What qualifies me as an Arnold Schwarzenegger expert? I can spell his last name, correctly, on command. Try me.
This list sticks to Arnold’s starring vehicles and action films (or, films that at least have some action in them, like Twins and Kindergarten Cop). The latter is mostly because I wanted to avoid re-watching Junior and Jingle All the Way, but please feel free to debate the plausibility of male pregnancies and intense rivalries with lackluster ’90s comedians in the comments section. It also eliminates some of his earlier movies.
17. Red Heat (1988)
Arnold plays a Russian cop here, which, unlike many of his films, explains why he sounds like he’s speaking English with ball bearings in his mouth. The rest of this blasé pairing with Jim Belushi is pretty believable too, as long you buy into the standard conventions of generic buddy-cop actioners: widespread destruction of the city, excessive compliance with gender stereotypes, and startlingly poor marksmanship on the part of the bad guys.
16. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Although Arnold becoming a relatively successful and beloved teacher without any formal training is pretty insulting to a perpetually undervalued profession, Kindergarten Cop at least shows that he’s completely overwhelmed, at first. A realistic, modernized retelling of the story would probably have the kindergarten class failing to meet demanding No Child Left Behind standards, forcing the school to shut down, and thus ruining Arnold’s operation before it could even get started. The students would all enroll in charter schools and Arnold would lose his job and apply to grad school. Still, the lack of robots, aliens, or machine-gun duels makes for a disappointingly plausible flick.
15. Twins (1988)
This film was devised entirely on the inherent ridiculousness that an obscenely bulging Arnold could possibly be a fraternal twin to the diminutive, seemingly half-formed Danny DeVito. However, they do a relatively believable job of justifying the scenario, as their twindom is the result of a secretive genetic experiment to create a perfect child. Also, even though they aren’t twins, the mere fact that Dennis and Randy Quaid are even brothers vouches pretty well for this movie’s credibility.
14. The Running Man (1987)
A TV show that drops convicts into a dangerous battle zone where they’re chased by professional killers to the delight of audiences worldwide? Isn’t this already on Fox’s slate for next fall?
13. Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall is the oddest (and, in my opinion, best) film in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s oeuvre, a potent hybrid of grisly action and mind-probing science fiction. The film is very loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, and very strongly based on the concept of “Let’s put Arnold Schwarzenegger on fucking Mars.” Director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) wisely had the foresight to set the film in the distant future of 2084, because he included a lot of bat-shit crazy elements that (unfortunately) have yet to surface in modern society: vacations that exist only in the mind, slum colonies on Mars, affordable hologram technology, three-breasted hookers, and telepathic stomach mutants.
However, there is the distinct possibility that the entire film is a dream conjured up by Arnold as part of his Rekall vacation – and, by that logic, it could be argued that the film is completely plausible. So, is Arnold really an inter-planetary spy or merely a bored construction worker going through a mid-life crisis? If the answer is the latter, and everything that happens in the film is part of the overly elaborate fantasy that Schwarzenegger has paid for, then you could argue that it is one of the more believable entries in his filmography. Well, except for the part where Mars develops a working atmosphere in, like, 90 seconds – I don’t care if it’s part of his fantasy or not, it’s just freaking ridiculous.
Figures I’ve worked myself into such a tizzy over the film in which Arnold memorably asks, “If I’m not me, who the hell am I?”
Conan the Barbarian and more…
12. Raw Deal (1986)
This thoroughly entertaining early Arnold film never takes itself too seriously, so you can actually find yourself halfway believing a plot where disgraced former FBI agent Mark Kaminsky goes back undercover to seek revenge on a Chicago mafia boss who killed the son of a colleague. Of course, going undercover to avenge one man’s death entails Arnold working for said mafia boss and doing nefarious deeds to prove his mettle, including: faking his death in a needlessly overdramatic fake explosion, helping the boss kill other rival crime bosses, stealing back millions of dollars in heroin and cash that had been seized by the police (by means of organizing an explosion inside of a police station), engaging in numerous violent shootouts in public places, and generally endangering the lives of innumerable innocent citizens. Personally, I find most of these instances to be unethical rather than implausible.
However, it is hard to deny the utter absurdity of the following lines of dialogue from Raw Deal’s hilarious script:
Kaminsky: [After ducking a cake that has just been tossed at his face by his angry, drunken wife] You should not drink and bake!
Kaminsky: [Splashing red paint in some guy’s face] This is what you’re going to look like dead!
Kaminsky: [Solemnly, in almost unintelligible accent] He molested, murdered and mutilated her.
Baker: [reading ID] Joseph P. Brenner. What’s the “P” stand for? Mark Kaminsky: Pussy.
Kaminsky: This must be what they mean by poetic justice.
Kaminsky: You’re under arrest. Fake State Trooper: For what? Mark Kaminsky: Impersonating a human being.
Perhaps even more implausible of all are the following two items:
1. The producers somehow convinced The Rolling Stones management to let them use “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” during the film’s finalé (in which he brutally murders the entire crime syndicate, rendering the rest of the movie utterlypointless).
2. Arnold inspiring a crippled man to walk during the film’s epilogue. After this heartening finalé, which, might I remind you, immediately follows dozens upon dozens of homicides, the film ends on a freeze-frame of the two men in a loving embrace.
