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The 10 Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies... Because We Love Him

Updated on May 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Arnie!

Today's unlucky kids may know the "Austrian Oak" only as Governor of the great state of California. On this day, Arnold Schwarzenegger's 63rd birthday, we pity those children as we look back on the film career of the one-time bodybuilder turned politician. What follows is my own personal list of favorite Arnie flicks, complete with my thoughts and opinions on each.

So stick around, let off some steam and get ready for a surprise (or two). It's Ahnuld's birthday and we're celebrating, whether you like it or not.

#10 - Kindergarten Cop (1990)

"Shut Up!!!!!!!!"
"Shut Up!!!!!!!!"

Synopsis: Schwarzenegger's second (intentional) comedy, Kindergarten Cop lets Arnold flex his funny muscles while on the trail of some guy who looks like John Stamos, circa 1988. Actually, it's Cullen Crisp (played to villainous perfection by Richard Tyson), a ruthless murderer who will stop at nothing to be reunited with his son. Due to odd circumstances (and an untimely case of food poisoning suffered by his partner), John Kimball (Schwarzenegger) goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to find Crisp's son before his evil daddy does.  As you might have already suspected, people die and general hilarity ensues.

Why It's Awesome: Cheesy, schmaltzy and way too over-the-top (even for 1990), Kindergarten Cop still manages to tickle the funny bones while Arnie goes about breaking them. This is a fun, surprisingly violent flick that, despite its several shortcomings, excites as much as it tugs at the heartstrings.

Best Line: "It's not a tumor! It's not a tumor at all!"

#9 - Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Synopsis: Orphaned by an evil cult leader (the incomparable James Earl Jones), the titular barbarian, Conan (Arnie, of course), vows revenge on those who killed his parents, sent him into slavery and just plain pissed him off.

Why It's Awesome: Arnold's first major starring role doesn't exactly let him show off his acting chops, but great thespian skills aren't necessary for decapitatin' some folks that needs some decapitatin'. The dated special effects and over-acting dull the barbarian's blades a bit, but the burly swordplay and amazing soundtrack slice those minor qualms to bloody little ribbons. On a side note, I plan on using Riders of Doom in place of Here Comes the Bride at my future wedding. Her parents will be thrilled.

Best Line: "You killed my mother, you killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father's sword! Aaaaargh!"

#8 - Commando (1985)

Synopsis: Retired army colonel John Matrix (Arnie) has given up the war games and turned his attention to raising his young daughter (Alyssa Milano) in peace. Matrix's serene life is shattered when his old friend, Major General Kirby, shows up to inform John that his former unit members are systematically being assassinated by an unknown group, and Matrix may be next. It doesn't take long for the bad guys to show up at Arnie's house, blow the place to pieces, and kidnap his daughter, Jenny.

Matrix is left with two goals: rescue Jenny (with the assistance of a justifiably terrified young flight attendant) and kick some major ass. Somewhere, somehow, someone is gonna pay!

Why It's Awesome: Commando may be the worst movie ever made. The acting is awful, the script is the stuff of film school drop-outs, the special effects and stunts are rather unimpressive, and there are several blatant production errors (look for the wire holding Sully up as Arnie threatens to throw him in the ravine).

Incredibly, Commando winds up being much more than the sum of its parts, due mostly to the gusto of the performers involved. It looks as though everyone related to the production knew they were dropping a cinematic turd bomb, decided they didn't care in the least and went all-out anyway, giving action movie fans what is likely the quintessential one-man-army-revenge-mission flick of not only the '80s, but all-time.

Plus, it has Bennett (Vernon Wells), a leather-clad psycho in a faux chain-mail vest, who looks like Freddie Mercury after several years of BALCO visits. There aren't enough human words to properly express how much I miss the '80s.

Best Line(s): "Sully, remember when I said I would kill you last? I lied."

                       "Let off some steam, Bennett."

                       "Don't disturb my friend. He's dead tired."

#7 - Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Synopsis: After twice failing to off the future resistance leader, John Connor (Nick Stahl), Skynet sends a third Terminator back in time, this one with a mission to kill Connor's one-day lieutenants in the war against the machines. As in T2, humans from the future send a T-800 (a visibly aged Arnie), back to our present to protect the would-be saviors of the human race. Can the outdated Terminator prevent the likely-unstoppable Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken in a Hilary Clinton pantsuit) from completing her mission before the first bombs of Judgment Day start dropping?

