20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Commando

Action movies don’t come much larger than life than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoot-’em-up extravaganza Commando. Centred on a retired special forces soldier who’s unwillingly forced back into action when his daughter is kidnapped, the colourful, bullet-ridden 1985 movie gave Schwarzenegger his first real hit after The Terminator, and helped establish him as the dominant big screen tough guy of the era. But did you know the following facts about the film?


20. Schwarzenegger was not first choice for the film’s lead

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Believe it or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the first choice to take the leading role in Commando.

Today, the actor who was in line for the role before the Austrian Oak seems a very unlikely candidate.

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It was Nick Nolte, who had not long since played the tough guy lead in 48 Hrs. alongside Eddie Murphy.

48 Hrs. producer Joel Silver was also the producer on Commando, so it’s logical he’d think of Nolte for his next big action movie.

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Yet considering what an extremely cartoonish and over the top movie Commando became, it’s hard to imagine Nolte being part of that.

Nolte missed out on other big roles over the years, including Han Solo in Star Wars; however, he did have a stroke of luck in 1992 when he was voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive.

19. The original script was very different

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The original screenplay for what became Commando was very far removed from the film that eventually reached screens.

The first draft, by screenwriters Matthew Weissman and Joseph Loeb III, was far more grounded and reflective.

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Loeb says the script “was about an Israeli soldier who has turned his back on violence. Not the movie they made!”

In other piece of potential casting that’s hard to imagine now, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons was originally considered when the character was Israeli.

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When Schwarzenegger signed on to appear instead, pretty much all that went straight out of the window.

Steven E. de Souza then wrote the final draft of the script, “[revamping] the story to suit Arnold’s bigger-than-life persona.”

18. Arnie helped Alyssa Milano with her homework on his breaks

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In the key role of John Matrix’s abducted daughter Jenny, the Commando filmmakers cast Alyssa Milano.

Aged 12 at the time, Commando was only the second acting credit on the young actress’s resume.

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By all accounts, Arnold Schwarzenegger was very protective of his screen daughter throughout production.

In fact, it was even reported that the legendary action hero helped out his co-star with her homework on a few occasions!

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Credit: Tom Sorensen/Moovieboy Pictures/Wikimedia Commons

Milano said Schwarzenegger had a particular flair for algebra, and spoke of his kind and caring nature, and how patient he was whilst working with her.

By the time Commando was released, Milano had risen to small screen fame on sitcom Who’s the Boss?, and she’s enjoyed a long and successful career since.

17. Schwarzenegger carries a visible injury from a co-star through the film

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Schwarzenegger’s Commando character John Matrix is about as close to superhuman as standard action heroes get.

However, whilst Matrix is seemingly unstoppable, he’s not invulnerable, as we do often see him get hurt and bleed.

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You might not have known, however, that not all of this is the result of movie make-up.

If you have a keen eye, then you may have noticed that in some scenes Schwarzenegger has a cut on his forehead.

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This was a bona fide wound, which the actor got when a co-star accidentally cut him whilst shooting a fight sequence.

Rather than hide this, the filmmakers decided to incorporate it into the movie. Never let it be said that Arnie isn’t authentic!

16. Arnie isn’t quite as strong as he looks

We all remember the iconic scene when John Matrix holds Sully (David Patrick Kelly) over the edge of a cliff.

Given his Mr Universe record and legendary musculature, it’s easy to imagine Arnie really pulling off such a feat.

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However, we’re sorry to disappoint you, but it is not actually Arnie doing the heavy lifting.

The filmmakers quickly realised that even the mighty Schwarzenegger would be able to effortlessly hold up his 160-pound co-star Kelly.

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Instead, Kelly was suspended by his ankle on a carefully concealed wire attached to an overhead crane.

Outside of Commando, Sully actor David Patrick Kelly is best known for his bad guy roles in 48 Hrs., The Warriors and The Crow.

15. The film takes place in the same fictitious country as two other action classics

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Back in the 80s, the concept of a ‘cinematic universe’ was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today in the age of the MCU.

However, Commando has some interesting links with a number of other action films made by studio 20th Century Fox.

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The film largely takes place in the fictional South American nation of Val Verde – which is also part of Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

General Ramon Esperanza, Die Hard 2’s major villain portrayed by actor Franco Nero, is a dictator and drug lord from Val Verde.

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Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza wrote both films – and de Souza has also claimed that Val Verde is also the setting of Schwarzenegger’s 1987 movie Predator.

Thanks to the Alien vs. Predator movies, this means by extension that Commando, Die Hard, Predator and Alien all take place in the same universe!

14. The DVD release cut scenes out of the film by mistake

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As anyone who’s seen Commando will doubtless remember, the film has a pretty insane body count.

It’s hard to keep count of how many people Matrix kills, but there are a few memorably grisly moments.

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It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that the level of violence in the film meant that the censors weren’t too keen on Commando.

The film was initially censored for its violence for its release in Britain. 12 seconds were cut, removing a severed arm, and a close up of an impaled Bennett.

