Though the film was a box office disappointment during its initial theatrical release, it became a cult film among fans and critics. The film also features Art Carney's last appearance in a motion picture.
Young Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien) is a teenage boy living in a crime-ridden area of New York City with his widowed mother. Following the death of his father, Danny who is a film buff, takes comfort in watching action movies, especially the ones featuring the indestructible Los Angeles cop Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger). He often is usually late to school because of watching the films at his elderly friend Nick's who owns the movie theatre and is the projectionist. When Nick gives Danny a golden ticket once owned by Harry Houdini, to see a early preview of the new Jack Slater film that hasn't been released yet. Danny soon finds himself pulled into the world of Jack Slater IV.
Danny's insists that they are in a film, but Slater believes Danny is just an imaginative kid - despite Danny's intimate knowledge of Slater's life and world. Danny soon becomes Jacks partner and attempts to help Slater solve his current case by leading him to the mansion home of the villain Tony Vivaldi. Unfortunately, this alerts Vivaldi's henchman Mr. Benedict (Charles Dance) to the pair. Benedict attempts to assassinate the two, stealing Danny's ticket in the process and eventually finding his way to our world.
Finding that a villain can win in the real world, Benedict hatches a plan to eliminate Slater by killing Schwarzenegger the actor, after which he can bring various villains out of their respective films and take over our reality. Danny and Slater - vulnerable in our world and no longer protected by "plot armor" - successfully stop the plan and take out Benedict by shooting his glass eye with an explosive inside. This destroys Benedict, but Slater is mortally wounded. A desperate Danny attempts to return Slater to his world, knowing that in the world of Jack Slater the hero wouldn't be allowed to die, but Danny finds out that they are unable to enter or exit the movie screen without the golden ticket. At this point Death (the Grim Reaper) appears to Danny and Slater. Death had walked out of his movie because he was curious about Slater. As a movie character, he is not on the death list. Death gives Danny advice and tells him to find the other half of the ticket, which he succeeds in doing, and brings Slater back into his movie where his bullet wound is now a flesh wound and he is fine. Danny says goodbye to him and exits the movie. A recovered Slater then enthusiastically embraces the true nature of his reality when he talks to Dekker about his new plan, appreciating the differences between it and the "real" world.Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater / himself
Austin O'Brien as Danny Madigan
Charles Dance as Benedict, Vivaldi's right-hand man. He is a supporting antagonist of Jack Slater IV, but becomes the true antagonist of the main film.
Robert Prosky as Nick the projectionist.
Tom Noonan as The Ripper / himself, the main antagonist of Jack Slater III.
Frank McRae as Lieutenant Dekker, Slater's immediate supervisor who's always screaming at him.
Anthony Quinn as Tony Vivaldi, the main antagonist of Jack Slater IV until Danny's interference changes events.
Bridgette Wilson as Whitney Slater and Meredith Caprice. Whitney is Jack's daughter, and Meredith is the actress who plays her in the Slater films.
F. Murray Abraham as John Practice, Jack's friend, revealed as a traitor. Danny says not to trust him saying he killed Mozart, referring to Abraham's Oscar-winning role in Amadeus.
Mercedes Ruehl as Irene Madigan, Danny's mom.
Art Carney, as Frank Slater, in his last film role.
Professor Toru Tanaka as Tough Asian Man.
Ryan Todd as Andrew Slater, Jack's son who is killed in "Jack Slater III" by The Ripper.
Franco Columbu appears during the opening credits as director of Jack Slater IV.
Tina Turner appears at the climax of Jack Slater III as the mayor of Los Angeles.
When Danny and Jack arrive at LAPD headquarters, Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick appear outside the front door as Catherine Tramell (from Basic Instinct) and the T-1000 (from Terminator 2: Judgment Day), respectively. Stone had earlier played Schwarzenegger's wife in Total Recall.
Inside the LAPD Headquarters, an officer shouts "Hey Slater! It's your ex-wife on two!" This is actor Mike Muscat, who also played Moshier in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of the Cyberdyne Security officers on the phone who calls the police to say, "I think it's that guy from the mall. Him and the woman." Coincidentally Muscat was also Edward Furlong's acting coach.
Sylvester Stallone as the Terminator on a poster promoting Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This appears to be a playful jab at Schwarzenegger's close rivalry with Stallone.
Model/actress Angie Everhart as a video store clerk.
During the premiere of Jack Slater IV in the real world, a number of celebrities appear as themselves. These include Schwarzenegger's then-wife Maria Shriver, Little Richard, Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons, James Belushi (who starred with Schwarzenegger in Red Heat), Damon Wayans, Chevy Chase, Timothy Dalton (James Bond at that time) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who worked with John McTiernan on the film Predator as the original Predator before dropping out)
As Jack and Danny enter the movie theater to find Arnold Schwarzenegger, MC Hammer asks Slater about a deal to do the Jack Slater V soundtrack.
Wilson Phillips appears singing during the funeral scene.
Ian McKellen as Death, who emerges from Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal.
Danny DeVito (uncredited) as the voice of Whiskers, after they played brothers in Twins.