Why It's Awesome: Correctly derided as inferior to the two films that begat it, T3 is still a fun ride and it's worlds better than Terminator: Salvation, Michael Ironside or no. There are many plotholes and the timeline is a little screwed up if you've been following the earlier films, but the action is first-rate, with excellent special effects and great pacing. It's also laugh-out-loud funny at times and is decidedly more kid-friendly than the earlier entries in the series (though it's still rated R). Just try to ignore the story gaffes (and the 85 lbs. of anti-aging pancake makeup on Arnie's face) and you'll have a great time.

Best Line: "Talk to the hand."

#6 - True Lies (1994)

Synopsis: Mild-mannered computer salesman Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) has a secret: he's actually a top government spy for The Omega Sector, the United States' "last line of defense" against domestic terrorism. His nebbish wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), of course, hasn't the slightest clue her loving husband spends his days foiling terrorist plots instead of peddling PCs. Predictably, Harry's real career comes crashing into his ordinary life, leading to adventure, intrigue and more Tom Arnold than anyone has a right to.

Why It's Awesome: The third collaboration between sci-fi/action aficionado James Cameron and our Arnie is a thrill-a-minute masterpiece. There are just as many fall-down funny one-liners as there are dead terrorists by the end, and the action rarely lets up. The movie takes an odd detour halfway through when Harry thinks Helen is cheating on him (leading to a couple outstanding scenes with the totally underrated Bill Paxton), but it never completely loses its direction and remains exciting and gut-bustingly hilarious throughout. Though terrorism is no longer the joking matter it was in 1994, True Lies is still Schwarzenegger's smartest and funniest film and it's well worth watching, over and over again.

Best Line: (In response to Helen Tasker asking Harry "Have you ever killed anyone?") "Yes, but they were all bad."

#5 - The Running Man (1987)

Would you believe this was loosely based on a Richard Bachman (Stephen King) novel?
Would you believe this was loosely based on a Richard Bachman (Stephen King) novel?

Synopsis: In the year 2019 (remember: that was a long way off in 1987), wrongly-convicted murderer Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) becomes an unwilling contestant on The Running Man, the most popular game show in the country, hosted by none other than Richard Dawson.

But this is no Family Feud . On the contrary, The Running Man is pretty much a death sentence for anyone unfortunate enough to "come on down" to this dystopian future show's set. Audience members choose from a variety of trained killers (called "stalkers") to mercilessly hunt down and slaughter the contestants. There are no survivors and certainly no "lovely parting gifts."

Why It's Awesome: As if having Richard Dawson play an evil game show host wasn't sweet enough, this flick positively piles on the awesome with great fights, very cool characters, ample humor and a heaping helping of '80s cheese. It all comes together to make a great popcorn movie that's gruesome good fun for everyone. Look for bit parts featuring Jim Brown, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Professor Toru Tanaka, too.

Best Line: "Here is your Sub-Zero! Now a plain zero!"


#4 - Predator (1987)

Synopsis: The same year Guns 'n Roses belted out Welcome to the Jungle, Arnie (as Dutch Schultz) found out those lush greens are infinitely more dangerous than the asphalt version Axl Rose screamed about. One by one, Dutch's men are being hunted down and eliminated by something not of this world: a dreadlock-sporting alien who kills folks for, uh, sport. It's up to Dutch to find the tools to combat the unearthly menace and survive its Most Dangerous Game.

Why It's Awesome: Man, 1987 was an amazing year to be an Arnie fan. We were treated later in the year to The Running Man, but the summer sizzled with Schwarzenegger's Predator. Highly regarded amongst sci-fi fan boys and action movie buffs alike, this one deserves all that praise. It's thrilling from start to grisly finish, perfectly paced and loaded with some of Arnold's best one-liners this side of Commando.

The special effects were outstanding for the time, creating an evil creature unlike anything yet seen on the silver screen. The ensemble performances are also very good, and the film boasts more manly machismo than a Rambo marathon. Pity the poor Predator franchise. This one was so good, it was only downhill from here.

Best Line(s): "Get to the chopper!!!!"

                       "Stick Around."

"I ain't got time to bleed." (Jesse Ventura actually says this one, but it was just too awesome to leave out.)

#3 - The Terminator (1984)

Synopsis: The movie that made him a star and a household name casts Arnie as the title's cyborg stalker on a mission to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of Earth's future resistance leader, before humankind's last hope is even conceived. How's that for evil? Sensing something like this could happen, the John Connor of 2029 sends his friend and fellow freedom fighter, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), back in time to 1984 to try to prevent his pre-natal erasure. Don't think about it too much. You'll just get a headache.

