In theory, it would be impossible for Arnold Schwarzenegger to become a star. With an unpronounceable surname and an incomprehensible accent, the bodybuilder from a village in Austria would initially have no chance in Hollywood.
Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, never paid much attention to the rules. At 75 he won as an athlete, conquered the cinema, became a successful businessman and became governor of California. All of this fuels the best character he can imagine: himself.
Everything we need to know about Arnold was already well captured in the 1977 Robert Fiore documentary Pumping Iron directed by George Butler. Exploring Schwarzeneger’s rivalry with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno for the Mr. Olympia, the film shows how the Austrian’s personality, a mixture of determination, good humor, sarcasm and bravado, kept him one step ahead of his peers.
‘Pumping Iron The Man of Steel Muscles’
Released here as The Man of Steel Muscles, Pumping Iron was a turning point for Schwarzenegger. He had already dipped his toe in the horrifying Hercules in New York and landed a supporting role in Bob Rafelson’s The Bodyguard, mostly as a romanticized version of himself.
However, the world saw the real Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron, and the ajar doors flew open to accommodate his imposing figure. He was soon among the Hollywood elite, an exotic figure at parties and awards shows, the talkative type with a largerthanlife personality.
By the time he turned 30, Arnold was a millionaire with a keen eye for business. He set a goal of becoming famous by controlling his own journey. Ignoring the voices urging him to change his name, change his approach, he went straight to the project that would make him a star: 1982’s Conan the Barbarian.
“Conan the Destroyer”
The success of the John Milius film showed that Schwarzenegger was on the right path that he was taking. He reverted to barbarian in “Conan the Destroyer” and played the exact same role in “Fire Warriors” but with a character named “Kalidor”.
At the same time, against the advice of his agents, he agreed to be the villain in a scifi film by an aspiring filmmaker. James Cameron’s “Terminator” not only cemented the Austrian’s rising status, but also landed his second iconic role in the 1980s.
The world then surrendered to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Global BCinema began producing clones of Conan and Deathstroke at breakneck speed. Everyone wanted to discover the next charismatic comic book superhero buff who could carry a movie on his back. Difficult task: He was unique.
From then on, Schwarzenegger’s every move was designed to expand his audience beyond the stock bubble. Yes, he played John Matrix in Commander, practically a comic book character incarnate. But he complemented “The Predator” with the mixture of horror and science fiction and then dared a comedy with “Twin Brothers”.
By the late 1980s, Schwarzenegger was building his image as a movie star by working within his confines. It didn’t convince like the common man, like Harrison Ford. It didn’t have the Tom Cruise heartthrob imprint. Nor did he possess dramatic talents like Robert De Niro or Jack Nicholson or Tom Hanks.
On the other hand, Arnold understood that his personality was bigger than any role. It could be a betrayed cop in The Survivor, a Russian cop in Red Inferno, or an undercover cop in Kids Cop: they all worked by not hiding that they were a Schwarzenegger cut. Quaid in Total Recall? Totally black, buzzwords for everything.
“The Future Avenger”
The 1990s cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger’s power as the world’s biggest star. The trigger was a phenomenon. In 1991 he resumed his collaboration with James Cameron in Terminator 2, which became the biggest film of the year and one of the most important works of modern cinema.
The turn of Arnold’s character in “T2” from unbeatable villain to murderous cyborg to brave hero was a reflection of the actor’s own branding. The film cemented his status and crowned a career that had always been on the rise.
The downfall was not long in coming and came two years later with “The Last Great Hero”. John McTiernan’s film was perhaps the last project to be executed within a structure anchored in the star’s name and the dollars poured into the endeavor. Conceived as a parody of the action cinema Hollywood embraced, the adventure confused audiences and was eventually overwhelmed by Jurassic Park.
“The Last Great Hero”
The failure of The Last Great Hero didn’t affect the star’s career, who tried to reprise his partnership with James Cameron in 1994’s action comedy True Lies. However, the role of the genre icon , , was already weighing heavily on Schwarza, who already had political ambitions.
No film after “True Lies” has left a mark on his filmography. If Junior, Archive Burn and A Toy Hero were harmless projects, Arnold returned to the limelight with Batman & Robin.
First for a salary of $25 million, one of the largest checks paid to an actor at the time. Secondly, despite the complete creative disaster of the Joel Schumacher film, Schwarza escapes unscathed. Could it be: With an avalanche of catchphrases and a bitter sense of humor that understood how silly the film was, Arnold was 100 percent Arnold in Batman & Robin.
“Batman & Robin”
Heart surgery put the star on an enforced hiatus in 1997, and his comeback two years later with The End of Days wasn’t his most inspirational moment. He only seemed to fill his time with unforgettable films like Day 6 and Side Effect before reprising his most iconic character in 2003’s third Terminator.
It was the moment when Arnold Schwarzenegger also radically changed his life. The movie star left the scene and the politician took his place when he took over the government of California, first in a buffer period and later elected to a full term. Whatever the outfit, it was Arnold, the largerthanlife dude, in the spotlight once again.
As governor, Schwarzenegger implemented acclaimed policies, others more controversial ones, but always as a liberal politician, defender of environmental concerns, and often at odds with his Republicans. Despite this, by the end of his tenure, his approval rating was very low. Despite being proposed to go public as a Senate candidate, Arnold retired from politics in 2011.
Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigning for the California government
Image: Steve Yeater/AP
His return to cinema was timid and he never reached the peak of his heyday. Schwarza backed Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables trilogy and also in 2013 thriller Escape Route — the same year he headlined the humble The Last Stand.
Not even his return as the Cyborg T800 in two more Terminator movies, 2015’s Genesis and 2019’s Dark Future, brought him back to the level of his heyday. Schwarzeneger seems to agree with this scenario, however.
Mainly because their interests in postTrump America are different. After a complicated divorce that ended 25 years of marriage to Maria Shriver, Arnold has devoted himself to defending environmental concerns and other political issues, particularly against the rise of the far right and Covid19 denial.
“Terminator: Dark Fate”
However, his main focus seems to be the Arnold Sports Festival, an annual multisport competition where the Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding tournament, stands out. With editions around the world, including Brazil, the event marks Schwarzenegger’s contribution to the practice that provided him with the means to leave Austria decades ago to seek fame and fortune in the United States.
It’s odd that Arnold Schwarzenegger chose bodybuilding to complete a cycle in his life. What comes as no surprise, however, is that a global event, now the second most important in its category, has been named after him. After all, Schwarza has always been his best character.