Follying around


How Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chest has changed over the years for subsequent films.

Rafał Donica

13 May 2023

arnold schwarzenegger

Nowadays it’s a rather rare phenomenon for screen heroes to chase around with a bare chest. Well, sometimes Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, John Cena or The Rock will run around shirtless. Physical fortitude without a top layer of clothing from the big bell will shine in front of the camera Ryan Gosling or the three Marvel Chrises (Pratt, Hemsworth and Evans). But it’s not as if in every film featuring them, the filmmakers look for an excuse to expose their sculpted bodies, and if they do, they strip them down for a dozen seconds, never minutes. It was different with the heroes of the cinema of the 1980s and 1990s, who half-jacked sometimes ran for half, or more, of the film (see Rambo: First Blood Part 2). At the time, the great race for the title of best muscular was between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and in the back seat between Lundgren and Van Damme. In this article – using the example of Arnold Schwarzenegger precisely, as if not looking at the icon of bodybuilding (7 Mr. Olympia titles) – I would like to lean into the “issues” of how the makers of films featuring him were combining and looking for justification/pretext to expose the iconic musculature of the Austrian Oak as often as possible and show him topless on screen for as long as possible.

We’ll also take a little look at how Arnold has changed over the years for subsequent films, although bodybuilding analysis – sculpting / trimming / muscle separation etc. – I won’t try to do here, because I can’t. Schwarzenegger hung up his bodybuilding career after winning his sixth Mr. Olympia title in 1975; he had won continuously since 1970. He returned to the bodybuilding catwalk one more time, in 1980, to win – not without controversy – the title for the seventh time. Interestingly, in the age-old movie bare-knuckle rivalry (though they are now cordial friends), Stallone ultimately won over Arnold in the “longevity” category. Despite the fact that they are almost contemporaries (Sylvester’s 1946 vintage is barely a year older than Arnie’s 1947), it was the re-creator of the Rocky and Rambo roles who “undressed in front of the camera” longer, as late as 2013 (Legends of the Ring), and remains to this day much fitter physically in front of the camera, leaving Arnold with Terminator 3 a full decade earlier (because that’s when Austrian Oak undressed on set for the last time) far behind. And while this is an article focusing on the cinematic evolution of Schwarzenegger’s frame, Stallone’s name will inevitably come up from time to time, as their film careers – which began in the same year – went head to head in the “bare chest” competition for a good few decades.

„Hercules in New York”, 1970, dir. Arthur Allan Seidelman

hercules in new york

Why the role of Hercules? Probably no need to answer that question. The bare chest for much of the screening was also a legitimate obvious in this film. Hercules in New York is Arnold’s debut in front of the camera (just two years after arriving in the US), which he himself would probably prefer to forget. Wooden acting, a coarse accent and the still-weak English of the Austrian Oak replaced with dubbing, and Schwarzenegger’s name on the payroll replaced with Arnold Strong “Mr. Universe.” Arnie being fresh from winning his first Mr. Olympia title on screen looked epic, but even his broad back failed to overshadow the film’s mediocrity in the slightest. Stallone taking off with his film career that same year, however, scored a much bigger blunder with his infamous performance in the erotic Kitty and Stud’s Party.

„The Long Goodbye”, 1973, dir. Robert Altman

the long goodbye, robert altman

Stallone had an episode in a Woody Allen film (1971’s Bananas), while Arnold was in Robert Altman himself. While the former quite clothed played a thug accosting the director himself on the subway, Schwarzenegger still paved his way to the acting heights – literally – with his elbows, episodically exposing his muscles in a somewhat bizarre scene in Altman’s classic, where a couple of guys and their boss undress, urging Marlowe to do the same. The yellow undies and ill-considered mustache of the future Terminator are something that can’t be easily dismissed. About this performance, not included in the film’s payroll, even Arnold himself does not mention a word in his autobiography. The film was being made around the time of his fourth Mr. Olympia title, so necessarily Schwarzenegger, being in top training shape, looked like a young god. With an ill-considered mustache and wearing yellow pants.

„Stay Hungry”, 1976, dir. Bob Rafelson

stay hungry

Schwarzenegger’s first big role, having put his bodybuilding career on hold (he won his sixth Mr. Olympia title in 1975), he played himself, in sum, as a bodybuilder with ambitions. In Affliction, a summa summa sum product placement of the ever-expanding bodybuilding industry, the later California governor was able to show how he works out in the gym, and run down the street with other pacers not only shirtless, but also without pants, showing that he never missed a leg day. As a condition for receiving the role, in addition to taking acting lessons, Arnold had to drop from a weight of 109 to 95 kilograms, because, according to the director, he looked too… broad on camera. His performance alongside such rising stars as Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and Robert Englund won him a Golden Globe (!) for Best Debut.

