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Things You Forgot Happened In True Lies

The 1990s were a very good time to be James Cameron. The acclaimed writer/director spent the '80s building a reputation as a blockbuster filmmaker with an eye for cool genre ideas and major action set pieces. And by 1991, the runaway success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day meant that he could pretty much do whatever he wanted. This sense of freedom and clout would later culminate in the 11-time Academy Award winner Titanic, but before he turned his eyes to that project, Cameron made his first action movie that didn't involve aliens or killer cyborgs.

True Lies had all the makings of an action classic from the beginning, thanks to Cameron's legendary filmmaking ambitions and a cast led by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. And indeed, the movie was a hit upon release in 1994. In the years since, though, True Lies has been overshadowed by Cameron's even bigger hits, both before and after it, and for a long time, this particular film was hard to find on streaming services. With that in mind, your memory might be a little fuzzy, so you might not recall just how wild this movie truly was. Here are a few things — from the awesome to the awkward — you probably forgot happened in True Lies.

(Warning — there are spoilers below.)

True Lies has its own version of Nick Fury

The opening act of True Lies slowly reveals the full setup of the often elaborate, twist-filled spy game it's about to play by showing us two sides of Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger). He tells his wife and children that he's a competent but ultimately boring computer salesman, but his real job lies in the hidden depths of his office building, where it's revealed that he's really a special agent for an ultra-secret government agency called Omega Sector. In the first Omega Sector scene, the film introduces us to Harry's boss, Spencer Trilby, played by Charlton Heston.

Heston's only in the film for one scene, and if you haven't seen True Lies in a while, you might've forgotten the details. But rewatching it now, it definitely seems like Heston is playing a version of Marvel Comics superspy Nick Fury. He's got the eyepatch, the gruff demeanor, the no-nonsense attitude, and the swagger that speaks to an older depiction of Marvel's legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. director. And since we know James Cameron was interested in Marvel movies at one point in his career, it seems pretty likely this was at least something of an homage.

You probably forgot the elevator horse

True Lies is a '90s action classic because of the way it keeps infusing new ideas and devices into every single action set piece, and there's so much going on in each major sequence that you might forget just how early the truly bonkers stuff starts to happen. For example, take the second action sequence in the film, which unfolds in a Washington, D.C., mall.

Harry and his partner, Gib (Tom Arnold), stop off at the mall when they realize someone is tailing them, hoping to get a better look, and the situation ultimately explodes into an all-out battle as Harry chases a terrorist leader around the mall and the adjacent hotel. This craziness eventually culminates in a sequence where the leader, Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik) flees on a motorcycle while Harry follows on a stolen police horse. You might remember that part, but what you might not remember is that it leads to Harry just straight-up riding the horse into an elevator to chase Aziz down. Aziz gets away, and the real hero of the scene turns out to be the horse, who's smart enough to keep Harry from falling to do his death.

The story behind True Lie's famous dance

Perhaps the most famous scene in True Lies involves Harry's wife, Helen (Curtis), performing an erotic dance in a hotel room. The dance itself, and Curtis' overall performance, is absolutely unforgettable, but what's perhaps less remembered is the exact context behind the scene.

True Lies really kicks into high gear when Harry realizes that his wife may be cheating on him, only to later find she's fallen prey to a local car salesman (Bill Paxton) who pretends to be a spy, claiming he needs help on a secret mission ... so he can meet and sleep with women. Even after Harry makes this discovery, though, he keeps pushing Helen's buttons, setting up an elaborate scenario in which she's supposed to dance for a target and plant a bug in his hotel room. Harry, his face hidden in shadow and his voice disguised, plays the target, just to see what his wife will do. So, all that dancing, all the licking of the bed posts, and all that crouching on the hotel room floor is in service of Harry playing a game with his wife because he's decided she deserves it.

Of course, Helen eventually gives as good as she gets, but it's still kind of a messed-up thing to do, especially after Harry has already learned what was really going on. He could've just, you know, put in a little effort as a husband and a father.

True Lies is filled with casual Islamophobia

True Lies is another film in a long line of action movies that uses a kind of shorthand to let you know who the bad guys are and why. In this case, the villains of the piece are a group of terrorists who call themselves "the Crimson Jihad," and their plan is to force the U.S. military to leave the Persian Gulf by threatening to detonate stolen nuclear warheads in major U.S. cities. It's a pretty standard action movie plan, but what you may have forgotten is just how generic and Islamophobic the movie is toward these characters.

While there is something rather poetic about the Crimson Jihad's idea to hide their bombs in smuggled Middle Eastern antiquities, thus preying on the West's desire for exotic objects that don't belong to them, the film's overall depiction of the group is simply as a group of angry Middle Eastern men who shout, wave guns, and generally just hate America because it's America and because the plot requires them to. There's no nuance, no real attempt at humanizing, and perhaps worst of all, most of them aren't even depicted as being competent in their efforts. They flail around the film like buffoons, particularly in the final action sequences, which further underlines their place as a generic stand-in for a fairly common form of fear-driven racism.

Remember the falling gun?

The defining narrative of True Lies is actually two narratives that eventually intersect in the film's third act. On one side, there's Harry, a guy so wrapped up in his work that he can't see his wife is incredibly bored and disillusioned. And on the other side, there's Helen, a woman so desperate for some kind of excitement that she doesn't notice her husband is actually a badass. By the time those two threads converge, Helen and Harry are both in over their heads, trying to fight off terrorists and save each other, which means Helen has to basically learn how to survive in a big 1990s action movie in a hurry. An early example of this learning process, which you might have forgotten, is one of the wildest small moments in any action blockbuster.

Shortly after they've been stuck together in the battle against the Crimson Jihad, Helen does her best to help her husband out, picks up a gun, and tries to fire it at the terrorists. Instead, she drops it, and the gun begins to tumble end over end down a flight of stairs. Somehow, the momentum of the fall and the impact of the weapon on each step means that it keeps firing all the way to the ground, hitting several terrorists along the way. That's right, the thing responsible for one of the highest body counts in True Lies is ... a gun falling down some stairs.

Don't forget the other climactic action sequence

If you're trying to recall True Lies from memory, and you haven't seen it in many years, the first thing you think of might be the famous hotel room dance scene, and the second might be the massive chase involving a limousine, a helicopter, and a couple of trucks on a massive bridge. The bridge sequence is wild and inventive ... but you might've forgotten that it's not actually the pinnacle of the movie's bonkers action.

For that, you have to wait a few minutes after the bridge sequence, when Henry hijacks a Harrier jet and flies it into the city, where terrorist leader Aziz has chased Henry and Helen's daughter, Dana (Eliza Dushku), out onto a massive construction crane. What follows is the wildest action moment in the entire movie, as Harry blasts the terrorists inside a skyscraper with the jet's machine guns, fights Aziz after he jumps on the plane, and manages to land safely with his daughter. It's truly a perfect climax for an action blockbuster in the '90s.

That crazy mushroom cloud scene

So, remember the Crimson Jihad's plan in True Lies? They steal some nuclear weapons, and the plan is to basically hold America hostage until the government pulls troops out of the Persian Gulf, and if the U.S. doesn't comply, they'll start bombing major American cities. It's a simple enough action movie plot, so much so that we've seen other versions in other action movies. Austin Powers even makes a joke about Dr. Evil doing it.

What you maybe don't remember about this whole plan is that the group's opening gambit isn't just to show proof of their nuclear arsenal but to actually provide a live demonstration. These guys are apparently so flush with atomic bombs that they're willing to waste one by blowing it up on an uninhabited island. This actually happens in the movie, right after the big bridge chase, as Harry and Helen kiss in the glow of a mushroom cloud. That's right. True Lies is a movie about terrorism that depicts a nuclear explosion really happening on U.S. soil, and that's not even the end of the movie!

It features an amazing final pun

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the king of action movie puns, whether he's telling someone to let off some steam in Commando or demanding people chill in Batman & Robin. He's been in the game a long time, and he's got a lot of unforgettable bits of wordplay under his belt, so many that you may have forgotten that True Lies actually ends with one of his wildest.

In the climactic moments of the film, as Harry is struggling with Aziz while the terrorist is perched atop a Harrier jet, Harry tilts the plane and sends Aziz falling onto one of its missiles. As Aziz hangs on, Harry fires the missile, sending it shooting through the broken windows of a skyscraper and into the helicopter containing the remaining Crimson Jihad members. As the remnants of the terrorist cell go down in a fiery crash, Harry decides to put a cherry on top of this absurd sundae and says, "You're fired."

Okay, so maybe it's not as good as that one line from Commando, but it still deserves consideration for the Schwarzenegger Pun Hall of Fame.

True Lies sets up a sequel we never got

After the dust has settled on the battle with the Crimson Jihad, Harry and Helen Tasker have a much better understanding of each other. There are no more secrets, and the two of them are free to live out their lives as a couple of adventure, which reignites their passion for each other. This all culminates in a closing sequence where Harry and Helen go on a mission together, not unlike the one Harry was on when the film opened. They infiltrate a fancy party, and even as Gib begs them not to, they decide to tango together in front of all the guests, cementing their status as husband-and-wife superspies.

It's a nice ending for the film, but it's also the perfect setup for a sequel in which the two get to go on spy adventures as a pair. That's something people may have forgotten all these years later, but it was very intentional. As it turns out, at one point, James Cameron and company were on track to deliver True Lies 2. In fact, Cameron, Curtis, and Schwarzenegger were all on board to make the sequel happen, but it kept stalling. While Schwarzenegger insisted even ten years after the first movie that it was still going to happen, as recently as 2019, Curtis said True Lies 2 doesn't seem possible in a post-9/11 world. So, we'll just have to imagine what might have been.