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Arnold Schwarzenegger's life itself seems like the stuff of science fiction. Allow me to recap: Austrian bodybuilder turned Hollywood star turned California governor. Now that Arnold's concluded his latest role, as a politician, one can only guess what the future will hold -- and hope that there's some top-notch science fiction in the works. For now, we can content ourselves by looking at the futuristic tales of Arnold's past.
1. Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall is one of the best scifi movies ever, and the future it imagines -- from Martian colonies to wall-size TV screens to X-ray body scans -- is visually and mentally captivating. Working as an escapist fantasy and a subversive commentary on escapist fantasies, the flick also contains one of Schwarzenegger's best performances. You actually believe him as an average-Joe construction worker (albeit one with some serious muscles) who gets caught in an interplanetary conspiracy that shakes him to the core of his identity.
2. The Terminator (1984)
Arnold plays a robot transported from the future to kill -- a waitress? (A little hard on the proletariat, aren't we, Mr. Republican?) Well, actually the waitress in question is Sarah Connor, the mother of an as-yet-unborn rebel leader with the initials "J.C." Despite a relatively low budget, The Terminator crafts a high-concept, engrossing scifi scenario filled with paradoxes and twists. It saves its special effects for the fiery climax that, more than fifteen years later, is still pretty awesome.
3. Predator (1987)
Arnold, as a cigar-chomping commando, dispenses with dozens of human opponents in the movie's first half, then meets his match in the form of a menacing alien hunter. Talk about a showdown: the world's greatest action man versus an intergalactic hunter armed with a laser cannon and a cloak of invisibility. But all these cool toys aside, the action remains remarkably tribal as Arnold uses sticks, stones, and booby traps to snare his high-tech crab-faced counterpart in the movie's finale.
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)
One of the true blockbusters is more than an explosive scifi-action mash up; the movie's funny too. Think about it: a hapless robot learns to use profanity correctly, wanders through the crowded dance floor of an eighties nightclub, and hopelessly tries to navigate government bureaucracy (before getting fed up and ramming his car through the front end of a police station). The fish-out-of-water high jinks only elevate the action-packed scifi epic that's a kinder and gentler cousin to the original. Arnold, now in movie-star mode, has plenty of opportunities for cyborg befuddlement and comic relief while still (of course) finding time to blow things up.
5. The Running Man (1987)
Sadistic game shows are the main form of entertainment in this prescient flick. In the year 2017, the economy has nose-dived, and to keep the masses quiet the military-industrial-media complex devises a program that plays like a cross between The Price Is Right, American Gladiators, and Faces of Death -- The Running Man. Leave it to Arnold to throw a wrench into the system not by signing laws or making speeches (that comes later) but by systematically killing every one of the show's arrogant hosts and saying "I'll be back" at the appropriate moment. That's change we can use.
1. Conan the Barbarian (1982): Before the Lord of the Rings gang wandered through a fantasyland, Arnold showed the world what a real hero undertaking an enchanted quest looks like as the loincloth-wearing Conan.
2. The 6th Day (2000): This action flick sets its sights on the hazards of cloning. The result is that you get two Schwarzeneggers for the price of one. And that's bad for the bad guys.
3. Eraser (1996): The electromagnetic rifle rivals even the weapons of RoboCop for sheer awesomeness. Schwarzenneger has to stop it from falling into the wrong hands -- even if doing so gives him an opportunity to do some target practice of his own.
4. Junior (1994): Danny DeVito and Schwarzenegger reunite for what is probably the best movie about a man becoming pregnant. How's that for a fantastically terrifying scifi premise?
5. Batman & Robin (1997): Arnold's Midas touch goes haywire. As Mr. Freeze, he turns everything he touches cold with his diamond-powered ice suit. It's an expensive way to get a mixed drink, but it's hard to argue with the results.
Check out Terminator 2: Judgement Day on AMC this Fri., Feb. 4, at 8PM | 7C and 10:30PM | 9:30C.