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Category:    Home > Essays > Filmmaking > Film Business > News > Scandal > The Rise & Fall Of Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Rise & Fall Of Arnold Schwarzenegger


By Nicholas Sheffo



When you make Hollywood tons of money, you can get away with many things, but crossing certain lines (as Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen have recently learned) can take any successful name to the point of no return and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the latest big name about to discover this and more so since his film career was in decline and he is also a political figure with a marriage tie to one of the most powerful, famous, beloved and successful political families of all time.


When he arrived on the pop culture scene via his bodybuilding success and in documentary films like Pumping Iron, Lou Ferrigno was actually the most successful bodybuilder in pop culture playing The Incredible Hulk on the highly successful TV series.  Older stereotypes of bodybuilding (too numerous to list) still prevailed and even after Schwarzenegger’s success, many still prevailed.


Though considered the icon of the masculine Reagan 1980s, that was actually a title that first belonged to Sylvester Stallone as Rocky served as a precursor for many mindless 1980s films and other shallow projects, political and otherwise.  Back then, Schwarzenegger was still doing TV movies and small roles in other films.  It was the 1982 Conan The Barbarian that showed he could be a box office star and carry a film, though being in a project written and directed by John Milius at that filmmaker’s peak did not hurt.  However, Schwarzenegger returned for the horrid sequel Conan The Destroyer and it was a big dud, smack in the middle of the Reagan’s Presidency and the same year James Cameron turned things around for Schwarzenegger with the first Terminator film.


Schwarzenegger was still not big box office yet or a big star.  Conan spin-off Red Sonja (1985) was another mistake, but Commando the same year was another hit.  Raw Deal (1986) should have worked a little better and been a bigger hit, but it showed the potential of his tough guy attitude translating well on screen, then was quickly followed by the first Predator in 1987, which also saw The Running Man do business.  Hollywood then expected Red Heat (Walter Hill’s Cold War transplant of his 1982 hit 48 HRS) to be a huge hit, but it tanked.  Schwarzenegger was at a crossroads and it was the final year of the Reagan Presidency.


Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Terminator 2 and True Lies all followed, establishing him as the top box office star and though he would still have duds (Last Action Hero, Junior), it seemed as if he would be a huge star for many years to come.  However, his core action fans were not happy with Last Action Hero and this hurt the box office of the underwhelming Eraser.  Jingle All The Way was as idiotic as anything he had done before and did not go over well with anyone, but the biggest mistake of all was playing Mr. Freeze (a role originally offered to Patrick Stewart, who was not able to get out of his contract in the best luck he ever had) in the horrendous Batman & Robin (1997) and the result was permanent damage to his action credentials and core audience.


Ironically, he made his best film in years with End Of Days, a Peter Hyams-directed supernatural thriller Hyams took over at the last minute and was the best Schwarzenegger film since True Lies, but audiences stayed away and two pricey duds in The 6th Day and Collateral Damage followed, showing he had lost his some of his core audience permanently.  Collateral Damage suffered the additional problem of being delayed due to the events of 9/11/01 and could not be salvaged.


The last hurrah came with Terminator 3, his first big blockbuster since True Lies, but Cameron was not on board and though some people liked it, as many were disappointed and that left Schwarzenegger doing the cameos that he started his career with, but in lesser films and they were an aside to being elected Governor of California.


Now on the brink of Hollywood turning to him for big box office and some kind of comeback (sitting on projects ranging from more Terminator films to a Westworld remake to a possible, horrid-sounding Junior sequel) he has a nightmare scandal that runs contrary to much of what made his myth and box office possible, including honesty, integrity and Neo-Conservative integrity.  All this happening as the country is changing direction, Bin Laden is gone, Neo-Conservatism imploding slowly before our eyes and the project Schwarzenegger’s career ideologically (the hard body is better than the soft one and it could have “won” us the Vietnam fiasco) shot down by the elimination of Bin Laden (no Vietnam Syndrome in that success) means his scandal (still unfolding and progressively uglier each day) could not have arrived with timing that is much worse than it is now.


Even if one of the better projects for him to do surfaces (a True Lies sequel, another End Of Days-type thriller, a comedy that might actually be funny?), the party is over.  He was already losing audience years ago and succeeded by different kinds of action stars (which explains why Dwayne “The Rock’ Johnson has so few hits, a bad copy of a one-of-a-kind figure) and Stallone (despite so many bombs) has now outlasted Schwarzenegger in the genre.


Who will risk a few hundred million on a film with a star who might have more scandal to hide?  Why would audiences tolerate a star who has taunted them for decades as if he was invulnerable to criticism or rules after what he has done and with how bad things are in the country right now?  Whether realized subconsciously or explicitly, the man who represented the 1980s supposed integrity, high living and out of control mentality now is more of a shocking mirror reflection of its failures, lies, excesses and immorality (which is especially bad when it is the ideology overdoing it on preaching such) than anyone could have expected when he first arrived on the scene.


Schwarzenegger might make more films, but it will never be the same.  Now its really, really, really, really personal (to paraphrase the hype ad on the second Terminator film) and it is not compatible with spending $12 a movie theater ticket and suspending one’s disbelief for a few hours when you see the same man for free obsessively on the small screen over things he knows he should have never done.


The best irony of all is that a new Conan franchise arrives a few months after the scandal breaks and even has some buzz going for it, while a new Total Recall is being made.  Unless the kind of filmmakers who helped make him a big star (Cameron, Paul Verhoeven) can work some kind of miracle, which would only yield a temporary reprieve, Schwarzenegger might be back but few will really care and spend their money on actors and stars who respect their integrity and time.


Hasta La Vista Baby indeed.


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