Failure of ‘Last Action Hero’ Comedy Hurt Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Feelings
In 1983, Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to show the world that he was in on the joke. The catchphrase-spewing star of Predator, Total Recall and Terminator 2: Judgment Day was down to make fun of himself before others beat him to the punch. The Last Action Hero seemed like the perfect vehicle — who better to star in a send-up of Schwarzenegger movies than Schwarzenegger himself? With director John (Die Hard) McTeirnan and screenwriter Shane (all three Lethal Weapons) Black on board, Last Action Hero seemed like a slam dunk. That is, until audiences shouted, “Rejected!”
“I cannot tell you how upset I was,” Schwarzenegger says in Arnold, a new three-part Netflix documentary. But James Cameron can tell you. In Arnold, Schwarzenegger’s Terminator director tells the world that the bulky bodybuilder was really a big baby. “He sounded like he was in bed crying,” says Cameron. “He took it as a deep blow to his brand. I think it really shook him. That’s the only time I’ve ever heard him down.”
“It hurts you. It hurts your feelings,” Arnold confesses, the memory of his estimated $15 million paycheck failing to soothe the sting. “It’s embarrassing. I didn’t want to see anyone for a week.”
Other people he didn’t want to see? Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, his would-be co-stars in a Hans and Franz movie that would also send up Ah-nuld’s larger-than-life persona. The (relative) failure of Last Action Hero convinced Schwarzenegger to steer clear of self-parody until his campaign to become governor of California.
The weird thing: Last Action Hero wasn’t actually a flop. It finished its global run with $137 million at the box office, equivalent to $305 million today. With an $85 million budget, it certainly didn’t lose money. Arnold’s (and Hollywood’s) problem was comparing the take to Terminator 2’s $520 million windfall. Hey, they can’t all be the biggest hits of the year.
And the “failure” certainly didn’t hurt Arnold’s status as an action hero, last or otherwise. He was even more formidable than Sylvester Stallone, according to Stallone himself. Although Sly and Arnold “truly, truly loathed each other” in the 1990s, Schwarzenegger “was superior. He just had all the answers,” Stallone told Variety. “He had the body. He had the strength. That was his character.”
So it seems out-of-character that Arnold cried in bed when he didn’t get his way at the box office. Good that that didn’t last long. “You keep plodding along,” he says. “And my mother-in-law also said this all the time: ‘Let’s just move forward.’”
It’s like what his movies always taught us about Arnold: “I’ll be back.”