The Definitive History of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Greatest Action Movie Quips


Explaining the plot of Total Recall is a somewhat thorny prospect. And it’s not entirely necessary that you know all of the teeny, tiny pieces involved. So here is the most bare-bones recap that I can manage:

  • It’s set in the future.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a regular guy named Douglas Quaid.
  • He goes to a place that specializes in implanting memories in people’s heads.
  • He ends up finding out that he’s actually an elite secret agent named Carl Hauser.
  • A bunch of crazy shit happens after that.
  • Also, there’s a woman in it who has three breasts. This woman is in no way central to the plot. Still, no matter how succinct or how involved any retelling of Total Recall is, the triple-breasted woman gets mentioned. That’s why I mention it here. On the off chance you’ve never seen it, I don’t want you to fall into a conversation about the movie and not have that information. It will be truly embarrassing for you.

Now that you know these six things, let me tell you about one scene that is much more crucial to the conversation going forward.

Just under an hour and a half into the movie, there’s a part when a squat, round, unattractive man tries to convince Arnold to take a pill. This is after Arnold has nearly fully realized that he actually is the agent he’s begun to think he is. The guy tells Arnold that none of it is real; that he’s asleep; that he’s trapped in a psychotic fantasy state; that he thinks he’s a rogue secret agent, but that really he’s just a construction worker married to Sharon Stone; that the longer he’s in a coma it becomes more likely that his brain will turn to mush; and that the only thing that will return him to reality is the pill.

Arnold, still half-doubting himself, puts the pill in his mouth. He gets ready to swallow it, then notices that the guy who told him to take it is sweating. He takes the sweat as a sign that the guy is lying. He immediately shoots the guy in the forehead, then spits out the pill. His wife flips out, screaming things like “Now you’ve done it!” over and over. There’s a tiny explosion in the room that rips a hole in one of the room’s walls, then a bunch of guys rush in, grab him, and wrestle him to the floor.

Stone reveals herself to be an evil secret agent planted in Arnold’s life to keep an eye on him, there’s more fighting, more fighting, then more fighting, and eventually we get to a part when Stone is about to slit the throat of a woman who’s tried to rescue Arnold. Arnold — slightly groggy from having been kicked in the face, but coherent enough to still be very good at shooting — picks up a nearby gun and shoots the knife out of Stone’s hand just before she kills his friend. She starts in on a distraction speech, attempting to transition back into the overly sweet person she was earlier in the movie to trick Arnold into putting his gun down.

She says, “Sweetheart, be reasonable. After all, we’re married,” but as she says it she pulls out a gun she’d been concealing and points it at him. Arnold, a sucker no longer, shoots her square in the forehead. He pauses just long enough for the audience to absorb that she’s dead, rises to his feet, and takes a step forward. He makes what is something close to half a smirk, then says, “Consider that a divorce.”

I was 9 years old when I watched Total Recall for the first time. I didn’t understand a bunch of it. I kind of still don’t today. But there were two things I did understand: (1) The only agreeable, acceptable human mutation is apparently an extra breast, and (2) the divorce remark was a key moment in the movie even if it wasn’t all the way crucial to the story line. When he said it, I got it. I understood it. I thought it was a cool and funny thing, which was the whole point of that scene, really. When I saw a few months ago that the 25th anniversary of Total Recall was coming up, I knew I wanted to write about his clever quips history, because it is storied and gorgeous.

And I want you to know that none of the words in this article refers to anything he said while he played Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, because while he for sure had several clever quips in there, that’s the worst fucking movie I’ve ever seen.

The Best One That Is Immediately Followed by an Explosion

There are two top-level options here. There’s the one that happens in Last Action Hero during a trailer for an adaptation of Hamlet that Arnold is starring in. At the end of the trailer, the camera zooms in on his face as he gets ready to light a cigar. He says, “To be or not to be,” pauses for half a beat, then says, “Not to be,” and BOOM!, there’s a big explosion in the background and also maybe a big explosion in your pants.1

The other one, much more demure (inasmuch as an explosion scene can be demure), is from True Lies. It comes after Arnold has crashed a villain’s party. Arnold is walking outside, preparing to light a cigarette, when a henchman walks up behind him and asks to see his invitation. Arnold replies, “Sure, here is my invitation,” and then clicks a button on his cigarette case. A building in the background explodes. The winner here is True Lies because that scene was a little more sincere than the other one.

The Half-Court Shot at the Buzzer

It’s from 1996’s Eraser. Three bad guys trapped in a limousine die when their car gets hit by a train. Arnold walks away from the scene and back to his truck. Vanessa Williams, the woman he’s been protecting, asks, “What happened?” He responds, “They caught a train.” Then there’s a loud guitar wail. Then the movie’s over. It’s literally the last line.

