Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Glorious Cinematic Legacy of Tossing Reality Out the Window

By  · Published on June 19th, 2014

20th Century Fox

James Cameron has fled the human world to spend a decade with his impossibly perfect space kittens. Arnold Schwarzenegger pretends he’s still thirty years old and in Mr. Universe shape, and that “pushing seventy” is nothing more than the body count of his latest film. Jamie Lee Curtis fell off the face of the Earth and reappears only to describe the pleasing effects of yogurt on her aching bowels. But twenty years ago today, these three visionaries came together for something truly special.

That something was True Lies.

Cameron’s 1994 Schwarzenegger action flick/rom-com/political thriller might not be as fondly remembered as The Terminator, nor as gleefully forgotten as Jingle All the Way, but it’s an important part of the Arnold Schwarzenegger canon. And it’s got at least one moment that will stand the test of time – the film’s thrilling conclusion, in which Schwarzenegger’s Harry Tasker keeps his daughter from falling to her death with one hand, while fighting terrorist menace Salim Abu Aziz with the other. Oh, and the whole time, he’s also flying a plane.

It’s a long-standing tradition in the Schwarzenegger film world. The Austrian Oak has his superhuman roles, like a time-traveling robot or a dude with a uterus (dude-erus?), and he also has his average, everyday guy roles (with all-American names alongside their thick Austrian accents – Gordy Brewer, John Kimble, Jericho Cane). And yet his human characters still accomplish great feats that no mortal man should be able to do. Like, say, flying a plane and knife fighting a terrorist mastermind with one hand currently indisposed.

It’s all a part of raising his mystique. Schwarzenegger’s sole gimmick at the beginning of his career was his Buick-sized physique; casting him as an ordinary guy who can casually punch through a car or chew and swallow an entire cactus just makes his larger-than-life persona seem even more real.

So in honor of True Lies and its laughably insane climax, let’s take a look at some of the other times when human Arnies have broken the bonds of reality, counting down from “most probable” to “most improbable.” And checking in at the top of the list is one you should be familiar with…

True Lies

The Feat: Simultaneous Jet Piloting/Terrorist Punching/Daughter Rescuing

How He Broke Reality: Any one of these tasks should really require a person’s full attention. Forget about daughter dearest, and she’s dead. Forget you’re currently piloting a state of the art jet aircraft, and you’re dead. Forget about the terrorist currently hopscotching across the wings, and the terrorists win. And any good action hero knows the terrorists can never win.

Performing all three with grace is above and beyond the call of any mere human. But for an Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s merely a case of time management. Note how when terrorist leader Aziz draws a knife, Arnold shifts his attention thusly. When there’s a break in the action, he snaps his head around to confirm that, yes, his daughter is still attached to his hand. And when Aziz briefly goes careening to the tail-end of the aircraft, that’s when he focuses on the controls and removes his vehicle from the middle of a high-rise building.

But because Schwarzenegger’s only real feat here is super-multitasking, it doesn’t rank very high on the list. Let’s continue with something slightly more unbelievable.


The Feat: Kicking Down a Door with the Force of a Ballistic Missile

How He Broke Reality: Kicking down a door is a perfectly doable task. Yes, the movies always make it seem easier than it is, but real-life firefighters and police officers regularly do the same thing, so it’s not entirely unbelievable.

What they don’t do, however, is apply foot to door and see the door immediately rocket across the room, as one Julius Benedict (Schwarzenegger) does after first discovering the emotion of “pissed off.” Normally, kicking down a door involves splintering the wood around the lock, letting the door swing free and allowing access to the confused intellectual inside. This door, having sensed the presence of Schwarzenegger’s foot, decides that life is no longer worth living and removes itself cleanly from both lock and hinges, soaring through the air as a perfectly intact, extremely heavy-looking slab of wood.

Arnie, of course, hasn’t even broken a sweat.


The Feat: Lifting Every Single Object in Commando

How He Broke Reality: In the early eighties, Schwarzenegger had his first string of hits with the Conan series and the original Terminator. And in 1985, one year after Terminator’s release, the Austrian Oak got his first shot at a traditional action hero role in Commando.

But the screenwriters had a conundrum on their hands. Audiences loved Schwarzenegger for his ability to be roughly six times the size of a normal man. How could John Matrix, the hero of Commando, exemplify this? Simply having Schwarzenegger play Matrix wasn’t enough. No, to truly drive it home that this is an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Arnie must continually lift heavy things throughout the running time.

And so in the opening credits, Schwarzenegger cuts down a tree for firewood, then casually grabs the entire tree with one arm and strolls back to his cabin. A prolonged chase sequences begins as he tears out the entire passenger seat from his love interest’s convertible, and builds to the beautiful moment seen above.

