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Get to da choppa! Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER’S best roles

When in Die Hard, John McClane describes the terrorists taking over the Nakatomi Plaza, he states that they have enough arsenal to send Arnold Schwarzenegger into orbit.

Jacek Lubiński

11 June 2023

After all, the Arnold Schwarzenegger (aka Austrian Oak) is a figure much larger than life, a man who has permanently left his mark on the modern era. He became an icon even before, to the delight of the audience, he literally burst the cinema screen with his presence. He has proved many times that – contrary to appearances – he is not such a poor actor as you might think. He started appearing on the other side of the camera back in the 1970s. Today, as a septuagenarian he has almost 50 roles to his name. Below are some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performances.

"Come with me if you want to live", or a classical Arnold

T-800. Terminator, 1984 / Terminator 2, 1991

terminator 2 t-800 on a harley davidson Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER

Without a doubt, Arnold’s business card. Without this role, it is difficult to imagine not only his career, but also the landscape of contemporary cinema and even contemporary pop culture in general. It is also hard to imagine anyone else who could become a merciless killing machine. Playing without expression (and without clothes), while conveying the right emotions to the audience and arousing their fear, is a real challenge – and Schwarzenegger coped with it perfectly. What’s more, despite the lack of acting preparation, it was here that Arnold showed his talent – for example in this priceless scene from the cult sequel:

Anyway, whatever you want to write about these films, Arnold’s Terminator is a total creation – one of those rare cases when an actor completely merges with his character, becoming one with it. So we don’t see Arnold on the screen, but the T-800 in all its glory. In addition, Schwarzenegger never really got out of this role. Evidence:

t-800 david cameron terminator

Dutch, Predator (1987)

Dutch bare chested arnold shwarzenegger predator

A walking mountain of muscles and testosterone at its best – this is how Major Alan “Dutch” Schaeffer can be summed up in a nutshell. This is another iconic figure of action cinema, who again thanks to Arnold gained the status of a tough guy bigger than a movie (and a warrior creature from outer space). Only he could sell the line spoken with deadly seriousness to the titular creature: “You are an ugly son of a bitch” in such a way that the audience not only did not burst out laughing, but also bowed before him. And only he could turn the jungle smash into an individual drama with a truly Hamletian flair. It’s plus this moment:

carl weathers arnold shwarzenegger predator handshake

it is these seemingly humble things that make up the history of cinema. And they pass to it to the accompaniment of applause.

Quaid, Total Recall (1990)

Douglas Quaid is a role that is quite unique in Arnold’s filmography. The Red Planet, mutants from outer space, working in quarries, sex with Sharon Stone, snatching hands, sex with Rachel Ticotin, dwarfs, electronic killers… er, taxi drivers, removing the transmitter through the nose and finally numerous facial deformities, which were given to the former with the help of animatronics bodybuilder. The number of attractions of this film could overwhelm many Hollywood stars. But not Arnold, who – like the cynical atmosphere of the whole story – did a great job. In addition, he also had the opportunity to play a double role here for the first time. And no, it’s not the hologram scene, but the brief appearance of the “bad” Quaid. It’s not a big deal, but these few minutes are better than the entire Sixth Day, in which we actually had two Arnolds.

total recall arnold schwarzenegger sharon stone

To beat or not to beat, or Arnold dramatic

Jack Slater, Last Action Hero (1993)

arnold schwarzenegger last action hero

Logically, this pastiche of action cinema and its schemes has little to do with drama. However, it is here that Arnold literally rubs against Shakespeare. It is also here that he suddenly becomes a mere mortal who bleeds at the slightest blow to the glass. It sounds like just another prank on a long list of fictional jokes, but Arnold wasn’t up to it. Anyway, this film, strongly underestimated at the time, is a kind of settlement of the actor with his career so far and the image of the indestructible Mister Universe, again requiring a sense of balancing between screen exaggeration and riot and the sudden seriousness of the situation. This dualism and the unusual complexity of the character make this performance by Schwarzenegger can be considered the best in his career. And certainly the most interesting.

Jericho Cane, End of Days (1999)

arnold schwarzenegger gabriel byrne end of days

This film – let’s add right away that it’s not very successful – perfectly sums up the period of Arnold’s acting experiments. Like the vast majority of his transformations in the 90s, this one also failed. But it is hardly surprising, since in the first minutes, Schwarzenegger, tired of life and loneliness, plays Martin Riggs, desperately putting a gun to his head. The public was not yet ready for this turn of events; she also didn’t like the equally “suicidal” (and stupid) ending of the story. Years later, however, it is hard not to appreciate Arnold’s attempts at something more than just another “kiss kiss, bang bang” (with the predominance of the latter). It is true that the script and the absurdity of the whole plot do not really give him a chance to spread his wings in a clash with the devil, but the devil is in the details, thanks to which Schwarzenegger managed to get more out of this character than would be reasonable.

