10. The Running Man (1987)
This one is heaps of fun. A film that has been ripped off numerous times since it’s release. There is something so great about 1980’s dystopian future films. The aesthetics are much more appealing. This film is a satire on entertainment, capitalism, socialism and the media. It blends themes of the exploited classes under an ultra-capitalist/fascist regime. A film as smart as this should be a serious film right? Wrong!
This film is incredibly wacky with crazy stupid one-liners. “Here is your Sub-Zero, now, plain zero!”. A dreadful line. It’s unclear what part of this line is the pun. But it made it into the script. Interestingly, this film was actually directed by Starsky himself, Paul Micheal Glaser.
It’s a really fun film. And well loved by Arnie’s fans. With the success of Battle Royal and Hunger Games with the younger generation, it’s a surprise that this film isn’t more known amongst young movie fans. It ticks all the boxes. Wacky violence. Satirical social commentary. Tongue in cheek writing.
This is a must watch for all Arnie lovers. Watching him storm through the rogue’s gallery of this film his so cathartic. There is something so easy to hate about all the villains, and when Arnie’s ultimately kills them, it’s such a joyful moment, where you might be punching the air with enthusiasm. And of course, each kill comes with its own pun. A very, very enjoyable film.
9. Red Heat (1988)
This is one of Arnie’s more underrated movies that hasn’t achieved the status of his other, more well-known features. Arnie and James Belushi team up for a buddy cop movie with some decent laughs and excellent action. It’s a fish out of water story following Arnie’s Russian cop, Ivan Danko, coming to Chicago to bring back an enemy of the state. Belushi’s comic relief bounces off Arnold’s straight performance and has some well-timed humor throughout.
It’s written and directed by Walter Hill, a master of the ‘80’s action flick’. His limited output over the years has produced some fine movies, including The Warriors and 48 Hours. Red Heat is another strong movie from Hill, good enough to stand next to these other classic action movies.
It’s a shame it isn’t as well known. Arnie gets some seriously ‘badass’ moments. There is a scene in a sauna where a burning rock placed in the palm of his hand to intimidate him. Arnie doesn’t even flinch, as he grips it tightly, and uses it to punch the bad guys. They then proceed to punch their way outside into the Russian snow, and finally deals the winning blow after pulling at the bad guy’s beard. That’s just the first action set piece of the movie. There’s more, much more. You must check this film out. A gem of Arnie’s career.
8. True Lies (1994)
This is truly one for the dads. A comedic take on the spy genre, directed by Mr. Blockbuster, James Cameron. This flick was his follow up collaboration with Arnie after Terminator 2. And this time they are bringing the jokes. It’s a good giggle. But it’s certainly a product of its time. It feels very nineties. But that’s not always a bad thing. It’s a film with an awful lot of charm and some excellent little performances from everyone involved.
Arnie is a spy who has hidden it from his family for years. His wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, thinks he’s a bit boring (if only she knew). After she meets a nasty car salesman pretending to be a spy in order to trick her into bed, played beautifully by the late Bill Paxton, Arnie decides to give her a mission to give her some excitement. It goes wrong and they both end up kidnapped by a terrorist that Arnie has been tracking for the majority of the movie. They then have to team up, man and wife, to escape the compound and stop the terrorists.
With plenty of guns and explosions, its a worthwhile watch for any action fan. And Cameron knows how to make enjoyable movies. And he shows his mastery of the medium here. With great peripheral performances from Tom Arnold and Art Malik too, there is always something fun going on. If this one has gotten past you then it’s worth hunting it down and getting it watched.
7. Commando (1985)
Why didn’t this movie get sequels? This movie is 80’s action at its best. Arnie’s, John Matrix, could have easily been spun out into a movie franchise. This flick is pure, masculine fueled Schwarzenegger. This is what makes him so great. Imagine playing Grand Theft Auto with all the cheat codes activated. That’s this movie. For all the carnage he causes, he never seems to get a scratch. He single-handedly takes on a private army in this movie. AN ARMY?! He’s just a guy with a lot of guns strapped to him.
The film starts with Arnie and his daughter, living secluded, in the middle of nowhere, after he has retired from the special forces. He gets approached by his old outfit about members of his old team being killed. He refuses to get involved, he’s more interested in his daughter. But the arrival of the officials gives away Arnie’s position to the guys who’ve been killing his old team. His daughter gets kidnapped and he is left with 12 hours to get her back.
It’s so much fun. He blows EVERYTHING up in this movie. It’s great. It’s essentially a dated Taken, and it’s much better too. Everything about this film screams Schwarzenegger. And for every good action scene, there are great one-liners to accompany them. A very good one to watch for an Arnie movie marathon.
6. Stay Hungry (1976)
A relatively unknown Arnie movie, but its excellent. This was the movie that got him noticed by Hollywood and actually won him the ‘Best Acting Debut’’ award at the 1977 Golden Globes. This isn’t really Arnie’s movie, but he plays a pivotal role and delivers a surprisingly good performance for the time.
The film stars Jeff Bridges as a flash representative trying to buy the gym where Arnie’s, Joe Santo does his training. He starts to fall in love with Sally Field’s character and befriends Santo. He decides to not take control the gym from them. Also featuring a very young Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger) playing Arnie’s grease boy. It’s a very good film and a must watch for bodybuilding enthusiasts.
The finale of the film is centered around the Mr. Universe competition, and Joe Santo wants to win. This is certainly a film that will surprise you. It does enter the realms of madness at one point, where all the bodybuilders chase after Arnie as he rushes through the streets. And yes, they are all wearing nothing but their man-thongs. They then randomly decide to have a pose-off in the street.
This is a seriously uncool scene. Up until this point, this was an intelligent film, but this moment was a little too cheesy. It doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the movie, which has been quite serious and showcasing great performances. But don’t let one single misstep put you off. This is a really good movie. And more people need to see it. It isn’t very well known at all, which is a travesty.
5. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Some would say that this film should be top of the list. At least higher rated than the original film. But as good as this movie is, and as universally loved as it is, it’s just not as good as the final four films on this list. But this was the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a name that everybody knew. And it really is an excellent film.
This is likely the most popular Arnie film with audiences and critics alike, with great action, well-written characters, and cutting-edge special effects. It’s a feast for the eyes throughout. Only some of the more ‘human’ moments from Arnie’s machine lower the film’s quality, but the theatrical cut used just the right amount. But there are some additional moments that can be found on the DVD release.
These aren’t bad scenes. But the film works better on a whole without them. This film is just so culturally iconic. Every scene is memorable or quotable. Truly a masterpiece of the Hollywood Blockbuster. This is likely James Cameron’s best work too. It’s left a permanent mark on the world since it’s release and is a massive cinematic achievement.
4. Total Recall (1990)
Adapted from the Philip K. Dick short story, “We can Remember Your Dreams for you Wholesale”. So it’s already a formula for success. A popular and well-written sci-fi, with Arnie at the helm. And it certainly delivers. This is another film that has a dated depiction of a dystopian future, but it does so with such elegance that it’s difficult to hold it against it.
It’s a good story with a distasteful look at capitalism, examining class division and consumerism, by using oxygen as a purchasable commodity for the poorest of Mars’ occupants. The lack of oxygen is causing the humans on Mars to mutate and become physically infected by the shortcomings of futurist capitalism. It’s very clever. And ends on an ambiguous notion as to what has just happened. And the action!
Arnie brings his “A” game for this movie. This film relies on the spectacle of the action. And Arnie does what he does best throughout. What’s nice about this film is that the role didn’t require an actor of Arnie’s stature. It was a role that didn’t rely on muscles and brawn. A brave career choice for Schwarzenegger. And the visual effects are excellent. There are some great puppetry and animatronic visuals that look great for the time.
Sharon Stone plays a very capable, “Future Femme Fatale” role. It would have been nice for her role to be larger. And for those Breaking Bad fans out there, a young Dean Norris makes an appearance before his roles in the popular TV show and Starship Troopers. There is plenty to love in this movie. One of the best sci-fi action movies ever made. A must watch.
3. The Terminator (1984)
The film that made the name “Schwarzenegger” synonymous with action movie posters in the eighties. This was one of the first times the antagonist of a movie was the central selling point. Arnie was initially up for the role of the male lead, Kyle Reece, but Cameron saw him as the perfect man for the machine. The first choice for the role of the Terminator was OJ Simpson apparently. He’d certainly make a convincing killer.
There are a lot of directions that were considered for this movie, but what was eventually committed to film, could be considered the most unique horror film of all time. It’s not scary to today’s standards, but should it have been made today with the same script/tone/dramatic beats/shots but with improved effects, it would make a seriously terrifying movie.
Cameron’s movie experience before this flick was in the horror genre, his first film is the sequel to the original Piranha horror movie. It’s almost a shame that the tone of the franchise shifted towards a family-friendly tone. It doomed the future of the movies. The original has no confusion about the tone it wants to achieve. Cameron has lit the film with minimal lighting and chose to keep the corners of all the shots in shadow. The suspense in the famous police station shootout is thick. Every beat has a dread of impending peril.
This film is masterful. The best in the franchise by far. It’s unique and is an early example of female leads in strong roles. Sarah Connor is a pretty average young woman living day to day. As the plot progresses she becomes ready for anything, outwitting the killing machine in the final confrontation. There is real growth in her character, rather than just being a vessel to progress the plot.
Linda Hamilton has really crafted a character here. And to see her again in Terminator 2 and how far she has progressed since we last saw her, makes her one of the best female characters in cinema for the past 30 years. It is an essential watch for movie fans and fans of Arnie. It’s an amazing movie.
2. Predator (1987)
An instant classic. Every moment is either a fantastic bit of action, well written and amusing dialogue, great visual effects or iconic creature designs. This film is the epitome of a perfectly balanced film. Most people discuss Jaws and Hitchcock when talking about the use of suspense in cinema. Predator is masterful at toying with the viewer, an incredible example of a modern suspense film.
The vast majority of the film is large men looking at trees. Its the tension building while they watch for the creature that keeps you hooked from start to finish. There is even an action set piece where they just fire at trees. It’s heavily reliant on suspenseful filmmaking and storytelling. And it does so with such finesse. It could also be heralded as the greatest sci-fi or eco-horror of all time.
The film is sprinkled with beautifully charming dialogue. If not for this, the new installment in the franchise might have had a very different tone. It’s unfortunate that they haven’t been able to make a satisfying sequel. It really deserves one. It would be nice if a sequel would revert back to a similar structure of the original movie, and rely on suspense and a sharp script, rather than special effects, explosions, and jokes.
The sequels aren’t terrible movies, they just don’t live up to the excellent standard set by the first in the franchise. It’s an incredible movie and deserves the number 2 spot on this list.
1. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
This isn’t just the best Arnie film, but one of the best films of the last 40 years. Sure, it’s in the eye of the beholder, but there are plenty of reasons why this film should be considered a modern masterpiece. Written and directed by the late John Milius, who is an underappreciated genius. He is an amazing director. One could site the sequence of Conan growing into a man as one of the best ‘passages of time’ in any movie. He has a real eye for film, and Conan is Milius at his best. His use of dialogue is sublime. There is always something poetic about his characters. He is known for his excellent dialogue.
The famous monologue in Jaws was something he threw together in an evening as a favor to Spielberg. Each line in the movie is quotable and have become iconic Arnie moments. Schwarzenegger is perfect in the role of Conan too. He plausibly carries the weight of the character on his shoulders and seeing him exact his revenge is incredibly pleasing to watch.
This might be his greatest ever performance, and it is because he was in the capable hands of an amazing director. In the extended cut, there are a couple of cringe-worthy scenes that they were right to remove for the theatrical version, but they were still very well writen and directed.
This film really is a testament to the brilliance of Milius. Most of the cast weren’t actors, but rather sports personalities. Arnie was known for bodybuilding, Sandahl Bergman was a dancer, and Gerry Lopez was a surfer. None of these leading cast members were tested actors, but Mulius tailored the dialogue for his actors, so they could provide an appropriate delivery.
That’s not to say this film lacks true acting talent. There is a stellar performance from James Earl Jones as the antagonist, Thulsa Doom. This role showcases just how good he is and he delivers the performance of his career. Thulsa Doom is just as empowered and intimidating as his Darth Vader, maybe more. It also features great performances from character actors, Mako and Max Von Sydow.
There is nothing disappointing about this film. The climax drags a little long, but it feels right for Conan to take a moment to bask in the completion of his revenge. As said before, Milius had planned to make a trilogy of movies about Conan. It is a shame we never got to see his complete vision.
It could have been a franchise to rival Star Wars. It’s almost a perfect movie. There is nothing to dislike about it. It’s a great adventure and made beautifully. The best of Schartzenegger.