Arnold Schwarzenegger has been one of the world's top action movie stars of the last 50 years. In truth, the Austrian-American former bodybuilder will never win any Academy Awards for his acting, but his charisma and screen presence have seen him leading some genuinely memorable films.
“Arnie,” as he's affectionately known, has appeared in almost 50 movies since his first credit in 1970, most of which have been action flicks.
In this piece, we'll take you through the 22 best action movies in which Arnold Schwarzenegger has appeared.
1. Around the World in 80 Days (2004, directed by Frank Coraci)
Around the World in 80 Days is an action-adventure comedy based on Jules Verne's 1873 novel and a remake of the 1956 movie. The film follows Phileas Fogg, who gets reimagined as an eccentric inventor in this story, and his attempts to circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days.
With a great cast that includes Steve Coogan as Fogg, Jackie Chan, Jim Broadbent, and Kathy Bates, Around the World in 80 Days is a wacky and fun romp. It bears no resemblance to Verne's novel, but it's entertaining nonetheless – as long as you don't take it too seriously. Schwarzenegger has a minor role as the hostile Prince Hapi, but it's not one of his most memorable.
2. Last Action Hero (1993, directed by John McTiernan)
Last Action Hero is a fantasy action comedy about a young movie fan who gets magically transported into the fictional world of his favorite action movie character, a nigh-indestructible Los Angeles police officer called Jack Slater.
This movie works as a fun satire of the action genre and the clichés associated with it, but it's not a classic. Given the cool concept, it's uneven and chaotic and feels like it should be better. It will entertain you, though, and Schwarzenegger is great as Slater, and it's suitable for the whole family to watch.
3. The 6th Day (2000, directed by Roger Spottiswoode)
The 6th Day is a sci-fi action movie about a family man who meets a clone of himself and stumbles into a vast conspiracy about clones taking over the world involving a corrupt billionaire businessman.
Its excellent cast includes Schwarzenegger as the cloned man, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rapaport, Robert Duvall, and Michael Rooker. The premise of The 6th Day is intriguing and perturbing. Although it's not one of Arnie's best performances, it's certainly worth watching for sci-fi fans.
4. The Expendables (2010, directed by Sylvester Stallone)
The Expendables is an action movie and the first installment in the eponymous franchise. It's about a group of elite mercenaries who accept a contract to take down a Latin American dictator who gets revealed to be just a puppet under the control of a corrupt ex-CIA agent.
It pays tribute to the action movies of the 1980s and 1990s and stars an ensemble cast of the genre's icons. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren are among those stars, while Schwarzenegger cameos as the main character's old rival. The Expendables has superb old-school action, explosions, and dialogue and will fill fans with nostalgia. Still, it feels like an opportunity missed in terms of its full potential.
5. Eraser (1996, directed by Chuck Russell)
Eraser is an action movie about a U.S. Marshal of the Witness Protection Programme testifying about an illegal arms deal and getting forced to fight his former allies when it gets revealed that one of the people involved is a mole inside the WPP.
Schwarzenegger stars as the eponymous John “Eraser” Kruger and is ably supported by the likes of Vanessa Williams and James Caan. Incredible stunts, excellent special effects, and good old-fashioned shoot-em-up action more than make amends for Eraser's somewhat mundane plot.
6. Killing Gunther (2017, directed by Taran Killam)
Killing Gunther is a mockumentary action comedy about a group of eccentric assassins who are sick of the world's greatest hitman, Gunther, so they decide to kill him. However, their plan goes embarrassingly wrong, as Gunther always seems to be one step ahead of them.
Arnie plays the eponymous legendary hitman in this one, and he does so in a hugely entertaining, over-the-top fashion. He looks like he's enjoying himself, and that's infectious. Killing Gunther is intelligent and playful, but the one big problem is that it feels like more of an unjustifiably lengthened sketch.
7. Escape Plan (2013, directed by Mikael Håfström)
Escape Plan is a prison action thriller about a former prosecutor who now works as a prison security tester and poses as an inmate in the world's most secret and secure prison. He recruits a fellow inmate to stage a breakout.
The first movie to pair up Sylvester Stallone and Schwarzenegger as co-leads, Escape Plan's cast also features the likes of Jim Caviezel, 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, and Vincent D'Onofrio. It has a strong script and some decent twists, and Sly and Arnie's scenes are wonderfully watchable. Escape Plan plays to their strengths and proves they still have plenty of life.
8. Kindergarten Cop (1990, directed by Ivan Reitman)
Kindergarten Cop is an action comedy about a tough Los Angeles police detective, working undercover as a kindergarten teacher to apprehend a drug dealer, who discovers a passion for teaching and ultimately changes his profession.
It was the movie in which Schwarzenegger displayed some natural talent for comedic timing. Kindergarten Cop is full of heart, humor, and a modest dose of action. Its main issue is finding its audience; some children find it too dreary, and some adults find it too mushy.
9. The Last Stand (2013, directed by Kim Jee-woon)
The Last Stand is an action thriller about a tough sheriff and his deputies from a small Arizona town attempting to prevent a vicious drug lord from escaping to Mexico in a modified sports car.
Supported by a cast including Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Jaime Alexander, and Peter Stormate, Arnie gives a solid performance. The Last Stand is a formulaic B-movie, but its cast, stunts, shoot-outs, and fight scenes are enough to give any fans of the action genre a near-couple of hours of thrills.
