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The 8 Ball 3.22.14: Top 8 Arnold Schwarzenegger Roles
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.25.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Arnold Schwarzenegger Roles

Welcome back to another edition of the 411 Movie Zone 8 Ball! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas, and this week Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen in his latest hard-action flick. Sabotage is being anticipated by some as a possible return to form for Arnold, who has had problems with his films connecting with audiences since he returned to acting. But there was a time when he was the biggest movie star on the planet and I think his recent work has been a bit underrated to boot. As such, this week I thought we could take a look at the Austrian-born bodybuilder-turned-movie star's greatest roles to date.

Caveat: I considered all of Schwarzenegger's fictional narrative performances for this role, with the exceptions of roles where he played himself. Obviously cameo and supporting performances got much less weight than leading roles and that's why for the most part they're not here.

Just Missing The Cut

Trench Mauser (The Expendables Franchise)
Jack Slater / Himself (Last Action Hero)
Sheriff Ray Owens (The Last Stand)
Julius Benedict (Twins)
Emil Rottmayer (Escape Plan)

#8: Harry Tasker (True Lies)

Starting up our list this week is Schwarzenegger's last big hit of the 1990s. The action star went through a deeply unfortunate period of films in the latter part of that decade with Junior, Eraser, Jingle All the Way, Batman and Robin and End of Days all failing to strike a chord with both critics and fans. But everything was flying high in 1994 when he dominated the box office alongside Jamie Lee Curtis in this James Cameron action-comedy. There are parts of True Lies that don't hold up particularly well, but Schwarzenegger's performance as Harry Tasker, the superspy with a double life as a dull computer salesman with a wife and daughter, isn't one of those parts. Arnold has done some of his best work under James Cameron and this is a prime example; he manages both the action elements and the comedic work fantastically well. This was (at the time) one of the most expensive films ever made, but it paid off huge and gave Arnold--if you can believe it--the last major hit that he's carried largely on his own. I would never think of Schwarzenegger as a James Bond candidate (at any point in his career), but this is as close as it gets and he did it very well.

#7: Ben Richards (The Running Man)

Schwarzenegger's track record with science fiction, as we'll see throughout this list, is incredibly strong. While the genre has had its ups and downs throughout the years, when Arnold has toplined a film within the genre it's generally been a high point. The Running Man is a great example of that. This loose adaptation of the Stephen King novella (initially written under his Richard Bachman persona) is a disturbingly prescient look at how far audiences' television tastes might really go one day. Sure, we're not at executing death row inmates through rigged games yet, but we're at a point where the satire of this film is more pointed than ever. Schwarzenegger gives us an excellent turn here as Ben Richards, the framed military pilot who is forced to fight for a chance to live in front of millions of viewers around the country. He plays up the sympathetic aspects of Richards' character quite well, and of course his handling of the action scenes is his usual phenomenal work. Steven E. de Souza's script gives Ben some great adversaries, none more so than Richard Dawson's slimy host Damon Killian, but it is Arnold who carries this one and he establishes great chemistry with María Conchita Alonso as fellow competitor Amber. This topic has been handled several times in film at this point but Ben Richards remains a hallmark of the "kill or be killed reality show" film subgenre thanks to the Governator.

#6: Detective John Kimble (Kindergarten Cop)

While Schwarzenegger is, of course, known primarily for his action work he has proven himself to be an adept comedian as well. He has let his funny flag fly with great turns in films like Twins and Last Action Hero, but it is John Kimble that sees him at his best in terms of comedic value. Kindergarten Cop, which was filmed in my home state of Oregon, plays things smartly by giving Schwarzenegger a character that comes right out of the stereotypical Arnold playbook (grizzled, hardened cop) and then plunks him down in the middle of the one situation he can't handle: children. The action elements in this one are relatively few but it more than makes up for it in the comedic value of Kimball being the complete fish out of water. The look of panic on his face when chaos reigns and he screams at the tykes to "SHUT UP," then finds the situation even worse when they start crying, is pure comedic gold. He takes a few dramatic elements in as well when he establishes a rapport with young Dominic, the child of the teacher that he and his partner Phoebe O'Hara are trying to find. This is a film that showed exactly how diverse an actor Schwarzenegger had really become, a much-needed turn for the man who was largely seen as a one-dimensional action star.

#5: Douglas Quaid/Carl Hauser (Total Recall)

Our second dystopian science fiction film on this list put Schwarzenegger in the middle of a Phillip K. Dick-inspired mindbender of a thrill ride. Many times when an actor is required to play two roles within one film, it just doesn't work. There is an unerring need to put the two characters right next to each other for the visuals and many actors have difficulty with acting opposite nothing, breaking the illusion. Total Recall allows Schwarzenegger to bypass that curse by putting the two characters in the same body. Douglas Quaid is a regular Joe--or so he thinks--who dreams of a vacation to Mars for reasons he doesn't understand. When he goes to Total Recall, a business that can implant memories of the perfect fantasy vacation--he unleashes a torrent of memories that cast him as a rebel against the Martian government. But in truth he's Carl Hauser, a mole within the rebellion who was working for the governor to crush it. Schwarzenegger does a fantastic job here of bringing us in and acting as the eyes of the audience as we delve deeper into the mysteries of the plot, making us believe him completely. Of course the action work is great and he fits perfectly within the dystopian universe that Paul Verhoeven constructed as well. It's filled with Schwarzenegger hallmarks, most notably the great one-liners such as "Consider this a divorce." The remake fell flat for various reasons but the original, and Schwarzenegger's performance in it, is unforgettable.