„The Streets of San Francisco” episode „Dead Lift”, 1977, dir. Michael Preece

streets of san fransisco

Although he was already two years past his intense training days and somewhat “diminished,” I don’t think Arnie has ever presented his frame as epically as in the shot you see above. The playing of “himself” continues, but this time the bodybuilder, played by Austrian Oak, is in addition a murderer, albeit a bit unintentionally. For by overdoing his jerking off, he kills the girl who darts at him as he strikes bodybuilding poses in front of her. This is where the unintentionally hilarious excerpt circulating on the web comes from, in which Arnold, running amok, in his characteristically still very strong Austrian accent at the time, shouts: STOP THAT! I’M NOT UGLY! I’M BEAUTIFUL! THIS IS WHAT THE BODY’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE! The entire episode revolves around the world of bodybuilders, hence Arnold and his buddies (including Franco Columbu) were able to display their oil-smeared muscles in full glory during the fictional Mr. San Francisco competition, which Arnold… loses because he was distracted by a spectator laughing at the poses on display.

„The Jayne Mansfield Story”, 1980, dir. Dick Lowry

jayne mansfield

And another role in Arnold’s filmography as a bodybuilder. This time, however, he played an authentic character – Mickey Hargitay, one of the many husbands (not simultaneously, of course) of Jayne Mansfield. The reason for the presentation of the muscular qualities of the future Predator slayer was, of course, his profession as a bodybuilder. So we see Arnold topless posing in… a nightclub in a somewhat bizarre display, during workouts or by the pool. The Austrian Oak looks great here, of course, but he’s not yet as taut and “big” as he’ll soon be when he begins intensive preparations for the first of his biggest screen roles – Conan the Librarian… that is the Barbarian, too much of a Conan parody from the brilliant comedy UHF came into my memory.

„Conan The Barbarian”, 1982, dir. John Milius

conan barbarian

Conan the Barbarian was a breakthrough film for Schwarzenegger in every way. It was his first big leading role, in addition to the title role, and it was in a high-budget film with big names in the cast. Milius’ film proved to be the first high jump on the springboard of Austrian Oak’s success, and Conan became his first iconic break into cult status, before he took on the role of Terminator or gave the Predator a thrashing. Arnie prepared so ambitiously in the gym (under the tutelage of his friend Franco Columbu) for the role of the Cimmerian that in just two months he built up so much… to unexpectedly take part in the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition and win it (in bodybuilding circles at the time, the win was considered undeserved) for the seventh and last time. It is worth mentioning at this point that Arnie’s eternal rival Sylvester Stallone did not win a single Mr. Olympia title, perhaps because he never took part in them. It won’t be an exaggeration when I write that among Arnold’s most important films at the time, it was in Conan the Barbarian that he presented his musculature at its best, most powerful, because it was made under Mr. Olympia. The pretext for showing Arnold’s brilliantly expansive frame and huge muscles included the “form-building” sequence on the spinning wheel and some of the fight scenes where he did his barbarian work “shirtless.”

„The Terminator”, 1984, dir. James Cameron


We are four years after Arnold’s definitive end to his career as an active bodybuilder. Now thirty-seven years old and a full-fledged actor, he still looked phenomenal, which James Cameron took advantage of in the film’s opening scenes, when the naked Terminator arrives from the future in modern-day Los Angeles. The camera slowly celebrates almost every aspect of Schwarzenegger’s figure like never before, highlighting his assets with a play of chiaroscuro. First the entire figure in a squat, shrouded in smoke, then the obligatory chest. Then the camera takes a turn around the walking Arnold, showing his huge back and shoulders, until the general set, where we see from behind the entire figure of the Austrian Oak as Mother Nature and the gym created him, including his thighs, calves and bare butt, while epic music is heard in the background. We can still admire the iconic actor’s musculature for a while during the execution of the three types at the telescope (Bill Paxton remains the only actor to have “died” at the hands of the Terminator, Predator and Alien). Although in Cameron’s film we see Arnold without clothes for only a few tens of seconds, no one before or since has shown the actor’s sculpture in such a stunning, so complete and almost painterly/poetic/artistic way.

