Top 10 Arnold Schwarzenegger Films

Often we speak of acting muscle. Colin Firth has it, Dustin Hoffman definitely has it, and Robert De Niro had it before he started a career of self-parody. They are all terrific actors who have given us some truly astonishing performances in a variety of brilliant movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, has a different kind of acting muscle.

Arnie, the Austrian-born bodybuilder who would eventually become Governor of California, is the literal form of acting muscle. Unlike his contemporaries, Mr Schwarzenegger never had the greatest range or skill as an actor, but what he did have, above and beyond all that fell before him, was huge, rock-solid, man-mountain muscles. Arnie became a star because of his body. He was aided by an under-appreciated talent for picking the right scripts and directors to work with.

But by no stretch of the imagination is Schwarzenegger a good actor. But at least he knows his limitations and works within them, becoming, as he did in the 1980s and 1990s, the biggest action star in Hollywood.

What is your favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger film?

10. Eraser (Russell, 1996)

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Big guns. Very big guns. That’s the only reason you need to watch Arnie in Eraser. The man-mountain plays John “Eraser” Kruger, a U.S. Marshal who helps give people new identities in the Witness Security Protection Programme. When electronic pulse rifles, the most powerful weapons of their type, fall into the wrong hands, Arnie finds himself fighting those he thought were his friends and needs to protect his own life as well as that of key witness Dr. Lee Cullen (Vanessa L. Williams). Silly stuff but fast-paced and lots of fun.

9. Commando (Lester, 1985)

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Dan Hedaya is stupid enough to steal Arnie’s daughter, played here by a young Alyssa Milano, and has to suffer the big man’s wrath. Commando possibly features the most bad guy kills by the Austrian bodybuilder as he takes on a whole army all by himself. Far-fetched and thinly plotted but nevertheless prime 1980s action-adventure.

8. Kindergarten Cop (Reitman, 1990)

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Arnie was never afraid to poke fun at himself. His huge bulk was easy prey for cunning comedy writers who eagerly picked away at his machismo. In Twins he was matched up with mini-man Danny Devito, while the pair would work together again in Junior when Schwarzenegger became the first pregnant man. In Ivan Reitman’s Kindergarten Cop, Arnie meets his match in the form of pre-pubescent school kids when he goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher. There’s a good bit of tension to go with the comedy and Schwarzenegger is brilliantly game as the hard man who has to find his softer side.

7. The Running Man (Glaser, 1987)

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Set in the year 2017 which looks uncannily like 1980s Los Angeles, The Running Man gets something right: it pits convicted criminals against professional killers in a prime time game show where viewers bet on who will die next. Of course, these pro-murderous gladiators didn’t figure on facing the “Terminator” and Arnie goes about his business tearing off limbs and generally causing carnage to save the day and win the girl. This exciting film benefits from facing Arnie off against increasingly menacing foe.

6. True Lies (Cameron, 1994)

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Arnold Schwarzenegger has done much of his best work with two directors – the first is John McTiernan, the second is James Cameron. In True Lies, Terminator writer/director and star reunite for a tale about a husband who leads a double life as a secret agent, covering his tracks from his clueless wife by pretending to be a computer salesman. When Arnie finds out his wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, might be having an affair, he uses his agency’s resources to track her movements and uncover the truth. It leads to some highly amusing events involving a brilliantly funny performance from Cameron regular Bill Paxton and Arnie interrogating Jamie Lee Curtis from behind two-way mirror. Of course, it proceeds to the pair having to save the human race from nuclear war. Great fun and one of the big man’s best performances.

5. Last Action Hero (McTiernan, 1993)

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Last Action Hero pips True Lies to the fun-Arnie winner’s medal by virtue of its superb self-reflexive nature thanks to Shane Black’s sparkling script. Schwarzenegger pokes fun at himself, playing Jack Slater, a version of his macho persona on screen, as well as turning up as himself. There’s a great moment when Schwarzenegger has to tackle himself when he sees his twin wielding a gun in a theatre auditorium.

Despite Last Action Hero’s financial failure (largely due to it being released alongside Jurassic Park) the film is a real treasure. It sees a young boy magically transported into the world of his favourite film series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once there he tries to tell his idol that he’s in a movie but it falls on deaf ears. A fantastic scene sees the boy taking Arnie into a video store to show him the poster of Terminator 2. However, when he finds the poster, Sylvester Stallone is pictured in the iconic image of the Terminator on the Harley to which Arnie says, “He’s fantastic. It’s his best performance ever.” Great comedy, great action, great story. If the film was released today it would be much better received than it was on its original release.

4. Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990)

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Another Schwarzenegger film set in the future, Total Recall sees him play Douglas Quaid, a freedom fighter from Mars who has his memory wiped by an unscrupulous Mars official after Quaid threatens his rule on the planet. Placed on earth under the watchful eye of Sharon Stone, who Arnie wrongly believes is his wife thanks to the memory wipe and subsequent implant of new thoughts, the Austrian Hulk gets on with life as a mild-mannered construction worker. But he dreams of visiting Mars so visits a company which has the ability to implant thoughts and emotions directly into the brain. Choosing a holiday to Mars for his implant, the procedure affects his earlier memory wipe, forcing him to go on the run. Agents from Mars want to either kill him or bring him in for another memory implant, while Quaid begins to piece together his real life from clues his former self left behind. It sounds complicated but it isn’t. It’s fast-paced, suitably violent and features some great special-effects.

3. Predator (McTiernan, 1987)

Part of the Schwarzenegger legacy is the increasing menace and ultimate power of his foe. From the T-1000 liquid metal robot in Terminator 2 to the Devil in End of Days, Arnie has flexed his muscle against great enemies. But none have wielded the sort of terror as the Predator, which proceeds to wipe out Arnie’s entire military team before turning its attention to him. In Predator Arnie has met his match and it makes for an exciting, suspenseful film with some great action sequences and brilliant support performances.

In the film, Arnie plays Dutch, a tough, battle-hardened commander of an elite military unit sent into the South American jungle to rescue three presidential cabinet ministers. But once there they find themselves tracked by an unseen enemy, picked off one by one.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991)

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One of the best sequels ever made sees Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise his role as the Terminator only this time he’s a good guy. Sent back in time to protect humanity’s saviour John Connor during his childhood, the T-800 robot must fight the much more powerful and technologically advanced T-1000. This would be Arnie’s greatest film if the original wasn’t so good.

1. The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)

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Arguably the easiest performance of Arnie’s career, in James Cameron’s The Terminator he only needs to utter a couple of words and walk round looking like he’s spent the last ten years living in the weights room at his local gym. In the only film of his career where he plays the bad guy, Arnie proves to be one frightening and mean enemy. That Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese is the only man who has ever managed to defeat the big man says a lot about the actor’s brilliant performance, as well as the film’s superb battle of good versus evil.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    The Last Action Hero makes it above True Lies. Dan. Dude. Really? A film where Jamie Lee Curtis dances around a pole comes in below a film where the best bit is when Arnie makes a reference to Stallone’s “excellent acting”?

    Apart from that choice, I’d agree with just about everything else. I have a soft spot for Eraser (it was the first VHS I watched after purchasing my first Dolby Pro Logic decoder and hooking it all up) and actually did find Kindergarten Cop not too bad a film.

    I think you’ll find Arnie played a villain (of sorts) in Batman & Robin (he played Mr Freeze) although how you could call that putrid stain a film stretches credibility – and I’d place T2 above the original, if only for the better effects and the muscular performance by Linda Hamilton.

    God I wish they’d make a sequel to Total Recall. Imagine Verhoeven with today’s CGI at his disposal, making a hardcore R-rated sci-fi flick? Shit man, that makes me drool. Love Total Recall’s sense of sly wit mixed with graphic violence. Awesome film.

    Great list (with the one exception) man, can’t wait to see your list of Arnie’s Worst Film Performances! ;)

  2. Dan Reply

    Arnie’s worst film performances – now that would be difficult to compile! ;)

    True Lies and Last Action Hero were the last two Arnie films I watched and loved them both. It was difficult choosing how to order them but I think Last Action Hero is a little bit underrated – I love the story and Shane Black’s script gets the parody and Hollywood satire spot-on.

    I remember when I got my first Dolby Pro-Logic set-up. Thinking back I’m guessing it just highlighted the tape hiss on the soundtrack but instead of it coming out of two speakers it was spread between five!

  3. Castor Reply

    Nice list Dan! I would personally have True Lies near the top and maybe slide Commando a few spots higher. Glad to see Kindergarten Cop mentioned, I found it quite hilarious!

  4. rtm Reply

    Great list and I love your intro to this list, Dan, so VERY true that Arnie is not a good actor, but at least he knows it and picks the scripts accordingly. The result is an entertaining um, body of work :)

    I agree with Rodney & Castor that I’d put True Lies near the top of the list. I also like Eraser, more of a guilty pleasure, so I’m glad it made the list. As a kid I had a thing for Conan the Destroyer, but man I can’t watch those anymore!