It’s not enough to disconnect the phone booth, or just reach in and rip away the phone (something a man Schwarzenegger’s size is clearly capable of doing). No, to make sure the villainous Sully can’t phone his bad guy overlords, Arnie must lift an occupied phone booth above his head, then fling it as far as a phone booth could ever be flung (aren’t those things usually bolted down?). It doesn’t really matter, because seconds later we’re all distracted by a beautifully choreographed “everybody pile on top of me so I can dramatically throw you off” maneuver.

The sequence eventually ends with two upside-down cars and Sully flung from a cliff after Schwarzenegger reads him his last rites (action movie last rites, that is- sarcastic quip, then graphic execution). But no worries! The Austrian strongman can simply flip over one of the upended cars, providing him with a convenient mode of transportation.


The Feat: Casually Walking Off a Massive Skydiving Injury

How He Broke Reality: Parachutes are meant to open several thousand feet into the air, so naturally, they take a little time to open up completely. Emergency parachutes, like the one Schwarzenegger is stuck with in the clip above, are meant for stickier situations and thus open much quicker. Yet even then, parachutes don’t slow a body to safe speeds in a single second, which is about all U.S. Marshal John Kruger (Schwarzenegger) has between deploying and slamming into the Earth with enough force to total at least two stacked cars.

Yet, his first words upon impact are simply, “Where is this?” and not “I need immediate medical attention,” or “Guhhhrrkkk”(the noise made when blood has begun pouring from every available orifice). And after two adorable children keep Eraser’s quip quota in check, Arnie’s up and walking, good as new. If the car under the car Schwarzenegger hit has sustained massive damage, the Schwarzenegger causing that damage should really have more than just the wind knocked out of him.


The Feat: Enabling Real-Life Silent Mode

How He Broke Reality: Normally, when an action hero has to sneakily kill a pesky henchman, he does so in a quiet manner. A soundless suffocation, or a silent gunshot delivered in a secluded area. Or, he could elbow him in the face, then loudly snap his neck, all in public. And he would get away with all of it, because he is Arnold Schwarzenegger and conveniently has the power to either disrupt the sound waves directly around him, or render everyone in a ten-foot radius both blind and deaf for a short period.

Isn’t there another row of seats just to their right? Don’t the flight attendants normally stand at the rear of the aircraft, right next to Arnie, during liftoff? Did no one hear the audible crunching of this man’s bones, or be struck by one of the many in-flight magazines that went flying during their brief struggle?

All are questions not to ask when viewing Commando.


The Feat: Hurling a Pipe With Enough Force to Puncture Multiple Layers of Metal

How He Broke Reality: Arnold Schwarzenegger built an entire career off committing horrific acts of violence and then mouthing off to the camera. After gunning down his wife in Total Recall: “Consider that a divorce.” After impaling a man to a wall in Predator: “Stick around.” After punching a villain’s clone unconscious, so that he falls on the original villain’s corpse in a pose reminiscent of sexual intercourse, in The Sixth Day: “When I said you should screw yourself, I didn’t mean for you to take it literally.”

He really had to stretch it in those later films.

But normally the act in question is a punch, or a gunshot; something that a human could reasonably accomplish. Not so in Commando. At the film’s end, the intrepid Col. John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has been cornered by the evil, bondage gear-clad villain Bennett (Vernon Wells). But mere bullets could never stop a character that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been paid to portray, and so Col. Matrix rips a substantial length of pipe off the wall and hurls it straight through Bennett and into a big steamy furnace behind him. Cue one of the all-time great Schwarzenegger quotes:

“Let off some steam, Bennett.”

Except for one teensy little thing. In order for all that steam-Bennett to erupt from the pipe, Schwarzenegger would need to throw his projectile furiously enough to cleanly pierce all of Bennett’s bones and organs, with enough force left over to puncture the metal of the furnace. That’s unlikely. What’s impossible is doing the same, and also penetrating the chain mail armor Bennett was wearing at the time.

Yes, this villain’s fondness for looking like he just got off work at the local sex dungeon comes with the benefit of tight-fitting chain mail, worn at all times – including when Schwarzenegger threw that fateful pipe. And being able to hurl a large blunt tube (not even something streamlined and sharp, like a spear) through metal armor, then bone, then more metal, is at least one layer too many if we’re trying to keep things on human terms.

Total Recall

The Feat: Willing His Eyeballs Back Into Their Sockets

How He Broke Reality:: Exposure to Mars’ atmosphere may not actually cause a human head to swell like a cartoon nightmare. But in Total Recall, it does, and by three and a half minutes into the above clip, Mars-bound secret agent Douglas Quaid/evil double agent Hauser (Schwarzenegger) is in the latter stages of having his eyes flee their sockets. But once the good gas begins to flow, he and his love interest go right back to their normal, non-mutilated forms.

Realistically, after that oxygen cloud passed by, Schwarzenegger would probably have come to, alive and well and with his eyeballs dangling somewhere around his cheekbones. But he is not like you or I; he is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and thus he exerts direct control over his optic nerves and simply shlooops everything back into place.

Gross as it is, it’s probably better than the alternative.

Related Topics: