Pumping Iron (1977)

Pumping Iron (1977)

“I was always dreaming about very powerful people — dictators and things like that.”

After training intensively all year long, bodybuilders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno battle for the title of Mr. Olympia.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Masculinity
  • Sports

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review, Peary is fairly dismissive of this documentary, noting that it was “largely responsible for the growth in body building in this country — reason enough for it to be banned.” These days, of course, the film holds special interest as an early look at California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; it’s genuinely freaky hearing him talk about his dreams of power and “dictatorship”, knowing that he would eventually ascend to one of the most powerful positions in the country. Even more disturbing is witnessing him offering false advice to his competitors simply to give himself more of an edge; yet he’s so charismatic and intelligent we can’t help but root for him. Ultimately, it’s hard not to be fascinated by this inside look at a sports industry which holds dubious appeal but continues to flourish.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An intriguing glimpse at an earlier era of competitive bodybuilding

Must See?
Yes, as a unique, in-depth look at both the little-understood subculture of bodybuilding, and Schwarzenegger’s pre-Terminator days.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Pumping Iron (1977)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a unique cult item.

    In my opinion, Arnold comes off quite badly in this film. I can’t tell how much “intelligence” he reveals, but he’s cocky, arrogant, deceitful and (as he admits) cold towards any “negative energy” that gets in the way (including his father’s death) of bodybuilding competition. Some of the things he says are just awful and he doesn’t seem to mind appearing two-faced.

    Of course, the very nature of competition makes it necessary to be focused. But Arnold comes off a little creepy. None of the other guys featured come off creepy (though, admittedly, we see more of Arnold than anyone else featured, and we hear more from him, too).

    I’m glad to know a bit more about this “subculture” but I can’t say I thought the doc was any kind of life-changing experience for me, personally.

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