: 65% I recognize the hypocrisy of decrying one film for its cheesiness in the last spot and then celebrating that very quality here but I’m going to do it nonetheless. Expendables 2 is one of the most ridiculous movie going experiences of my entire life and I kind of love it for that. I will say, though, that my enjoyment of the movie has almost nothing to do with Schwarzenegger and in fact, I think he showed his age more than any of the other stars.
6. True Lies – Harry Tasker Rotten Tomatoes score: 72% There is a LOT to love about True Lies but it took a couple of viewings (many years apart) to truly grasp its value. The concept is brilliant and outside of the movie in the top spot, I think True Lies contains my favorite Arnie performance. He sold out for this movie and I don’t think he really had to at the time. Less Tom Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis would have helped, however.
5. Twins – Julius Benedict Rotten Tomatoes score: 36% Alright, you got me. This is where my memories of watching a movie as a kid come into play. I don’t know why exactly but I watched Twins, like, once a week when I was younger. It’s funny because Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito look nothing alike but they’re still twins! Get it?! Seriously I have no idea why I liked this movie so much but I created so many good memories with it that I can’t let it go.
4. The Running Man – Ben “The Butcher of Bakersfield” Richards Rotten Tomatoes score: 63% This is one of the most strangely and unexpectedly solid movies of the ‘80s that actually turned out to be a not-so-bad predictor of our future. Sure we don’t yet televise the deaths of our worst criminals for the entertainment of the nation but are we that far from it? Anyway, as social commentary it’s not so bad and as sheer entertainment, I’ve always thought Running Man had a lot to offer.
3. The Terminator – Terminator Rotten Tomatoes score: 100% If Conan the Barbarian launched Arnie’s career, Terminator made him a movie star. Easily one of the best sci-fi films ever, it also gave Schwarzenegger the opportunity to not only play a villain but to play one that so keenly allowed him to use his strengths. He was cold, robotic (duh), and menacing and that made him cool.
2. Predator – Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer Rotten Tomatoes score: 78% I missed out on Total Recall until it was no longer relevant but I certainly never missed an opportunity to watch Predator. As a kid, this movie ran on TBS every other Saturday and I watch it EVERY OTHER SATURDAY and loved it every time. The special effects are sort of a letdown looking back at it now but Arnie was in his element and man, when he was in his element, the dude was stinking awesome. Also, “Hasta la vista” has nothing on, “Stick around” in my book.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Terminator Rotten Tomatoes score: 98% A film that absolutely deserves its place amongst both the best sci-fi films and the best action films of all time, T2 is, for me, the unquestionable top movie of Arnie’s career. It is smart, it is epic, it is state-of-the-art, it holds up tremendously well over 20 years later, and it contains Schwarzenegger’s most iconic performance. Say what you will about the man’s actual acting ability for most males my age, Schwarzenegger IS the Terminator and he did a tremendous job of embodying that character. It’s a modern classic and one that I dare say Arnie will never be able to top.