Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film career was slow to start, but once it did, it blew up like one of the pyrotechnics in Commando. The 1980s saw him star in some of the biggest, baddest, and most iconic roles of his career, which all had a bit more edge to them, as the budgets his movies weren’t yet gigantic and he wasn’t trying to appeal to a broader audience. This was the era of the hard-R Arnold, which left gems like Predator and The Terminator embedded in the history of film.
The Villain (1979) – Handsome Stranger
Everyone has to start somewhere. You could consider this Arnold’s first film, since it was the first movie he was in that also starred a star, albeit a fading one: Kirk Douglas.
Before this forgettable 1979 western, Arnold had most notably appeared on screen with a dubbed voice in Hercules in New York (1970) in which he was credited as Arnold Strong ‘Mr. Universe.’
The Villain is about an outlaw “Cactus Jack Slade (Douglas) who lands in jail facing the hangman’s noose.
He’s offered a way out and is pursued by Handsome Stranger (Arnold) who is tough, but a little less than smart.
Colt Single Action Army
In his one and only wester, Arnold carries a Colt Single Action Army revolver, but his is a little different, according to the dialogue. He says his six-shooter is special because it holds seven shots. I said the character wasn’t too smart.
After this dud, Arnold took a career path similar to Clint Eastwood’s, who spent part of his early career starring in a number of spaghetti westerns made abroad, which allowed him to escape bit-part limbo in Hollywood after the films established him with U.S. audiences.
In Arnold’s case, after The Villain he went on to star in two low-budget fantasy films based on a popular series of novels that would eventually become cult favorites.
In 1982, he showcased his physique and mostly physical acting skills as the titular sword wielding hero in Conan the Barbarian, fighting slavery, thieves, giant snakes, and an evil James Earl Jones.
He followed it up with Conan The Destroyer, which is sort of a sequel and sort of the same story from the previous movie, just a little different.
Then came a movie that would change his career, and the sci-fi action genre, forever.
The Terminator (1984) – T-800
In 1984, Arnold made his transition from the low-budget fantasy genre to the low-budget sci-fi action genre…which was considered a mostly lateral move at the time. Fortunately for Arnold, this particular movie was helmed by a man who would become one of the great directors of all time, James Cameron.
Even though it’s Arnold’s only completely villainous role, playing the emotionless cyborg killing machine in The Terminator made Schwarzenegger a star and a pop culture icon of the 1980s, capitalizing fully on the blossoming generation of movie audiences who were growing up with VCRs in their homes.
As a time-traveling semi-robotic killing machine, Arnold also got to tote some pretty awesome hardware.
AMT Hardballer .45 Longslide with Primitive Laser Sight
The most visually striking firearm from the dark-toned movie was the AMT Hardballer .45 Longslide featured at the beginning of the film and shown on the movie poster. The popular-at-the-time 1911-based pistol was fitted with a primitive laser sight made by a designer from the company that would become SureFire.
It’s the T-800’s primary weapon for the beginning of his assassination mission, until he loses it in the club Tech Noir after being shot by Kyle Reese’s Ithaca 37 shotgun.
Laser sights were rare and not commercially available in 1984. The laser on the .45 was a helium neon laser that required 10,000 volts to activate, and another 1,000 volts to maintain.
When it’s activated in the movie, it was actually powered through a cable running up Arnold’s sleeve to a battery pack in his jacket. The laser didn’t have an on-board switch. Instead, it was operated by a plunger switch in Arnold’s other hand. In the photo above, you can see what the rig he had to wear looked like.
Uzi Submachine Gun
When the Terminator misses his first shot at Sarah in Tech Noir and is put down with a few blasts form Kyle’s shotgun, he gets up and pulls a full-auto Uzi 9mm submachine gun from beneath his coat and starts spraying the club, attempting to take Kyle out.
It’s the same Uzi we see from the gun shop, only with the stock folded. Even if the gun had been sold in California at the time, it would have been required to have a 16-inch barrel that the Terminator would have had to cut down, in addition to modifying it to fire in full auto.
AR-18 Assault Rifle and SPAS-12 Semi-Auto Shotgun
There were a lot of guns and lots of shooting in the original The Terminator, but the police station massacre is what made this action/sci-fi movie teeter on the brink of the horror genre. This is where we see the Terminator in full battle mode, wading through a police station of armed cops toward his target, firing a stockless SPAS-12 shotgun with one hand and a cut down, full-auto Armalite AR-18 with the other.
Police stations are usually safe-havens in movies, a setting that stops the action and provides time for exposition. The Terminator feigned using the setting for this purpose, but then destroys the audience’s expectation in a hail of gunfire that reveals an entire building full of cops as an inadequate defense against the unstoppable killer.
The image of the Terminator stalking the dark hallways, sunglasses covering his inhuman eyes, shooting with unnatural strength and accuracy is probably the most fear-inducing image of the whole series—especially if you saw it for the first time at age 8.
He acquires the gun from a California gun shop, which certainly wouldn’t have been selling a fully-automatic AR-18, or the full-auto UZI submachine gun he also gets there. Fans have long theorized the Terminator converted them to full-auto himself.
Smith & Wesson Model 15
As a last resort, after his other weapons run dry, the T-800 pulls out a nickel-plated S&W Model 15 revolver and fires it at Sarah and Kyle’s vehicle from his motorcycle.
It might seem like the gun comes out of nowhere, or that the T-800 must have picked it up during the carnage of the police station assault, but it’s actually sitting on the counter during the gun shop scene, though it’s not prominently featured or shown until this scene.
Ithaca 37 Shotgun
The T-800 also uses an Ithaca 37 shotgun in the parking garage scene. When Sarah and Kyle briefly shake the Terminator after the club shootout and the T-800 suffers some minor burn damage, he steals an LAPD cruiser and uses the shotgun mounted inside, since he lost his 1911 and the Uzi, which was likely out of ammo.
This Ithaca has a regular length magazine tube, as opposed to Kyle’s shotgun with the extended tube.
Commando (1985) – John Matrix
If you wonder how the Sylvester Stallone vs. Arnold rivalry got started, you can pretty much trace it back to this movie.
After playing a small contractually obligated role from the Conan days in Red Sonja (1985), Arnold next starred in a movie that is, in many ways, a distillation of every trope and cliche that made up action movies in the 1980s.
Commando wasn’t dark or moody. It was well lit, and well paced, with vibrant colors and stunts that weren’t obscured by shadows or too many long shots.
The movie is full of one-liners and muscles, light cheuvanism and heavy doses of testosterone, and a lot of guns.
Know how action movies often start with the ex-special forces guy, living out on his own, not bothering anyone and then being visited by a commander from his past because of something that’s happening with the “guys from his old unit”…yeah, this is pretty much where that came from.
A ticking clock that will result in the death of an adorable little girl (played by a tween Alyssa Milano); a hapless sidekick who gets swept up in the action and sticks around almost to the end—yep, those are in here too, along with hammed up performances for every bad guy and lots of explosions, not to mention one of the most absurd “gearing up’ montages ever filmed.
In a lot of ways, it’s almost like the people who made this movie saw Stallone’s Rambo: First Blood Part 2, took some of the cooler parts, and redid them bigger and louder—which isn’t necessarily bad.
When the bad guys first attack his house in the woods and kidnap his daughter, John Matrix (Arnold) punches a code into a panel on his tool shed that unlocks a small hidden arsenal. He grabs a Beretta 92SB and shoves it in the front of his belt, though he never gets to use it.
The gun disappears during the following truck crash, when Matrix rolls his pickup down the side of the mountain in neutral because the bad guys have torn up his engine.
Heckler & Koch HK91A2
The long gun he grabs from his arsenal is an HK91A2 rifle. We can see it isn’t a select-fire G3 from a closeup of the receiver, but the semi-auto civilian version instead. He shoots it from the hip and kills the man he finds in his daughter’s room before he can make a speech.
We also get some smash cut closeups of Matrix loading and chambering the rifle.
When he gets into the house, we can see he has inserted two magazine that are attached together with a clamp.
Desert Eagle Mark I
Technically, this movie has two gearing up scenes. Matrix and his new sidekick, Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) break into a sporting goods store to stock up on gear. But this is no normal gun shop, this place is like the best Army Navy store you’ve ever seen, with a hidden back room full of all kinds of Class 3 firearms.
The set designer pretty much took every gun used in the movie and set them all up in this little back room. Matrix and Cindy literally fill up carts with guns, ammo, and other gear like flippers. The place even has a loaded rocket launcher…but we’ll get to that.
They get most of the gear into Cindy’s car, but Matrix is then apprehended by the police, albeit briefly.
While they’re still filling up the carts, we see Matrix grab a matte stainless Desert Eagle Mark I in .357 Magnum from a shelf in the gun shop’s back room.
The next time we see it, Matrix is putting on all his weapons and gear before assaulting Arius’ mansion. During that montage we see that the floorplate of the magazine is coming off as he slams it into the Desert Eagle.
I just want to point out that Matrix has to approach the coast carefully enough to necessitate a shirtless swim with flippers, yet he does it in full daylight hauling a raft of gear. Plus, he has plenty of time once he’s on the beach to get dressed and put on layers of slings and firearms—not to mention draw diagonal black lines of greasepaint on himself—not only on his face, but on HIS ENTIRE UPPER TORSO.
Uzi submachine gun
Another gun the duo grabs from the gun shop’s arsenal (this place must have been owned by a gun runner) is a full-auto IMI Uzi submachine gun.
Matrix uses this gun twice, the first time to fend off their pursuers while Cindy gets the plane going.
The Uzi also comes into the mansion complex slung on Matrix’s back and loaded with a 20-round magazine. He uses it briefly during the assault before discarding it.
As Matrix stands up after the almost comically long gearing up montage, he lays a distinctive looking rifle across his shoulders as the camera pulls back.
The gun is a Valmet M78, a Finnish light machine gun that looks a bit like the RPK. A regular M78 is outfitted with a standard RPK style buttstock. Since this has the thumbhole Dragunov-style stock, we know the gun in the movie is the later M78/83, which is chambered in 7.62 NATO (.308 Win) and 7.62x39mm.
I’ll say it again, that was one hell of a gun shop.
Not only does Matrix show up on the beach in nothing but short-shorts, but all of his guns are unloaded, which, of course, results in a series of tight closeups of Matrix loading them.
We see him slap a 40-round AK-style magazine into his Valmet and work the bolt.
He uses it quite a bit during the assault on the mansion, always firing from the hip, and never once aimed.
During his assault, Matrix, who chooses to bring five different guns with him and no spare ammo or mags, has none of his gear left and has even shed his vest to tend to a minor shrapnel wound on his side.
Matrix picks up and uses an M16A1 with a straight 20-round magazine that lasts way, way too long.
If you haven’t seen this movie in a while, it’s worth a rewatch just to check out how Arnold shoots and handles this gun: one-handed, like a pistol, or like a toy.
As a kid who loved action movies, it was really strange to see the gun handled this way, and then to see more realistic depictions of the rifle platform in movies like Platoon.
In a continuity error, when Matrix fires the gun from behind a statue, it begins as an M16A1. When the shot cuts away and then cuts back, the forward assist has vanished and it magically becomes an M16.
Custom Remington 870 shotgun
After shedding his vest, the last gun left to him is a Remington 870 shotgun that we see for the first time as Matrix is getting ready on the beach.
The shotgun is a customized version with a long barrel and a special under-barrel laser sight added to the front of the magazine tube. Don’t worry if you thought it was an extended mag tube. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times and I didn’t find this out until I read it on imfdb.org.
The laser sight can be seen if you’re looking closely, but it’s never actually used. The shotgun changes several times in continuity errors, with foregrips coming and going, and the sling attachment position changing.
The imfdb.org says the laser sight was specifically made for the Remington 870 shotgun by the Laser Products Corporation (which later became Surefire). It’s similar to the one used on the AMT Hardballer in The Terminator and one of the earliest laser sights produced.
Matrix uses the shotgun all the way into the interior of the mansion, though he also picks up and uses a few guns from downed bad guys outside along the way.
M60 Machine Gun
Matrix tried to steal an M60E3 from the gun shop, but that’s one of the guns that doesn’t make it into Cindy’s car before the cops showed up.