11. Conan the Barbarian (1982) / Conan the Destroyer (1984)
It’s a bit of a challenge to determine the plausibility of the Conan series, seeing as they take place in a fictional land in some ill-determined pre-historic past. Therefore, the only way to fairly assess the plausibility of these movies is to attempt to hold them to their own logic; a logic which includes magic, sorcery, monsters, ghosts, gods, Wilt Chamberlain, rubbery special effects,thinly veiled racism, etc, etc. By this standard, the rather solemn Conan the Barbarian (which features Arnold being crucified and fucking a ghost), fairs a little better than the sillier Conan the Destroyer, which has the internal logic of a particularly dim-witted (albeit enjoyable) Saturday morning cartoon. In the first film, characters act in a relatively reasonable manner based on their particular motives (revenge, pursuit of evil, greed). In the second, everybody acts based on the motives of a seven-year-old boy playing with action figures.
The most glaring implausibility in Conan the Destroyer is Bombaata, the character played by former NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain. First of all, Chamberlain looks hilariously out of place doing anything the movierequires of him, from riding a horse, to wearing lots of fur and primitive armor, to swinging a mace. Also, he’s 7’1”, which is way taller than you’re used to seeing onscreen amongst relatively normal sized people (unless you’re a fan of Kazaam or My Giant). In scenes where Arnold and Wilt sneak around castles and desert landscapes, Wilt looks likehe’s either on stilts, or part human and part daddy long-legs.
However, the most ironic (and implausible) aspect of Wilt’s role is the queen’s assignment for him while accompanying Conan and the young Princess Jehnna on their quest: Bombaata’s main role is to keep Conan and Jehnna separated, and to protect the Princess’s virginity. Yes, Wilt Chamberlain, perhaps the most famous womanizer in history, the lady’s man who claimed to have slept with over 20,000 women in his life, is charged with the all-important task of protecting the virginity of a beautiful young woman. That’s like hiring Keith Richards to guard your drug stash. Even in a parallel universe, that’s just an abhorrently terrible decision.
Although Red Sonja (1985) doesn’t feature Arnold playing Conan, but the oh-so-different Kalidor (duh), many consider it the final entry in his ’80s sword and sorcery trilogy. However, I’m not including it here because the star of the film is really an unspeakably terrible Bridgette Nielsen, who has the majority of screen time and dialogue (not to mention having the movie named after her). But, if you’re really curious, the most implausible aspect of the movie is that Nielsen’s performance makes Arnold look like a graduate of the Lee Strasberg method acting class.
In a similar vein, Arnold’s first movie is actually the supposedly horrid Hercules in New York (1969), but I probably won’t ever get around to watching that one because I don’t completely hate myself.
10. Collateral Damage (2002)
It bares mentioning that Collateral Damage was originally intended for an October 2001 release, but was delayed after the 9/11 WTC attacks. So, at the very least, the film’s central idea of American foreign policy bringing terrorism to our own land, rife with depictions of bombings occurring on American soil and killing civilians, was seen as uncomfortably familiar in the wake of the tragedy.
That said, although Collateral Damage is just kind of middling and unremarkable for the first hour, an increasingly preposterous and idiotic finalé pushes this film into the top ten. I mean, there is some ridiculous shit that goes down in the last half hour.
First of all, the entire first two acts of the movie turn out to be overly elaborate machinations by the villains; it’s one of those endings that tries to make you go, “Woah!” by pulling the rug out from under you (a la The Usual Suspects), but instead makes you go, “Uh… didn’t that just render everything that happened in the rest of the movie completely illogical and arbitrary?”
Besides that, Arnold chucks a children’s dinosaur toy packed with explosive out the window of a government building seconds before it explodes, crafts bombs out of Macgyver-esque spare parts, out-jumps a fireball, repels down an elevator shaft, seeminglyadopts an orphaned Colombian boy, earns the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and single-handedly wins the war on terror.
9. True Lies (1994)
The central conceit of True Lies is that Arnold is a counter-terrorist agent operating under the guise of a meek computer salesman. In fact, his Harry Tasker is so undercover that even his wife and teenage daughter sincerely believe that he is a dull, white-collar geek. At the time of the film’s release, this was an amusing, albeit fanciful concept, delivered with high-octane action and spectacle by a pre-Titanic James Cameron.
In retrospect, that plot device was far less disturbing and clandestine than the scandal Arnold became embroiled in years later, when it was revealed that an affair with his long-time housemaid had resulted in a lovechild that not even his own family knew about. Yikes.
Then again, this movie also features Arnold shooting a missile, strapped with the film’s central Jihadist villain, at a helicopter filled with lesser baddies. Like, he literally kills bad guys by shooting them with other bad guys. So maybe it is still pretty unrealistic, after all.
8. Predator (1987)
Predator’s placement rests heavily on your inclination to believe the following plot points:
1. Aliens exist.
2. Said aliens have mastered both interplanetarytravel and advanced combat techniques .
3.They also enjoy hunting humans for sport.
4. Dudes are also rockin’ some serious dreadlocks.
I think it’s safe to assume that all four of these sobering prospects are, at the very least, decidedly within the realm of reason. I know what you’re thinking – “Oh, shit.” Thankfully, I also find it completely plausible that Arnold can purge our jungles of these loathsome creatures. Phew.
The Terminator Trilogy and more…
7. The Terminator Trilogy (1984, 1991, 2003)
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.