The Terminator Trilogy and more...
Terminator didn’t create prophetic fears regarding artificial intelligence/self-aware machines, but it certainly helped bring them to the mainstream and struck auniversal nerve. How realistic these concerns actually are is up for debate between minds far greater than my own. However, more importantly for the sake of this article, it’s clear that these possibilities seemed at least plausible for the majority of the movie-going public. That existential dread of technology is what made the Terminator films so successful, even beyond perfectly executed action scenes, heaping doses of ultra-cool stylistic flourishes, or Arnold’s effectiveness in a born-to-play role.
Terminator’s greatest achievement was tapping into an apprehension that grows just as rapidly as the technology that provokes it: the disquieting notion that perhaps one day we will be overcome by thatwhich we have created. I mean, who isn’t a little creeped out by Siri?
Certainly, the films were extremely audacious in both the time frame (Skynet was originally supposed to “become self-aware” in 1997) and the impact (destruction of almost all humankind) of their vision. But while all the extra trappings (time travel, T-1000, nuclear holocaust) may or may not seem credible or realistic, the central idea of the films is a fear that is perhaps not as irrational as their occasionally silliness (*cough* Terminator 3 *cough*) make it out to be.
6. The 6th Day (2000)
Arnold is billed in the credits as “Adam Gibson and his clone,” but the movie is set in 2015. You have to admire the unyielding faith filmmakers have in the rapid technological developments of the modern world.
5. Eraser (1996)
Seriously,this scene, titled “Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Plane”, tells you all you need to know:
4. Commando (1985)
Commando is Arnold Schwarzenegger, distilled: pure action, minus any attempt at science fiction, subtlety, characterization, plotting, or logic. And it’s freaking awesome.
In terms of plausibility, Arnold kills 81 people in this movie, which is a gaudy, yet conceivable personal record. On the other hand, he noticeably kills the same stunt double at least twice during the extremely prolonged and violent finalé, which opens some serious theological and existential cans of worms regarding mortality/reincarnation/etc. Commando’s main nemesis, a mesh-wearing, overweight, oddly effeminate sadist named Bennett, is also decidedly absurd and unconvincing, in the best way possible.
This classic also features some of Arnold’s most comically ridiculous stunts, including jumping out of a plane mid-takeoff (sans parachute) and landing comfortably in a nearby marsh.
3. Batman & Robin (1997)
Believe it or not, Arnold is technically the star of this one – like Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), he got top billing despite playing the villain (not to mention a $25 million payday). Batman & Robin is, indisputably, the worst Batman movie ever made, and probably just all-around one of the worst big budget blockbusters ever made. It was a failure on a massive scale, generating passionate hatred from critics and fans, and grossing barely over a $100 million within the US (Burton’s Batman had grossed $250 million almost ten years earlier with a fraction of the budget).
A lot of the lambasting is based on the movie’s extremely silly, cartoonish, and implausible tone (yes, implausible even as far as Batman movies go – basically, picture the exact opposite of Christopher Nolan’s gritty take on the series). These absurdities are almost too overwhelming for me to even know where to start, but this video will give you a pretty good idea:
Arnold is certainly responsible for a lot of the criticism, as his Mr. Freeze is about as bad as it gets. Due to a cryogenic accident, Freeze is bizarrely relegated to a sub-zero suit that runs on diamonds; unfortunately, Arnold also wears a layer of makeup that makes him look a reject from the Blue Man Group, and spouts a seemingly endless stream of lame puns, like “Ice to see you!” or “The Ice Man cometh!” His character, like the entire movie, is an unmitigated, implausible disaster. Lesson learned: next time you accept a role based on a $25 million advance, make sure the script isn’t written in crayon.
2. Last Action Hero (1993)
Arnie’s biggest commercial failure is also his most unconventional and whimsical project; Last Action Hero is, at times, a surprisingly clever fantasy packed with good ideas. Unfortunately, it is also packed with bad ideas. Basically, it’s just packed – and if it wasn’t two hours and ten freaking minutes long, it actually might have worked.
The film is deliberately ridiculous, mocking the big budget action genre while also indulging in many of its formulaic pleasures (a la Scream and the horror genre). At some points you can’t help but admire the effort, like when Schwarzenegger dons a robe to become an ass-kicking version of the infamously indecisive Hamlet, throwing Claudius out a window and setting off explosions throughout the kingdom.
Gaping holes in the 4th wall also abound, culminating in Arnold’s Jack Slater discovering that he is a fictional character scripted by writers. Hell, there’s even an inexplicable cartoon cat named Whiskers that works as a police detective. The fact that Arnold has made a film less plausible than this one is a testament to the unintentional transcendence that is End of Days.
1. End of Days (1999)
Oh, the movie where Arnold single-handedly defeats Satan and sends him back to the fiery depths of Hell? Yeah, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and call that his most implausible movie. In case that wasn’t enough, here is some supporting evidence:
Exhibit A: Arnold and Kevin Pollack play partners/best buds named Jericho Cane and Bobby Chicago. For serious.
Exhibit B: The film’s Wikipedia entry includes this sentence: “In the ensuing fight, Jericho fires an M203 grenade launcher at Satan, wrecking the train and buying them enough time to escape.”
Exhibit C: We learn that the number of the beast has been thoroughly misrepresented throughout the years: you see, the people who thought it was 666 had it upside down. Turn it to its proper position and (for some reason) add a one in front, and what do you get? 1999, the End of Days! Top that, Y2K!
Exhibit D: The climactic scene involves a Satanically-possessed Schwarzenegger trying to leverage the last bit of humanity he has left to prevent himself from raping the lead heroine and impregnating her with Satan’s baby in the final seconds before the dawning of the new millennium.
Now tell me that doesn’t top your “worst New Year’s Eve” story.