„Commando”, 1985, dir. Mark L. Lester


This is the film in which we meet Arnold (wearing a T-shirt) as he carries a large tree trunk on his shoulder; so we can venture to say that here are two oak trees meeting in one frame, one of which is the Austrian variety. With the embarrassing joke behind us, we move on to an analysis of Arnold’s frame in Commando, and we won’t see this one in full view until the film’s finale. First on the dinghy, where we can briefly admire the workings of the Austrian muscleman’s upper body as he paddles, then in the final scene of the slaughter of the guilt-ridden (because they weren’t innocents) carried out on the enemy’s cannon flesh. In order to somehow justify Arnold running around with a rifle and a bare chest (where’s Health and Safety I ask!), the camera shows that he was wounded cruelly in the abdomen and… you have to take off your military vest after all. As part of Arnie’s eternal rivalry with Sly, the former, at the end of Commando, chops up his opponents with an M-60 rifle until his bare abdominal muscles and chest gleefully jump up, parroting Sylvester, who in the finale of Rambo 2 (premiered 5 months earlier) did exactly the same thing, complete with the same weapon.

„Raw Deal”, 1986, dir. John Irvin

raw deal

In this thriller, in which Arnold takes care of the bad guys by firing a rifle with one hand and driving a car with the other (if he had a third, he’d be picking at his teeth with it), his exposed torso is even less than in The Terminator. There is a brief snapshot, devoid of finesse, of his bare chest as Arnold’s character pretends to squint after a bedroom party, and a not much longer scene in front of the bathroom mirror. It’s clear that after Commando, where in the finale he killed people while naked from the waist up, the already American actor (Arnold received US citizenship in 1983) wanted to shift the emphasis from his bare chest to the film’s plot and his acting. Or maybe he preferred to expose his biceps more this time, because he temporarily neglected other parts of his body? After all, even on the film’s poster we see him in a singlet with his powerful arm in the foreground, and his chest – comparing it to that of The Terminator – looks like it has escaped some air.

„Predator”, 1987, dir. John McTiernan


Another film in which the now 40-year-old Arnold exposes his powerful arms more than his chest. Probably everyone is familiar with the shot-mem where we see the epic arm duel between Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers. Arnie’s chest, which still commands no small amount of respect and reverence in the neighborhood, is only presented to us in its full glory in the finale, although most of the time we see it smeared in dried mud. Nudity from the waist up was here (unlike in Raw Deal) brilliantly written into the script and embedded in the plot. Apparently, on the set, the entire crew of actors and stuntmen had a fully equipped gym, where every day before shooting from 5:30 a.m. everyone “pumped” their muscles to look good in front of the camera. The result was one of the greatest cult films with Arnold and perhaps the Most Manly Film of all time.

„Red Heat”, 1988, dir. Walter Hill

red heat

From film to film, we see less and less of an undressed Arnold on screen, and more and more clothed. For example, in The Running Man, which was a year earlier, Arnie in ANOTHER SCENE did not show up from the waist up without a shirt. What’s more, for three quarters of The Running Man he ran around in… a yellow leotard, which flattened his musculature in an uncool way. I remember watching The Running Man as a kid and experiencing great disappointment in the film image of my favorite actor ever because of this. In Red Heat we see Arnold’s chest, in fact almost all stripped down to his broth, in the very first minutes of the film. The camera slowly cuts all the way to the star entering the Russian sauna, and his still impressive chest fills almost the entire frame for a moment. And then the two men give Arnold a heated stone with the word love on it, and nakedly beat each other in the snow, by no means for snowballs. And that’s the only undressed scene of the seven-time Mr. Olympia in this film.

„Twins”, 1988, dir. Ivan Reitman


This is the first (and last) “undressed” comedy in the oeuvre of the better than well-built star. After all, in the 1979 western comedy Cactus Jack, Arnie starred from start to finish in a buttoned-up, long-sleeved cowboy outfit without showing even a scrap of flesh, as he did in an episodic appearance in the 1974 comedy Happy Anniversary and Goodbye (playing the role of massage therapist Rico in an undershirt) and in the 1979 comedy Scavenger Hunt, where he played a personal trainer in a polo shirt. In Twins, Arnold’s exposed frame is, especially juxtaposing Reitman’s comedy with Red Heat, which was made the same year, unusually abundant. Austrian Oak in a negligee shows himself in the very first minutes of the film, setting off on a dinghy to the airport, then his exposed torso is accidentally bumped into by his future sweetheart, Arnold also undresses for a later love scene. The icing on the cake, however, is a hilarious scene in a store, when the unkempt larger twin in the middle of the market takes off his torn T-shirt to buy a new one, and, shocked by his powerful musculature (Arnold’s chest was groomed for a Walter Hill actioner that same year), Danny DeVito asks Arnie if he’s allergic to something because his chest has swollen. In Twins, there was no shortage of quotes to Sylvester Stallone; Arnie, upon seeing the Rambo III poster, makes sure he has bigger biceps and waves his hand at the poster with Stallone, in a gesture of pity.

