In 1993, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was coming off a decade of major success in films – two “Terminator” movies, two “Conan” films, “Predator,” “Total Recall,” “The Running Man ,” “Commando” and even hit comedies like “Twins” and “Kindergarten Cop”.
He had James Cameron’s “True Lies” in the works and was the biggest action star of Hollywood at the time when his new film “Last Action Hero” came out – a movie that saw him team with “Die Hard” director John McTiernan and have a script co-written by “Lethal Weapon” scribe Shane Black.
Of course “Last Action Hero,” with its kid character and its meta approach to action comedies, was famously a bomb. Budgeted at a costly $85 million back then, the film opened to just $15 million States-side and ultimately grossed $50 million domestically and a further $87 million overseas.
In Hollywood’s eyes, it was a disaster and one from which Schwarzenegger’s career never entirely recovered thanks to a series of flops that followed including “Junior,” “Jingle All the Way” and “Batman and Robin”.
Now, over two decades later, the one-time Republican governor of California tells Business Insider he has a theory as to why the film tanked – and it’s not what you’d expect:
“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, ‘OK, 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.”
Certainly by the early 1990s, those big action films of the mid-late 1980s were on the way out – the genre floundering for a few years before the first foundations were laid for today’s market with special effects blockbusters and mid-budget gritty action thrillers.
But the film also got trodden on by another movie that opened just the week before – “Jurassic Park” which dominated the season with a $395 million domestic gross. Additionally the likes of “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Firm” and “In the Line of Fire” also found notable $100+ million domestic box-office success in the month or so that followed, while the late Summer was dominated by “The Fugitive” which made $183 million on a budget half that of “Last Action Hero”.