Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout hit ‘Conan the Barbarian’

May 08, 2015 | 5:11 p.m.
maggie Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back on the big screen in "Maggie." What's the secret to the big-man's lasting appeal on the big screen? Click through the gallery for a look at the roles that embody the aspects of Arnold that keep the big bucks coming. (Merrick Morton / Lionsgate; Captions by Patrick Kevin Day)

1hercules Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Iconic Arnold: "Hercules in New York" (1969) Schwarzenegger's big-screen debut didn't include his syrupy Austrian accent -- the one-time Mr. Universe bodybuilder's voice was dubbed for his acting debut. But he let the visuals speak for themselves. Smart move. (Trimark Home Video)

2conan Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Spiritual Arnold: "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) Yes, he can kill hundreds of bad guys and bench press just about anything. But even Schwarzenegger can show he answers to a higher power. In Conan's case, it's the god Crom. He's not ashamed to do a little prayer to Crom before going into battle. But only Arnold could pull off a prayer ending with "Grant me revenge. And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!" (Universal Studios)

terminator Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Threatening Arnold: "The Terminator" (1984) Three simple words were enough to launch a career into the stratosphere: "I'll be back." It helped that his promise was followed up with some intensely violent action scenes, expertly directed by James Cameron. (MGM)

4commando Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Unstoppable Arnold: "Commando" (1985) It doesn't matter how many bad guys came at Schwarzenegger in this action flick that cast him as a retired elite black ops commando fighting to get his kidnapped daughter back. He defeated them all and delivered lines like: "You're a funny guy, Sully. I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last." (20th Century Fox)

5predator Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Tough Guy Arnold: "Predator" (1987) Schwarzenegger expanded his roster of enemies with this sci-fi actioner in which he took on a tough alien hunter from beyond the stars. Not one to ever back down from a fight, when the alien creature bared its nasty fangs and horrifying visage and screamed a terrifying scream, Arnold did the same right back to him. No one threatens Arnold. No one. (20th Century Fox)

6twins Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Silly Arnold: "Twins" (1988) Schwarzenegger has always been keenly self-aware of his public image and has shown a savvy ability to manipulate it at the right times. Just when he was becoming an '80s action cliche, he put on some matching clothes with Danny DeVito and voila! He was a comedy star. (Universal Pictures)

7kindergartencop Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Softie Arnold: "Kindergarten Cop" (1990) He demonstrated that he could take down aliens, snake wizards and whole armies of baddies early in his career. But with this Ivan Reitman comedy, he nearly let himself be defeated by a classroom of 5-year-olds. His only defense to the suggestion that his headache may be a tumor? "It's not a too-mah!" (Universal Studios)

8terminator2 Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Sensitive Arnold: 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991) Action flicks are largely the domain of the adolescent male, but even young girls were brought to tears by Schwarzenegger's silent thumbs up as the once-killer robot was dipped into molten metal at the end of this blockbuster. (Artisan Home Entertainment)

9lastactionhero Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Ridiculous Arnold: "Last Action Hero" (1993) The feel of an AK-47 is more comfortable in Arnold's hands than an Oscar statuette, and Schwarzenegger knows it. He wasn't afraid to acknowledge that fact in his over-the-top send-up of over-the-top action flicks, "Last Action Hero." Parodying "Hamlet," Schwarzenegger one-upped the Bard with his own, "To be or not to be? Not to be." Cue explosions. (Columbia Pictures)

10truelies Flashback Friday: Revisiting Arnold Schwarzeneggers breakout hit Conan the Barbarian

The Bombastic Arnold: "True Lies" (1994) When your physique is as exaggerated as Schwarzenegger's, it doesn't pay to play understated. Just when it seemed that action movies couldn't get more operatic, he re-teamed with writer-director James Cameron for a spy action-comedy that really involved a duel between a bad guy with a machine gun on the one hand, and Arnold in a Harrier jet on the other. (20th Century Fox)

Today’s theatrical release of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest film, “Maggie,” offers a chance to revisit “Conan the Barbarian,” the 1982 film which helped establish the former bodybuilder as a bona fide action star.

Though Schwarzenegger had acted in previous films, “Conan” served as a breakout role. The cinematic tale revolves around Conan’s quest to avenge his parents’ deaths, after seeing them die at the hands of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the leader of a cult of snake-worshipers.

Schwarzenegger’s physique was the embodiment of the fantasy hero as depicted by illustrator Frank Frazetta. The Cimmerian was created by Robert E. Howard for Weird Tales Magazine in 1932, but Frazetta is credited for redefining the graphic representation of Conan in the 1960s.

“If ever there was a Frazetta hero come alive, it’s Schwarzenegger, who developed his awesome bulk with a careful eye to proportion and symmetry,” Time’s film critic Kevin Thomas wrote in his review of the film.

Schwarzenegger’s bulk wasn’t the actor’s only contribution; he performed most of his own stunts for the film, training for more than six months with various swords and martial arts techniques.

“This film is all of us who work on it,” director John Milius told The Times. “Howard’s the father, of course, and although we’ve all been inspired by Frank Frazetta, the visual look of this movie is definitely [production designer] Ron Cobb’s. And Schwarzenegger! Arnold’s making as big of a contribution as I am. It’s pretty simple: Conan’s a group effort.”

Milius, who reworked a script initially written by Oliver Stone, told The Times he was greatly influenced by Howard’s and Frazetta’s depictions of “Conan.”

“The initial first draft script was written over a period of nine months,” he told The Times, “We’re shooting the fourth draft now. But I didn’t even begin the first one until I’d read all the existing Conan stories and had commissioned a number of research papers on snake and assassination cults, both of which figure prominently in the film.”

Thomas credited the creative imagery in the movie as “an instance of the right casting on both sides of the camera.”

The film earned $39.5 million when it was released on May 14, 1982, and The Times predicted the film would introduce the genre to a larger audience.

“ ‘Heroic fantasy,’ better known to aficionados of the genre as ‘sword and sorcery,’ may not yet be a familiar term to the average filmgoer, but it will be,” The Times wrote.

Click through the gallery above for a look at some of Schwarzenegger’s roles since “Conan.”

— Denise Florez | @LATHeroComplex

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