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In Movies & TV Commentary

"Total Recall," the original, not the remake, qualifies as one of Arnold's best movies.

Get to tha choppa!: Arnold's finest five films


Arnold Schwarzenegger's film career is the kind of thing one would find in a storybook. A strange, silly storybook written in a thick Austrian accent, sure, but his rise to fame – from foreign bodybuilder to beloved Hollywood superstar and politician – is a fascinating tale to say the least.

However, "The Last Stand," Arnold's first leading man action vehicle since 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," will test how hard his drawing power has been hit by tabloids, time and his now infamous indiscretions. At the same time, it's hard to argue against the Governator's peculiar brand of on-screen charisma, especially back in his heyday. And when that uniquely compelling presence combined with a decent movie, the results were, for the lack of a better word, explosive.

Case in point: the following five films, which are the best from the inimitable action artist known simply as Ahnold.

"True Lies"

1994's "True Lies" is a fun, bombastic and epic action spectacle that merits the massive names of Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron in its credits. The action is outrageous, intense and exciting, and Cameron's script features the kind of awesomely absurd Arnold one-liners audiences love to laugh at, delivered as only the Austrian superstar could.

Cameron's film is not only a solid big-budget Hollywood action movie, however. It represented the end of an era. After "True Lies," Schwarzenegger's career never quite reached the same heights. Instead, it began a streak of gimmicky ("Junior," "End of Days"), forgettable ("Collateral Damage") and infamously terrible ("Batman & Robin," "Jingle All the Way") decisions. Thanks to this losing streak and his increasing political aspirations, audiences would never really get another preposterously entertaining shoot-'em-up from Arnold. Sadly, no one – outside of perhaps Dwayne Johnson – has really been able to fill the void.

"Commando"

"Commando" is the definitive Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It's not a great movie. By most technical definitions, it's not even really a good movie. However, if you're ever in a situation where you must sum up Arnold's career and his macho allure (a strange scenario, but you never know), all you have to do is point at "Commando" and say, "Pretty much that."

The classic 1985 not-so-guilty pleasure features everything an action movie fan would want. You want extended sequences of tens of bad guys failing to hit a single target while our hero becomes an expert marksman without even aiming? You've got it. Do you need your protagonist to have a ridiculous tough guy name? Well, the main character is named John Matrix so cross that off the list. How about slimy villains that get vanquished with ingeniously awful zingers? "Commando" has enough to fill a whole entire other film.

Sure, "Commando" is not Schwarzenegger's "Citizen Kane" (though now I really want to see those two spliced together somehow). It is, however, a big explosive fireball of non-stop genre fun. Remember when I said that "Commando" isn't even really a good movie? I lied.

"Predator"

The Predator franchise, featuring one of cinema's most generically named evil creatures, didn't make the smartest move putting itself alongside the Alien series. The latter features some of the most critically lauded films in both the science fiction and horror genres, while "Predator" stars the everyone's favorite Austrian beefcake, a professional wrestler and Carl Weathers, a name I can't say with a straight face after "Arrested Development."

So yeah, "Predator" loses that fight, but that doesn't mean it's a bad movie. In fact, it's actually a solid thriller.

Schwarzenegger and company make for an entertaining band of potential victims – something "Predator" has over almost every horror movie made in the past decade – and director John McTiernan, who also helmed "Die Hard," crafts a tense thriller with a unique setting and an even more unique otherworldly baddie. In most Arnold films, he's just mowing down faceless henchmen to get to an evil boss, but "Predator" managed to provide him with something few other movies could: an actual equal.

"Total Recall"

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't exactly known for, um, cerebral films. Writing a movie starring Arnold probably didn't require too many brain cells, and watching them demands even fewer.

So 1990's "Total Recall," with its mind-bending, reality questioning storyline based on a short story by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, is an oddball on the star's resume. It's even stranger thanks to director Paul Verhoeven's wildly violent and visually inventive take on the future, featuring memorably bizarre details like eyes popping out of their skulls, robot taxi drivers and strange mutations – almost all done with impressive practical effects.

It's a curious combination to say the least, but somehow, "Total Recall" completely works. Audiences not only get the best of a silly Schwarzenegger movie – the preposterous action setpieces (bloodier than usual thanks to Verhoeven), the goofy one-liners – but they also get the best of a smart, twist-filled sci-fi story, cleverly forcing the audience to question what they've just seen. As a result, "Total Recall" is the rare Arnold movie that satisfies the brain as much the desire to see things go boom.

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is not simply a great Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It's just a great movie, period. James Cameron's 1991 epic is a wild hybrid of science fiction, film noir and straight action that takes everything that viewers enjoyed about "The Terminator" and makes it bigger and better.

Once just a killing machine (literally), Schwarzenegger is allowed to develop a bit more of a character. Linda Hamilton makes for an awesome heroine and, like in "Predator," the film actually gives Arnold a decent villain, the T-1000 (played by a menacing Robert Patrick), whose liquid metal special effects are still spellbinding over 20 years later. The final result is a freakishly intense, ferociously action-packed, mentally stimulating blockbuster. Cameron may get a fair share of flak for his notorious ego, but when the man makes an action movie, he goes all out. And as a viewer, it's appreciated.

Talkbacks

TosaJim | Jan. 18, 2013 at 10:28 a.m. (report)

Sorry...Arnold had no fine films....he's a terrible actor.

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