Arnold Schwarzenegger became world famous in the 80s as the jacked up star of macho blockbusters like Conan The Barbarian, Predator, Commando, and The Terminator. But in the late 80s and early 90s, he teamed up with Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman for a trio of family-friendly comedies, starting with 1988’s Twins. Schwarzenegger’s comic chemistry with Danny DeVito drove this broad, fairly inexpensive studio comedy to rake in over $200 million and become the fifth biggest earner at the box office that year, proving Arnold’s ability to draw big crowds outside the action genre and paving the way for several more seminal turns in blockbuster comedies.
In this episode of the podcast, we look back at Arnold’s austere Austrian childhood and the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, which chronicles the bodybuilding championships that first catapulted him to worldwide renown (and his orgasmic workouts). Then, we check back in on Twins and see whether this beloved 80s comedy still has us laughing for two. (One blue line means we didn’t like the movie. Two blue lines means we did.)
So join us for the conception of our “Schwarzepreggers” lineup and see if Ahnuld’s comic chops have held up as well as that hulking body — or if he should’ve just stuck to his day jobs as world-class athlete, popular governor, and unparalleled action hero instead. Along the way, we discuss Schwarzenegger’s big screen sex appeal (or lack thereof?), marvel at his unique combination of himbo charm and tireless ambition, ogle his out-of-this-world physique, and debate whether Arnold can still tickle our funnybones as effortlessly as he could break all of our other bones.
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For most children of the 80s and 90s, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is just a given. I must have known about him long before I’d actually seen any of his movies. Twins and Kindergarten Cop were not a part of my rotation as a kid. Predator and Commando sure weren’t. I was a long ways off from seeing any of the adult-oriented action flicks that made Schwarzenegger a juggernaut at the box office. I saw and came to love Schwarzenegger’s collaborations with James Cameron only after Titanic made me a Cameron-phile.
True Lies and the Terminator movies are still amongst my favorite action blockbusters, but up until this episode of the podcast, I don’t think I’d ever considered Arnold Schwarzenegger as a thespian. I knew he was oddly cast as an all-American dad sometimes. I know I noted the fact that an action movie star was, for many years, my governor. Still, I never truly considered a world before Arnold was famous, and how unlikely his trajectory toward worldwide stardom was. He’s too bulky to be handsome or sexy in the classic sense, and his thick accent would seem to rule him out of playing leading man roles. He makes total sense playing Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator, but how crazy is it that this guy was eventually top-billed in studio comedies, playing goofy scientists in drag and harried suburban dads?The first part of our “Schwarzepreggers” podcast was a good opportunity to consider the man in full. Schwarzenegger was raised in a strict post-WWII Austrian society, with an even stricter Nazi father. He developed his body as close to perfection as possible in bodybuilding, winning an unparalleled number of championships, which eventually brought him to America — a nation that celebrates the freedom he was denied in his youth. The transition from bodybuilding to action star makes sense in concept, though it wasn’t easy for Schwarzenegger to get the film industry to take him seriously. His insane work ethic got him where he is.
Arnold Schwarzenegger will never disappear into a character, but it’s surprising how gifted a comedic actor he is, even in his very first comedy. He jumps into the goofy role with gusto and a lack of vanity that sets him apart from other uber-masculine movie stars. He’s willing to be laughed at. You’d think that’s a prerequisite for starring in a comedy, but many other actors resort to self-awareness and sarcasm in their comedies, so that audiences know they’re in on the joke. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Julian like a golden retriever. You can almost see a tail wagging in every scene. He’s just so excited to be here. That enthusiasm is infectious, and ended any debate about whether or not this hulking He-Man could carry a broad comedy on the spot.
On paper, Arnold Schwarzenegger has no business being a star of American comedies. But from the moment he shows up in Twins, he makes his comedic stardom seem inevitable, as if he was as natural a fit in this genre as he was playing a ripped action hero. By the time I was seeing Schwarzenegger’s comedies, nobody was questioning what an Austrian bodybuilder was doing in movies that might otherwise have cast Billy Crystal or Robin Williams in the lead. Schwarzenegger became such a major part of American pop culture in the 80s and 90s, it’s impossible to imagine what Hollywood in that era might have been without him.