All Arnold Schwarzenegger Films Ranked from best to worst
Here’s our countdown of Arnie’s best movies since he became an actor all the way back in 1969.
We’re sticking with starring roles so some cameos, bit parts and TV appearances are not included. Sadly that means no Terminator 2: 3-D Battle Across Time (1996) – the movie short directed by James Cameron that appeared during Universal Studios’ Terminator ride at their Florida theme park. It’s still better than Terminator 3 though! I haven’t included Maggie and Terminator: Genisys (both of which are due for release later in 2015). “I’ll be back” with a position for those two films after Summer ;)
29. Batman & Robin 1997 Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze Warner Bros. Pictures
Well, the least favourite for Arnie is one of my least favourite films of all time too. With ice-related puns coming quick and fast (27 in total!) and an awful design aesthetic for Arnie’s costume and the film as a whole, it’s no wonder it was Empire’s #1 Worst Movies Ever in 2010.
28. Red Sonja 1985 Kalidor MGM / United Artists
A sort-of spin off from Conan, Arnie does not play Conan but a carbon copy warrior (the film could not get the rights to the character) in this awful fantasy. Arnie never slates his films (not even his worst attempts) but went as far as telling his kids that: “If they get on my bad side, they'll be forced to watch Red Sonja ten times in a row”. Punishment indeed.
27. Conan the Destroyer 1984 Conan Universal Pictures
After original director John Milius was unavailable, the film company went with a more family-friendly affair much to Arnie’s protests which subsequently made him only star in contemporary films from then on.
26. Collateral Damage 2002 Gordy Brewer Warner Bros. Pictures
A simply unremarkable film that both haters and lovers of Arnie’s oeuvre cannot often recall in this 2002 movie. Its terrorist subject matter was played down and publicity kept to a minimum in the wake of 9/11 but once it did get a release no one cared anyway.
25. Jingle All the Way 1996 Howard Langston 20th Century Fox
Some have found a commercial/capitalist political undercurrent in this Christmas farce but I think it’s a load of old tosh that not even Turbo Man could save. Festive yet frightfully poor.
24. Hercules in New York 1969 Hercules Trimark Pictures Credited as Arnold Strong
To nab the role in his film debut, Arnold’s agent said he had years of "stage" experience, implying the theatre but Schwarzenegger owned up later to say this was simply bodybuilding stages. The film is awful but can be enjoyed as a cult curiosity given Arnie’s subsequent rise.
23. End of Days 1999 Jericho Cane Universal Pictures (US)
Coming 2 years after Batman, Arnie was struggling to get insured after his heart attack but was eventually back doing his action in this mostly forgettable Satan-based story.
22. The Expendables 2010 Trench Mauser The Expendables 2 2012 The Expendables 3 2014
I’ve lumped these together as they are as much cameos as they are full parts. It was great to see Arnie back on screen after his career in politics came to an end but his age was starting to show and Sly’s films were pale imitations of the awesome 80s action films he was attempting to emulate.
21. Stay Hungry 1976 Joe Santo United Artists
Playing a professional body builder was hardly a stretch for Arnie in this film but his solid stint actually resulted in him winning a Golden Globe Award for "Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture" (even though Hercules was actually his first!)
20. Junior 1994 Dr. Alex Hesse Universal Pictures
Directed by Ivan Reitman who also made Kindergarten Cop and Twins, Junior reunited Arnie with his co-star of the latter film Danny DeVito in a meek comedy about a pregnant man and although it’s made with heart, the result was a misfiring and mostly unfunny comedy
19. Raw Deal 1986 Mark Kaminsky
Originally intended to be called "Let's Make A Deal”, this forgettable action film was part of a contract Arnie negotiated which ended in him making Total Recall many years later. The story of an ex-FBI man going undercover is as old as the hills but Arnie’s career skyrocketed as he began stamping his big presence all over these types of action films.
18. The Last Stand 2013 Sheriff Ray Owens Lionsgate
Modern Schwarzenegger came back after T3 with this tale of an over-the-hill Sheriff in a small town. Johnny Knoxville does his best to ruin the film, but Arnie’s jokes about his old age and some neat action sequences push the film along and whilst hardly a classic, it demonstrated Arnie had not lost his big screen presence.
