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The 11 best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, ranked

From The Terminator to Total Recall, these are the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from his long career

Scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Photo 12/Alamy

Action hero, bodybuilder, businessman, and governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger is a true testament to the American dream. Born in Austria in 1947, he was driven at a young age by his harsh upbringing and societal pressure to conform. His father, a cold and rigid policeman, expected him to follow in his footsteps and join the force, but Arnold vowed to never let anybody tell him who to be.

Starting at the very young age of 15, Schwarzenegger began his physical and psychological training, which would eventually turn him into a weightlifting and bodybuilding master. With his first Mr. Universe title in 1967 at the age of 20, he began to taste stardom and proceeded to win the next four years in a row. Many people know him for his physical and psychological feats, but everyone else knows him for his career in front of the camera starring in some of the best action movies ever made.

If you’re just dipping your toe into Arnie’s career, these are the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to start with.

11. Last Action Hero (1993)

11. Last Action Hero
44 %
pg-13 130m
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Action, Comedy, Family
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, Bridgette Wilson
Directed by John McTiernan
Full of self-aware jokes, Last Action Hero is one of those movies seemingly written for Arnold specifically. When a cinephilic, daydreaming teenager goes to his favorite theater to see the latest Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger) film release ahead of schedule, he is given a very special ticket that magically sends him into the movie universe. With ridiculously over-the-top action sequences and classic bad-guy character tropes, this movie isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s sure to give you a good laugh. Cameos are another highlight of this flick, some subtle and some over the top, like Slater pointing to a cardboard cutout of Stallone as The Terminator and saying, “That’s his best role.”

10. Kindergarten Cop (1990)

10. Kindergarten Cop
61 %
pg-13 111m
Genre Comedy
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed
Directed by Ivan Reitman
In one of his more light-hearted movies, Schwarzenegger plays an undercover cop who is trying to protect a mother and her son from a killer. In the process, he encounters his greatest challenge yet: (You guessed it) teaching kindergarten. Don’t worry, it’s still the same Arnold we know and love, but this time it’s not solely built on quick quips and rocket launchers. Fun and a bit charming, Kindergarten Cop is great for a night in with your family, a bag of popcorn, and maybe a cocktail.

9. Commando (1985)

9. Commando
51 %
r 90m
Genre Action, Adventure, Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Classic and quotable one-liners, flailing stunt dummies, and some sincerely kickass action sequences are just a few reasons to enjoy this early Schwarzenegger banger. When the retired Special Forces Colonel John Matrix has his daughter (Alyssa Milano) stolen from him, he has 11 hours to single-handedly take down his former squadmates and all the goons they have placed in his way. Got nothing to do on a Tuesday night? Turn this flick on to see Arnold lift a phone booth over his head and swing through the mall like Tarzan while fighting security guards.

8. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

8. Conan the Barbarian
43 %
r 129m
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow
Directed by John Milius
An epic tale of fierce beasts, damsels in distress, and brawn, Conan the Barbarian is a great way to regain any testosterone you may have burned off during your day of work. When a warlord and sorcerer’s army kills his parents and enslaves him, Conan must rise up and spend his life preparing for revenge. In Arnold’s breakout role, he thrills audiences with his rippling physique and kickass fight scenes. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of dismemberment here as well.

7. The Running Man (1987)

7. The Running Man
Genre Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Set in the terrifying year 2019, The Running Man is a sharp satire that follows Arnold’s character, a man betrayed by his government who is forced to compete in a game show for his own survival. Like The Hunger Games before The Hunger GamesThe Running Man has some smart things to say about humanity’s obsession with televised violence, even if the direction is at times uninspired. Still, this is part of Arnie’s late ’80s run of interesting science fiction projects, and it was even more proof that he worked as a genuine leading man.
The Running Man - Official® Trailer [HD]

6. Twins (1988)

6. Twins
53 %
pg 107m
Genre Comedy
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston
Directed by Ivan Reitman
In a totally new playing field, Arnold takes on the comedy genre with an unlikely partner in crime: Danny DeVito. When a group of scientists gets together to make the most physically, mentally, and emotionally perfect human being, they create Julius, but they didn’t expect another child (DeVito) to come along as well. Separated at birth, Julius goes out into the real world for the first time to find his long-lost twin brother, but he really isn’t what he expected. Arnold surprised audiences when he came on the comedy screen, showing more promise than expected and further broadening his overall appeal.

5. True Lies (1994)

5. True Lies
63 %
r 141m
Genre Action, Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold
Directed by James Cameron
In one of his later James Cameron films, Schwarzenegger takes to the screen in the most successful action-romance film of his career. When a secret agent starts to suspect that his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) is having an affair, he decides to use his training (and government equipment), to track down the scumbag ruining his family life while also preventing the plot of a terrorist organization. With plenty of entertaining action, this movie hits all the sweet spots, but Curtis really helps to tie this film together thanks to a comedic performance that hits all the right notes. If all of this doesn’t convince you, then watch it for the awesome appearance by Bill Paxton as a sleazy car salesman who is in over his head.

4. Total Recall (1990)

4. Total Recall
57 %
r 113m
Genre Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Fun, amusing, and strange all at once, Total Recall is another popular sci-fi movie on his list of more memorable features. When a construction worker (Schwarzenegger) in the future wants to experience something more, he seeks out a place called Rekall that implants fake memories into people’s minds. Our protagonist chooses to use it to simulate a trip to Mars, a vacation destination of the future, but they accidentally strip away his memories, revealing that his whole life has been a lie and that somebody wants him dead.

3. Predator (1987)

3. Predator
47 %
r 107m
Genre Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo
Directed by John McTiernan
One of the more interesting concepts Arnold got to star in, Predator is a sci-fi thriller set deep in a Central American jungle. When a squad of hardened commandos is finishing up a mission, they notice something isn’t right: It was too easy. After finding scattered remains of enemies and watching their squad slowly dwindle, they realize that they are being hunted by an external foe. Full of action, suspense, and intensity, this film is on top sci-fi movie lists all around the internet and still holds up decades later, whether you watch it as a satire or a straightforward action movie.

2. The Terminator (1984)

2. The Terminator
84 %
r 108m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Directed by James Cameron
In one of his most important early roles, Arnold plays a cold, calculated killing machine bent on destroying all humans. Sent back to 1984 from 2029, a human soldier (Michael Biehn) attempts to protect a young woman who is going to give birth to the key to human salvation, but a near-invincible cyborg is sent back simultaneously to cease the bloodline at any cost. Chillingly emotionless and terrifyingly ruthless, Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg portrayal is absolutely unforgettable. Just two years after his debut Conan the Barbarian, Arnold still boasts his superior physique as the murderous machine, showing that he never quits and will stand up to any challenge laid before him.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
75 %
r 137m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Directed by James Cameron
If the first Terminator cemented Arnold as a potentially great stoic action villain, Terminator 2: Judgement Day definitively proved that he could be the emotional center of a movie as well. This time, his T-800 is a force for good, and he strikes up a genuinely sweet relationship with a young John Connor who he has traveled back in time to save. T2 is great for reasons that have nothing to do with Arnold, but it was also definitive proof that James Cameron knows exactly how to use him.

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Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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