„Total Recall”, 1990, dir. Paul Verhoeven

total recall

Paul Verhoeven’s film is the most packed with gunfire, explosions, brutality, blood and violence in Schwarzenegger’s oeuvre, and it’s a wonder that in not a single scene does our hero show a piece of his chest or even a piece of his biceps, walking around in shirts that reach at least to the elbow throughout the film. The only moment where we can see that Arnie’s musculature is still in good shape is in one of the film’s first scenes, when his hero does a kizi-mizi in bed with Sharon Stone. Fortunately, Total Recall, with its engaging plot, ambiguous ending (something like a daydream), non-stop action, star-studded cast and interestingly written character of Arnold, does well without showing his muscles. This shows the decline of 1980s action cinema, where the main character could afford to run around half naked for half a movie, and Arnold was perfectly aware of this. And returning one last time to Arnold and Sly’s rivalry, by far the former came off more naturally in the duet bed scene with Sharon Stone than Stallone and Sharon Stone’s twisted stunts in the shower in The Specialist. Score one for Arnold. Read also: TOTAL RECALL is the MOST BRUTAL action movie EVER made!

„Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, 1991, dir. James Cameron

terminator 2, t2, judgement day

Some uneven Skynet these mass-produced terminators are coming out. The first T800 shipped differed from the second in hairstyle and stature; the second one was slightly less bulky than the first. The differences in the power of the bare chest are not surprising; while the original was realized less than four years after Arnie’s seventh Mr. Olympia win, the actor walked onto the set of the sequel as a 43-year-old already riding on bodybuilding fumes. However, what not to say, the Austrian Oak put in a solid workout and in the scene of his arrival and demolition of the bar with the guests inside, he still looked fantastic. Well, and his bare chest finally lived to see… an episodic role as a prop, on which an ill-advised harley man decided to put out a cigar just because the naked newcomer forgot to say “please.” We were not to see Arnold’s bare chest again until 12 years later. In all the films made up to that time (Last Action Hero, True Lies, Junior, Eraser, Jingle All the Way, End of Days, The 6th Day and Collateral Damage), although most of them were still strong action cinema, Arnie was already acting without taking off his undershirt, showing off his muscles at most. Read also: From ELECTRONIC KILLER to INTERIOR DECORATOR. All Schwarzenegger’s TERMINATORS

„Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, 2003, dir. Jonathan Mostow

terminator 3

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s clapper says goodbye to viewers. Fifty-five-year-old Arnie, for the scene of the Terminator’s arrival in Rise of the Machines, resumed grueling gym workouts just three months before the scene was shot. He claimed that audiences going to see another Terminator movie – especially after such a long hiatus of 12 years – would expect the mass-produced machine to look the same as in the previous two films. And while Arnold isn’t quite as perfectly trimmed as he was in the first Terminator (especially in the backwards shot), you have to admit that his muscle memory has allowed for a really nice on-camera rebuilding of his form. With Terminator 3, Austrian Oak definitively ended the “undressed” stage of his career, knowing when to leave the stage undefeated.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the final burial of the “hatchet of war” between Arnold and Sly. The men have moved on a bit with time, their muscles have flabbed a bit, their foreheads have plowed up with wrinkles, and as they’ve gotten older they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s nicer to be good friends now that there’s nothing left to compete over anyway… although the “cold war” seems to continue. After meeting on the sets of The Expendables 2 and 3 and Escape Plan there is currently another small “duel” going on between them, but no longer on the “bare chests”, but… series under the sign of action and sensation. Stallone has to his credit the well-received 9-episode Tulsa King, Schwarzenegger will soon be seen in the 8-episode Fubar.

Rafał Donica

Rafał Donica

Since watching "Blade Runner", he has been passionate about cinema, loves "Akira", "Drive", "Escape from New York", "North by Northwest", the underrated "The Hateful Eight" and "Terrifier 2". Author of the book "Frankenstein 100 years in cinema". Founder and editor-in-chief (in the years 1999 - 2012) of the Polish film portal FILM.ORG.PL. Since 2016, a professional reportage photographer.

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