When science fiction legend Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office as California governor in 2011, he doesn't plan to return to acting. Instead, he wants to help lead the way on climate change. That's a darn shame, because we need Arnie's Heston-on-steroids style of acting more than we need his thoughts on global warming. And to prove it, here are 10 movie moments where Arnie brought his acting A-game in the face of almost insurmountable challenges.
You see, Schwarzenegger isn't just an action hero, he's our guide to the worlds of the fantastic and bizarre. His acting skills are as prodigious as his pecs, but they've gone unappreciated — until now. I recently sat down and watched pretty much every Schwarzenegger science fiction epic, and I came away with a new appreciation for his acting skillz. Here are the moments where he rises above his situation, no matter how dire, and manages to shine.
1. No eyebrows, in The Terminator.
Major challenge: Arnold is a killer cyborg from the future, and he uses his eyebrows convey a subtle menace — until his eyebrows get singed off halfway through the movie. He looks like Bob Geldof at the end of Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Massive solution: Arnie is up to the task, scowling and grimacing and turning his forehead into a gnarled mask of terror. Until he finally gets some big sunglasses, which solve the problem for him.
2. Covered with mud, in Predator.
Major challenge: At the end of this alien hunter movie, Arnie gets slathered with mud, which hides him from the creature. Not only is he deprived of his eyebrows, but you can't even make out his sharp jawline and jutting chin.
Massive solution: Arnie's eyes go into maximum overdrive, bugging out, rolling around and finally bursting out of his sockets. "Cmawwn! Kill me!" He yells.
3. The yellow unitard, in Running Man.
Major challenge: Accused of a crime he didn't commit, Arnie is dropped into a maze of death for the amusement of the dystopian masses. Worst of all, he's wearing a bright yellow spandex unitard.
Massive solution: You can't repress Arnie's masculinity just by putting him in a bizarre aerobics outfit. You'll only make him more manly. And indeed, the moment the unitard goes on, Arnie gets mean. He grins with delight as he strangles his attackers or castrates them with a chainsaw, and his face finds four new outer quadrants of expression, expanding to convey the full scope of his rage as he threatens to rip out the producer's spine.
4. Danny DeVito chemistry, in Twins.
Major challenge: Arnie is paired with comedian Danny DeVito, as they pretend to be twins, the result of a weird genetic experiment. How can Arnie bring his usual gravitas opposite this sleazy clown?
Massive solution: He basically goes for the "overgrown child" thing, grinning and acting super eager in contrast to DeVito's world-weary scumbag. Arnie is super smart but ignorant of the "real" world, and doesn't know what tossing your cookies means.
5. The crotch kick, in Total Recall.
Major challenge: Sharon Stone wearing aerobics gear (considerably cuter than Arnie's in Running Man) kicks Arnie in the crotch over and over. How can Arnie convey the wounded masculinity? How?
Massive solution: Luckily, Arnie has had a hundred extra teeth added to his mouth for this film, and he uses all of them, in a grimace so massive it disrupts the gravity of Mars. Little known fact: Arnie and his many teeth were the model for Rob Liefeld's art.
6. Slave robot, in Terminator 2.
Major challenge: Arnie's back playing a killer cyborg, but this time he has to obey everything a punk kid tells him to do.
Massive solution: He brings a quiet dignity, underplaying the role for once and letting Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton spaz out around him.
7. Getting hormonal, in Junior.
Major challenge: Not only is he acting opposite DeVito once again, but he has to play a pregnant man, who gets all emotional on massive doses of female hormones and starts to cry while watching a Lifetime TV movie. And then he finally has to go undercover and pose as a woman. Can Arnie bring his sensitive side?
Massive solution: Score! Arnie reaches deep inside himself, a little fold of softness under the five thousand layers of muscle. His eyes crinkle up, his mouth twists into an S-shape, or maybe that mysterious symbol that's on Hiro's sword in Heroes, and he looks like he's experiencing the joys and sorrows of every mother, everywhere. Mothers, Arnold Schwarzenegger is you.
8. Covered with goop, in Batman And Robin.
Major challenge: His greatest struggle yet. This time, he's got no eyebrows, like in Terminator. He's covered with gunk, like in Predator. And he's wearing weird dance wear, like in Running Man. What can he do?
Massive solution: He can't act with his eyes, or his jaw, or his teeth, or his chin this time around. The only thing Arnie has left is his voice, and he just works it, shouting at the top of his lungs. With dialogue like "You're not sending ME to the cooler!" and "Tonight, Hell freezes over!" it's probably the best option.
9. Too many facelifts, in The Sixth Day.
Major challenge: It's like a futuristic science fiction nightmare. Medical technology has advanced to the point where you can give Arnold Schwarzenegger a whole new face. It just may not be a good idea. Gone are Arnie's trademark grimaces, scowls and eye-pops, because the skin on his face has been stretched so tight he can barely see any more.
Massive solution: Arnie just relaxes and goes with it. It's a more laid-back Arnie, even after a clone takes his place and sleeps with his wife. He has one facial expression, a rigid grin, and it sometimes expands to turn into a cracked-out leer. It sort of works, as the maniac who's on the run from the evil clone heads.
10. Obsolescence, in Terminator 3.
Major challenge: Arnie is kind of old to be playing a super-advanced ageless cyborg from the future, a fact he references by referring to himself as an "obsolete design." Plus, he's stuck acting opposite an annoying Nick Stahl, who isn't nearly as fun as Edward Furlong was.
Massive solution: Arnie just sort of zones out, acting way more robotic than in the first two Terminators.
And here's our video compilation of Arnie's greatest science fiction moments: