In Netflix's three-part docuseries Arnold, the 75-year-old looks back at his career as bodybuilder, former governor of California, and, of course, movie star, recounting the early hits and misses of his Hollywood career, including the largely panned action comedy directed by John McTiernan.
Schwarzenegger played fictional action hero character Jack Slater in the film, centered on a young movie fan (Austin O'Brien) who, while reeling from the death of his father, receives a magical ticket from a theater employee that transports him into an action movie, where he bonds with the indestructible Slater. It opened with a meek $15.3 million at the domestic box office and $50 million worldwide.
"When Last Action Hero came out I had reached my peak after Terminator 2, having the most successful movie of the year worldwide," Schwarzenegger recounts in the docuseries. So when the reviews for the film rolled out, "I cannot tell you how upset that I was," he says. "It hurts you. It hurts your feelings. It's embarrassing."
Columbia Pictures/Everett Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Last Action Hero'
James Cameron, who directed Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, recalls phoning the star the weekend after the movie opened. "He sounded like he was in bed crying," Cameron says. "He took it as a deep blow to his brand. I think it really shook him."
"I said, 'What are you gonna do?'" Cameron recounts. "He said, 'I'm just gonna hang out by myself.'" Cameron says with a laugh, "That's the only time I've ever heard him down."
"I didn't want to see anyone for a week," Schwarzenegger adds. "But you keep plodding along. And my mother-in-law also said this all the time: 'Let's just move forward.' It's a great message."
And move forward he did: At the suggestion of his brother-in-law Bobby, Schwarzenegger found himself watching the 1991 French comedy adventure La Totale!, which would serve as the basis of 1994's True Lies, his next film with Cameron.
Zade Rosenthal/20th Century Fox Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in 'True Lies'
"Arnold's bringing me a project that he believes in," Cameron says. "He'd never done that before. I thought we could have fun with comedy. I know he had done comedy. He has a good sense of humor."
They once again teamed up to make True Lies, an American adaptation of the film which followed Schwarzenegger's secret agent as he battled terrorists and turmoil in his marriage to his neglected wife (Jamie Lee Curtis). Grossing $378 million worldwide, the film was a box office success.
"It's a play," he adds. "Life is a play. You have to be able to take the failures with the successes. And that's just the way it is."
All three episodes of Arnold are streaming now on Netflix.