“I’ll Be Back”: The Governator Returns to the Silver Screen

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is ready to resume his acting career - how will his return to the big screen stack up against some of his other cinematic triumphs?

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Former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger is ready to resume his acting career now that he's no longer in office - how will his return to the big screen in the drama "Cry Macho" stack up against some of his past cinematic triumphs? We'll have to wait and see. It will no doubt be an improvement over the admittedly awful but cult classic "Hercules in New York," which gave the young Arnold his first taste of the big screen in 1970.
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In 1976 and 1977, Arnold leaned heavily on his elite status in the bodybuilding world - first, in the drama "Stay Hungry," where he starred as a bodybuilder attempting to train for the Mr. Universe competition despite thugs and crooked developers trying to shut down his gym. in '77, Arnold himself was the subject of the bodybuilding documentary "Pumping Iron," which showed how the gigantic Austrian used his considerable brains to psyche out the competition and dominate the sport. The mental games he plays with young up-and-comer (and future Hulk) Lou Ferrigno are brutal.
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Arnold got his western fix in alongside Ann-Margret and Kirk Douglas in the 1979 comedy "Cactus Jack" (also known as "The Villain"). Although not well know, the movie was directed by former stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, the man behind "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Cannonball Run."
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The '70s featured a few blips for the future governor, but Arnold Schwarzenegger took his first major step to becoming "Arnold Schwarzenegger" with the 1982 classic "Conan the Barbarian." Directed by John Milius ("Red Dawn") and co-written by Oliver Stone, the action hit featured Arnold as the reticent but sword-ready warrior originally created by Robert E. Howard. It would be the first of many iconic Arnold roles.
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However, when Arnold returned to the world of the battle-hardened Cimmerian, things didn't go so well. The overly-campy 1984 sequel "Conan the Destroyer" was a disappointment, even with a loincloth-clad Wilt Chamberlain.
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After "Conan the Destroyer" tanked, it looked like Arnold's rise to the top might take a detour. Then a struggling special effects technician named James Cameron had a fever dream where he was terrorized by a skeletal robot and decided to write a script about it. After beating out O.J. Simpson (not a joke), Arnold scored the role that still defines him to this day: "The Terminator." The sunglasses, the leather jacket, the immortal "I'll be back" - Nothing short of iconic and legendary.
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Arnold just had to pick up the sword once again, though. In 1985, he joined another Robert E. Howard creation in the film adaptation of "Red Sonja" alongside Brigitte Nielson. Although the role was originally meant to be Conan, it was changed to an entirely different character named "Kalidor." Who was different in that he was...um....he had a....he was named Kalidor, OK?
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"Red Sonja" was another box office flop, so Arnold finally decided to put down the swords and pick up another gun. As ex-military man John Matrix (yes, for real), Arnold blows up half the world in search of his kidnapped daughter. A shameless guns and explosion orgy, "Commando" has amazing staying power - it's still considered one of Arnold's most entertaining (and quotable) films. "Remember when I said I'd kill you last?....I lied."
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Speaking of wildly entertaining and endlessly quotable (although most of those quotes are decidedly R-rated), "Predator" was one of those films that, in 1987, was a little confusing (is it a war movie or a sci-fi flick?) but now is seen as an undisputed classic. Fun Fact: The bespectacled member of Arnold's crew who keeps spouting awful jokes? That's none other than future "Lethal Weapon" writer and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Shane Black.
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Now the go-to action hero of the decade (Sly who?), Arnold stepped into the futuristic thriller "The Running Man," playing an ex-con who is forced to compete in a deadly reality TV show (seemed bizarre at the time, now we're pretty sure Spike TV is developing this). In the movie, he drops another "I'll be back," cementing it as his catchphrase for all time.
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Producers clearly thought that Arnold's thick Austrian accent could just as easily be taken for Russian, so they paired the hulking action star as a Moscow-based detective who comes to Chicago to investigate a crime in "Red Heat." Once there, he gets paired with a schlubby loose cannon Windy City cop played by Jim Belushi. Arnold isn't asked to stretch too much beyond "try and pull off a fur cap without looking like a fool."
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Content that he had shot, eviscerated, blown up, and punched everything on the planet, Arnold dipped a big toe into comedy with the 1988 film "Twins." Playing a genetically-superior ubermensch who longs to reconnect with his long lost twin (who is, um, not as genetically superior, and thus played by Danny Devito), Arnold gleefully parodied his action hero status and the film won him a whole new audience.
