Famed for his gargantuan muscular frame and his unmistakable Austrian accent, Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most renowned action movie stars in Hollywood. He may be a legend in the bodybuilding world and he may have served as the Governor of California, but when all is said and done, what Arnie will be best remembered for is his rich history of action cinema classics.
As an actor, Schwarzenegger is no Brando, but he is incredibly likable, and it’s this likability that has made him a bankable star with some decent movies (and a couple of great ones) under his weightlifting belt. Here are Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 The Expendables 2 (67%)
While the first Expendables movie took itself a little too seriously and the third one didn’t take itself seriously enough, the second one found the sweet spot. The 2012 sequel had a plot and some vague character development, but it also dedicated plenty of time to winking at the audience and making thinly veiled references to the stars’ careers.
Although Arnold Schwarzenegger only had a cameo appearance in the first movie, he got a larger role in the sequel, playing Barney Ross’ arch-nemesis Trench Mauser. They don’t make old-school actioners like this anymore, so it’s great to see one, even if it isn’t perfect.
9 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (69%)
Unsurprisingly, the first Terminator movie not have any involvement from James Cameron is nowhere near as good as the first two. It’s actually sort of a slap in the face to fans – Sarah Connor is killed off-screen by a terminal illness, John Connor has grown up into a homeless burnout, and the T-800 wears Elton John sunglasses in the standard-template opening bar scene.
The latter is actually the film’s greatest strength, weirdly, because some of the self-parodying elements act as a sly, comedic wink to Terminator fans. Terminator 3 introduced a female Terminator called a Terminatrix. Other than the gender switch, however, there’s little differentiating it from the setup of T2.
8 TIE: True Lies (70%)
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, a secret agent who struggles to keep his work life separate from his home life, in James Cameron’s big-budget comic thriller True Lies, which can be filed under “good, not great.” The main downside of the movie is its insensitive portrayal of characters who aren’t white men.
The wife character is depicted in a sexist way, with her husband stalking and then terrifying her using government equipment, and the Saudi Arabian villains are characterized as one-dimensional stereotypes. Still, it’s a rollicking action comedy, which might not make up for the controversial points, but does mean it’s a watchable movie.
7 TIE: Commando (70%)
When most action movie fans picture a thriller in which an A-list star heads to a foreign country to track down his kidnapped daughter, they think of Liam Neeson in Taken. But Arnold Schwarzenegger made one of these movies back in the ‘80s called Commando.
It’s a fun, pulpy, visceral, action-packed cinematic ride about John Matrix’s quest to find his daughter, who was abducted by an old military buddy. The film has actually been studied in relation to queer theory, taking into account the closeup shots of Arnie’s muscles, his indifference to his female co-star, and lines like, “Put the knife in me, and look me in the eye.”
6 TIE: Conan the Barbarian (70%)
In one of the early major roles that made him a star, Conan the Barbarian stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fierce warrior who sets out to avenge the death of his parents at the hands of a murderous snake cult.
There are some big names under the by-line on the screenplay – Apocalypse Now’s John Milius and Platoon’s Oliver Stone – so there’s an elevated grandiosity and a dark thematic undercurrent in the scenes and the dialogue. The movie was a huge box office success back in 1982, but it was an even bigger success on home media, quadrupling its overall revenue.
5 Stay Hungry (75%)
Not a lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger fans know the movie Stay Hungry, but it was one of his earlier major roles. Despite the fact that he wasn’t yet the A-list star he would go on to become, it’s almost as if the character of Joe Santo – an Austrian bodybuilder – was written specifically for him.
The movie stars Jeff Bridges as a man whose life is turned upside down when he visits a gym and finds himself falling for the receptionist and fascinated by Joe Santo’s lifestyle. Although it wasn’t technically Arnie’s first on-screen performance, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture for it.
4 Predator (81%)
Paving the way for Jason Statham to fight a 75-foot prehistoric shark and Dwayne Johnson to fight a giant, biologically enhanced wolf, Arnold Schwarzenegger took on a bloodthirsty creature from outer space.
Schwarzenegger teamed up with Carl Weathers, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, and a handful of Hollywood’s other bulkiest men for the riveting tale of a military unit that is attacked by an alien deep into the jungle, where no one can hear you scream. Predator also gets bonus points for giving us some of Arnie’s best-known one-liners, like “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” and “Get to the choppa!”
3 Total Recall (82%)
Fans of Black Mirror will appreciate the frightful social science fiction and shocking plot twists of this Philip K. Dick adaptation. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a construction worker in the near future whose friend tells him about a company that implants memories of vacations in your mind for cheaper prices than the vacation itself would cost. When he gets there, he’s told about other simulations, like spy missions.
Halfway through the simulation, he wakes up, ranting and raving about finishing his mission. They knock him out, and he returns home to a wife who tries to kill him. What follows is a twist-filled ride where you never know who to trust, what is real, and why Mars is so important.
2 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (93%)
A prime example of a sequel done right, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is bigger, bolder, deeper, and more action-packed than its predecessor. It might not quite match the original’s cinematic mastery, but with a film of this scope, a pace that is set this perfectly is practically a miracle.
The sequel differs from the original by reprogramming Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a good guy and bringing in a second Terminator – a more advanced one, played by Robert Patrick – to be the bad guy. Every subsequent Terminator sequel has attempted to match the balance of existential musings and cyber-charged thrills of this one and failed miserably.
1 The Terminator (100%)
It’s not often that Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a villain, but The Terminator shows that maybe he should do it more often. James Cameron’s fiercely original screenplay for the film is built on a spectacular premise: in a future where cyborgs have taken over, the cyborgs send one back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, the leader of the Resistance, so John sends back his best guy to protect her from it.
By pitting two humans – one a battle-hardened fish out of water from the distant future and the other an unwitting waitress in the ‘80s – against an emotionless, unstoppable cyborg, two lovable heroes and one unforgettable villain were born.