Sidebar: The song that plays right after Arnold says his line is actually called “Caught a Train.” (It’s by Trevor Rabin from Yes.) And the song that plays after “Caught a Train” is called “Where Do We Go From Here” by Vanessa Williams. That’s so perfect. I have so much respect for whoever laid it out like that.

The Best Retort to a Smarmy Smart Guy

From 2000’s The 6th Day. Arnold is talking to a bad guy who (among other things) clones humans. The bad guy tells Arnold he’s just taking over where God left off. Arnold, having already been cloned, suggests the bad guy clone himself, too. The bad guy asks, “Why is that? So I can understand your unique perspective?” and he does so in a very smug, arrogant way. Arnold says, “No. So you can go fuck yourself.”

That’s real, actual beauty.

The Best Post-Death Remark That Requires the Presence of a Gaseous Liquid

It happens in 1985’s Commando, which maybe isn’t that surprising when you consider that he had the most opportunities to say something dope after killing someone in it because Commando is the movie in which Arnold kills the most people (105). It’s at the end when Arnold is fighting Bennett, the main bad guy. Bennett and Arnold fight for a bit before Bennett realizes he won’t be able to kill him with his hands like he’d hoped because Arnold is too skilled. Bennett decides he’ll just shoot him with an Uzi instead, only guess what: In the time it takes Bennett to pull the trigger, Arnold yanks a large pipe off a wall and throws it through Bennett’s chest. The pipe gets lodged in a water cooler behind it and a bunch of steam comes rushing out of the pipe. Arnold — perfectly serious — snipes, “Let off some steam, Bennett.”

Sidebar: A thing that gets forgotten here is that right before attempting to shoot Arnold, Bennett lobs up a perfectly goofy threat of his own, barking, “I’m not gonna shoot you between the eyes. I’m gonna shoot you between the balls.” I always respect a villain who threatens to shoot someone in the dick.

The Most Philosophical One

1988’s Twins, in which Arnold plays a very sweet, very smart fraternal twin. He’s holding a briefcase. A guy on a motorcycle tries to ride by and snatch it out of his hand. Arnold’s too strong, though. He yanks the guy off the motorcycle by accident. The guy flies backward and smashes his head on the ground. Someone asks Arnold what he did. Arnold: “I did nothing. The pavement was his enemy.”

The Most Obvious One

1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The kid who Arnold is protecting stops him from killing a hoodlum. He says, “Jesus, you were gonna kill that guy.” Arnold responds, “Of course. I’m a Terminator.”

The Most Insensitive One Toward Aliens and/or Mutants

Arnold shows up to a mutant colony in Total Recall. One of the mutants, a guy named Tony whose head looks like his brain is on the outside, says, “You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here, Hauser.” Arnold looks at him, studies his appearance, then half-laughs, “Look who’s talking.” I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Nearly every single other Arnold quip is one aimed at a person who is bad or evil or a combination of the two. In this case, though, Tony’s not a bad person. He’s a guy who’s feeling defensive because he knows Arnold is a villain. Making fun of Tony’s face probably isn’t necessary and definitely isn’t anything other than rude. I don’t know.

Sidebar: Working on these sorts of articles is fun because you always end up stumbling into information you otherwise never would have found. For example, I’ve seen Total Recall many, many times. It wasn’t until I watched it for this story that I realized that Ugly Tony is played by Hank from Breaking Bad. I literally woke my wife up when I figured it out. I said: “Boo. Boo. Wake up. Boo, you know the guy from Total Recall with the brain face? That’s Hank from Breaking Bad.” To which she replied: “I can live with a lot of things. One thing I can’t live with, though, is you waking me up to tell me things about Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.”

The One That Implies That Russians and Robots Are Equally Unable to Understand Context

In 1988’s Red Heat, Arnold played Ivan Danko, a Russian police officer. There’s a part in the movie when Arnold replies, “I’m not shitting on you,” when told, “You’re shitting me.” Fifteen years later, in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, John Connor says, “You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Arnold responds, “No. I am not shitting you.” I’m not sure how a war didn’t start between Austria and Russia after this.

The Best One That Mentions a Possession

1990’s Kindergaten Cop. It happens in the beginning. Arnold pulls up to an alley, walks past some street punks and up to some street toughs, beats them up, then turns around to the street punks by his car and says, “Oh, excuse me. [Pulls out a shotgun from his trench coat.] I forgot to introduce myself. My name is John Kimble. [Cocks gun.] And I love my car.” I’m not sure a better anti-burglary system has ever existed.