  5. Shubhajit Lahiri Reply

    What a superb list! I’m not ashamed to admit that when I was a teenager, I loved gorging on action thrillers starring Arnie. In fact I still remember that when I was still a kid I could spell Arnie’s surname, and that used to catch even older people off-guard :)

    Though I’m not much of a fan of Arnie any more, its still a ride down the lane of nostalgia when I catch a glimpse of the ‘far-fetched’ action blockbusters with tremendous production designs, stunts and cool one-liners that made him such a huge star.

    Of course, having said that, I must also say that Terminator & T2 continue to find place among my favourite films, so I’m really glad that the two took the top 2 slots. Though I would have reversed their order, its still alright with me. I really liked Predator too, and as a kid and as a teenager I remember having watched Commando, Running Man, True Lies and Erasor umpteen number of times. And yeah, I enjoyed some of his comedy films too, including the critically panned Jingle All the Way when it was released (though I’m quite sure I wouldn’t watch the film again).

    My list would go somewhat like this:

    1. Terminator 2
    2. Terminator
    3. Predator
    4. Total Recall
    5. True Lies
    6. Commando
    7. The Running Man
    8. Eraser
    9. Red Heat
    10. Raw Deal

    The other contenders for the last 2 spots would include Kindergarten Cop, Conan the Destroyer, Last Action Hero & Collateral Damage. I guess you understand that once you’re out of the (action) hero-worshiping stage of your life, its a difficult task to complete the list :)

  6. Aiden R. Reply

    GREAT list, man! Love that T1 beat out T2 (I agree, even though T2 is the best action movie of all-time), and I am such a sucker for Total Recall and The Running Man. Why can’t Verhoeven go back to the days of making good movies?

  7. goregirl Reply

    I find most straight up action flicks tedious. I am not a fan of the Michael Bays and Roland Emmerichs of the world. But of course, like so many, I was a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80’s. I’d be torn as to which my number one would be; Running Man, Total Recall, Terminator or Predator. I loathed his PG efforts though! Watching Kindergarten Cop, Twins and Last Action hero is pure torture. The less Arnold tries to act the better. Bad one-liners and shooting people dead is what he does best.

  8. Dan O. Reply

    I’m glad you put so much info on The Last Action Hero, because it really is one of the biggest underrated films of all-time. It’s filled with satire, comedy, action, and Arnie just being the goofy version of himself, and that never gets old. Good List!

  9. Richard Reply

    Great list, Dan. This is certainly one actor you have to judge on singular merits, least of which is acting.

    I don’t think anyone can argue with The Terminator as No.1, but I thought Twins was his best stab at comedy. And he was probably the only actor to emerge from Batman & Robin with his reputation intact. That’s saying something. ;-)

  10. Rodney Reply

    @ Richard – I’d dispute that ANYBODY got out of Batman & Robin with their reputation intact. Least of all Arnie, who had some of the worst one-liners ever put into a feature film.

  11. Tom Clift Reply

    Brilliant Top 4! Although I’d take T2 over T1 anyday, and I think that that film also contains the only legitimately good/emotionally effective performance in the Governator’s entire career

  12. Dan Reply

    @Richard: I think that’s why it’s hard to look past Terminator and T2 as his best films because they are also his best performances by virtue of the character allowing his stilted, awkward delivery to be the cornerstone of what makes the robot/humanoid work.

  13. Dan Reply

    @Castor: Kindergarten Cop was fighting Twins for knockabout comedy spot. Both films are very similar when you think it pairs the man-mountain with one (Devito) or several (the kids) ‘little people’! I think Twins would have appeared at No. 11 if I extended the list.

    rtm: True Lies is a lot of fun. It’s such a shame James Cameron didn’t do more of this – straight away he went into the very serious Titanic then had a decade-long holiday.

    I’ve never been a fan of the Conan films and having watched them again recently I still don’t see what is enjoyable about them. The first one is long and boring. Painful.

    Shubhajit: Nice list! As you can see from my list I have a soft spot for Arnie’s comedies – and that does include Jingle All The Way! :) But the Christmas film really isn’t very good whereas True Lies and the underrated Last Action Hero really are.

    Aiden: Glad you agree with me on Terminator. It’s scarier, grittier, darker and more tightly plotted than T2 but both are brilliant films.

    goregirl: I don’t think advising you to give Last Action Hero another chance is a good idea but I watched it again recently and I thought it really was very well written and conceived. Yes it gets generic towards the end but the middle part has some wonderful parody of Arnie’s persona and the action genre.

