Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Best Movies Ranked

If one man could represent action movies, then it would be a man whose last name became synonymous with the genre. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Arnold Schwarzenegger exploded on to the big screen with his unique style of action. His movies have shaped pop culture, as well as the careers of modern action stars like Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. His one-liners have become iconic, matched only by his fights against unstoppable aliens and robot killing machines (whilst being pretty unstoppable himself). He was also the greatest bodybuilder of all time, and won the title of Mr. Olympia seven times, resulting in a screen presence that few actors have ever matched. Schwarzenegger has returned to the action genre where he first made a name for himself with the new hit Netflix series, Fubar. In it, he plays a CIA operative who’s close to retirement, when he discovers that his daughter also works for the CIA. The two embark on a dysfunctional mission that results in plenty of hijinx, action and laughs.

He is, without a doubt, the true last action hero. You name it (and if it bleeds), he’s killed it. Here are his top 12 action movies ranked.


Schwarzenegger teamed up with fellow action icon Sylvester Stallone for The Expendables, The Expendables 2, and The Expendables 3. He won’t be returning for the fourth installment of the franchise, but Schwarzenegger certainly made his mark as Trench, an enemy turned ally to Stallone’s Barney Ross. The Expendables told the story of a CIA operative (Stallone) who hires a team of mercenaries (fellow action heroes) to track down a dictator and renegade CIA agent. Lots of action and humor ensues, igniting the franchise that saw most of the main stars return for subsequent installments.

The series is considered what one might call mindless entertainment, meaning you tune in for the action, not the plot. And you get plenty of it from Schwarzenegger, Stallone and the rest of the team. It’s definitely not an Oscar caliber film, but that’s not what you expect from something like The Expendables, is it?


The first in our list sees Schwarzenegger playing Conan, a sword-wielding barbarian who has been tasked to escort a princess on her quest to seek a magical jewel. The crystal will help locate a horn that has the power to awaken the God of Dreams, but unbeknownst to Conan, the princess has to be sacrificed in the process, and to top things off, the God of Dreams isn’t going to create a utopia for anyone.

Conan the Destroyer is Schwarzenegger’s second outing as Conan, a sword and sorcery adventure with comedic undertones. Fight scenes may, at times, look choreographed, but there is enough action involving wizards, barbarians and monsters to help overlook the clumsiness, and supporting actress Grace Jones adds an untapped amount of wild and feral energy to her role as Zula, a staff-wielding fighter.


Last Action Hero is a satirical, action comedy that parodies other action movies, most notably those of Schwarzenegger himself. The story follows a boy named Danny (Austin O’Brien) who is transported into the movie world of his favorite character, Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). Slater’s archnemesis escapes into Danny’s real world, and Danny along with Slater follow him. In the real world, the bad guys have a chance to win, so it’s up to Danny and Slater to stop him.

An original concept that revolves around Schwarzenegger’s own success, it’s fun, silly, action-packed, and Schwarzenegger bravely pokes fun out of his own one-liners and relentless style of violence. This movie may not be for die-hard, action enthusiasts, but action comedy is also something Schwarzenegger does well. Cheesy, cameo-laden (look out for the T-1000) it’s a true Arnie fan’s dream.


The final comedy action movie to feature on our list, True Lies, written and directed by James Cameron, sees U.S. agent Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger), battling the bad guys whilst pretending (to his wife) to be a computer salesman. Upon learning that his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become bored and desperately needs adventure, Harry secretly enlists her for a mock-spy mission. Things become real when Harry and Helen are both abducted by terrorists and the truth, along with the threat of a nuclear explosion, is finally revealed.

A more grown-up comedy that has stylized moments of humor instead of just playing for laughs. Curtis plays ditsy and awkward as a perfect parallel to Schwarzenegger’s cool, confident hero. When the movie was released, it was the first to break the $100 million budget, and it certainly looks the part with big explosions and epic action sequences involving jet fighters, helicopters and a nuke.

RELATED: How Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Eraser’ Marked the Death of 80s Action


Mankind is at the precipice of Judgment Day, the exact point where the machines will take over the earth. The most advanced terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken) has been sent back from the future to make sure of earth’s enslavement. Schwarzenegger, an upgraded T-800 series terminator, has been sent back to try and save the only person who can make a difference: John Connor (Nicolas Stahl).

Terminator 3 is the concluding film of the original franchise. Schwarzenegger reprises the first film’s role 19 years later — working hard on his body — to play the killer robot at 54 years old. Kristanna Loken is cast perfectly as the unrelenting, walking nightmare, the T-X. Bigger and louder, T3 is a true action spectacle that was never going to overshadow its forbears, yet it does underpin their legacy. No other Terminator sequel since has managed to do the franchise justice.