Fortunately, there’s a bad guy with one at Arius’ mansion. Matrix takes him out and picks up the M60. By this time, not only has he lost all the guns he brought with him, but he’s shed his tac vest and is now shirtless.
You can’t help but think this was an intentional jab at a similar sequence in Rambo 2. Matrix even holds the gun like Stallone did, firing with his left hand while feeding ammo with his right (though in some shots, like the one above, the image is reversed.
As he does with all the guns, Arnold tosses the M60E3, with a shortened barrel, around like it’s a toy.
M202 FLASH prop launcher
Cindy first uses the four-barreled rocket launcher stolen from the gun shop to flip the police van carrying Matrix after he is arrested for the break-in.
Miraculously, Matrix crawls out unharmed, despite being tossed around in the back of a panel truck. This has to be the worst rescue EVER.
Matrix later totes the launcher on a sling into the mansion complex along with the rest of his gear and uses the two remaining rockets during his assault (Cindy wastes one when accidentally firing the first rocket backwards).
The launcher is supposed to be an M202 FLASH, but is most likely a boxy prop replica that fired rockets on guided lines. We see the launcher’s tubes a number of times and they are always empty instead of carrying visible rockets.
Raw Deal (1986) – Mark Kaminsky / Joseph Brenner
As he was trying to find exactly where he fit in the action movie world, Arnold tried something a bit more hard-boiled in 1986 when he took the starring role in Raw Deal as disgraced FBI agent, Mark Kaminsky, who is given a chance to go undercover as a mob enforcer to flush out a government mole responsible for leaking information that led to the murder of a few witnesses and FBI agents.
One of those agent’s was Kaminsky’s friend, so it makes it personal. This movie could easily have been much darker and starred someone like Michael Douglas, but it’s instead a somewhat goofy, if ultra-violent, thriller that didn’t quite hit at the box office like Commando and The Terminator did.
The filmmakers made some odd choices and there is a good amount of quirky action scenes and dialogue that gives this one an overall weird feeling.
Heckler & Koch HK94
The poster above graced many a video rental store and Suncoast Video through the 80s and 90s. In it, Schwarzenegger is shown as Mark Kaminsky / Joseph Brenner holding an HK94A3, the semi-auto civilian version of the MP5 submachine gun.
The gun, which is prominently featured in the movie’s climax, has a collapsible stock and a distinctive looking ventilated barrel shroud and vertical foregrip, which is mostly what you see in the poster.
When Brenner assaults the mine and later Patrovita’s hideout, he fires the gun in full-auto, meaning this HK is meant to stand in for it’s military cousin the MP5. You can see there is no magazine ejection lever on the magwell. Instead, it has a magazine release button featured on the civilian variants.
The gun used in the publicity photos has no magazine inserted, and in the movie, when the gun is being loaded in Kaminsky’s hotel room, it has the original slimline type grip, which changes to the wider “tropical” handguard later.
International Ordnance MP2 machine pistol
Another gun used by Kaminski in the climax was the odd looking International Ordnance MP2 machine pistol. The unusual gun has a front grip that doubles as an extra magazine holder, which was removed for the movie.
The pistol is a chopped up version of the British STEN submachine gun, which began production in WWII as a simple machine gun with low manufacturing cost, much like the American M3 Grease Gun.
MAC-10 as an Uzi
Apparently the film’s armorers couldn’t get ahold of the Uzi that Arnold used in Commando and thought that a MAC-10 wasn’t cool enough, so they took a numberof MAC-10s and added pieces to make them look more like Uzis.
They were fitted with barrels, front and rear sights, forward grips, and fixed wooden stocks from Uzi submachine guns.
In the opening scene, an assassin used one of the Frankenstein guns, with the stock tucked under his right arm, his right hand holding the stock, and his left hand firing. Odd.
Kaminski uses on of the mock Uzis during the final shootout, though his is fitted with an adjustable stock.
Dan Wesson Model 15
Another gun Kaminsky has in his suit storage bag is a Dan Wesson Model 15 revolver which he uses to kill the driver of a huge off-road dump truck as he’s trying to run him down in a trailer. Other than that, we don’t see the stainless wheelgun much.
