Our march through the decades continues as we arrive in the 90’s, the years Arnold became king and then, sadly, fell from the throne.
Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies of the 1990’s (Roughly Chronological)
1.) Total Recall- It turns out Schwarzenegger is an excellent choice for your trippy sci-fi film where nothing is as it seems (or maybe it is!). Almost certainly not who Philip K. Dick pictured in his head when he wrote the source material—“We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”—Arnold nonetheless is a perfect fit for director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of that story. His physical size gives him a sense of stability in this unraveling world and his gift for glorious freakouts perfectly undercuts that stability.
2.) Kindergarten Cop- Arnold again plays up his image to topple it as an undercover cop who cannot pretend to be a teacher even for a moment. In the end, of course, he gets all the jobs done and warms our hearts while doing it. However, the real magic is in that anarchic first half or so that sees a tough guy utterly undone by trying to keep kids in line.
3.) T2: Terminator 2- Somehow this movie gave the T-800 more personality, made him a good guy, and still ended up a worthy single. Like the GODFATHER and ALIEN films, you can mount a pretty good argument for why this sequel is a better film than its predecessor. I won’t engage that, but I will certainly say it is a BIGGER film that makes every bit of its expansion count.
4.) Last Action Hero- A controversial choice for sure. The first sign that even Arnold couldn’t have all salad days forever HERO flopped hard at the box office. However, it is meta as hell with a great villain and a crackling script from Shane Black. I’m not sure it delivers on what was promised in the trailers and junket appearances, but it is something very strange and different and thus worth seeing.
5.) True Lies- A huge hit at the time, it almost immediately started to age badly with thinkpieces about its misogyny that would not be out of place in today’s cultural criticism landscape being published less than a month after it hit big screens. And yes, co-star Tom Arnold is given some ugly things to say. But the movie—which makes Schwarzenegger a kind of James Bond figure and somehow sells us on it and, more incredibly, convinces us that Jamie Lee Curtis could be perceived as a harried unhappy suburbanite—is a breakneck thrill machine that still gets laughs.
6.) Eraser- Ok, I can’t really defend my love of ERASER, but it has, in my opinion, his best pun—delivered to an alligator no less—and some very cool weapons. When I saw it at 15 that was all I needed or wanted. A weirdly alternate universe cousin of the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, also released that year.
Special Note: It’s just a cameo as himself, but Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up in DAVE, a delightful Sigourney Weaver-Kevin Kline vehicle that stretches the high concept romantic comedy format to its breaking point and still manages to deliver.
Next week: the rough years and the post-Governor return to film