There has never been an action star like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I think it’s safe to say that there never will be. It’s not just that today’s action stars are scrawny by comparison, but Arnold possessed a unique charisma that is to this day is nearly unmatched. Arnold has starred in in many, many memorable flicks in a variety of genres ranging from science fiction to comedy. Here are the five best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, ranked – as always – in reverse order.
5. Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Barbarian comes in at number five in these rankings. In the beginning of this movie, a young Conan witnesses his mother’s decapitation at the hands of Thulsa Doom. Conan is sold into slavery and, as a result of his having to push a mill for years, becomes enormous. Naturally, Arnold was perfect for the role of Conan. Conan travels the land and eventually finds Thulsa Doom, exacting his revenge in an extremely fitting manner. There’s no machine guns or explosions in Conan – pretty rare for an Arnold movie – but the fighting scenes are awesome nonetheless. Conan the Barbarian spawned a sequel, Conan the Destroyer, but the sequel was a huge letdown as it was missing the violence and intensity of the first.
4. Total Recall
Based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall is an incredible achievement in visual effects and a true science fiction movie. Arnold shines in this heady movie, but fortunately, there’s enough action sequences and one-liners for the “I just want to be entertained” crowd. I remember being stunned – in a good way – when I saw this in the theater. Even my mother loved it. Especially the part with the three-breasted mutant; she had a plastic surgery consult the next afternoon.
3. The Terminator
I know I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but The Terminator is one of the greatest science fiction stories ever told. So why isn’t it number one on this list? Well, there’s more to a great movie than the story, of course. Arnold stars as a terminator, a cyborg sent back in time from the future to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the unborn leader of the human resistance. Michael Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a human sent back in time to protect Sarah from the terminator. Supposedly, OJ Simpson was considered for the role of the terminator, but [insert off-color Norm MacDonald-esque joke here].
I once read that they’re really only about six original stories, and everything else is derivative. The Terminator, for example, can be construed as The Second Coming (with John Connor as the messiah). If you think about it, in an abstract way, Predator is a science fiction version of Beowulf, with Arnold as the lead on a mission to hunt and kill Grendel (the Predator), who has been attacking Heorot (Earth). Even if you don’t buy that, Predator is a pretty nasty flick that features Arnold in his prime and one of the coolest aliens to ever appear on the big screen. Unlike most of Arnold’s other films, his co-stars are gigantic just like him , which makes the fact that the Predator kills them off so easily even more incredible.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The best Schwarzenegger movie is T2. It’s the perfect sequel and superior to its predecessor. What would happen if a woman claimed she was attacked by a robot sent from the future and programmed to destroy her unborn child? She’d be locked up in a mental institute, and that’s exactly where Sarah Connor is at the beginning of T2. John Connor is ten years old, and a newer, more advanced model of terminator has been sent back to destroy him. The wrinkle is that this time, it’s not a human, but a re-programmed terminator that has been sent back for protection. Enter Arnold. T2 has all of the elements that make for a great movie, including revolutionary special effects, and in my opinion is the best movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Honorable Mention: Pumping Iron
It’s impossible to not be impressed watching Pumping Iron. Arnold transcends bodybuilding, and his mental preparation is almost as interesting as the physical.
Just Missed: True Lies, Running Man, Commando
True Lies is an exciting movie sprinkled with some humorous moments, but it lags just a bit at times. The Running Man and Commando simply don’t hold up well over time, particularly the latter. It’s become more of an unintentional comedy than an action movie – especially since the main villain dresses like a buff Freddie Mercury – but it’s still worth watching for the great one-liners. “Please don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired.”