Every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie – ranked

From Commando to Conan, Terminator to Twins, we size up the cultural icon’s ample body of work.

Words

Matt Thrift, Adam Woodward

With Predator recently celebrating its 30th anniversary, now seems as good a time as any to take a look back through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography. With the exception of a wordless walk-on part in Robert Altman’s 1973 masterpiece, The Long Goodbye, and a couple of TV appearances, we watched and ranked the actor’s CV in its entirety in a bid to sort the curd from the BodyPro MaxPlus whey. Agree with our top spot? Let us know @LWLies

46. The Kid & I (2005)

Tom Arnold wrote this well-meaning but abject family movie for his young neighbour Eric Gores, who was born with cerebral palsy. It sees the pair attempt to remake the teenager’s favourite film, True Lies, which Arnold starred in a decade earlier alongside Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, both of whom appear here in cameo as themselves. Placing this bottom of the pile may seem a tad mean-spirited, especially given that all profits from its release went to charity, but it really is a stinker. Adam Woodward

45. The Villain aka Cactus Jack (1979)

Arriving a whole nine years after the Austrian Oak made his acting debut in Hercules in New York, and five before The Terminator shot him to stardom, this knockabout comedy-western from Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham is notable for being Arnie’s first and only foray into cowboy country. Credited simply as ‘Handsome Stranger’, this is a far cry from the straighter roles of his ’80s action heyday, though it does offer an early glimpse of his comedic chops. AW

44. Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

The most recent and comfortably worst of Arnie’s four ‘Day’ movies, this expensively mounted affront to French fabulist Jules Verne features Schwarzenegger as a licentious, lute-playing Turkish prince. Dressed in brownface, Jheri curls and full sultan garb, and spouting some truly excruciating sexist dialogue, it’s no surprise that the newly appointed Governor of California quickly distanced himself from the film upon its release. AW

43. Killing Gunther (2017)

Despite the name above the title and his mug front and centre on the poster, it’s well over an hour before Arnie turns up for the final 20 minutes or so of this woeful action-comedy. Written and directed by SNL alumnus Taran Killam, this interminably shrill mockumentary sees a mismatched group of incompetent hitmen out to take Arnie’s title as best in the biz. Clearly the big guy is enjoying a few easy days at the office, but as Man Bites Dog and Christopher Guest knock-offs go, consider this worst in show. Matt Thrift

42. Scavenger Hunt (1979)

The highlight of this ultra-zany ensemble comedy involves Arnie inadvertently thrusting a man out of a two-storey window with a medicine ball. Presumably, playing an overzealous gym instructor named Lars wasn’t much of a stretch for the budding actor, although to say that he makes the most of this minor supporting role would be an overstatement. In his DVD audio commentary, director Michael Schultz reveals that Arnie refused to take his shirt off for the role because he wanted to save his impressive physique for Conan the Barbarian, which he had just started prepping. AW

41. Sabotage (2014)

Arnie leads a squad of compromised DEA agents out to make a buck on the side in the ugliest, nastiest piece of work on the actor’s CV. Sabotage doubles down on the most unsavoury elements of director David Ayer’s previous feature, End of Watch, mistaking pornographic relish for uncompromising grit. The locker-room dialogue that makes up the screenplay is tiresomely pretentious, delivered with mugging, try-hard intensity by an unmoored cast. MT

40. Terminator Genisys (2015)

A film that’s as irritating and unnecessary as the intentional typo in its title, Genisys sees Arnie reprise his most iconic role to calamitous effect, playing “Pops” to Emilia Clarke’s younger, sassier Sarah Connor. After the disappointment of 2009’s Arnie-free Salvation, Alan Taylor’s film was supposed to kickstart a new Terminator trilogy, but a critical lashing and underwhelming performance at the US box office consigned this deeply cynical reboot to the scrap heap. He said he’d be back, but nobody needed this. AW

39. The Expendables (2010)

Though marginally superior to the two sequels it spawned, it’s difficult to place The Expendables any higher on this list due to Arnie’s negligible (and uncredited) part in it. Understandably he appears more than a little rusty in his first post-Governator role, and the glaring lack of on-screen chemistry between him, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis is consolidated by a choppy editing style which suggests that this famed action hero / novelty restaurant investor trio weren’t even filmed on the same set. AW

38. Tales From the Crypt: The Switch (1990)

Arnie steps behind the camera for the first of two adventures in directing. A morality tale in the familiar series mould, the result proves a queasy exercise in body-politics whichever way you unpack it. A millionaire lusts after a young blonde, who rejects him for being too old. He visits a mad doctor, who does a Face/Off number on him, replacing his head with that of a cash-poor hunk. He now looks like Bruce Forsyth’s cadaver, but the gal still ain’t happy: “Your body is old and decrepit!” So, he swaps his torso. “Ugh, look at your veiny legs!” He returns to swap those too – and his junk – but by now she’s decided what she really wants in a man is money, setting up home with the bloke he swapped appendages with. The direction is cheerfully inoffensive, but the values it espouses on wealth, women and the body sure leave a bad taste. MT

37. Dave (1993)

Larry King, Jay Leno and Oliver Stone are just a few of the ‘media personalities’ who appear as themselves in Ivan Reitman’s breezy political satire about a good-guy employment agency owner enlisted by the Secret Service to impersonate the POTUS. Arnie turns up for all of 20 seconds to promote healthy eating to a group of middle schoolers, with Kevin Kline’s titular presidential doppelgänger proving a more than adequate comic foil. Entertaining enough, but too minor to really matter. AW

36. Jingle All the Way (1996)

This festive curio sees our oversized hero switch modes from one-man-army to simply everyman. He’s Howard Langston, an unassuming, hard-working American dad whose attempts to buy his child’s love are constantly thwarted by a manic mail man named Myron (Sinbad). Most notable for featuring one of Phil Hartman’s last film roles before his premature death in 1998 (and that one scene where Arnie gets drunk with a reindeer), this is an otherwise bland family comedy which inadvertently captures the true meaning of Christmas: rampant consumerism. AW

35. Hercules in New York (1970)

Schwarzenegger’s big screen debut – billed as Arnold Strong – plays like a ’70s porno that ran out of money before they got the chance to shoot any fucking. Hercules travels to earth, teams up with a street-vendor, hilarious (*cough*) antics ensue. There’s a certain charm in seeing the big lunk’s ferociously staged battles with all manner of consonants and vowels, but even at just 75 minutes, getting through it proves a chore. MT

34. End of Days (1999)

Arnie vs Satan pitched itself. In the event, it’s a lamentable addition to the millennium-anxiety canon, directed with disdainful hackery by Peter Hyams and seemingly cut by a pair of interns with a serious grudge against the seventh art. The role of Jericho Kane offered Arnie his first stab at grizzled and broken, a godless man up against Gabriel Byrne’s petrol-pissing Lucifer, visiting earth to sire a son within the one-hour window circumscribed by Rod Steiger’s stoup of mentally ill exposition. “Between your faith and my Glock 9mm, I’ll take my Glock,” says the Glock-less Austrian who just had the shit kicked out of him by Miriam Margolyes. MT

33. Red Sonja (1985)

It’s telling that Brigitte Nielsen, despite playing the title character in Richard Fleischer’s fantasy epic, is dwarfed by Schwarzenegger on the film’s official poster. Admittedly the Danish model-turned-actress was not yet a household name in 1985 (Rocky IV, which she starred in alongside then-hubbie Sylvester Stallone, was released four months later), but it says a lot about where Hollywood was at the time. Arnie only agreed to appear in Red Sonja to complete his three-picture deal with producer Dino De Laurentiis, who gave him his big break three years earlier in Conan the Barbarian. Ironically enough, Laurentiis failed to secure the character rights from Universal, meaning Arnie wound up being cast as “Kalidor”. He once described the film as the worst he ever made, but there remains a certain cult appeal to this cheap and cheerless effort. AW

32. Christmas in Connecticut (1992)

“I considered myself a tree-decorating expert,” notes the Austrian oak of the holiday season in his autobiography, “It was in my blood.” There’s no mention of Christmas in Connecticut, so one might assume that directing festive TV movies is an area in which he’s less sure of his expertise. The evidence suggests that’s probably the case, given the fist he makes of almost every comedic beat in his first project post-T2. The cast try their best, not least Tony Curtis, seemingly ever-ready to burst into song, but with the original Barbara Stanwyck vehicle hardly beloved, the argument that what that film was finally lacking was a pitiful Terminator gag is questionable at best. MT

