While his police-chief father wanted him to become a soccer player, Austrian-born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger opted instead for a bodybuilding career. Born July 30, 1947, in the small Austrian town of Graz, Schwarzenegger went on to win several European contests and international titles (including Mr. Olympia) and then came to the U.S. for body-building exhibitions, billing himself immodestly but fairly accurately as "The Austrian Oak." Though his thick Austrian accent and slow speech patterns led some to believe that the Austrian Oak was shy a few leaves, Schwarzenegger was, in fact, a highly motivated and intelligent young man. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in business and economics, he invested his contest earnings in real estate and a mail-order bodybuilding equipment company.
A millionaire before the age of 22, Schwarzenegger decided to try acting. Producers were impressed by his physique but not his mouthful of a last name, so it was as Arnold Strong that he made his film bow in the low-budget spoof Hercules in New York (1970) (with a dubbed voice). He reverted to his own name for the 1976 film Stay Hungry, then achieved stardom as "himself" in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. In The Villain (1979), a cartoon-like Western parody, he played "Handsome Stranger," exhibiting a gift for under-stated comedy that would more or less go unexploited for many years thereafter. With Conan the Barbarian (1982) and its sequel, Conan the Destroyer (1984), the actor established himself as an action star, though his acting was backtracking into two-dimensionality (understandably, given the nature of the Conan role). As the murderous android title character in The Terminator (1984), Schwarzenegger became a bona fide box-office draw, and also established his trademark of coining repeatable catch phrases in his films: "I’ll be back," in Terminator, "Consider this a divorce," in Total Recall (1990), and so on.
As Danny De Vito’s unlikely pacifistic sibling in Twins (1988), Schwarzenegger received the praise of critics who noted his "unsuspected" comic expertise (quite forgetting The Villain). In Kindergarten Cop (1991), Schwarzenegger played a hard-bitten police detective who found his true life’s calling as a schoolteacher (his character was a cop only because it was expected of him by his policeman father, which could have paralleled his own life). Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), wherein Schwarzenegger exercised his star prerogative and insisted that the Terminator become a good guy, was the most expensive film ever made up to its time — and one of the biggest moneymakers. The actor’s subsequent action films were equally as costly; sometimes the expenditures paid off, while other times the result was immensely disappointing — for the box-office disappointment Last Action Hero (1992), Schwarzenegger refreshingly took full responsibility, rather than blaming the failure on his production crew or studio as other "superstars" have been known to do.
A rock-ribbed Republican despite his marriage to JFK’s niece, Maria Shriver (with whom he has four children), Schwarzenegger was appointed by George Bush in 1990 as chairman of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, a job he took as seriously and with as much dedication as any of his films. A much-publicized investment in the showbiz eatery Planet Hollywood increased the coffers in Schwarzenegger’s already bulging bank account. Schwarzenegger then added directing to his many accomplishments, piloting a few episodes of the cable-TV series Tales From the Crypt as well as a 1992 remake of the 1945 film Christmas in Connecticut.
Schwarzenegger bounced back from the disastrous Last Action Hero with 1994’s True Lies, which, despite its mile-wide streak of misogyny and its gaping plot and logic holes, was one of the major hits of that summer’s movie season. Following the success of True Lies, Schwarzenegger went back to doing comedy with Junior, co-starring with Emma Thompson and his old Twins accomplice Danny De Vito. The film met with critically mixed results, although it fared decently at the box office. Undeterred, Schwarzenegger continued down the merry, if treacherous, path of alternating action with comedy with 1996’s Eraser and Jingle All the Way, the latter of which proved to be both a critical bomb and a box-office disappointment. In a move that suggested he had realized that audiences wanted him back in the world of assorted weaponry and explosives, Schwarzenegger returned to the action realm with 1997’s Batman Robin, which unfortunately proved to be a huge critical disappointment, although, in the tradition of most Schwarzenegger action films, it did manage to gross well over 100 million dollars at the box office and over 130 million dollars more the world over.
The turn of the century found Schwarzenegger’s star losing some of its luster with a pair of millennial paranoia films, 1999’s End of Days and 2000’s The 6th Day. The former film — in which a security consultant has to save the world from Satan — was critically lambasted and, despite a powerful opening weekend, failed to recoup its cost in the States. The latter film — a cloning parable which bore more than a passing resemblance to Total Recall — received more positive notices, but took in less than half the receipts Days did just one year prior. Perhaps as a response to these failures, Schwarzenegger prepped three films reminiscent of former successes, all scheduled for release in 2001 and 2002: the terrorist action thriller Collateral Damage, True Lies 2, and the long-anticipated Terminator 3. Though Collateral Damage received a chilly reception at the box office and the development of True Lies 2 fell into question, longtime fans of the cigar chomping strongman rejoiced when Arnold resumed his role as a seriously tough cyborg in Terminator 3. Though slated to make a cameo in director Frank Coraci’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, Arnold’s most notable new role is political — Schwarzenegger replaced Gray Davis as governor of California in the widely lauded, highly controversial recall election of 2003. Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide.