last action hero

Remember Last Action Hero? Of course you do. The 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger action/fantasy was one of the biggest critical and financial bombs of its decade before finding a cult following on home video. As a member of that cult following, the film’s initial reception can’t help but feel like a badge of honor 24 years later – they just didn’t get it, man.

Now, Schwarzenegger himself has offered an explanation for why the movie bombed and it involves the 42nd President of the United States.

Schwarzenegger has been making the press rounds for his new comedy Killing Gunther, which means that he’s been answering questions about movies from across his filmography. Because let’s face it: when you have the Austrian Oak in the same room as you, you break out all of the questions you’ve been dying to ask.

Speaking with Business Insider, the ’80s action icon, former California governor, and current internet staple (he’s always popping up in surprising places) blamed the failure of Last Action Hero on President Bill Clinton:

It was one of those things where President Clinton was elected and the press somehow made the whole thing kind of political where they thought, ‘Okay, the ‘80s action guys are gone here’s a perfect example,’ and they wrote this narrative before anyone saw the movie […] The action hero era is over, Bill Clinton is in, the highbrow movies are the ‘in’ thing now, I couldn’t recuperate.

Okay, to be fair, he’s not blaming the film’s lackluster box office and negative critical notices solely on William Jefferson Clinton. However, he’s using President Clinton as an example of how blockbuster trends began to shift in the ’90s. After all, this was the decade that saw a natural born weirdo like Nicolas Cage become an action hero. This was the decade that was capped off by The Matrix redefining what the genre could be. The musclebound, “might makes right” ass-kickers of the Ronald Reagan years were feeling old fashioned by ’93 – they felt unnecessary after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Schwarzenegger is right: Popular culture and public taste is often a direct reflection of the political climate. During the tail end of the Cold War, a time when a big, strong man seemed like the best possible option to protect the world, he was the ideal icon. And then things changed. And then he wasn’t. For a more modern example, it’s no coincidence that the morally murky The Dark Knight thrived in a decade defined by the War on Terror, years where “How far is too far?” became a common query both in Washington D.C. and on cable news. And to swap genres for a moment, it’s no accident that the politically charged Get Out made a bundle in a year like 2017.

While this is all very interesting and very much worth mulling over and actually a fairly insightful bit of commentary from Schwarzenegger on the subject of changing public tastes, it also misses the forest for the trees. Last Action Hero bombed because it was poisoned long before it hit theaters: a rushed post-production schedule, toxic early test screenings, a production that went over-budget and attracted the attention of Hollywood trades that reported every detail. I highly recommend Hit & Run by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters, the (now somewhat dated but still hugely entertaining) look at Sony’s disastrous entry into Hollywood, which explores every painful detail of Last Action Hero‘s hilariously disastrous production and release.

The good news is that Last Action Hero still exists and it’s so much better than its reputation suggests. It’s funky and funny and clever and weird, a loving and sometimes scathing evisceration of blockbuster culture that was created by blockbuster culture. If you haven’t seen it in years, give it a spin. You may be surprised.

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