31. Aftermath (2017)

The notices that greeted Aftermath and his 2016 under-the-radar indie, Maggie, exclaimed Arnie’s acting abilities in a manner befitting Greta Garbo’s first on-screen syllable. Just as the actress possessed the ability to speak long before audiences heard her, Schwarzenegger has been giving performances better than these morose snoozefests for decades. The films may see the actor at his most introspective, but both prove too dependent on his physical screen-presence alone, with few ideas of how to best utilise it. Aftermath is the bigger culprit – a study in grief with all the dramatic momentum of a dripping tap. MT

30. The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980)

The last of Schwarzenegger’s early ones, before megastardom called with Conan two years later, this TV movie plays like a 100 minute dream sequence imagined by Naomi Watts’ character in Mulholland Drive. Arnie plays Mickey Hargitay, second husband to Jayne Mansfield, in a sizeable role, narrating with wistful solemnity over the straight-faced heights of director David Lowry’s surreal melodrama. Another chance to flex the acting muscles, perhaps, but it’s quickly clear that Lowry is no Bob Rafelson, not least when wrangling one of the actor’s hilariously petulant on-screen temper tantrums. MT

29. Conan the Destroyer (1984)

It took the Terminator franchise 30 odd years and four sequels to reach its nadir of character revisionism. Conan’s man in the mirror moment occurred just two years later, castrating the hardcore Nietzschean primality of its predecessor to family-friendly ends. Character development may have been low on Conan the Barbarian’s agenda, but it had a consistency of ideological vision – however toxic – that allowed action to serve as character itself. Taken away, as it is here, all purpose is excised. We’re left with a half-arsed quest narrative, some lame one-liners, tiresome comedic support acts and very little destroying. Arnie does assault a horse though. MT

28. Collateral Damage (2002)

Its release delayed due to 9/11, Collateral Damage might have been easily written off as one of Arnie’s disposable silly ones were it not for the stench of American supremacy and moral superiority. A revenge yarn that sees the star off on a Colombian jungle jolly, to take revenge on the guerrilla terrorists that blew up his family. There are some lols to be had – mostly unintentional – not least when the big lunk attempts to travel incognito through a village full of people half his size. Still, he does get to say the line, “You want collateral damage? I’ll give you collateral damage,” shortly before someone calls him a “German sausage.” MT

27. Escape Plan (2013)

This barely passable geriactioner sees Arnie and Sly share top billing for the first time in their careers, slumming it in a throwback prison flick that fails to play to their respective strengths. Banged up in a maximum security facility known as ‘The Tomb’ – “the most secure prison ever built” – the pair quickly cook up a failsafe scheme to bust themselves and a rabble of surly cons out, with predictably riotous consequences. The plot is disappointingly lean, but the film at least delivers on the promise of these two stars finally colliding. AW

26. Batman & Robin (1997)

Arnie took a cool $25m – a million a day – for his role as Mr Freeze in Joel Schumacher’s universally reviled Batman sequel. While there’s still not much of a case to be made for it retrospectively, it’s an endearingly rubbish exercise in camp, lit up like a hostile christmas tree. Arnie embraces his unapologetic parade of frozen puns with all the relish of an unembarrassable dad after one Babycham too many, his larger-than-life force of personality ensuring he’s about the only cast member that exits largely unscathed. An epically-scaled fiasco it remains, but there’s more charm to be found here than in the straight-faced career-doldrums below. MT

25. Maggie (2015)

The prospect of Arnie taking on hordes of cannibalistic zombies is a tantalising one, but Henry Hobson’s directorial debut is a more sedate genre offering than first appearances suggest. Its story of a father coming to terms with his infected daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) transformation is told with grace and tenderness, although the film’s flat visual style and muddled tone makes it a fairly drab watch. A grizzled, gloom-ridden Schwarzenegger looks great in close-up – just as he always has – but there’s not enough here to leave a lasting impression. AW