    Dan O.: Yep, so underrated. I think it gets a bad reputation because it cost far too much to make but its poor box office return was more down to when it was released (ie. in direct competition with Jurassic Park.)

    Tom: Love that avatar pic Tom! I want one of those facehuggers! Of course, Arnie says his best emotional performance came in End of Days but I’d agree it is T2.

  14. Rodney Reply

    End of Days? Phsaw. What a waste of time THAT was. Arnie fights Satan? Oh, you do get to see boobies on that chick from The Mentalist, so that’s okay, but the rest of the film is rubbish.

  15. Novroz Reply

    Yeaa… finally! Top 10list that I have seen all. I love Arnie for who he is… I mean he’s not good looking and not a great actor either but i always watch his movies,they were all very entertaining.

    I would put TWINS in that list and delete Total Recall in exchange.Not that I hate Total Recall, I just love Twins more than TR. terminator will also be in my number 1 and 2. overall, Great List Dan!

  16. Dan Reply

    @Rodney: Arnie became obsessed with battling bigger and bigger bad guys. I’m guessing he figured there was nothing bigger or “badder” than Satan. It didn’t turn out too well though!

    @Novroz: Haha, Twins is the one film I really wanted to find a place on this list for but I didn’t know which one to knock off. It’s definitely number 11.

  17. JasonW Reply

    Twins is great fun. I actually prefer it to Kindergarten Cop but would have both in my top 10. I’d happily lose Commando.

  18. Rodney Reply

    @ JasonW – And lose that immortal line “I had to let him go” ??? Man, tough!!! But yeah, Commando isn’t a “great” film by any stretch!

  19. Dan Reply

    @JasonW: Commando, for me, is what made Arnie the action star who could parody himself in the likes of Last Action Hero, True Lies and make fun of his persona in Kindergarten Cop and Twins. In that sense, it makes it quite an influential film from his career.

  20. Ronan Reply

    Numbers 8,7,6 and 2 are my favs, can’t wait to see what the big man does next. Great list Dan.

  21. CS Reply

    I would have rubbed out Eraser and inserted Twins in the 10th spot. Eraser is almost as bad as End of Days and Jingle All the Way.

  22. Dan Reply

    @CS: …but not nearly as bad as The Sixth Day! :)

  23. Ronan Reply

    Haha, what a great list Dan. I’m laughing cause I had this exact conversation with some guys at work last week and it was the most fun I’ve had at work in a while. Whatever anybody says about the big man, he has made some ridiculously entertaining movies. I mean talk about a cinema CV to die for. My favs would have to Kindergarten Cop, True Lies, Predator, T2 and Twins. How could you not have included Twins Dan? It is hilarious! The concept is completely mad, irreverant and totally unethical but this is Arnie we’re talking about here. I noticed you haven’t included Raw Deal, a guy at work said it was a lesser work but that it rocked. Plus Arnie has a slick hair do in it apparently. You have to do a top ten Arnie lines post Dan, that would be hilarious! A fave of mine has to be when (not sure what film it’s in) he throws a humungous knife at some goon and it goes through him and sticks him to a tree and Arnie just says: ‘Stick Around!’ [impersonates Austrian accent, badly]. Haven’t seen Total recal (I know!). Plus you left out Arnie’s Docu-drama ‘Pumping Iron’, a travesty. :-) Great post Dan.

  24. uzi9mm Reply

    Excellent stills!

    1. The Terminator – Fuck you asshole
    2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – Negative
    3. Predator – Who the fuck are you
    4. The Running Man – Fuck you
    5. Commando – Fuck you asshole

  25. niels Reply

    Of the lists I’ve seen in this site of yours, this is the one I agree the most with.

    Arnold is my ultimate guilty pleasure and I believe I’ve seen every single one of his films (except for the Conan sequels).

    I agree with all of the titles you included but not the order. T2 would be first on mine since I believe it was even better than the original. Followed by the original in 2nd place. Predator is rightfully just behind these two and so is Total Recall in 4th. The rest would be like this:

    5. True Lies
    6. Kindergarten Cop
    7. Commando
    8. Last Action Hero
    9. Eraser
    10. The Running Man

    Niels

  26. Dan Grant Reply

    Very good list. I love your top 2. If I had to rank them, mine would be:

    1) T2
    2) Predator
    3) Terminator
    4) True Lies
    5) Commando
    6) Kindergarten Cop
    7) Running Man
    8) Twins
    9) Total Recall
    10)Last Action Hero

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