Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 10 Greatest Movies Ranked

Arnold Schwarzenegger is returning to our screens this weekend – and critics are saying it’s with his best performance in years.

The action legend has taken on the lead role in Netflix’s high-octane comedy FUBAR, his first small-screen starring vehicle, which has more than a few nods to his back catalogue of big screen adventures.

To celebrate his triumphant return, we’ve compiled our favourite Schwarzenegger movies from throughout his career. Has your number one made the cut?

10. Pumping Iron (1977)

White Mountain Films

For many, the first introduction to Arnie came via this unexpected documentary crossover hit, a behind-the-scenes look at professional bodybuilders preparing for the 1975 Mr Olympia competition. At this point, Schwarzenegger had won five consecutive titles, and it depicted his battle to take it one last time against competition from Lou Ferrigno.

Here, Schwarzenegger is the cocky, aggressive epitome of machismo, who boasts about his use of “psychological warfare” over his competitors. It helped cement his initial screen status as an intimidating action star, something which would gradually get softened later in the 1980s via more comedic, conventionally heroic roles.

9. Last Action Hero (1993)


A box office disappointment upon release, thanks in no small part to arriving in cinemas a week after Jurassic Park, this Shane Black scripted meta-comedy has aged well – especially in an age where blockbusters are expected to be heavily self-referential.

What makes director John McTiernan’s movie stand out from the pack is an earnest love of the genre it’s sending up, with committed performances from a cast who take the whole ridiculous proposition seriously, not least a delightfully theatrical Charles Dance as villain Mr Benedict.

8. Kindergarten Cop (1990)


After making an unexpected detour into comedy with Twins a couple of years earlier, Arnie reteamed with director Ivan Reitman for another high-concept romp – and even without a more seasoned comic performer like Danny DeVito by his side, managed to shoulder a movie in the genre all by himself.

The actor would, of course, return to the genre several more times (most notably in Junior and Jingle All The Way), but this is the best of his comedy appearances, with Reitman getting a whole movie’s worth of mileage from a simple fish-out-of-water concept.

7. Commando (1985)

20th Century Pictures

It may have arrived after Conan The Barbarian and The Terminator, but Commando offered a far stronger blueprint for what the archetypal Arnold Schwarzenegger movie could be. Cheesy one liners, logic defying set pieces (in this universe, bushes are bulletproof when Arnie hides behind them?), and a series of extremely bloody deaths.

Above everything else, Commando is perfect watch-with-your-brain-switched-off entertainment, exactly what the best kind of Schwarzenegger vehicle should be.

6. The Running Man (1987)


Before Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, there was The Running Man, Stephen King’s pseudonymously published tale of a dystopian future (2017) where America was a totalitarian police state, and prisoners were given the chance to flee via taking part in a violent gameshow.

Divisive upon release, The Running Man has aged surprisingly well, not least because it was the forerunner (no pun intended) for an entire genre of Hollywood dystopian fiction. Many of Arnie’s movies are written of as 1980’s kitsch, so it’s a thrill to see one from that era that remains thematically prescient to this day.

5. Predator (1987)

20th Century Studios

The unlikely origins of one of the most enduring sci-fi actioners of the eighties was a gag circulating around Hollywood about the fourth Rocky movie, with the punchline being Stallone’s hero would have to fight an alien in the next one due to going against every opponent on Earth. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took that as their starting point for Predator, which quickly grew in scale into a tense survival movie.

The franchise has endured over the decades since, but has only just been able to recapture the stripped-down simplicity of this movie; several soldiers, stranded in the South American wilderness, pitted head-to-head with a powerful alien opponent. It’s a simple premise, and it’s executed with bloody glee.

4. True Lies (1994)

20th Century Studios

In remaking a 1991 French spy comedy, James Cameron turned things up to 11 – only in his hands could a story about the secrets within a marriage transform into a more explosive tale of espionage, which at the time was the most expensive movie ever made.

Because of the bigger franchise they worked on together, True Lies is often an afterthought when it comes to Cameron and Schwarzenegger’s collaborations, but it shouldn’t be. If The Terminator thrived on casting its lead against type, then this is Cameron attempting to craft a conventional Arnie movie, right down to some of the most joyously cheesy one liners ever captured on celluloid.

3. Total Recall (1990)

TriStar Pictures

Inspired by a Phillip K. Dick short story, director Paul Verhoeven’s mind-bending sci-fi is the most ambitious project Schwarzenegger has ever signed up for. Set in a near future where anybody can get an implant that can give them false memories, his character Douglas Quaid decides he wants to experience adventure, and gets a secret agent chip – only to discover he already is one.

Or is he? Verhoeven keeps things ambiguous throughout, flipping character dynamics wherever possible, without ever compromising on the action spectacle. It’s the thinking man’s Arnie movie, without ever sacrificing the blockbuster thrills.

2. The Terminator (1984)


As the famous story goes, Schwarzenegger wasn’t the first choice to play The Terminator; the studio wanted OJ Simpson, but James Cameron decided he wasn’t believable as a killer. That ironic twist of fate led to Arnie bagging the villainous role, one of the most spot-on casting decisions in sci-fi history.

The franchise would later dive deeper into the time travel mechanics established here, but the first movie is a comparatively stripped down affair, succeeding as a simple cat-and-mouse chase – with overarching 1980s anxieties about impending nuclear war. Additionally, it also uses its antagonist as sparingly as possible; Schwarzenegger has far fewer lines than you remember, and yet almost every one is still regularly quoted to this day.

  1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)


As Arnie fast became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the years following The Terminator, his status as an action hero was cemented. This was something Cameron was innately aware of as he planned his return to the world of his surprise blockbuster sci-fi, with co-writer William Wisher initially thinking the director was joking when he said he wanted to create a Terminator who was a hero this time around.

We all know that you shouldn’t bet against James Cameron, and his instincts were right; not only did T2 become the highest grossing film of 1991, it was widely heralded as one of the great blockbuster sequels of all time. There have been enjoyable movies in the franchise since then, and yet they’re all regarded as disappointments because matching this high watermark is a daunting, near-impossible task for anyone to pull off.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.