24. The Expendables 3 (2014)

“I’m getting out of this business, and so should you,” says Arnie to Sylvester Stallone early on in The Expendables 3. Wise words indeed. Were Stallone the subject of this ranking, there’d be plenty to mine in the film’s incessant vanity-massaging of the writer-star’s self-image. There’s little to say regarding Schwarzenegger’s cheque-collection duties, given how peripheral a figure Trench proves this time out. As a film, it’s overstuffed to breaking point: more star-turns, diminishing returns. Patrick Hughes directs with forgettable efficiency, possessing the patience for a dozen or so interminable character (re-)introductions, but the worst kind of fidget when it comes to holding a shot that counts. MT

23. Red Heat (1988)

Reagan-era cinema at its most palatably jingoistic, this Arnie-as-Ruskie caper saw director Walter Hill continue the ’80s buddy cop trend he started back in 1982 with the Nolte-Murphy vehicle 48 Hrs. It also marked the beginning of its star’s transition to more comedic fare, though his iron-willed Soviet enforcer Ivan Danko could hardly be considered a extension of his acting repertoire thus far. There’s plenty of fun to be had though, with Jim Belushi proving an able sparring partner as a wise-ass Chicago gumshoe. At one point Arnie delivers a Miranda rights punchline in characteristically direct fashion, complete with comedy sound effect. Classic. AW

22. Twins (1988)

Ivan Reitman’s genetic engineering-themed odd couple comedy may have aged about as well as Danny DeVito’s ponytail, but there’s an innocent charm to Arnie’s first proper comic performance which lingers nearly 30 years on. Its simple premise – diametrically opposed siblings created in a government lab are reunited – and clean humour made Twins a massive hit. The script does lean a little too much on the contrasting physical attributes of its central star pairing though, and Arnie can’t resist recycling his most famous catchphrase. Anticipation is low for the long-mooted sequel, with Eddie Murphy playing a third long lost brother. AW

21. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

“Those one-liners became my trademark,” says Arnie in his autobiography, “they opened up the movie and made it appealing to more people.” T2 just about got away with its recourses to humour, but the third Terminator film represents a wholly misguided betrayal of character. With Arnie serving as executive producer and gatekeeper to the icon he helped create, the buck for the demise of the franchise surely stops with him. It certainly starts here. As an action flick, Rise of the Machines is fine – the crane chase demolition derby is terrific – even if all involved have acquitted themselves better elsewhere. As a Terminator sequel, it’s the first stop on the road to ruin. The half-baked mythology-expansion might just be forgivable, but those “talk to the hand” quips make one wonder if mankind is even worth saving. On this evidence, it’s probably best we skip to the apocalypse and let the machines have a go. MT

20. The 6th Day (2000)

The biggest suspension of disbelief required for a certain type of Arnie picture comes with those that ask us to buy him as a regular blue-collar schlub. A sci-fi take on Pet Sematary with Total Recall-aspirations, The 6th Day sees Schwarzenegger as a helicopter pilot caught up in a high-level cloning conspiracy. Roger Spotiswoode directs, which is about all you need to know – it’s almost interesting, almost exciting, and almost makes sense – business as usual for the director of Tomorrow Never Dies. It does, however, contain the most nightmarish creation in the star’s canon – a robotic SimPal doll called Sindy that would have Chucky and Annabelle for breakfast. MT

19. The Expendables 2 (2012)

The novelty of seeing the best and brightest action stars of their generation filling the same frame wore off long before the credits rolled on 2010’s The Expendables. Which makes the staying power of this first sequel all the more remarkable. It’s more of the same, with an impossible body count and zero character development. Only the tongue-in-cheek twist here is that Sly and the gang get to deliver each other’s catchphrases – “Yippee ki-yay,” Arnie sighs after Bruce Willis pauses mid-onslaught to berate him for having been back enough. Cheap fan service, perhaps, but director Simon West makes sure to cram his film with as many blistering action set pieces as Easter Eggs. Everybody wins. AW