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Unfortunately, when the first UK DVD of Commando was released, they accidentally used a German master which was even more heavily censored, with 56 seconds of cuts.

Fans needn’t worry, though, as a fully uncensored director’s cut is available on the Commando Blu-ray, released on the film’s 30th anniversary in 2015.

13. A potential Commando sequel eventually became Die Hard

After making almost $60 million at the box office off the back of a mere $9 million budget, Commando was a surefire hit.

Because of this, producer Joel Silver was optimistic about turning it into a franchise. Steven E. de Souza to pen a Commando sequel – and the writer was given an existing story to work from.

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Silver had obtained the rights to a novel entitled Nothing Lasts Forever, in which an ageing cop must rescue his daughter from a hostage situation in a skyscraper.

This would have been tweaked to see Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix again forced to rescue Alyssa Milano’s Jenny – but the project failed to take off, largely because Schwarzenegger swore off doing any more sequels after Conan the Destroyer.

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However, de Souza and a number of other writers continued to work on the script, and it was turned into an all new, standalone action movie entitled Die Hard.

The rest is history: Bruce Willis took the lead role of John McClane in the 1988 film from director John McTiernan, and today it’s widely regarded one of the greatest action movies ever made.

12. There were Commando action figure toys

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Due to the massive success of the ‘G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero’ toy range, a line of Commando action figures was also released in 1986.

The toys saw John Matrix leading a new team of elite special forces agents, made up of Spex, Blaster, and Chopper.

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It might seem unlikely that such a violent R-rated movie would spawn toys for children – but this was the 80s.

The decade also saw toys made based on such non-kid friendly properties as Rambo, RoboCop and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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The Commando toys didn’t sell well on release in 1986 (in part because there was no tie-in cartoon series, as with most other action figures). Still, you might expect, vintage figures can fetch a pretty hefty price today.

More Commando action figures have been made specifically for adult collectors in more recent years.

11. It has the highest body count of any Schwarzenegger movie

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As anyone who’s seen Commando can confirm, a whole lot of people get killed in the movie.

The first kills occur in the film’s opening pre-credits sequence, and by the end it’s almost impossible to keep track of the body count.

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Some observant viewers have indeed kept track of exactly how many deaths occur in the movie, but even here counts vary.

As can be seen in the (possibly NSFW) video below, Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix racks up a stunning amount of kills by the end of Commando.

Given the relentlessness of the last act, exact figures are hard to confirm, but most estimates but Arnie’s kill count at somewhere between 80 and 87 (in the censored theatrical cut, at least).

This makes Commando the film with the highest body count of Schwarzenegger’s entire career. (He has an estimated career kill count of 369, making him the deadliest actor ever.)

10. The shopping mall also appeared in Terminator 2

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One memorable early sequence in Commando sees Schwarzenegger’s Matrix clash with security guards in a shopping mall.

These scenes were shot on location at the Sherman Oakes Galleria in Los Angeles, California.

Observant fans of Schwarzenegger movies may find that this mall looks just a little familiar.

That’s because Terminator 2: Judgment Day also features scenes shot at the Sherman Oakes Galleria.

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Nor are these the only notable Hollywood productions to use the shopping mall as a shooting location.

Other movies to shoot scenes there include Fast Times at Ridgemont High, InnerSpace, Back to the Future Part II and (more recently) Crazy Stupid Love.

9. Wings Hauser was (allegedly) cast as Bennett before Vernon Wells

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Commando boasts a memorable performance from Vernon Wells as Matrix’s old friend-turned-enemy Bennett.

The Australian actor, previously best known for his role in Mad Max 2, made a name for himself in Hollywood with the role.

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However, it has been reported that Wells was a last minute replacement for the actor who was originally given the job: Wings Hauser.

It has been claimed that Hauser was hired but then fired after a day of shooting, but the actor himself has refuted this.

Either way, it has been said that part of the reason Wells’ clothes in the movie look a bit tight is that they were originally intended for the slimmer Hauser.

Allegedly, the film’s costume department simply didn’t have the time or money to produce all-new clothes for Wells to wear.

8. Arnie injured himself performing his own stunts

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Having such a distinctive leading man as Arnold Schwarzenegger could prove to be a double-edged sword for filmmakers.

On the one hand, the bodybuilder-turned-actor’s impressive musclebound frame was a unique selling point.

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Credit: 20th Century Fox

On the other hand, Schwarzenegger’s build was so distinctive that it proved hard to find stuntmen who could convincingly double for him.

As a result of this, Schwarzenegger himself wound up performing a great many of his stunts on Commando.

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Of course, given what an intensively physical role it was, the Austrian Oak wound up suffering a few minor injuries along the way.

At one point Schwarzenegger dislocated a shoulder, and he also required stitches after accidentally cutting himself during a knife fight scene.

7. Arnie was a martial arts expert by the time filming was over

No one needed to teach seven-time Mr Olympia champion Schwarzenegger anything about getting into shape for Commando.

Even so, the action man did need a little instruction on getting down his fighting moves for the role.

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Schwarzenegger worked with martial arts expert and fight choreographer Michael M. Vendrell to perfect his fight scenes.