Schwarzenegger’s first appearance as Conan is a much darker and more serious portrayal that explores murder, revenge and loss. Conan is on a personal quest to avenge the death of his parents and kill the man responsible, Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the leader of a mysterious snake cult.

This was Schwarzenegger’s breakout performance, earning him worldwide fame. Filmed on location in Spain, it is a tainted but thrilling ride that questions morality. Our protagonist Conan, rises from a slave-boy through to becoming a gladiator, free citizen, lover, friend, and finally, avenger. Uncommon for fantasy, the protagonist’s character arc is as epic as the sweep of the storyline, and for that reason it became the benchmark for the sword and sorcery genre as a whole.


Retired Special Forces Colonel John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is forced to help start a revolution by a criminal gang based in South America. They have killed off his old Special Forces team, and have kidnapped his daughter, but Matrix has other ideas and wages a one-man-war to free his daughter. And no one is going to stop him.

Commando is an all-out, guns-blazing, action romp. It cleverly sidesteps any political or racial references by creating a fictional country, Val Verde, where the criminal gang hails from. The plot is thin, and the one-liners come thick and fast, and this helps take the edge off Commando’s almost needless violence. It becomes second nature to see Schwarzenegger dismember, blow up and shoot the people who hold his daughter hostage. The violence becomes justifiably palatable. By the end we don’t care for the bad guys, we are only rooting for Matrix to win.


At number five is The Running Man, a dystopian vision of 2017 (when released) where America has become a totalitarian state. Prisoners are chosen to compete for their freedom in the popular game show, The Running Man. All they have to do is survive being hunted, but when Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is framed for murder and entered into the game show, he soon realizes that running won’t save him.

Based on a short story by Stephen King, The Running Man has paved the way for movies like The Hunger Games, and shows like Squid Game. With its futuristic feel being more like an obvious ’80s conception, the movie fails in the sci-fi department. The comic book villains sent to kill the runners also seem slightly out of place. However, the reason it all works is that taken as a whole, the movie’s premise could one day be a twisted reality, which makes it all the more terrifying and believable.


Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker looking for excitement. He visits Rekall Incorporated, a company that offers “memories of a lifetime,” where he chooses a “Martian Secret Agent” memory implant. Quaid is immediately thrown into a chaotic mix of memories and reality. He escapes earth and arrives at the red planet where he finds that he may not actually be who he thought he was. Like he says, “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?”

With a nice, big twist that some people struggle to understand, Total Recall is an ultra-violent, sci-fi shoot ‘em up. Containing scenes of arm dismemberment and humans being used as bullet-shields, it is without a doubt one of the most bloodthirsty Schwarzenegger movies. An adaptation of Philip K Dick’s short story, Total Recall is fast-paced and thought-provoking, and like Quaid, we are never quite sure what we are supposed to believe.


Predator mixes science fiction with horror and delivers both with plenty of action. Dutch (Schwarzenegger) leads an elite military unit on a rescue mission deep into a Central American rainforest. With their mission over, they plan to evacuate to the landing zone, but something else is in the rainforest, and it is slowly and mercilessly hunting them down, one by one.

“Nothing like it has ever been on earth before.” An excellent movie where the antagonist became more memorable than Schwarzenegger’s character, and spawned a complete franchise in the process. Terrifying at times, almost like Alien set in the jungle, it has one of the best climactic showdowns. Dutch, with only his skills and various traps he has managed to make, versus an alien hunter that has iridescent camouflage, a laser cannon, and retractable arm blades. Choose your side, but our money is on Dutch!


John Connor has been targeted for termination. A T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has been sent back in time to kill him. Schwarzenegger’s T-800 has been reprogrammed and also sent back — to protect John.

Terminator 2 is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. Stunningly visual, it has aged well, and with a score that is emotional and apt, T2 won various accolades and awards, including four Oscars. Robert Patrick, in his most iconic role, uses all of his acting prowess to portray a killing machine with complete grace and a certain level of charisma. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is regarded by many as one of the few movies that surpassed its original, but not in this list. Without the original, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.


This time around, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 hasn’t been sent back in time to save anyone. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has been targeted for termination. If she dies, she won’t be able to give birth to the future’s rebel leader. Soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Bien) has been sent back from what is left of the future to give his life to protect Sarah.

A love story, a sci-fi action thriller and a movie that truly cemented Arnie’s career, The Terminator launched the catchphrase, “I’ll be back,” which has been copied and parodied worldwide ever since. In his only, truly evil character to date, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 intimidates from the first scene — arriving from the future, naked and equipped with muscles that would make most men cry. The cut scenes of an apocalyptic future and the hopelessness of unavoidable events have also been genre influencing and defining ever since. The Terminator shows that sometimes, we really do love the bad guy!

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