18. T2 3D: Battle Across Time (1996)

Counting dollars per second, it’s the most expensive film ever made, coming in at $64m for just 12 minutes of footage. Directed by James Cameron, there are low quality versions of the short on YouTube, but you have to travel to Universal Studios for the full experience. There’s not much to talk about by way of content – Sarah and John Connor take on Cyberdyne again, the Terminator whisks him to the future to destroy a Skynet mainframe protected by a new T1,000,000 model – but the mix of astonishingly vivid 65mm 3D and live action practical effects (and actors) that interact with the action on screen offer more thrills than any of the recent sequels. MT

17. The Streets of San Francisco: Dead Lift (1977)

It may not be one of his comedies, but there’s no funnier entry on the big guy’s CV than his episode of the Streets of San Francisco. Arnie plays an apparently mentally-ill bodybuilder with serious anger management and body-image issues, that lead him to murder when he perceives people to be laughing at him. Following a hilarious opening act that sees him shake a woman to death for not taking his poses seriously – “You’re just like all the rest… I’m not ugly, I’m beautiful! This is what the body’s supposed to look like!” – the episode culminates in an epic breakdown in which he tries to explain the importance of progressive resistance training while smashing up an apartment. A real hoot. MT

16. Raw Deal (1986)

Raw Deal has little right to look as handsome as it does. Unsurprising, given the presence of Alex Thomson, erstwhile Nicolas Roeg, Michael Cimino and David Fincher DoP, on lensing duties and the great Anne Coates in charge of the cut. In many ways it epitomises the peculiarities of many an ’80s (wanna) B-movie, undeservedly elevated through budgetary excess, its charms misremembered by way of VHS-sleeve promise. John Irvin’s direction is wholly to blame for a dead middle hour, sluggish to the point of inertia despite the opening larks. Generic to a fault, but there’s still fun to be had in the Stones-scored duck-shoot, a warm-up to the finale’s meathead-catharsis, even if it fails to eclipse the early domestic lols. As cynical as it is oblivious when it comes to the Terminator-Cruising mash-up of Arnie’s final-act attire, but the film sure is a looker. MT

15. Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Still riding high on the success of Twins, which proved beyond doubt that broad comedy was very much in his wheelhouse, Arnie reunited with director Ivan Reitman for this similarly wholesome kiddie policier. Posing as a teacher as part of an undercover sting operation, he’s initially given the runaround by his class of hyperactive tots, often to hilarious effect. Various memorable comic moments aside, however, there’s a tenderness to the film which stems from Arnie’s genuine affection for the young cast. The same can’t be said for his even more diminutive co-star: in his time as Governor of California, Schwarzenegger upheld a state-wide ban on the ownership of ferrets as pets. AW

14. Last Action Hero (1993)

Arnie’s Purple Rose of Cairo and his most notorious bomb, Last Action Hero was foolhardy enough to open just one week after Jurassic Park in the summer of ’93. And while we’d love to report that is was unfairly maligned back then, well… it’s fine. A mess, undoubtedly, but an interesting one. Director John McTiernan matches scale with flair, but the barely established rules of the film’s multiple worlds barely cohere. Arnie’s kiss-off quips were previously deployed to bring the audience in on the joke, but there’s little sense here of who that audience is; the over-abundance of gags and ideas reeking of direction-by-committee. As the kid complains of the Jack Slater film he’s watching in the opening reel, “The film is out of focus!” Well, quite. MT

13. Junior (1994)

Six years after Twins, Arnie teamed up with Ivan Reitman and Danny DeVito again for yet more high-concept lols. As before, there’s one joke here, but it’s a better one, given there’s more to be mined from the big guy playing pregnant rather than simply tall. Gender politics and talk of Arnie’s “big load” aside, he gives a great central performance here, endearingly battling his own surging hormones. Plenty of shade has been thrown his way over the years when it comes to his acting skills, but Schwarzenegger is a brilliant technical performer, a prerequisite for nailing comedy. He’s funny as hell here, which is more than can be said for Emma Thompson’s relentless mugging. MT