17. Twins 1988 Julius Benedict Universal Pictures
“I’m your twin brother Julius!” Arnie’s comedy teams him up with DeVito as two long lost brothers in an experiment gone wrong. With a much-mooted sequel called “Triplets” (with Eddie Murphy as the third sibling) never materialising, Arnie was content with making $35 million from his 20% video sales contract - earning more from this than any of his Terminator movies in this amusing mismatched farce.
16. Red Heat 1988 Captain Ivan Danko TriStar Pictures
A cold war buddy-cop movie matching Soviet Schwarzenegger with James Belushi, this culture clash film had solid action and comedy whilst scenes depicting Moscow’s Red Square were actually shot incognito as the crew had failed to get permission to film there.
15. Escape Plan 2013 Emil Rottmayer / Victor Mannheim Summit Entertainment
A long overdue proper team up with fellow 80s action hero Sly Stallone for this second comeback film, Arnie (again) plays on his old action persona but the film had one surprising scene with Arnie speaking in his native Austrian language. I think this was possibly the best acting I had ever seen from the “oak”. Showing that he still has some surprises left in him I would love to see more of this and less of the “jokey” Arnie he often descends into.
14. Eraser 1996 U.S. Marshal John Kruger Warner Bros. Pictures
Erased had a troubled production with Arnie playing mediator between crew members as well as last minute re-writes meaning the film didn’t hold together as well as it should. But with James Caan as an evil villain and some impressive CGI-augmented guns, the action beats were all there for more classic mayhem.
13. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 2003 The Terminator Warner Bros. Pictures
Arnie’s terrible turn as his iconic role still manages to lift this awful film above its station. Killing off Sarah and a bleak ending involving Nick Stahl were two miscalculated decisions but with all the series’ motifs returning, Arnie showed he could still take a battering as a ‘bot. A misfire on so many levels but ‘bad Terminator’ is still better than most sci-fi action films out there.
12. Pumping Iron 1977 Himself
From his humble Austrian beginnings to the bright lights of World Bodybuilding, Arnie’s autobiography compliments this amazing documentary and highlights how much the sport helped him develop and how much it means to him. Helping to focus Arnie’s talents and then taking his big persona across the globe, Schwarzenegger used this as a platform to get him into movies but not before ensuring we had a better understanding of our bodies and health. Whilst some of the stories were embellished (Arnie has admitted that not attending his father’s funeral was an outright lie) the doc shows the rivalries and ripped biceps of the biggest lifters on the planet.
11. The 6th Day 2000 Adam Gibson / Adam Gibson Clone Columbia Pictures
An overlooked gem in my opinion, this sci-fi cloning movie disappeared without much fanfare at the turn of the millennium but its multi-personality themes and chase narrative is a classic Arnie trait through and through. The action is solid and it concerns itself with more serious issues than most but with the usual one-liners and plot beats. With a satiric tone and big ambition it fails to hit the loftiest heights but gives an admirable showing of the action genre that Arnie does with aplomb.
10. Kindergarten Cop 1990 Detective John Kimble Universal Pictures
A silly piece of fluff is probably the best of Schwarzenegger’s family-friendly films as he plays a rough cop going undercover as a teacher at an elementary school. With the kids proving adorable and annoying to our hero in equal measure, its soft edges are the main contrast with Arnie’s mountainous and imposing frame. From funny one-liners (“It’s not a tumour”) to a fine cast of child actors, this was the pinnacle of PG-Arnie. But he didn’t make many thank goodness!
9. Conan the Barbarian 1982 Conan Universal Pictures
Sword training, martial arts and horse-riding made sure Arnie had the skilled components to play the legendary barbarian in this fantasy film. Alongside James Earl Jones and a series of exciting set-pieces, the film shows revenge, orgies and war battles and Arnie’s towering physicality brought to life the comic book anti-hero.
8. Commando1985 Colonel John Matrix 20th Century Fox
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vernon Wells have remained close friends ever since the making of this action movie and a sequel was drafted by Frank Darabont which eventually went on to become Die Hard. However, this was the perfect template of B-movie action fests that became Arnie’s calling card. With all the clichés in the world – retired elite Black Ops Commando? Check. One-man war? Check. South American criminals? Check. Kidnapped daughter? Check. AND an exiled dictator – meant that it has been providing Saturday night thrills ever since.