Vendrell was hugely impressed by the progress Schwarzenegger made throughout the course of filming.

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The fight choreographer estimated that by the end of Commando’s shoot, Schwarzenegger had achieved the equivalent of a second degree black belt.

Michael M. Vendrell (who sadly passed away in 2013) went on to work with Arnie again on The Running Man, Red Heat, Twins, True Lies and Jingle All the Way.

6. Director Mark L. Lester took inspiration from Nazi propaganda movies

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Having been born in Austria in the aftermath of the Second World War, Schwarzenegger is naturally sensitive to his country’s troubled past.

It may be a bit of a surprise to learn, then, that certain scenes in Commando were inspired by Nazi propaganda films.

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Director Mark L. Lester has admitted to modelling some montages on the work of the acclaimed but controversial director Leni Riefenstahl.

This is most noticeable in Schwarzenegger’s introductory shots, which show him emerging from a forest with close-ups of his bulging chest and biceps.

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Riefenstahl’s films were noted for presented the male body in a similar fashion, to represent the supposed superiority of the men on film.

Lester remarked in 2014, “I decided to have him like an Aryan hero, come out with this giant log that no human could possibly carry.”

5. It went head to head with Rambo at the box office

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When Commando opened in 1985, it arrived back to back with another, similarly gung-ho action extravaganza.

The film in question was Rambo: First Blood Part II, which saw Sylvester Stallone reprise the role of the troubled Vietnam veteran John Rambo.

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Although Stallone had played the role once before in 1982’s First Blood, it was really the sequel that established Rambo as an action icon.

Rambo: First Blood Part II opened several months before Commando in May 1985, and wound up by far the bigger hit with box office earnings of over $300 million.

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This kicked off an intense rivalry between the two musclebound action stars which lasted well into the 1990s.

Eventually, Stallone and Schwarzenegger became good friends and remain so to this day. In recent years, they’ve co-starred in action franchises The Expendables and Escape Plan.

4. A sex scene was cut from the film for being so unconvincing

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Rae Dawn Chong (daughter of comedy star Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame) co-stars in Commando as Cindy.

Cindy is a flight attendant and pilot-in-training who winds up helping Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix in rescuing his daughter.

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Chong was cast after actresses including Sharon Stone and Bridgette Nielsen were turned down for the part.

There isn’t really much sexual tension between Matrix and Cindy – but even so, they originally had a love scene.

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However, although the scene was shot, it wound up being cut from the final film but it was too unconvincing, and made little sense.

As Chong reflects, the love scene originally happened “when we’re flying to the dictator’s island. But I thought it was gratuitous, because in a time-sensitive situation you’re not feeling frisky. Plus, who would be flying the plane?”

3. The director of Die Hard turned down the chance to direct the film

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As we’ve discussed already, Commando has a few key connections with later action smash Die Hard.

Firstly, it’s from the same producer and screenwriter; secondly, Die Hard’s script was almost used as a Commando sequel.

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Credit: Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons

The films could have had another thing in common, as Die Hard director John McTiernan was originally offered the chance to call the shots on Commando as well.

At the time, McTiernan had not yet directed a feature film, and for reasons unknown he turned the offer down.

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Instead, the director would make his debut with 1986 horror movie Nomads, which he would follow with Schwarzenegger’s 1987 blockbuster Predator, then 1988’s Die Hard.

After Die Hard, McTiernan would go on to direct The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero and Die Hard with a Vengeance.

2. Arnie wasn’t a fan of Vernon Wells to start with

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When Vernon Wells was hired to play Matrix’s arch nemesis Bennett, Schwarzenegger wasn’t convinced.

Wells recalls, “[Schwarzenegger] was not impressed [with me]. He thought I was way too laidback for the role.”

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However, Wells says this all changed as soon as the actors shot their first scene together – which was, of course, a violent confrontation.

“The first scene we did was the one where I have the knife to his throat. When the director yelled, ‘Action!’ I just went straight into it. I mean, I was Bennett and I was going to cut Arnold’s throat, there was just no way I wasn’t.”

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“When the scene was over, Arnold said, ‘Keep that guy away from me.’ And apparently he requested that in any scene with me that had a knife in it, the knife had to be plastic.”

By the end of the shoot, the pair were reportedly getting on famously, and have remained friendly in the years since.

1. The final showdown was originally going to be even bigger

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The final fight between Matrix and Bennett takes place in a boiler room basement, and famously ends with our hero telling the villain to “let off some steam.”

It’s hard to imagine Commando ending any other way – but if they’d stuck to the script, things would have been very different.

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Writer Steven E. de Souza explains, “the movie was supposed to end with Bennett fleeing in a speedboat and Matrix chasing him in another boat.”

“They’d land on this island where the Marines do their training, and fight with knives on the beach, with barbed wire everywhere, landmines going off and Naval gunnery ships firing artillery shells at them. It would have been crazy, like Saving Private Ryan.”

However, by the end of the shoot there simply wasn’t the money left in the budget to do this, so the final showdown was rewritten accordingly.

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