12. The Running Man (1987)

A film that failed to impress critics 30 years ago but which now seems eerily prescient in its depiction of a futuristic police state beset by economic instability and the increasing toxicity of TV culture (Stephen King’s source novel is set in 2025, with screenwriter Steven E de Souza backdating the action to 2017), The Running Man is among the most thematically rich sci-fi offerings in the Arnie canon. It’s also chock-full of first-rate ’80s action and irresistible zingers (“He had to split,” Arnie quips in reference to a recently chainsawed adversaries). But above all it’s the idea of the film that endures. The notion of a powerful few conspiring to keep the general public at arm’s length from reality is a scary one indeed. AW

11. Eraser (1996)

Schwarzenegger’s ability to open a summer tentpole died a swift death with The Last Action Hero – despite one last hurrah with True Lies the following year – from which he never really recovered. The next two decades were filled for the most part with work that was middling at best, largely made up of glorified B-pictures. Not that there’s anything wrong with a B-picture, especially if they’re as much fun as Eraser. Chuck Russell is one of those under-appreciated directors who never got the chance to realise his potential. Responsible for the best of the Elm Street sequels (Dream Warriors) and a terrific 1988 remake of The Blob, Russell wears his genre credentials well. Ditching the family-friendly vibe in a bid to resurrect the Arnie of old, it displays a welcome understanding of the star’s strengths. Winningly overblown, it’s the best kind of ludicrous, earning the price of entry with the skydive and croc fight (“You’re luggage!”) alone. MT

10. The Last Stand (2013)

Schwarzenegger’s post-sabbatical CV is nothing if not a wasteland. With one exception. The English-language debut of Korean genre-maestro, Kim Jee-woon, The Last Stand earns a healthy spot amid the ranks of foreign filmmakers casting their eye on American cultural iconography. Arnie is every bit the American cultural icon, and so of course, is the western. Kim forges a rollicking neo-oater, indebted to the mismatched camaraderie of Howard Hawks. Every character gets a fair ride, ensuring well-cooked stakes en route to a doozy of a climax. Sure, it might be loud and simplistic, but it’s not lacking for moral grounding or an sharp awareness of its star’s strengths. With so much directorial hack-work populating his (late-) filmography, The Last Stand more than earns its place in any discussion of peak-Arnold. MT

9. Pumping Iron (1977)

The Citizen Kane of professional bodybuilding docs, Pumping Iron earned a 28-year-old Schwarzenegger his first real crack at the big time after two Hollywood execs watched an early cut and decided he would be perfect for their next project, Conan the Barbarian. Offering an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the 1975 Mr Olympia and Mr Universe contests, the film culminates in the European Adonis literally out-muscling his rivals – including young pretender and future Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno – on his way to retaining his double crown for a fifth consecutive year. A remarkably candid portrait of a star-in-waiting that lays Arnie bare like nothing before or since. AW

8. True Lies (1994)

Effectively James Cameron’s divorce album, True Lies is a film whose iffy gender politics – Arnie’s terrorist-thwarting double agent Harry Tasker kidnaps, interrogates and then blackmails his own wife (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) into becoming a prostitute – root it firmly in the early ’90s. Much of its domestic comedy-meets-espionage thriller set-up was actually cribbed from the 1991 French farce La Totale!, but Cameron manages to spin something far smarter and slicker from the material. This is a first-rate action flick, one that’s well worth revisiting for the high-octane helicopter stunt work alone. AW

7. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

John Milius’ pulp epic paved the way for the short-lived sword and sorcery revival that occurred in the 1980s, while simultaneously hinting at the rampaging masculinity that would come to dominate American genre cinema throughout the decade. The film opens with a Nietzsche quote and sees Arnie, in his first major headline gig, infamously punch out a camel and bed a shapeshifting sorceress en route to avenging his parents’ death at the hands of James Earl Jones’ mystical snake cult leader. It’s a satisfyingly bonkers, constantly surprising film that fully earns its lofty position on this list just for Conan’s immortal retort to the Mongol General: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” AW

6. Commando (1985)

If Conan the Barbarian introduced Schwarzenegger to the world stage, and The Terminator birthed a cultural icon, it was Commando that consolidated every element of his star power into archetype. In many respects it’s the quintessential Arnie movie – not exactly postmodern, perhaps, but aware enough of the contemporary action landscape to cut loose with tongue lodged firmly in cheek. “Now that is American workmanship,” says a car dealer in the opening seconds. He may be talking about a flash ride, but the line briskly follows a death by hail of bullets, and succinctly sums up the film’s ludicrous post-colonial pneumatics. As glorious, machine-(gun) engineered odes to excess go, Commando takes some beating. MT