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Emboldened by the success of "Twins," Arnold tried to keep the laughs coming with "Kindergarten Cop." The movie, in which Arnold plays a tough-as-nails police officer who is forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher, was another success. It would later find new life as an internet phenomenon when the movie's choicest lines would be used for an online "Arnold Soundboard" ("Who is your daddy and what does he do?")
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Arnold got back into the sci-fi game with "Total Recall" in 1990. The Philip K. Dick adaptation wasn't an enormous smash at the time, but it has gained cult appeal over the years. A remake is currently in the works starring Colin Farrell.
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In 1991, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the story that launched them both, and the results were nothing short of spectacular. Considered one of the best straight sequels ever made (that is, not already part of an ongoing saga or planned trilogy), "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" gave Arnold the chance to be a "good" unstoppable killing machine from the future, while also showcasing some truly groundbreaking special effects.
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Two years after the unmitigated success of "Terminator 2," Arnold hit one of the biggest flops of his career. The overly self-referential 1993 action comedy "The Last Action Hero" was a bloated mess that tried to bring Arnold's action fans and his comedy fans together, but failed to please either.
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Licking his wounds after "The Last Action Hero," Arnold wisely reteamed with James Cameron who, naturally, showed the world how an action comedy is done. "True Lies" was a thrilling adventure with heart - and it also gave a young actress named Eliza Dushku her start, managed to make Tom Arnold funny for the first and only time in his career, and featured a husband-and-wife spy tango that was shamelessly ripped off by Brad and Angelina in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."
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Going back to the well didn't always pan out for Arnold. Reteaming with Cameron? Good. Reteaming with Devito? Not so much. Playing a pregnant man alongside his "Twins" co-star in "Junior," Arnold really just ended up creeping everyone out.
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If "Junior" signaled a dark time for Arnold comedy, "Eraser" ushered in a lull period in his action ventures as well. The only thing remarkable about this 1996 film is the scene where Arnold kills an alligator (yep) and then quips, "You're luggage." And that's only really remarkable because it's been made fun of so much.
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"Arnold and Sinbad - Together at last!" A Christmas comedy about a beleaguered father trying to track down a rare action figure for his son, "Jingle All the Way" was shrill and unfunny and, not surprisingly, unsuccessful. It did, however, introduce the world to Jake Lloyd, who went from playing Arnold's son to playing baby Darth Vader in "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace."
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As supervillain Mr. Freeze, Arnold helped kill Batman - but not in the way you'd think. The fourth installment in the franchise started by Tim Burton was such a colossally bad movie that George Clooney (who played Batman) is still apologizing for it. But look on the bright side - if 1997's "Batman and Robin" hadn't killed the franchise, Christopher Nolan would have had nothing to reboot.
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Things were not looking up for Arnold after "Batman and Robin." First, there was the Millennium Fear-fueled, Satanic hodgepodge "End of Days"...
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...followed by the cloning drama "The 6th Day." We bet if you stop people randomly on the street, they couldn't tell you which movie was which. And that pretty much says it all.
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Despite unabashedly tugging on 9/11 heart-strings (the movie opens with Arnold's character - a fireman, no less - losing his family in a terrorist bombing), 2002's "Collateral Damage" couldn't get audiences fully back on Arnold's side. That life of politics was looking better and better...
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But talk about going out with a bang. Although James Cameron had nothing to do with it, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" was actually a decent entry into the franchise (although still clearly the weakest of the three). It had Arnold firmly in his iconic comfort zone and reminded people why the enjoyed seeing his name on the marquee. You can also thank this movie for all the "Governator" T-shirts.
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Universal
The same year he was elected governor of California (2003), Arnold made a brief but significant cameo in Peter Berg's "The Rundown." In the opening scene, up and coming action star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson passes Arnold on his way into a nightclub and in a "pass the torch" moment, Arnold quips, "Have fun."
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Millennium Films
Of course, running the entire state of California doesn't mean you can't pencil in a little time for your friends. While still governor, Arnold also filmed a small cameo in Sylvester Stallone's 2010 action epic "The Expendables." In it, Schwarzenegger shares a single, wink-filled scene with Sly and Bruce Willis. Not only are they three of the world's most famous action heroes, but they were all once partners in the "Planet Hollywood" theme restaurant franchise.
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