What do we talk about when we talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger movies?
Is it his early-career classics, like “Commando”? Is it his enjoyably dopey comedies, like “Twins”?
What was, in hindsight, the primary appeal of “the Austrian Oak”?
Was it the muscles?
The flat-top? The tooth gap? The camp?
Was it the self-aware wink he always seemed to be giving us?
Will this article ever stop asking rhetorical questions and make a frickin’ declarative statement already?!
Yes. Yes, it will. But first, one more question.
How does one define the essence of Arnold Schwarzenegger — one of the most peculiar superstars in movie history?
This weekend, Alamo Drafthouse Omaha will attempt this feat, summing up the myriad strengths of the actor with a Schwarzenegger-a-thon. Starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, Alamo will play four mystery movies (in 35mm) that will “transgress all bounds of genre, taste and common sense.”
Alamo Omaha’s creative director Derek Michael Dillon said that to pick the movies, he had to look at Arnie’s career as a whole, across shifts in genre and tone.
“When you think of the classic Schwarzenegger films,” Dillon said, “the ingredients that make them great is that Arnold is able to play into his larger-than-life persona.”
The four films (adding up to about eight hours) will remain a secret until Saturday.
In the meantime, I thought I’d have some good dumb fun, predicting and speculating and assessing the rich and varied filmography of the most all-American Austrian who’s ever lived.
Here are the six types of Schwarzenegger movies, along with some recommendations in how to pair them. Enjoy. And, as always, please remember to GET TO THE CHOPPA!
Films that will not be discussed
Schwarzenegger has been in an awful lot of stuff (some of it awful), and I won’t cover everything. The following films will be excluded from consideration.
» Movies in which he just has a cameo.
» “The Expendables” series, which are Stallone movies or Statham movies before they’re Schwarzenegger movies.
» The third and fifth “Terminator” movies, starring Schwarzenegger. Because who cares?
» His tenure as governor of California. Not a movie.
» And much of the actor’s post-governor filmography, a lot of which has gone straight to home video.
“The Terminator” (1984)
“Total Recall” (1990)
“Terminator 2” (1991)
“True Lies” (1994)
The great movies, the ones any good fan has seen and the ones for which he is still most readily identified. “Commando” might actually be the quintessential Schwarzenegger movie.
Schwarzenegger-a-thon recommendations: If you are, say, assembling an Arnie movie marathon, you probably wouldn’t want to put more than one — or at most two — of these movies into the lineup. Most people (cool people, anyway) have seen all of them many, many times, and a marathon of only classics would just be too predictable. When planning a picnic, you can’t just bring expensive meats. You’ve gotta bring the cheese, too.
Mid-tier but still enjoyable
“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
“Last Action Hero” (1993)
These are the lesser-seen Schwarzenegger movies. And they’re not without their pleasures. “Eraser” is a hugely fun/dumb action movie featuring laser guns, killer alligators and what is possibly the most preposterous final line in movie history. Such a high-caliber absurdity would pair nicely with something even dumber.
“Pumping Iron” (1977)
“The Running Man” (1987)
“Red Heat” (1988)
I considered putting “Pumping Iron” in the classics category, as the excellent bodybuilding doc offered most American audiences their first glimpse of the future movie star’s brawny body and weird charisma. But “Pumping Iron” remains a somewhat underseen gem for younger viewers. Whether it makes the cut at Alamo’s marathon, it’s a must-see. It would be best enjoyed alongside some ...
“Hercules in New York” (1970)
“Kindergarten Cop” (1990)
“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
“Batman & Robin” (1997)
As much as Schwarzenegger is defined by his supercharged, ultraviolent action movies, one can’t help but see him as the star of so many dopey comedies. Some are better or more interesting than others. “Junior” remains a thoroughly disturbing film. “Jingle All the Way” is ambitiously stupid. And “Batman & Robin” is so surreally, awfully misguided that it transcends mere definitions of good and bad. You could slip at least one of these stinky cheeses into your marathon, if only to give it that tart, tangy strangeness it would otherwise lack.
“End of Days” (1999)
“The 6th Day” (2000)
“Collateral Damage” (2002)
As his political career ramped up, his movie star wattage began to fade. His films began to lose that special something — though none of these is unwatchable.
“The Last Stand” (2013)
“Escape Plan” (2013)
Schwarzenegger followed up his governorship with a few decent if not especially memorable movies. The most notable (and the one most deserving of marathon inclusion) is the unremittingly brutal “Sabotage,” a David Ayer-directed crime thriller that is probably the nastiest piece of business Schwarzenegger has ever been a part of — save, of course, his Twitter feud with President Trump, following that whole “Celebrity Apprentice” debacle. That was pretty nasty.