5. Stay Hungry (1976)

The first Schwarzenegger picture to make it to the big screen (Hercules in New York was in release limbo for years) affords the not-quite-star a role couched in autobiography. It’s remarkable how relaxed and natural a performer he proves straight out the gate, credit for which must surely be shared with director Bob Rafelson and a cast that includes Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. While the bodybuilding world serves as backdrop, it’s finally a story of transition between cultural traditions – between worlds old and new – as Bridges’ well-to-do layabout drifts back to his hometown. Rafelson reclaims his comedic roots with a deceptively loose touch, casting so wry an eye on the order and discipline of the finale’s Mr Universe competition that it can but explode into the streets. MT

4. Predator (1987)

“If it bleeds, we can kill it.” For all that John McTiernan’s jungle combat classic is packed with explosive edge-of-your-seat moments, it’s the sheer economy of its storytelling that makes it so compelling. With a laser-straight plot, improbably muscular cast and endlessly quotable (if at times a little stilted) dialogue, this is a plain-speaking, quick-shooting romp that’s perfectly paced and masterfully lensed by DoP Donald McAlpine. McTiernan would arguably go one better with Die Hard the following year, but Predator comfortably matches it for rewatch value. There’s plenty to read into the film’s deep fetishisation of a specifically superficial kind of screen masculinity, not to mention American militarism, but it’s probably best to just sit back and drink it in one of the purest action movies ever made. AW

3. T2: Judgment Day (1991)

With its groundbreaking use of computer technology, developed by the FX wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, James Cameron’s sequel to his 1984 hit set a new benchmark for digital effects-driven action cinema that has rarely – if ever – been bettered. Despite having a staggering $100m budget to play with, however, one of the most effective illusions in the film was actually done on the cheap. When Robert Patrick’s T-1000 shows off his liquid metal skills by walking through prison bars, the accompanying sound you hear is actually a can of upturned dog food that cost a mere 75 cents. Simple tricks like this are testament to the endless inventiveness and resourcefulness of Cameron and his team, and a part of what makes T2 so special. For his part, Arnie brings his A-game once again, his distinctive square jaw and steely charisma softened – but not dulled – by the rebooted T-800’s more passive tendencies. The ’90s slang does begin to grate after a while though. AW

2. Total Recall (1990)

While The Last Action Hero was content to beat its audience over the head with laboured skewering of blockbuster culture, a stealth attack on the very same target had gone unnoticed a few summers earlier. Total Recall was a hit, but one largely taken at face value. As socio-cultural satirists go, Paul Verhoeven remains American cinema’s greatest import, and with his second US feature the Dutch maestro turned his eye on the act of moviegoing itself. That the most expensive blockbuster of its day reads as a sly backhand against passive consumption and deferred responsibility might just be his deadliest satirical dirty bomb to date; for what is Rekall Inc but an enhanced proxy for cinema, one made all the more hilarious if we take it that Arnie is effectively brain-fried and comatose from 20 minutes in? The medium’s biggest star gamely undergoes all manner of image-undermining humiliations, but the biggest joke is on us, the viewer – and it’s a doozy. MT

1. The Terminator (1984)

A masterpiece of structural engineering and conceptual simplicity, James Cameron’s sophomore feature takes the Schwarzenegger top-spot. Cameron would go on to forge spectacles of ever-increasing technical complexity, but none would top the lean-as-fuck chase-film dynamic – or the “I travelled across time for you” romance – at the heart of The Terminator. It contains one of the great Arnie performances, unsullied by any need to be liked, by any notion of ‘personality’ more informed by star power than necessity of character. The film’s sequel may be the better action picture, but it’s The Terminator’s present-tense retconning of the future that serves as one of science fiction cinema’s greatest elegies for humankind. MT

What’s your all-time favourite Arnie movie? Let us know @LWLies

Published 15 Nov 2017

Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger James Cameron

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