In 2 weeks, a bevy of larger-than-life action heroes will unite once again in The Expendables 3 as they aim to take down Mad Max himself. Like many, I’m eagerly awaiting this epic showdown, and I’m riding shotgun with all the action movie aficionados who are rejoicing in the Stallone/Schwarzenegger alliance that has formed in recent years.
In 2 weeks, a bevy of larger-than-life action heroes will unite once again in The Expendables 3 as they aim to take down Mad Max himself. Like many, I’m eagerly awaiting this epic showdown, and I’m riding shotgun with all the action movie aficionados who are rejoicing in the Stallone/Schwarzenegger alliance that has formed in recent years. Seeing these titans share the screen has been positively delightful, and I expect big things from their upcoming outing. I have previously offered up a Top 5 for fellow Expendables star Sylvester Stallone, and I’m sure I ruffled some feathers with that one. Night Hawks? Yes, Night Hawks. I don’t think I’m going to shock as many people with this Top 5 where nostalgia runs deep, though I know a great many of you prefer the sequel to one of my choices. When I looked at Arnold’s body of work, it was fairly easy for me to rank his output. I even put my personal feelings aside and bumped my favorite Arnold movie to #2 so that the only right answer for the top spot on this list could reign supreme.
Let’s take a look at the best movies from a body builder who became a movie star before he became Governor of California (to mixed results–and I feel like I’m being very kind here), only to return to the silver screen:
#5) Commando (1985)
Okay, it’s silly. In fact, it’s silly as hell. It’s also very entertaining, and I’m tempted to say that it may boast the most one-liners of any of Arnold’s movies–and that’s truly saying something. Schwarzenegger excels as John Matrix, the type of action hero who is fully capable of dismantling an entire army by himself, as he does in the closing reel. He is aided in this conquest that by the fact that his stationary enemies can unload entire clips in his direction–missing him with every bullet–as he doggedly pegs them between the eyes with an astounding series of running, jumping, and diving headshots. Am I exaggerating? Only slightly. Matrix can leap from planes, survive an off-road detour down a mountainside in a Jeep with no brakes, gun down enough enemies to fill a graveyard, and he can do all these things while offering up a steady stream of wisecracks.
Matrix: (dangling a criminal over the side of a cliff by his ankle) Remember, Sully, when I told you I was going to kill you last?
Sully: That’s right, Matrix. You did!
Matrix: I lied. (drops Sully)
Cindy: What happened to Sully?
Matrix: I let him go.
There’s something like that about every five minutes. This is one of those movies that somehow works even though a few tweaks would transform it into something akin to the action hero version of Airplane!. As a result, I’m not ashamed to admit that I treasure it.
Bonus Points: This was my introduction to Arnold.
#4) The Terminator (1984)
I know, T2 is better; or at least, that’s what many of you say. I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken. It must be the Cameron connection that confuses people, for while his Aliens is superior to Ridley Scott’s Alien, the first Terminator is vastly superior to T2. The second Terminator feature is polished to a shine, and offers a bit more in the way of a typical action movie thrill ride, but it lacks the heart and soul of this 1984 classic. Arnold is off the charts as one of the most terrifying villains ever to grace the screen, but perhaps more of the credit is due to Michael Biehn. He positively slays it as one of the grittiest heroes ever to die for the cause. This is a riveting and emotional picture that packs a mean punch. No one else could have played the titular role, and as far as sci-fi/action hybrids go, they don’t get much better than The Terminator.
Well, until we move forward with this list, anyhow.
#3) Total Recall (1990)
Two of my favorite things about Total Recall are the gonzo nature of the film (an opening nightmare sequence features Arnold’s eyeballs popping out, there’s a chick with three breasts in the movie, Arnold pulls a giant marble out of his nose, and so on and so forth) [Paul Verhoeven, baby! I love that Dutch maniac–ed.] and the insane levels of gory violence. This movie has some serious ass-kicking to go along with a gripping narrative taken from a short story by Phillip K. Dick. Thus there is a cerebral aspect to all of this carnage that is often lacking from such pieces. In fact, chew on this: original choices for the lead role included Richard Dreyfuss and Matthew Broderick. No shit.
