The Action Films Of Arnold Schwarzenegger, In Order Of Implausibility (Part I)


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.

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 a city, excessive compliance with gender stereotypes, and startlingly poor marksmanship on the part of the bad guys.

16. Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Arnold’s transformation into a relatively successful and beloved teacher, sans formal training, is pretty insulting to the teaching profession, but at least Kindergarten Cop shows that he’s completely overwhelmed most of the time. A realistic, modernized retelling of the story would probably have the kindergarten class failing to meet demanding state testing 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 of the idea that an obscenely bulging Arnold could possibly be a fraternal twin to the diminutive, seemingly half-formed Danny DeVito. However, the filmmakers do a relatively believable job of justifying the scenario – the 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 this 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?”

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 various 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:

Mark Kaminsky: [After ducking a cake that has just been tossed at his face by his angry, drunken wife] You should not drink and bake!

Mark Kaminsky: [Splashing red paint in some guy’s face] This is what you’re going to look like dead!

Mark 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.

Mark Kaminsky: This must be what they mean by poetic justice.

Mark Kaminsky: You’re under arrest.
Fake State Trooper: For what?
Mark Kaminsky: Impersonating a human being.

Perhaps most 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 finale (in which Arnold brutally murders the entire crime syndicate, rendering the rest of the movie utterly pointless).
  2. Arnold inspiring a crippled man to walk during the film’s epilogue. After this heartening finale, 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. The aforementioned logic happens to include: magic, sorcery, monsters, ghosts, gods, Wilt Chamberlain, rubbery special effects, thinly veiled racism, etc, etc. So, by this standard, the rather solemn Barbarian (which features Arnold being crucified and fucking a ghost), fairs a little better than the sillier 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 7-year-old boy playing with action figures.

The most glaring implausibility in Destroyer is Bombaata, the character played by former NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain. First of all, Chamberlain looks hilariously out of place doing anything the movie requires 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 or something). In scenes where Arnold and Wilt sneak around castles and desert landscapes, Wilt looks like he’s either on stilts, or part human/part daddy long-legs.

However, the most ironic (and implausible) aspect of Wilt/Bombaata’s role is that he’s charged with keeping Conan and the young Princess Jehnna separated as a means of protecting the Princess’ 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 entrusted 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.

Coming next week: Arnold’s Top 10 Most Implausible Action Movies. It’s pretty similar to this list, except this time the scripts were written in crayon. 

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