7. Last Action Hero 1993 Jack Slater / Himself Columbia Pictures
Misunderstood on its release, this quirky pastiche of genre clichés has since received a warmer welcome from critics who now appreciate its post-modern take on the films that made Arnie who he is today. Containing such random touches like a cartoon sidekick, Arnie as Hamlet and endless crossover parodies of characters from real life and fictional, the film tries to do too much AND aim for a broad family audience. Whilst it is a failure from one angle, it’s a subversive (albeit messy) success from another.
6. True Lies 1994 Harry Tasker 20th Century Fox
Along with Sigourney, Cameron found a bit of a sci-fi muse in Schwarzenegger and although this is probably the worst of their collaborations, it still holds up as a fine spy-caper riffing on everything from Mission Impossible to James Bond. From suburban slob to secret spy, Arnie is hardly the most convincing undercover agent you will see but with housewife Jamie Lee Curtis’s stereotypical terrorist, the cast managed to gracefully tango the fine line between genuine thrills and silly escapism. An enjoyable but nonsensical vehicle for Arnie’s trademark guns and violence, truly this was one explosive blockbuster from the mid 90s!
5. The Running Man 1987 Ben Richards TriStar Pictures
Apparently inspiring American Gladiators (just Gladiators here in the UK, awooga!) and loosely based on a story by Stephen King, this film featured Arnie as a man set-up to take part in a violent TV game show where he needs to survive along with fellow captured resistance fighters. Fighting off against such hilariously named “stalkers” like SubZero, Buzzsaw, Dynamo and Captain Freedom (ex wrestler and fellow Predator chaser Jesse Ventura) Arnie takes down host Killian who televises the shady show in the oppressive police state. Fun and frantic, the movie moves at a fast pace and strangely Arnie criticised the director for filming it like a TV show! His character also says “I'm not into politics. I'm into survival”. Quite.
4. Total Recall 1990 Douglas Quaid / Hauser TriStar Pictures
Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) made this film part of his classic sci-fi oeuvre which stars Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid, a man bored with his life who has implanted memories put into his mind. When the procedure goes wrong, he uncovers he could be an undercover spy (or is it part of the inception) and goes off on an adventure to free (another) oppressive regime. With one of the first uses of CGI for the X-Ray scanner, another Arnie-on-the-run film was helped by Verhoeven’s satirical take on familiar genre tropes and by adding 3-boobed aliens and Oscar winning special effects made this one fans would recall again and again as near-perfect Arnie.
3. Predator 1987 Major Alan "Dutch" Schaeffer 20th Century Fox
With a script by Shane Black (who also stars) Predator may even beat out Terminator as Arnie’s most quotable film even though the best lines are spread throughout the cast. “Get to the Chopper”, “I ain't got time to bleed” and “Come on... Come on! Do It! Kill me!” will be familiar to all of his fans and the support from Carl Weathers and Bill Duke round out a brilliant ensemble. With a jungle rescue mission going awry, the party are picked off one by one by the alien hunter in this brilliant mix of dialogue and dread in the dark and drizzly rain forest.
2. The Terminator 1984 The Terminator Orion Pictures
Giving him his most iconic role, James Cameron cast the ex-bodybuilder as an almost indestructible cyborg from the future on the prowl to kill the mother of a future resistance leader. Requiring few words, a huge physique and robotic acting range, it has to be said that Arnie was perfectly cast as Cameron takes a b-movie premise and gives it a much needed jolt with wit, great actions scenes, some innovative special effects and a solid cast to create a sci-fi behemoth. Which leads us to...
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991 TriStar Pictures
Schwarzenegger was indeed “back” as Cameron delivered a high budget follow up to his “tech-noir’ original. Upping the ante with more action, deeper themes and an equally iconic CGI villain made of liquid metal, the mix of blockbuster action, clever smarts and spot-on casting cemented Arnie as the character we all loved. Becoming the “goodie”, this neat switch meant that audiences had a brand new story rather than a rehash making Cameron the king of sequels with this and Aliens. Being the only sequel to win an Academy Award when the previous movie wasn't even nominated, T2’s legacy is still being felt today with subsequent films trying to capture the unique and iconic magic of this 90s classic.
Midlands Movies Mike