Of course this one originally left the MPAA with an X-rating, requiring some trimming and the use of different shots for some of the bloodier bits. Still, it’s not one for the squeamish, and this shoot-em-up and bust-em-up mindfuck is utterly unique. Michael Ironside is his usual killer self as one of the main heavies, and Sharon Stone also makes quite an impression in an early role that allows her to have a decent throwdown with the very subject of this Top 5. I’m a huge fan of Total Recall, and though it is highly regarded by action fans, I don’t think it has ever gotten the respect it truly deserves as a quirky and exciting science fiction film.
#2) Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Yes, this is my favorite movie starring Schwarzenegger. I’ve only watched it a million times or so, and my friends and I have only asked one another “What is best in life?” and uttered the appropriate response maybe two million times or so. It’s weird, because I’m a diehard fan of Conan thanks to the comics and books I’ve always treasured, and not only does this film version stray from the source material, but Arnold isn’t necessarily a great choice for the part of Robert E. Howard’s sturdy but nimble barbarian. Yet he’s perfect for this movie, and this movie is epic. I think it might be the best revenge yarn ever lensed, and it definitely presents Schwarzenegger at his charismatic best.
Seriously, who can forget his one and only prayer, the prayer to end all prayers?
Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad, why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom–so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
I mean, what else is there to say? People should have framed prints of that prayer hanging on the wall. Conan the Barbarian is a monumental feat, a full-blown fantasy yarn that remains grounded, a rugged spectacle anchored by fine direction from John Milius and brought to life by Arnold at his brutal best.
#1) Predator (1987)
I think this is an easy call. Yet another sci-fi/action hybrid tops the list, and this one has a bit of horror thrown in for good measure. Predator is, in my humble opinion, about as close to flawless as movies get. Great cast? Check. Great plot? Check. Great effects? Check. Great direction? John McTiernan is on it. And what about the finale? Seriously, the grand finale this relentless assault on the senses offers up is damn near sublime, with Arnold going toe to toe with a threat that has been established as an infallible hunter from the stars. There are great lines, there are great action scenes, there is an abundance of tension, and the whole thing fits together perfectly. Predator never misses a beat, and I’m not sure that any movie has ever made better use of all the various tools that Arnold brings to the table. He’s also surrounded by one hell of an ensemble. Truth be told, I’m not sure that Barney Ross and his Expendables gang would stand a chance against Dutch Schaefer’s unit. These guys are set up as badasses of the highest order before that terrifying Predator starts skinning them one by one.
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for this one; I was nine years old and sitting through another dull day at Woolwine Elementary when I was told that my father had arrived to pick me up for my doctor’s appointment. Few people ever complained about an early exit from a mundane day at school, and I was no different, but I was a bit perplexed. As far as I knew, there was no doctor’s appointment. As my dad and I departed, I was curious, but he merely told me that he had a surprise for me, and we were on our way. We arrived at the theater, where Pop purchased a pair of matinee tickets for Predator, and I had no idea what to expect. If my memory serves me correctly, I hadn’t even heard of the movie. The only other dude in the theater was some scary biker type clad in leather and chains, and I had a feeling that we were about to see something special. As you can imagine, I was totally blown away by what ensued.
My personal memories of this action classic aside, I’ve never encountered any red-blooded American who didn’t appreciate Predator. Yet again, this is one that my friends and I have always enjoyed quoting. Many a difficult physical task has pushed me into that realm where I become Bill Duke, wheezing my way through “Long Tall Sally” and pledging to “Have me some fun.” Some things never get old. I think that when it comes to the type of movies that Arnold helped to make famous, it doesn’t get any better than Predator.
Look, Arnold is a living legend, so there are obviously some major hits missing from my list. I know how many of you feel about T2, and I’m also a big fan of movies like The Running Man and True Lies. Kindergarten Cop was a fun picture, and hell, I like Raw Deal. I’m pleased with his recent offerings, most notably his participation in The Expendables, but I feel really good about this Top 5. I’m sure some of you will disagree with my choices, and I encourage you to share your thoughts and your favorite Schwarzenegger movies with us in the comments.
Be sure to keep an eye out for an upcoming Top 5 concerning another living legend featured in The Expendables 3: Mel Gibson. I’ll also provide a review of the latest adventure featuring Barney Ross and company when that film opens nationwide on August 15.
In other words… I’ll be back.