Mossberg 500AT shotgun
The final firearm in Kaminsky’s arsenal is a Mossberg 500AT shotgun fitted with what looks like an adjustable choke and a pistol grip with no stock. In the company’s old naming convention, the “A” designates the shotgun as a 12 gauge and the “T” stands for “tactical.”
Kaminsky uses the shotgun to finally take out Patrovia.
The mobster bad guys are often seen using something that is meant to look like a CAR-15 or an XM177, but are actually AR15 SP1 rifles made to look like the XM177. These are the same rifles used in Dogs of War, according to imfdb.org.
Kaminsky picks up and uses one during the final shootout.
Predator (1987) – Maj. Alan “Dutch” Schaefer
Predator is an important movie in Arnold’s career and the movie that some say is the best in his action-movie filmography. While it was another sci-fi action crossover film like The Terminator, it was an original concept that struck a chord with audiences. It’s almost like two movies smashed into one, in the best way possible.
It starts out as a military movie about a special forces team inserted into the South American jungle on a covert operation to rescue a cabinet minister. It turns into a terrifying chase through the thick jungle as the expert soldiers are hunted by a mysterious otherworldly creature. It ends as a man-against-monster standoff in the blackness of the jungle night that ends with the two going at it hand-to-hand.
A lot of things had to happen just right for this movie to work. The cast, made up of a collection of square jaws and gym hours, is a list to behold: Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers, plus Arnold himself are just a few.
The original alien antagonist was a joke. The costume was so awkward (it resembled a cross between a dog and an insect) and difficult to shoot in the jungle that the man hired to act inside the suit, a young Jean Claude Van Damme, quit the project. The film took a break as the monster was re-evaluated and a different special effects crew was brought in. The Predator was redesigned as the terrifying dreadlocked, giant-mandibled creature we now know, pretty much just in time to film the final act of the movie.
There have been attempts to capitalize on the success of the original…the less-than-stellar Predator 2, which did not feature Arnold, the two extremely mediocre Alien Vs. Predator films, and a not-so-direct sequel from 2010 called Predators. Yet another sequel is expected this year from Shane Black that adds an article for The Predator. But none of them have measured up to the coolness and sheer badassery of the original, which might just be the perfect action movie.
Dutch (Schwarzenegger) keeps it simple. His primary weapon is an AR-15/SP1 or an M16 slab-sided rifle fitted with an M16A1 birdcage flash suppressor to appear like later versions of the platform. It’s pretty unlikely that the guns in the movie are genuine M16s, but rather early AR-15s that have been converted to full-auto for the film. We can see his rifle, and Billy’s rifle, are not later models because there is no magazine fencing around the magwell and there is no forward assist or shell deflector, hence the “slab-side” moniker.
As cool as it looks, the paint-chipped M203 grenade launcher on Dutch’s gun is actually fake and is attached with a perforated forend used to secure such launchers to M16-style rifles before the days of Picatinny rails and free-floating handguards.
In several cases, the blank adapter can clearly be seen inside the muzzle of the rifle, meaning it was a real firearm converted to fire blanks. The adapter helps the rifle’s gas system cycle with the low pressure created by blank rounds. Dutch’s rifle includes a fixed A-shaped front sight, an M16A2 style carry handle with rear peep sight, and a fixed stock.
As for other weapons, Dutch carries a .50 AE Desert Eagle Mark I pistol in a hip holster (which he never uses), a survival knife on his belt, a large machete-type blade on his leg, and a number of M67 hand grenades.
By the end of the film, Dutch is the only commando left to face the alien hunter. After the last of his team is killed, Dutch washes up on a riverbank and discovers he’s covered in mud shortly after he discovers he’s lost his pistol during his journey down the waterfall to escape the Predator. All he has left are a couple 30mm rounds for the M203 grenade launcher, which is also long gone, and his survival knife.
It turns out to be enough. He uses what he has to make a recurve bow out of bundled springy branches. He creates a few normal arrows, but modifies one of his grenade rounds to serve as an exploding arrowhead. He uses the special arrow to wound the alien after luring him into a trap. He also uses the other grenade to create an explosive spear, and uses the propellant from the shells to make an improvised flashbang to scramble the Predator’s night/heat vision.