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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of 'Commando'

Updated November 20, 2019 180.9k views13 items

Though Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting legacy will forever be cemented by his title-character role in 1984's The Terminator, his follow-up one year later established the archetypal character he would portray in numerous films to follow. In 1985's Commando, Schwarzenegger used his massive physique to dish out generous servings of pain as retired United States Special Forces Colonel John Matrix, just as he had done as The Terminator's T-800. Commando, however, was simultaneously an action film and a humorous romp, helping Schwarzenegger make the leap from muscle-bound combat hero to bonafide superstar. 

The film also inspired contemporary filmmakers to pair exaggerated combat action with comedy, as seen in later films such as Lethal Weapon and The Predator. At a time when most movie stars employed stunt performers and stand-ins for the dirty work, Schwarzenegger proved his dedication and merit by performing all of his own stunts in Commando. He also proved so adept at comedy that lines were written for him on the fly throughout filming.

Despite these groundbreaking elements, the movie was rife with issues from the very beginning and was eventually fast-tracked by a new studio head who considerably reduced the production budget. Commando would likely have been another candidate for the burgeoning direct-to-video movie market were it not for the charisma of its lead. Thanks to Schwarzenegger's growing star power, we not only have the film but also these amazing behind-the-scenes stories from the making of Commando.

  • The Unused Script For 'Commando 2' Didn't Actually Inspire 'Die Hard'

    Reportedly made under-budget for just $10 million, Commando was a box-office hit both domestically and internationally, earning a global gross of $57.5 million. Strangely, the film never spawned a sequel like its contemporaries, First Blood and Missing in Action, both of which churned out multiple continuations. According to Hollywood legend, a sequel was made, but it was produced under the title Die Hard and starred Bruce Willis as John McClane rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix.

    Commando's writer, Steven de Souza, called the movie legend "completely wrong." He admitted there was a plan for a sequel at one point and he had even written a draft that Frank Darabont later revised, but he said that Commando 2 had nothing to do with McClane's adventures, other than the fact that an executive office building served as a major action location in both scripts:

    The plot would have seen him hired by a big corporation to oversee their security to protect their executives... So he sets it up and hires the most dangerous people to be guards in the building, and then lo and behold, he discovers... the big corporation is simply a front.

  • Gene Simmons Of Kiss Was Originally Offered The Lead Role

    Imagining anyone but Schwarzenegger as Commando's star is difficult, but Jeph Loeb, as well as the film's story writer, Matthew Weisman, supposedly had a very different lead in mind when they pitched the script to 20th Century Fox: fire-breathing Kiss rocker Gene Simmons. 

    At the time, Simmons's sole acting credits were his role as his own alter-ego, the Demon, in the TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park and the villain in the poorly received Tom Selleck vehicle Runaway. When Simmons turned down the role, it was reportedly offered to Nick Nolte before being shelved.

    Barry Diller, head of 20th Century Fox, prioritized finding a starring role for Schwarzenegger, even from his first day on the job. Schwarzenegger was white-hot at the time thanks to his portrayal of the T-800 cybernetic android in The Terminator, so Diller announced he would "immediately" give the go-ahead for any movie Schwarzenegger could star in that could "be done for $12 million."

  • The Gay Subtext Surrounding Vernon Wells's Character Was Unintentional

    Arnold Schwarzenegger's John Matrix fights his way through scores of faceless, nameless enemies over the course of the movie. But his former brother-in-arms, Captain Bennett, played by Vernon Wells, really stuck out in the minds of fans.

    The knife-wielding, chainmail-wearing villain with the slicked-back hair and Freddy Mercury mustache was initially just another foil for Matrix, a final obstacle to overcome after the climactic fight against the forces of Dan Hedaya's Arius. However, the character's appearance, combined with dialogue that often focuses on Matrix's manhood, prompted many theories claiming that Bennett was meant to be in love with Matrix or was possibly his former lover. Even co-star Rae Dawn Chong said in an interview that Matrix and Bennett are gay, adding, "Arnold's the ideal. If you can't love it... you wanna [end] it."

    According to Wells, however, he wasn't meant to look seductive in his too-tight costume of leather and chains - the outfit simply didn't fit properly because it was made for another actor.

  • Some Stunt Actors 'Lost Their Lives' On Screen Multiple Times

    Besides cementing Schwarzenegger as a certified action hero and helping to form his movie persona for years to come, Commando stands out in his filmography for being the movie with the highest body count - John Matrix takes out 81 enemies over the course of the film.

    In the climactic fight, Matrix engages in a one-man onslaught of brutality and destruction that results in 74 of the 81 slayings. According to screenwriter Steven de Souza, the script originally contained "some plausability," with Matrix fighting "maybe a dozen security guards" in the finale; however, director Mark L. Lester upped the body count after seeing the carnage in a sneak preview of 1985's Rambo sequel.

    Lester admitted "there was a lot of testosterone in the air" during filming and said the body count got so high that "a lot of stuntmen were getting re-used," with some perishing on screen as many as four times during the island fight scene.