Top 10 Best Arnold Schwarzengger Films
With Terminator: Genisys just passing $435 million in box office receipts worldwide, it’s hard to believe that at sixty-eight, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still a bankable action star, at least globally. Though the film didn’t perform as well as hoped domestically, it’s likely we will see the soon to be septuagenarian gracing the screens as the T-800 once again. Whether or not you’re enthusiastic about that prospect…well…that’s a different matter entirely.
There’s few actors I admire more in Hollywood than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not so much for his acting ability (in fact not at all) but moreso for where he came from compared to where he ended up. Here’s a guy who started out with virtually nothing. Schwarzenegger was born poor dirt poor in a house with no indoor plumbing and didn’t speak a word of English when he came to America. Yet somehow he became a world-famous bodybuilder, a millionaire in land development by the age of thirty, the biggest action star in the history of film, married a Kennedy, AND became the governor of KALI-FORN-YA. His life epitomizes the true American Dream. If you haven’t read his autobiography Total Recall, I highly recommend it.
But I’m fanboying out here. Let me reign it back in.
Although most audiences weren’t fans of AH-NULD’s latest iteration of the Terminator, it made me hopeful for the LOOOONGGG talked about Legend of Conan film that’s in the works. It also made me think, what exactly are Schwarzenegger’s best films? While it was easy to come up with ten, putting them in a proper order was a bit more difficult.
<Please note that I haven’t seen Maggie yet in which I hear he gives the performance of a lifetime.>
So without further exposition, let’s dive right in. Or more appropriately, let’s get to the chopper.
10. The Last Stand (2013)
It’s important to note that of the ten you’ll see on this list, this is the only one from the 21st century. That’s not to say everything Schwarzenegger has done since 2000 has been bad per se, (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines almost made this list) I just thought this was the only one that really belonged in the top ten.
Schwarzenegger’s first real return to acting after his stint as governor (aside from a few cameos) the story follows ex-LAPD officer Ray Owens, a small town sheriff on the Texas/Mexico border. As you might imagine, Owens’ work life is pretty quiet as he only has to deal with the occasional idiocy of the local arms collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville). That is until a an escaped drug dealer heads straight for his town in a supercharged car.
This hard-R film really impressed me. It was a throwback old school AH-NULD film with plenty of guns, chase scenes, and so-bad-they’re-good one-liners. Furthermore, the film embraced Arnold’s aging action hero status. To quote his most recent film, Terminator: Genisys, The Last Stand showed he was “old but not obsolete.”
9. Twins (1988)
Schwarzenegger’s first real foray into comedy, Twins proved to be a smash success and solidified Schwarzenegger as more than just an action superstar. The film definitely played to his strengths as his character, Julius Benedict, was an intelligent and naive, muscle-bound Renaissance man looking for his brother Vincent (Danny DeVito). His lack of social graces made for plenty of hilarious moments, even if the plot was ridiculous and scientifically inaccurate. This was a risk that could have proved disastrous had it not been for skilled comedic director Ivan Reitman and a strong supporting cast that included Kelly Preston. While it doesn’t hold up quite so well twenty-seven years later, it still has its moments, even with the pat happy ending.
8. The Running Man (1987)
This film combines three of my favorite things: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen King, and science fiction. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, (writing as Richard Bachman) the film was markedly different from the source material. Despite that, the film was a cheesy, action packed, 80s fueled awesome fest. The Running Man is a quintessential Arnold romp, loaded with gratuitous violence (the scene where he kills Buzzsaw is amazing) and classic one-liners (“He had to split”). And who didn’t love every scene that Richard Dawson was in with Arnold? Surprisingly, if you look past all the Jesse Ventura spandex, the film is a real social commentary on voyeurism. With all the “reality” shows you see today, The Running Man was truly ahead of it’s time.
7. Commando (1985)
Of all of Arnie’s films this one may be the most bombastic and over the top–and for many his best action film. It’s completely unapologetic in its reckless disregard for human life. It also elevated Arnold as an action star to almost mythic proportions. The guy took on the main villain’s villa by himself with enough firepower for an entire army. He made Arius’ (Dan Hedaya) military goons look more inept than the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. And let’s not forget Schwarzenegger’s name. John Matrix. John Fucking Matrix! Has there ever been a more ridiculous and bad-ass name for a hero than that?! And the one-liners in this film. Just wow. I think of all his movies this one has the best. Check it out: “I like you Sully. You’re funny. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” “I lied.” “Don’t disturb my friend, he’s dead tired.” And of course, “Blow off some steam Bennett.”
6. True Lies (1994)
The film that some argue was the last great Schwarzenegger film, True Lies marked the third and last (at least at present) collaboration with director James Cameron. In spite of the dubious pairing with actor Tom Arnold, Schwarzenegger was able to pull off a decidedly different turn as spy Harry Tasker. Somewhat of a takeoff on Mr. and Mrs. Smith (the original) the film also starred Activia spokesman–er–actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Schwarzenegger’s often had mixed results when it comes to on-screen romances, but Curtis and Arnold had great chemistry. And that striptease scene, well, do I really have to say anything? Twenty plus years later True Lies almost feels family friendly, but it’s still entertaining as Hell and rife with action…even if you do have to watch Arnie struggle through the Tango.
5. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Some might find it sacrilege for me to list this one so low, but that doesn’t mean I have any less respect for this movie than I do for numbers four through one. Other than the Terminator, this is the character fans most associate with Schwarzenegger. I get chills every time he intones the name of his god “Crom” on-screen. From the moment we see him raise his head while pushing the Wheel of Pain, to the final shot of him sitting on his throne with a pensive look, Arnie OWNS this role. What nerd hasn’t recited the “Conan what is best in life?!” words out loud when no one is around? Oh. Just me? OK then. Moving on. Schwarzenegger made writer Robert E. Howard’s character come to life. Throw in a maverick director like John Milius, a screenplay by Oliver Stone, and the acting talents of James Earl Jones as the villain Thulsa Doom, and you end up with an epic made in sword and sandal heaven. As I mentioned earlier I’m thrilled at the prospect of a new Conan film, especially after the decidedly weak Conan the Destroyer and the horrible remake with Jason Mamoa.
4. Total Recall (1990)
While granted Total Recall has about as much to do with hard science as the Creation Museum, it still remains one of Schwarzenegger’s best roles and my favorite film about Mars. (At least until next month when The Martian comes out. Then it may change). One of the most expensive films ever made at the time of its release, it’s doubtful this film would have even got off the ground if not for Schwarzenegger’s star power and director Paul Verhoeven’s recent success with Robocop. Nevertheless, film historians and Arnold fans are glad it did, as twenty-five years later it remains one of the greats in his filmography. Although AH-NULD may not have embodied the Douglas Quaid envisioned by author Philip K. Dick in his short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, it matters not in the slightest. Quaid’s bone breaking, blood spattering adventure from Earth to Mars hits all the right notes, from the exploding mask at the Mars space station, to his final confrontation with Cohaagen, to Sharon Stone’s hot bod–this film has everything you could want in a testosterone charged action movie. Add some unforgettable lines like “Consider that a divorce!” and “See you at the party Richter!” and you’ve got a classic Arnie movie.
3. Predator (1987)
Damn. As much as I love the Terminator movies, this may be my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger film. I mean check out the testosterone laden cast: Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, and of course Arnold as Delta Force Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer. It’s like one giant two-hour gun show. It’s such a classic trope too, the hunter becoming the hunted. Just with aliens in this instance. This film may contain the best individual Arnold moments of any of his movies. You’ve got the arm wrestling scene between him and Dillon (Carl Weathers), lifting a jeep by himself, throwing a knife at some dude’s chest and saying “Stick around!”, and of course the final confrontation between the Predator and a muddied up Dutch. It’s just too bad Arnie couldn’t be in the sequel. Almost thirty years later “GET TO DA CHOPPPPAAA!!!” is still my jam.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
As successful and well received as the original was, I’m not sure a lot of people expected a sequel to The Terminator. However, that’s just what audiences got when the film exploded onto the big screen on July 3, 1991. I distinctly remember being twelve years old and BEGGING my Aunt Lori to take me to see it. I got Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey instead. Oh well. Schwarzenegger gets a lot of shit for being a bad actor and while he’ll never be Daniel Day-Lewis, you can’t discount what he did with the character in this film. Whereas the first film portrayed him as a mindless killing machine, Judgment Day flips the whole paradigm on its head. With this film, Arnold is actually the protector and humanizes the Terminator while getting him to understand the value of human life. And I defy you to find a movie with better action sequences, everything from the motorcycle rescue of John Connor (Edward Furlong) to the final battle with the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) at the iron mills. And Arnold’s demise is as finely shot as it is cathartic.
1. The Terminator (1984)
Yeah like I was going to pick Jingle All The Way or Junior as number one. Of course it’s The Terminator! What else could it possibly be? Despite a film where he only spoke sixteen lines, this is the role that will forever define Arnold Schwarzenegger. They might as well build a giant marble endoskeleton for his funeral pillar at this point. Although it won’t be needed for another fifty-two years when his existing power cell runs out at age 120. Although an emotionless machine, Arnold nevertheless was able to generate a distinct sense of menace and inherent evil with the Terminator. He was the true embodiment of remorseless technology. The Terminator was relentless, much like Schwarzenegger when he sets his mind on a goal. You’ll rarely find a more chilling scene in cinema than when Arnie takes out the police station and officers where Sarah Connor is being held. There’s a cold efficiency and calcualtion there that is just harrowing. The pairing of Cameron and Schwarzenegger was true Kismet and it’s no coincidence that each person’s career trajectory took a decided upswing after this movie.
At sixty-eight I’m not sure how much gas Arnold has left in the tank as an action star. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned its that the easiest way to motivate Arnold Schwarzenegger is to tell him he can’t do something. Like or not, he’ll be back.