Sidebar: There is a larger amount of action movie dudes named John than I’d anticipated. The top 10:

  1. John McClane, Die Hard
  2. John Matrix, Commando
  3. John Rambo, Rambo
  4. John Shaft, Shaft
  5. John Wick, John Wick
  6. John Creasy, Man on Fire
  7. John Spartan, Demolition Man
  8. Johnny Ringo, Tombstone
  9. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid
  10. John Triton, The Marine

The Best In-the-Moment Evasive One

When I was in high school, I sucker-punched a kid right TF in his nose. It was this prick of a dude and he’d maybe spent three or four days tormenting me. I’m not sure why he was messing with me (possibly because I was incredibly annoying, though I can’t say for certain). I just know that he was. He came up to me one morning before school and shoved me. This was in front of my friends, so I couldn’t just let that pass; I had to play tough. I said something like, “What the fuck, dude?” He said something like, “You and me are fighting today.” I was like, “Nah.” He was like, “Yup,” and then he shoved me again. I was like, “Dog, you gotta chill.” He said, “Nope,” and he shoved me again. I said, “You know what? Fuck it. OK. We’re just gonna fight now.” When I said that I acted like I was going to take my backpack off. I brought my hands up toward the straps on my shoulders. Only I didn’t take off the backpack. Instead, I took that tiny moment when he wasn’t ready and punched him in the nose as hard as I could with my right hand and then hit him in the side of his face my left hand. That was basically it. That was the whole fight. I charged him while he held his face, then grabbed him. We fell on the floor and rolled around for a bit, and malibooyah. Fight over. He never even threw a punch. I’m not sure why this category reminded me of that moment, but it did. I wish I’d said something cool right before I hit him. I didn’t, though. I apologize to you, but mostly I apologize to myself. It’s something I regret with all of my heart. At any rate:

The winner here has to be the one from Total Recall, right? A bunch of henchmen run up on Arnold ready to kill him. Arnold, having already tricked them once with a hologram of himself, laughs, “You think this is the real Quaid?” The henchmen immediately look around and try to find the real one. Then Arnold reveals, “It is,” and shoots them all. Top-notch thinking, really.

The Most Petty One

Arnold is wrestling Richter, one of the main bad guys from Total Recall, on a sort of elevator platform. He’s holding him over the edge as a concrete floor is approaching. He leans back some, holding Richter’s arms as the stationary concrete floor and the moving elevator meet and slice Richter’s arms from his body. Arnold shouts, “See you at the party, Richter,” then throws his arms down to him.

The Most GTFOH, Dude, One

It’s a tie between the part in Last Action Hero when Arnold precedes kicking a cop in his testicles by saying, “Hey, you wanna be a farmer? Here’s a couple of acres,” and the part in 1994’s Junior when he stares at a vial of blue liquid and realizes, “I’m pregnant.”

Note: I recently engaged in a far-too-long email exchange with several people about what the results would be if all of the characters Arnold Schwarzenegger has played were plucked from their universe and placed into the same one in a sort of Death Tournament in which they all had to fight until only one was left alive. There was no unanimous winner, but the last four or five picks were generally the same (Predator Arnold, Commando Arnold, Terminator Arnold, and Eraser Arnold). I was surprised by how early most everyone else had Junior Arnold dying in the tournament. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing harder to defeat than a mother defending her child. I can’t imagine that Arnold Schwarzenegger as a defensive mother would be anything less than the best killing machine of all time.

The One That’s Kind of the Most Uncomfortable

Total Recall, again. A woman walks up to Arnold, grabs his penis, then asks, “What you been feeding this thing?” He responds, “Blondes.” Can you even picture Arnold Schwarzenegger having sex? I mean, I assume he’s had plenty of it, but can you really picture it? It’s low-key a very terrifying thought.

The Most Economical One

There are three very strong two-word quips that merit mentioning. There’s the part in Predator when he throws a knife so hard that it pins a guy to a wall and Arnold tells him, “Stick around.” There’s the part in True Lies when he shoots a missile from his helicopter and there’s a guy attached to the missile, so when Arnold shoots it he tells the guy, “You’re fired.” And there’s the part in Total Recall when a guy in an excavator is trying to kill him and Arnold takes a gigantic drilling tool, jams it through the excavator’s shell and into the man’s abdomen, and starts drilling and shouts, “Screw you.” And those are all A-plus moments. But there’s one quip that’s only one word, so that one wins by default. It also happens in True Lies. Arnold is running to safety after wrecking things all to hell. Two attack dogs are chasing him. Just as they’re about to catch Arnold, he turns around, catches them in midair, and clunks their heads together, knocking them both out. Perfect as perfect can be, he deadpans, “Stay,” then runs off. It’s not the only time he’s aimed his wit at an animal, either:

The Best One Aimed at a Very Aggressive Animal

Second place goes to 1996’s Jingle All the Way, when a reindeer charges at him and he punches it, knocking it out, then says, “You started it.” First place goes to the part in Eraser when he shoots an alligator dead and tells it, “You’re luggage.” It maybe would’ve been better if he’d have said something like, “See you later, alligator,” but suggesting that feels a little like telling Picasso how to hold his paintbrush.

