Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably the quintessential action star. The former weight lifter got his start as a thug in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) and never looked back, entertaining fans for over forty years. Yes, forty.
With the release of Sabotage, Schwarzenegger is out to prove that after all this time, he’s still the best around. But, how does his filmography stack up to this point?
1. Total Recall (1990)
Everybody says Terminator 2: Judgment Day is Schwarzenegger’s best film. Well…most everybody. But pound for pound, nothing Schwarzenegger has made provides the visceral thrill of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall. T2 is the ultimate event film, but in terms of sheer action joy, few things can top Total Recall. As Doug Quaid, a man trying to piece together the mystery of his identity, Schwarzenegger travels to Mars, rides in Johnny Cabs, aligns himself with mutants, meets a woman with three breasts, jams metal rods through people’s heads, gets beat up by Sharon Stone (twice), delivers fantastic one liners (“Give dese peepull ayuh!”), and rips off both of Michael Ironside’s arms. All in one movie.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The original Terminator used to be preferable, if only because T2 lacks originality (the plot is identical to its predecessor), but the first is starting to show it’s age a little, succumbing to the cheesiness that was filmmaking in the 1980s. T2 doesn’t have any of that cheese, and with a significantly larger budget, overshadows The Terminator in every way. On top of that, the T-1000 was ground-breaking, as James Cameron utilized computer graphics in a way never seen before.
3. Predator (1988?)
Predator is probably the most macho of all of Schwarzenegger’s films. All of the actors have bulging muscles that glisten in the sunlight, and director John McTiernan uses high angle close ups to make them look larger than life. Jesse Ventura’s tobacco chewing, Gatlin gun toting Blain sums it up when he says, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Watching the Predator pick off Schwarzenegger’s team of Special Forces soldiers, which includes Apollo Creed himself (Carl Weathers), serves as merely an appetizer for the main event: The Predator versus Arnold in a one-on-one, mano e alien match to the death.
4. The Terminator (1984)
It hurts to put The Terminator this far down the list, but that’s just how impressive Schwarzenegger’s resume is. James Cameron’s science fiction classic made Schwarzenegger a household name, and features a more dire situation than its sequel, which pits Arnold’s T-800 against Robert Patrick’s T-1000. In The Terminator, it’s a human, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), trying to destroy the T-800, all while trying to keep Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from running away. Thirty years later, Brad Fiedel’s synthesizer music gets a bit too painful at times. Still a classic film, though.
5. True Lies (1994)
True Lies doesn’t get as much love as it should. James Cameron’s Bond film is loads of fun, with top-notch action, and helped lay the blueprint for what a summer blockbuster should be. The even bigger triumph? Tom Arnold is actually hilarious. Yes, the middle portion featuring Bill Paxton’s used car salesman is silly, but so what? It leads to that fantastic Jamie Lee Curtis strip tease, and everyone could use a little JLC striptease in their lives. There was a talk of a sequel for several years, but, sadly, that fell by the wayside.
6. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
People always seem to forget about Conan the Barbarian. The Terminator made Schwarzenegger a household name, but John Milius’ Conan paved the way. With a screenplay by Oliver stone, the film makes more use of Arnold’s muscles than his acting talents, although he does deliver the classic line “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women” when asked what is best in life.
7. Commando (1987)
By far the most ridiculous Schwarzenegger film of all time, topping even Jingle All the Way and Junior. From the moment John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is shown carrying a tree on his shoulder, Commando makes it pretty clear this film is pushing everything to excess, from the one liners to the crazy action. Commando embraces the cheese so well, in fact, that instead of aging like a three-pack-a-day smoker, its aged like a fine wine.
8. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Arnold proved he could be funny in 1998’s Twins, and he re-teams with director Ivan Reitman for this fun film that drops the action icon in a classroom full of, that’s right, Kindergarteners. What more needs to be said, than “It’s not a tumah!”
9. The Last Stand (2013)
A return to form for Schwarzenegger, 2013’s The Last Stand is by no means a classic, but it’s the kind of fun, throwback action film that is becoming a rarity these days… at least, outside of the straight to home video market. Yes, it could have been funnier (Johnny Knoxville is underused), but this is the kind of bare bones action flick Schwarzenegger shines in.
10. The Running Man (1987)
Another minor masterpiece from Schwarzenegger, but endlessly fun. The Running Man is a merciless satire on game shows, even going so far as to cast former Family Feud host Richard Dawson as the game’s emcee. Jesse Ventura, fresh off Predator, returns, wearing one of the funniest wigs this side of Maury’s Wig Emporium. The Running Man, along with Commando and Total Recall feature love interests of Latino origin, providing an ironic glimpse into Schwarzenegger’s extramarital habits.
Honorable Mention: Twins, Escape Plan (which is good enough to make the list, but since it’s technically a Sylvester Stallone flick, doesn’t count), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and Eraser.