Why It's Awesome: This sci-fi masterstroke from famed director James Cameron does everything right the first time, setting the stage for one of the most successful film franchises of all-time, and sending a grim message about the effects of technology on mankind in the process. Schwarzenegger is superb as the character that defined his acting career, and through only a few lines, conveys all the necessary menace the machine should muster.

It's haunting, legitimately frightening and an all-around sublime piece of filmmaking. That said, the special effects, though groundbreaking at the time, are somewhat laughable today, so make sure you suspend disbelief just a little before you pop this one in your DVD player again.

Best Line: "I'll be back." Did you really think it could be something else?


#2 - Total Recall (1990)

Synopsis: Douglass Quaid (Schwarzenegger), a lowly construction worker, has been having vivid nightmares about Mars. Trouble is, he's never been to the red planet. All the same, Quaid can't shake the feeling that there's more to his mundane life than meets than eye, so he takes a fateful trip to Rekall Inc., hoping to alleviate the bad dreams with "memory implants" that will seem as real as any actual recollection. As expected, stuff goes majorly wrong and Doug finds out his entire life is a sham. Arnie's character is soon elbow-deep in espionage that stretches from Earth to Mars and just about everywhere in-between.

Why It's Awesome: If the screwy Terminator plot didn't scramble your brains enough, Total Recall (based on the classic Philip K. Dick novel We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) will serve your gray matter sunny-side up and burnt to a crisp. It's hard to tell what's actually happening to the characters and what's only a dream, and director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop ) was wise to leave his movie ambiguous, especially the head-scratching ending.

The villains are outstanding, specifically Ronny Cox (also of Robocop) as Kohagan and Michael Ironside (best known nowadays as the voice of Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell series of videogames) as Richter. Sharon Stone plays Arnie's fake wife and has fun with her small, but important role as the primary villainess, too. Total Recall is fun, funny, exciting, and excessively gory to a bloody fault. It's a prime example of Schwarzenegger in his prime and it's not to be missed.

Best Line(s): "See you at the party, Richter!"

                        "Consider that a divorce."

#1 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Synopsis: After being frustrated in its attempt to kill John Connor's mother (Linda Hamilton) in the first film, Skynet sends back the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a relentless liquid metal Terminator, to finish the job a decade later. Its mission: kill Connor (Edward Furlong) and prevent humanity from winning the future war against the machines. Once again, the human resistance sends back protection, this time in the form of a T-800, the same type of Terminator sent to eliminate Sarah in the first movie. Oh, the irony!

Why It's Awesome: Few film sequels are as good as their predecessors. Even fewer actually manage to surpass them, but T2 does just that... and a whole lot more. This brilliant action masterpiece perfectly captures the essence of all things Arnie, sending audiences on a wild ride they'll never forget. Terminator 2, after almost two decades, still oozes "cool" and thrills every bit as much as it did upon release. It was one of the first movies to utilize CGI extensively and it does so to amazing effect. The T-1000 is still a very impressive visual creation, even when set against today's multi-million dollar films. You know, all those flicks that seem to rely a little too much on computerized effects.

And that's a good deal of what makes this movie so special: it had unprecedented visual effects, but never used them as a crutch. The strength of a movie is its script and characters and James Cameron's magnum opus (in my opinion) has both in spades. Schwarzenegger is, of course, awesome as the cyborg protector. He makes the role his own and proves why an Ahnuld-less Terminator flick will never be quite the same. Here's hoping he'll "be back" in a starring role at your local cinema again some day.

Best Line: "Hasta la vista, baby"

Posted July 30, 2010

This very same poster hangs on my bedroom wall right now. Yeah, ladies. I'm still single.
This very same poster hangs on my bedroom wall right now. Yeah, ladies. I'm still single.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Running man, are you serious, worst movie Arnie ever did!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great article, but how can you leave off Last Action Hero. Totally underrated from a one liner point of view. It gave us gems like "iced that guy, to cone a phrase", "gotta catch the red eye", and the priceless "to be, or not to be? Not to be". Was it just me or did anyone else really want to see that Hamlet movie.

    • brentbrown98 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Indiana, United States, Earth

      Thank you very much for the comment, sir. Truer words may never have been spoken. :)

    • A.Villarasa profile image

      Alexander A. Villarasa 

      8 years ago from Palm Springs

      Love your review. However one may think of Arnold( inconsequential actor, disappointing politician) he never fails to entertain.


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