Joan Plowright as the English teacher who shows her class the 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet, which starred and was directed by Plowright's husband Laurence Olivier.
Last Action Hero was an original screenplay by Zak Penn and Adam Leff, meant to parody typical action film screenplays of writers such as Shane Black. Penn noted himself that it was ironic that the studio then had Black rewrite the script. The original screenplay differs heavily from the finished film and is widely available to read online. Although it was still a parody of Hollywood action films it was set almost entirely in the film world and focused largely on the futile cycle of violence displayed by the hero and the effect it had on people around him. Due to the radical changes Zak Penn and Adam Leff were eventually credited with the story of the film but not the screenplay, which is unusual for a film based on an original screenplay.
Schwarzenegger received a salary of $15 million for his role in the film.
Years after its release, the film was the subject of a scathing chapter called "How They Built The Bomb", in the Nancy Griffin book Hit and Run which detailed misadventures at Sony Pictures in the early to mid-1990s. Among the details presented in this chapter were:Universal moved Jurassic Park to June 11, 1993 well after Sony had decided on a June 18 release date for Last Action Hero.
The movie was rumored to be the first advertisement placed on a space-going rocket.
The film was capsized by a wave of negative publicity after a rough cut of it was shown to a preview audience on May Day. Sony then destroyed the test cards and the word-of-mouth proved to be catastrophic for the film.
The shooting and editing schedule were so demanding and so close to the June 18 release date that after the movie's disaster, a source close to the film said that they "shouldn't have had Siskel and Ebert telling us the movie is 10 minutes too long".
Sony was even more humiliated the weekend after the film opened, when the movie lost 47% of its opening-weekend audience and saw TriStar's Sleepless In Seattle open as the #2 movie at the box office.
The final declared financial loss for the film was $26 million.
Last Action Hero was the first film to be released using SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound), but only a few theaters were set up for the new format, and many of those experienced technical problems with the new system. Insiders at Paramount reportedly referred to SDDS as "Still Doesn't Do Shit".
The film was scored by composer Michael Kamen, and peaked at No. 7 on The Billboard 200 chart. The album, which was positively received by active rock radio outlets, was certified platinum on August 24, 1993.
At the time of its release, the film was billed as "the next great summer action movie" and many movie insiders predicted it would be a huge blockbuster, especially following the success of Schwarzenegger's previous film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was released the same day the 20th Century Fox film Once Upon a Forest was released.
The film opened #2 at the weekend box-office behind Jurassic Park and grossed $USD15,338,241 on its opening weekend, for an average of $6,651 from 2,306 theaters, and ended its run with $50,016,394 in the United States, and an additional $87,202,095 overseas, for a total of $137,298,489 worldwide. In an A&E biography of Schwarzenegger, the actor (who was also the film's executive producer) says that the film could have done better if not for bad timing, since it came out a week after Jurassic Park which went on to break box office records as one of the top-grossing films of all time.
Schwarzenegger states that he tried to persuade his co producers to postpone the film's June 18 release in the United States by four weeks, but they turned a deaf ear on the grounds that the movie would have lost millions of dollars in revenue for every weekend of the summer it ended up missing, also fearing that delaying the release would create negative publicity; he told the authors of Hit And Run that, while everyone involved with the production had given their best effort, their attempt to appeal to both action and comedy fans resulted in a film that appealed to neither audience and ultimately succumbed to heavy competition.
The film was released in the United Kingdom on July 30, 1993, and opened on #3, behind Jurassic Park and Dennis. The next weekend, the film moved up one place, before falling down to #10 by August 13, 1993.
The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics. As of August 2015, it holds a 37% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The site's critical consensus reads, "Last Action Hero has most of the right ingredients for a big-budget action spoof, but its scattershot tone and uneven structure only add up to a confused, chaotic mess." Vincent Canby likened the film to "a two-hour 'Saturday Night Live' sketch" and called it "something of a mess, but a frequently enjoyable one".
Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, writing that despite some entertaining moments, Last Action Hero "plays more like a bright idea than like a movie that was thought through. It doesn't evoke the mystery of the barrier between audience and screen the way Woody Allen did in The Purple Rose of Cairo, and a lot of the time it simply seems to be standing around commenting on itself."
About the movie's failure and critical response, John McTiernan said: "Initially, it was a wonderful Cinderella story with a nine-year-old boy. We had a pretty good script by Bill Goldman, charming. And this ludicrous hype machine got hold of it, and it got buried under bullshit. It was so overwhelmed with baggage. And then it was whipped out unedited, practically assembled right out of the camera. It was in the theater five or six weeks after I finished shooting. It was kamikaze, stupid, no good reason for it. And then to open the week after Jurassic Park--God! To get to the depth of bad judgment involved in that you'd need a snorkel."
The film was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star (Austin O'Brien) and Worst Original Song ("Big Gun"), but it did not win any.
On February 3, 2009, Last Action Hero was reissued on DVD by Sony Pictures Entertainment in a double-feature set with the 1986 film Iron Eagle. It was released on the high-definition Blu-ray Disc format on January 12, 2010. The Blu-ray release presented the film in its original widescreen format for the first time in the United States since the LaserDisc release.