#4: Major Dutch Schaeffer (Predator)

Now we're into the true iconic Arnold roles. Here's another sci-fi one, but it's a very different sort of science-fiction in that it's almost more of a slasher film. Say what you want about the successive films (and I'll probably be agreeing with you) but Predator set the bar high for sci-fi thrillers and created something that hasn't been quite replicated yet. As I said, the slasher elements are strong here with a mysterious creature hunting down and killing its prey one-by-one. What makes the Predator even more frightening is that unlike Jason, Freddy and the other slashers, this one isn't hunting down defenseless camp counselors and teenagers. It's hunting a hardened, battle-capable special ops team and killing them off without breaking a sweat...at least until it comes down to it and Dutch. Predator is filled with great characters, but Dutch stands tall above them all. He's almost the stereotypical (or rather, quintessential) Arnold character; he's bad-ass, witty and thoroughly dangerous, but with a sense of honor and righteousness that lets him rise above. But Dutch also has a level of resourcefulness that we don't always see in his characters. That's not to say that his other roles are stupid or blind to their environment, but many of them don't end up in such overwhelming odds without his usual hardware and seeing Dutch go Boy Scout makes for a great finale. The Predator was one of Arnold's greatest adversaries and it forced his hero to rise to the occasion, which he did well.

#3: Colonel John Matrix (Commando)

There are a couple better Schwarzenegger performances by my reckoning (obviously, as this is at #3), but there isn't a more badass Arnold character than that of John Matrix. The Austrian star commands the screen as John Matrix, retired Special Forces commando now living in the country with his daughter Jenny under new identities. When Jenny is kidnapped in order to coerce him into assassinating the president of a Latin American country, Matrix bursts into action in order to get his daughter back. This film has legendary logic problems, film gaffes and over-the-top action craziness that would make it laughable if it didn't have a compelling actor in the titular role. Fortunately it did, and Schwarzenegger is firmly within his skin as Matrix. Arnold delivers some of his best one-liners and walks through battle scenes like Ares on a mission while Mark L. Lester throws all sense of realism out the window in favor of excitement. That's exactly what we're looking for here, and it works. The film gets crazier as it goes along but Arnold anchors it down and makes it soar all the way through to the end.

#2: Conan (Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer)

There are two roles that just immediately come to mind when you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and this is the first. All due respect to Jason Momoa, who did fine in the reboot, but there is only (and will always only) be one cinematic Conan in my mind. Conan the Barbarian was the film that truly launched Schwarzenegger as a movie star. He had done other films before, but one was a documentary (Pumping Iron) and the others just aren't very good and didn't get a lot of notice. As the iconic hero of Robert E. Howard's dark fantasy adventures, Schwarzenegger showed that he had the screen presence to become a star. He dominated the screen as the young barbarian on a quest of vengeance over the death of his parents and while the sequel Conan the Destroyer isn't as good as the first, Schwarzenegger carried himself well and even showed that he was improving as an actor. Of course this isn't about the dramatic beats of the performance though; it's about the way he embodied the role of the ultimate cinematic barbarian and that's simply the stuff of legend. With a strong supporting cast and a host of memorable villains, Schwarzenegger took the role for himself in such a way that I don't think anyone could ever replace him.

#1: The Terminator (The Terminator Franchise)

There's a reason that when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to lead the state of California they didn't call him "Conan the Governor" or "Governor Matrix." No, it was the Governator because of all of his roles, the role of the T-850 is the one that people most strongly associate with him. And that's a compliment, because with the cybernetic killer of James Cameron's time travel sci-fi franchise Arnold created one of the most iconic science fiction villains/heroes of all-time. In the first film he's an unstoppable killing machine who has one mission and lays waste to anything in his way; in the later films he becomes the hero and protects John Connor to the point of his own demise. And we can make all the jokes in the world about how perfect Arnold is to play an emotionless shell, but there is a performance here. There is a big difference between playing a robot and not being able to emote and Arnold tackles this role with an under-recognized level of skill. The action scenes are of course incredible but it's Arnold's character work that really makes this work, establishing chemistry with the actors who played John Connor (especially Edward Furlong) and with Linda Hamilton as well. He created a role that almost everyone around the world recognizes and it's fair to say that it's still going strong in part because of his work. It's definitely his greatest role.

Disguise of the Episode

Current Series/Season: Season One (2001 - 2002)
Episodes Watched: 14
Last Serial Completed: The Coup - Sydney and Dixon are sent to Las Vegas to gather information from a K-Directorate agent who has ties to the group that attacked and nearly destroyed SD-6. Meanwhile, Sydney learns some shocking news about Francie's fiancé, Charlie, while Will begins his journey in discovering what SD-6 really is, and Jack continues to try to be more of a father to Sydney when he helps her decide whether or not to continue with graduate school.
Episodes Remaining: 91

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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