From Mr. Universe to Hollywood actor to Governor of California, it has been quite the career for Arnold Schwarzenegger. His bulging biceps, thick Austrian accent, awesome action films, and a terrific sense of humor are just a few reasons why he has become a cultural icon. Upon moving Stateside, Arnie’s lack of acting experience and heavy accent resulted in a tough start to his Hollywood life, although he did land roles due to his size. Fortunately, he quickly improved and went on to star in many of the most entertaining action films ever made.
In celebration Schwarzenegger’s 72nd birthday, here are 10 of iconic action star’s greatest movies of all time. Enjoy!
10. Twins (1988)
Sometimes, comedy can be as simple as pairing two completely different characters together. This is what was done in Ivan Reitman’s 1988 classic Twins, which paired Arnie, former Mr. Universe, with the 4’10” film star Danny DeVito. If this wasn’t enough, their characters were also long lost born out of a secret experiment. Not only was there a huge contrast in height and appearance, but in character as well, with DeVito playing the streetwise Vincent to Arnie’s intellectual and innocent Julius. In one of the funnier and more heartwarming scenes, DeVito’s character attempts to teach his nervous and much, much bigger twin brother how to dance to impress a girl. Arnie had only appeared in action films at this point in his career, so this was a refreshing change and opened the door for him to explore an entirely new genre.
9. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Following the huge success of Twins, Ivan Reitman once again enlisted Schwarzenegger for another goofy and heartwarming comedy. This time, Arnie played John Kimble, an undercover cop who poses as a substitute teacher for a kindergarten class to catch a drug dealer before he can get to his ex-wife and son. The humor lies in Kimble being a gigantic and tough character terrorized by a group of small children, clearly outside of his comfort zone. However, he soon adapts and discovers a passion for teaching (unfortunately, this spawned a series of terrible films with a similar setup.) In Twins, Schwarzenegger had DeVito to work with and most of the comedy stemmed from their pairing, but here it is largely down to Arnie to deliver the laughs and he surprised many with just how well he could on his own.
8. The Running Man (1987)
You wouldn’t think that Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing in an adaptation of one of legendary horror author Stephen King’s stories would be a good mix, but 1987’s The Running Man proved many wrongs. Set in a futuristic dystopia, a television show called “The Running Man” sees convicted criminals, or “runners,” have to evade professional killers to win their freedom. Arnold plays Ben Richards, a former police helicopter pilot wrongly convicted of a massacre. Richards is forced into being a contestant, where he (unsurprisingly) survives, kicks some serious butt, reveals a controversy about the show, puts things right, and gets the girl. It may be predictable and silly, but The Running Man is also great fun and also somewhat predicted the presence and impact that reality TV would have in years to come (the film takes place in 2019.)
7. Commando (1985)
80s action films do not come any more explosive or entertaining than Mark L. Lester’s Commando, with Arnie at his “one man against the world” best. It also established the formula for many of his great films that followed, which is, essentially, muscular yet reluctant good guy takes on hoards of bad guys, with as many explosions and gunfights as possible, followed by cheesy one-liners. In Commando, Schwarzenegger plays retired Delta Force operator Colonel John Matrix, whose young daughter is kidnapped by the mercenaries who also killed his entire unit. As a one-man army, John Matrix shoots and/or explodes everyone and everything in his path on his way to rescue his daughter. There are, of course, dozens of brilliant one-liners along the way which ensure that it is fun, fast and exciting from start to finish and now considered a cult classic.
6. True Lies (1994)
James Cameron is a director who managed to get the best out of Arnie. This was evident in the first two Terminator films (more on those to come), but it was also made clear with 1994’s True Lies. The film came about when Arnie approached Cameron with the idea of remaking French comedy La Totale!, which resulted in a critical and commercial success with Schwarzenegger at his best in terms of blending comedy and action. The story follows U.S government agent Harry Tasker, who attempts to keep his spy life and personal life separate until his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) becomes involved in a case. They must then work together to bring down a militant terrorist group called “Crimson Jihad.” A wacky premise, big action sequences, screwball comedy, and excellent chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Curtis ensure that this is one of the great Arnie flicks.
5. Total Recall (1990)
A legendary science fiction action film which still causes heated fan debates to this day, Total Recall is an Arnie classic. Directed by Paul Verhoeven and released in 1990, this film was one of the most expensive ever made upon its 1990 release and it does not skimp on the special effects. Schwarzenegger plays construction worker Douglas Quaid in the year 2084; a man who is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there. He visits a company that provides memory implants of vacations, for which he chooses a trip to Mars as a Secret Agent fantasy. However, something goes wrong just before the memory is implanted and Quaid appears to have suppressed memories of being a secret agent. What is real and what is a hallucination is no longer clear, which results in a hotly debated climax to the film.
4. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
After his big-screen debut, Hercules in New York (1970), was lumped in the “so bad it’s good” category, it was looking like acting was perhaps not a viable career option for Schwarzenegger. This all changed with 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, which earned the Austrian global fame despite criticisms of his acting. Inspired by pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard’s stories, Conan follows a young barbarian (Schwarzenegger) who is on a quest for vengeance against Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the leader of a snake cult who is responsible for the death of Conan’s parents. The film is set in the fictional Hyborian Age, which takes place thousands of years before the rise of modern civilization. While the acting may not be incredible, the combination of fantasy, drama, action, and adventure makes for a fantastic watch and James Earl Jones also shines as the villain.
3. Predator (1987)
Most of Arnie’s earlier films were either action and/or science fiction, but 1987’s Predator also incorporated elements of horror into the mix for fantastic results. To this day, Predator remains a fan favorite and a terrific action/horror film, spawning two sequels and two crossover films with the Alien franchise (none as good as the original, of course). Schwarzenegger plays the leader of an elite Special Forces team tasked with rescuing hostages from guerrilla territory in Central America. However, in the jungle, they discover a terrifying, violent, and invisible alien. The shoe is on the other foot for Schwarzenegger here, as he and his unit struggle to evade and harm the creature that is hunting them. Creepy, gory, action-packed, and full of great lines such as “I ain’t got time to bleed,” Predator is still a fantastic watch to this day and an important part of 80s film culture.
2. The Terminator (1984)
“I’ll be back” is one of the most quoted lines of all-time and synonymous with Schwarzenegger. It was first used in the 1984 science fiction classic The Terminator, which is often the first film that springs to mind when discussing Arnie and 80s films. Schwarzenegger had been criticized for his robotic acting in many of his earlier films, which made casting him as a robot assassin from the future a masterstroke from James Cameron. In this role, Schwarzenegger is fearsome, with tremendous screen presence, which makes you wonder why he was usually cast as a hero and not a villain. In the film, The Terminator/T-800 Model 101 is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is soon to be the mother of a future resistance leader. Fast-paced, bursting with action and clever special effects, and Schwarzenegger excelling in his role makes The Terminator a science fiction/action classic.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
It is not often that a sequel tops the original, but this was the case for 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Bigger, better, and more powerful, T2 is one of the best action films, science fiction films, and sequels ever made. This time, Arnie’s character becomes an anti-hero when he is sent back in time to protect Sarah’s 10-year-old son and future resistance leader John (Edward Furlong), who is being hunted by a more advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Schwarzenegger once again is fantastic and proves equally as adept at playing an anti-hero. Additionally, this film also made breakthroughs in computer-generated imagery. This resulted in astonishing special effects which are still impressive today. T2 also packed an emotional punch which is one element that is lacking in many Arnie films and this film, in particular, proved that he was much more than an action superstar.