Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 10 Most Badass Characters, Ranked

Arnold Schwarzenegger Commando rocket launcher

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Universe winner Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, both literally and figuratively. While he may not be a Brando or a Pacino, he certainly had the showmanship and charisma to carry his roles. Of course, being a bodybuilding god and symbol of masculinity back then, he mostly starred in explosive action movies.

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His roles in the genre depict the quintessential cinema macho man. Several decades down the line, they've become some of the most relevant and timeless memes ever. Here are the 10 most iconic "Ahnold" film characters to remind you what is best in life.


Arnold has been way past his prime for decades now, but he still has it (sort of). One of his later films was The Last Stand, where he gets to play a grumpy grandpa border town sheriff named Ray Owens. It has been a while since Arnie played lead action hero roles, and he has fully embraced his twilight years here.

The film's villains? Some Latino drug lords who got hold of a car so fast it makes helicopters obsolete. Apparently, the FBI and SWAT teams are not as competent (again) as an old Sheriff and his rag-tag border town blockade. Arnie may be getting old, but his character here proves that he can still take some baddies to the grave with him.


Escape Plan is not exactly Schwarzenegger's film-- it's Sylvester Stallone's. Regardless, both Arnie and Sly dominated the action movie scene with their sweaty 'roided out protagonists back in the 1980s and 1990s. Escape Plan is Stallone's love letter to fans (along with The Expendables) and he stars alongside Arnold here. Both men play ageing convicts.

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Arnold has this penchant for stealing scenes in films despite not being a lead character. That what he does in Escape Plan, as the two action heroes' characters  stage an impossible prison break. The film is worth a watch if you ever want to hear Arnold yell expletives in German-- sorry, Deutsch.


Arnold actually did action hero spoofs even before they were cool. The Last Action Hero, while quite a messy film, is Arnold being his usual self in the goofiest way possible. It combines a kid's hero fantasy and adult action, but puts Schwarzenegger in a more comedic spotlight.

It's full of Hollywood puns, homages, and of course, Arnie's one-liners, seemingly as a nod back to his action hero predecessors back in the 1980s. It's a film you will want to watch if you want to experience Arnold at his action prime without watching all his previous action movies. If you can withstand the camp, then why not?


Before The Hunger Games was even a thing, Arnold's character Ben Richards (The Running Man) had already fought for survival and entertainment at the same time. The film features Richards as a falsely accused prisoner who must earn his freedom in a deathmatch that gets aired live on television.

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The Running Man is more than just your typical action film with recycled fight scenes. It's also a statement of people's love of reality television, regardless of how violent or senseless it can get. It somehow ties up that theme quite poorly, but hey, it's Arnold in a survival reality show, what else do you need?


Arnold's film characters are at their best when being chased through a hostile environment. For this very reason, Total Recall is one of Arnold's most memorable film roles. After all, it's not often that Arnold's characters question their sanity or the reality of what they're doing.

As Douglas Quaid, Arnold in Total Recall had to be smart to survive and oppose overwhelming odds. While it's something he's used to in the past roles, he's a lot more clever here and is not your typical action hero. He doesn't even know what's real until halfway through the film.


Harry Tasker marks the first time Arnold became a U.S. government secret agent, and how'd he fare? Let's just say he doesn't need an invitation to be awesome. Apart from waging a not-so-secret war against enemies on American soil, Harry is also fighting his own war with his wife, who is clueless about his secret agent career.

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It's basically a family-oriented Mission Impossible, with more common issues like marriage problems on top of national security. True Lies is the American Dream-- saving your country and your family at the same time, with the help of clever or campy one-liners and the most conspicuous secret agent ever.


Commando simply had to happen for Arnold. After all, he's already got two of the biggest guns known to mankind whenever he flexes-- it should be easy for him. For his character in the film, John Matrix, it may not be that simple; it's a revenge story involving a retired U.S. Army commando and his daughter. A cookie-cutter villainous organization kidnaps his daughter in order to force John to work for them, so he does.

They forgot one thing, though: you don't mess with an Arnold character's child. So, somehow, through endless one-liners and muscles that are immune to bullets, John manages to turn the tables on his daughter's kidnappers. Let's not discount some of the weapons he used: enough boom boom and firepower to make your chest hair double in thickness... regardless of your gender.


A slave who became a conqueror is bound to be an interesting story by any standard. Make that slave Arnold and you have yourself the most powerful Conan the Barbarian ever. While Jason Momoa did a commendable job succeeding Arnold as Conan, he still pales in comparison to the physique and stature Arnie lent to the character.

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Even off-screen, Arnold was just too badass: the film-makers actually failed to find him a stunt double because he was too muscular. Hence, Arnold had to do his own stunts. Still, that didn't prevent him from crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him, and hearing the lamentations of their women.


Predator is one of the few classic horror/action films that can never be duplicated or imitated successfully. Underneath the simple plot, overt machismo, and explosions on steroids is a thoughtful commentary on the Vietnam War and destructive masculinity. Of course, Arnold is the show-stealer, and is only rivaled in presence by an even bigger muscle, which is the Predator.

What makes Arnold work as a more human character here is his vulnerability. His macho man caricature was shattered by the Predator. Rarely is there an on-screen entity which is stronger, smarter, and deadlier than he is in his films-- but hey, if it bleeds, he can kill it.


In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold was at his very best. Though he played an emotionless death-bot reprogrammed for protection, he was able to become somewhat of a father figure to poor John Connor.

Such an interaction hit most of us right in the feels, especially young boys who grew up mostly alone. In the film, Arnold's T-800 was a mere robot sent from the future to be a bodyguard. For many, however, T-800 is the hero they never had in life, one that could even be taught to say "Hasta la vista, baby."

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