The Most Self-Aware One That’s Maybe the Least Self-Aware

It’s from Last Action Hero, which, and this might be a little surprising, is actually very nearly a brilliant movie. They were doing the thing in it where it’s an action movie but they’re also making fun of action movies, a thing that Scream perfected in 1996 by being a scary movie that lampooned scary movies. But where Scream’s way of having that conversation was brilliant because it was so practical (one of the characters was a video store employee who’d seen basically every scary movie, so he was able to discuss the scary movie tropes very naturally), Last Action Hero’s way of having that conversation was oafish and unlikable because it was totally impossible and needlessly silly (a boy gets transported into the action movie universe by way of a magical movie ticket).

Anyway, the winner for this category is an exchange Arnold has with a housekeeper:

[Arnold knocks on the door.]

[The door opens.]

Housekeeper: May I help you?

Arnold: Yes. Could I speak to the drug dealer of the house please?

Housekeeper: I beg your pardon?

Arnold: It’s a beautiful day, and we’re out killing drug dealers. Are there any in the house?

The rest of that scene is wonderful. It ends with a guy threatening to snap his fingers, which will signal six murderous rottweilers to attack and eat Arnold and the little boy with him, to which Arnold responds by asking, “How exactly are you gonna snap your fingers after I rip off both of your thumbs?”

The Most Ambitious One

It feels a bit like cheating, but there’s only one acceptable answer here, and it comes from Last Action Hero. Arnold and the boy are driving away from some criminals who are trying to kill them. Arnold shoots at an ice cream truck, the ice cream truck explodes, and a fucking Country Cone comes flying out of the explosion and inserts itself into the back of the head of one of the bad guys, killing him instantly. Arnold, giddy about it, says, “Iced that guy,” and then, as if that were not enough, adds, “… to cone a phrase.” TO CONE A PHRASE. Do you even understand how incredible that is? I’m guessing you do not because you’re still reading this article and not on your hands and knees praying toward Austria, the birthplace of our lord and savior.

The Most Perfect

Total Recall has a high number. So did The Running Man. Remember when he sawed Buzzsaw in half and then said, “He had to split,” when his team asked what happened to him? Or when the main bad guy told him to drop dead and Arnold said, “I don’t do requests”? Or right after that when Arnold rocketed him through the billboard of himself, then said, “Well, that hit the spot”? Or when he picked up that no-name henchman and said, “Can I give you a lift?” and then threw him over a rail a million stories to his death? Or how he killed Professor Subzero and then stood over his body and shouted, “Here is Subzero. Now … plain zero”? Or how, right before he set Fireball on fire, he said, “How about a light?”? On and on and on.

HOWEVER, same as with the kills, no Arnold movie has a higher quips per capita than Commando. It’s just so unbelievably perfect. He sneaks up on that Spanish soldier, says “Como esta,” then fires a knife into his sternum. A guy tries to play tough with him and says Arnold needs to cooperate — “Right?” — and Arnold says, “Wrong,” and then shoots him in the head. He tells that Green Beret, “I eat Green Berets for breakfast, and right now I’m very hungry,” then kills him. He tells that one soldier to stay downwind so the enemy can’t smell him. The soldier, exasperated, says, “You think I can smell them coming?” Arnold replies, “I did.” The flight attendant asks him if he brought any carry-on luggage and Arnold looks at one of the bad guys and says, “Just him.” Then he breaks that same bad guy’s neck and tells the flight attendant, “Don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired.” Near the end, his main military boss asks Arnold if he left anything for them and he says, “Just bodies.” There are just SO many. But his no. 1 quip of his life … of all our lives … of all of time:

While standing in the airport, a hostage is about to be put on a plane. Sully, a midlevel henchman, makes a crack about Arnold taking his time so all the rest of the bad guys can have their fun with his daughter (who is being held hostage in a secret location). Arnold says, “You’re a funny guy, Sully. I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Arnold escapes from the plane (DIVING OFF OF IT AS IT TAKES OFF), tracks down Sully, captures him, dangles him over the edge of a cliff, then says, “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?” Sully excitedly hollers back yes, yes, yes, yes, you said that, yes. Then Arnold, more gorgeously and confidently than any man has said anything, says, “I lied,” then drops him to his death.

There are for sure more iconic straight lines that he’s given: “Come with me if you want to live”; “I’ll be back”; “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

But no quip — not a single one — is more remembered, more cherished, more loved than the one he hit Sully with.

Filed Under: Movies, Action Movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall, Last Action Hero, Commando, Junior, Predator, Eraser

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

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