Highlights: Arnold Schwarzenegger

By Jason Barney

September 4, 2012

The former governor wistfully reflects on his time in office.

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With The Expendables 2 blowing up the box office over the last few weeks, it is appropriate to take a look back and examine the work of one of the most recognizable personalities in the United States. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose bread and butter was 1980s action films, had been almost totally absent from the big screen during his years as governor of California. His history is part of his appeal. How many immigrants, who still have strong remnants of their native accents, could achieve the outright success he has? Bodybuilding champion? Box office action star? Successful Politician? Schwarzenegger has done very well in all three.

Now that he has terminated his time in politics and worked with Sylvester Stallone on The Expendables 2, there are rumors he may be involved in a few more movie projects in the coming months. Let us revisit the career of Schwarzenegger and debate his top five films.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

A lot of people love this film. I consider it to be an overrated movie, but T2 takes the top spot for Schwarzenegger because of its legacy. It has cross-genre appeal, which elevates it to classic status. Sometimes science fiction movies are seen as nerdy. Not this one. Also, as an action movie, there are some truly memorable scenes. It had the benefit of building on the work of the original and giving Arnold the chance to switch from the villain to the hero with his Terminator character. The stars were aligned for the actor and box office history.

The story moves the events of the 1984 original along a bit, and was successful in so many ways. First and foremost, Schwarzenegger’s terminator is now on a mission to help prevent the destruction of mankind, a nice expectation twist, considering he was the villain in the first movie. As a performer, it was a chance for Arnold to develop the unemotional machine, while at the same time provide subtle and touching changes to how he played the character. In developing the relationship with the young John Connor, he’s given the opportunity to act, even a little, and it works very well on screen.


This flick was a trendsetter with respect to special effects. When it came out in the early 1990s, people saw it because of the explosions, futuristic scenes, and computer technology. In science fiction circles, it is not uncommon for T2 to receive credit for the best opening sequence ever.

As far as what it accomplished during its run in theaters, Terminator 2 was an unqualified success. It opened to $54 million in the summer of 1991, an enormous total compared to today’s ticket price inflation. It earned $204 million in the United States and Canada alone, and garnered a mammoth $519 million worldwide. Another mark of its success, it was the highest grossing film of 1991.

Arnold worked with James Cameron on this one, another feather in his cap. When you are the lead actor in three films made by arguably the most influential filmmaker of this generation, it is a clear mark of status.

Finally, it is impossible to not talk about this film and its cultural influences. Arnold’s dawning of the black sunglasses has become iconic, and sometimes movie plots come up in casual discussions with friends. Who hasn’t heard of the John Connor struggle?

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