Roman Melnyk, Aftermath (2017)

arnold schwarzenegger aftermath

One of the few purely dramatic performances by Schwarzenegger, who, as he grew older (and in increasingly poor shape), began to look for other challenges in front of the camera. It is true that the film, based on facts, does not know exactly what it wants to be, and therefore fails, but Arnold can really surprise here with restraint. Positively. Deprived of sharp retorts, exaggerated stylistics, situational humor and a wide arsenal of sophisticated weapons, he becomes an ordinary, gray and desperate man. A crude accent and a tired face, however, are enough to show a slightly different, poignantly honest face of the muscleman from Austria (here: from Russia). Who knows, maybe in better hands Arnold wouldn’t create a creation worthy of some award, not necessarily an Oscar.

"You're fired", or Arnold frivolous

Julius Benedict The Twins (1988)

arnold schwarzenegger the twins sylvester stallone rambo poster

The duo of Hollywood’s top beefcake with the king of short, Danny DeVito just had to work out. Once again, Arnold shows quite a good sense of comedy here – whether at the moment of his first contact with sex and with the everyday life of a large metropolis to which he is suddenly thrown, or in situations of any interactions with his film twin, or even in the iconic scene in which he makes fun of from his rival, which was the steel Sly, and his Rambo III. And although there were also reflective and even sad moments, the whole thing is fun – and in it Schwarzenegger should simply be distinguished.

John Kimble Kindergarten Cop (1990)

arnold schwarzenegger kindergarten cop

This is probably the last really good comedy with Arnold with really convincing acting (although, paradoxically, it was for the later Junior that he received a Golden Globe nomination). Thrown among a bunch of preschoolers, Schwarzenegger seems to lose control of himself for the first and only time. No one, before or after, has exhausted the Austrian Oak as much as the children. And looking at it is a pure joy for the viewer. Worse with the rest of the film, to which the audience reacted with reserve – after all, we had a sudden change of tone and a shootout among the little ones, which is, after all, an American taboo topic. It is a pity that in this context Arnold’s role went largely unnoticed, because it is one of his most original performances.

Harry Tasker True Lies (1994)

Harry Tasker True Lies arnold schwarzenegger

At first glance, it’s a bit like a repeat of Last Action Hero. Again we have a pastiche and fun with cinema – this time spy (the prologue with Arnold in a Bond-style suit is pure gold). Once again, Schwarzenegger oscillates between biting one-liners and bitter seriousness (the scene where he confesses the whole truth to his wife under the influence of drugs is Arnold in top form), playing a character greater than everything and everyone; a man who is not afraid of anything – and certainly not Arab terrorists. However, lightness and humor, and even a certain unleavenedness of the whole production, dominate both in content and form. So even when Arnold’s daughter’s life hangs in the balance, daddy tortures the kidnappers with a smile on his face. This is how we spend the whole screening – we sit with a banana on our face, because no one can evoke it as well as Arnold, who in Cameron’s film is the best of the best in every respect.

Bonus: Arnold's art

The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye arnold schwarzenegger moustached in yellow briefs

In Robert Altman’ movie, Schwarzenegger appears in only one short scene. For what! He and the other guys suddenly walk into the office, and then… everyone starts taking off their clothes (Arnie even takes the jacket off a stunned Elliott Gould). The moment is extremely bizarre, so it is hardly surprising that the future governor of California – apart from muscles, additionally has a killer high school mustache under his nose – does not know what it is all about and involuntarily looks directly at the camera. Priceless.

Hasta la vista and get to da choppa, baby!


Jacek Lubiński

CINEMA - a powerful tool that I absorb, eat, devour, savor. Often tempting only the most favorite ones, which it is impossible to list them all, and sometimes literally everything. In the cinema, I am primarily looking for magic and "that something" that allows you to forget about yourself and the gray everyday life, and at the same time makes you sensitive to certain things that surround us. Because if there is no emotion in the cinema, there is no room for a human being - there is only a semi-finished product that is eaten together with popcorn, and then excreted just as smoothly. That is why I value most the creators who can include a piece of heart and passion in their work - those for whom making films is not an ordinary profession, but an extraordinary adventure that overcomes all barriers, discovers new lands and broadens horizons, giving free rein to imagination.

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