10. Conan the Barbarian (1982, directed by John Milius)
Conan the Barbarian is a classic sword and sorcery action epic about the eponymous warrior who seeks vengeance for his mother and father's death at the hands of a snake cult leader.
It's a gritty and violent movie, so if that's your thing, you'll love Conan the Barbarian. Schwarzenegger is particularly imposing in this one, but he also has some typically quotable lines of dialogue. The movie also features a joyfully camp performance from James Earl Jones as villain Thulsa Doom.
11. The Expendables 2 (2012, directed by Simon West)
The Expendables 2 is an action movie and the second installment in The Expendables franchise. In this one, the eponymous team of mercenaries undertakes a revenge mission against rival mercenary Jean Vilain, who killed a team member and is now threatening to unleash a deadly weapon on the world.
It's the best of the three movies in the franchise by far. Schwarzenegger reprises his role from the first film in a slightly larger but still small cameo, but the core cast shines. The fantastic ensemble includes Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford. The Expendables 2 is teeming with old-school thrills and action that will have you on the edge of your seat.
12. Commando (1985, directed by Mark L. Lester)
Commando is an action movie about a retired Special Forces colonel's efforts to rescue his young daughter, whom his former subordinate has kidnapped after attacking his secluded mountain home.
Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, the retired colonel on a mission to save his child. Commando's plot is pretty derivative, and the movie's physics are bordering on cartoonish. Still, the action is exciting, it's relatively funny at times, and Arnie has loads of classic one-liners.
13. The Running Man (1987, directed by Paul Michael Glaser)
The Running Man is a dystopian action movie loosely based on Stephen King's 1982 novel, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It's about the eponymous television show on which convicted criminal “runners” attempt to avoid being killed by professional assassins known as “stalkers.”
It's pure cheese, but it's wholly enjoyable. Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a “runner,” and María Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Dawson, brilliant as the show's host Damon Killian, ably support him. The Running Man doesn't take itself too seriously, nor should you, but it's a brilliant send-up of television with some fun action sequences and memorable dialogue.
14. Red Heat (1988, directed by Walter Hill)
Red Heat is a buddy cop action comedy. It's about a Soviet policeman and a Chicago police detective who find themselves on the same case and work as unlikely partners to catch the vicious Georgian drug kingpin who murdered the Soviet cop's previous partner.
Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi are great foils for each other in Red Heat, with Arnie as the iron-willed Russian and Belushi as the comedic American. It's pretty formulaic, but good performances, abundant comic book violence, and plenty of humor make it an enjoyable watch.
15. The Rundown (2003, directed by Peter Berg)
The Rundown is a buddy action comedy movie about a bounty hunter who gets talked into carrying out one last mission, on which he must travel to Brazil to retrieve his employer's son.
Arnie only has an uncredited cameo as a bar patron in this one, but he's in it, so it counts! The Rundown stars Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott, who have excellent comedic chemistry. It's an intelligent and funny movie massively enhanced by its fabulous jungle setting.
16. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, directed by Jonathan Mostow)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a sci-fi action movie, the sequel to 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the third movie in the Terminator franchise. In this one, the nefarious A.I. Skynet sends a highly advanced Terminator back in time to ensure the rise of machines by killing significant human resistance members. The resistance sends back a reprogrammed T-850 to protect them.
While it isn't as good as its predecessors, Terminator 3 was a welcome addition to the eponymous franchise. It has excellent special effects, a decent turn from Arnie as the T-850, an imposing performance from Kristanna Loken as the advanced T-X, and able support from Nick Stahl and Claire Danes as the resistance members John Connor and Kate Brewster. In addition, the movie is like one long and exhilarating chase scene.
17. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, directed by Tim Miller)
Terminator: Dark Fate is a sci-fi action movie, the sixth installment in the Terminator franchise, and a direct sequel to 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, ignoring the events of the three films between them. In this one, Sarah Connor, a cybernetically-enhanced human and a domesticated T-800, attempts to stop an advanced liquid Terminator from hunting down a girl destined to lead the human resistance.
It's the best movie in the franchise since the original two and gets the closest to capturing their feel and tone – it's a significant upgrade on the others. Arnie plays a T-800 that successfully killed John Connor and settled down to human life, and he does so very well. It's great to see him reunited with Linda Hamilton. Terminator: Dark Fate is breathtaking, has excellent visual effects, and will be a satisfying final installment if that's the case.
18. True Lies (1994, directed by James Cameron)
True Lies is a spy action comedy based on the 1991 French comedy movie La Totale! that chronicles the adventures of a U.S. government agent as he struggles to balance his double life as a spy with his duties as a husband and father.
Action-packed and funny, True Lies has a fantastic cast that includes Schwarzenegger as the man leading a double life, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Art Malik, and Tia Carrere. The plot is absurd, but that only adds to the fun.
As a fun sidenote, a True Lies television series adaptation is currently airing on CBS.
19. Predator (1987, directed by John McTiernan)
Predator is a sci-fi action horror movie and the first installment in the eponymous franchise. It follows an elite paramilitary rescue team in a Guatemala rainforest on a hostage-saving mission in a guerrilla-held territory, battling an alien with incredible hunting skills and advanced technology.
Arnie plays Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, the leader of the rescue team, and he's fantastic. Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Sonny Landham, and Elpidia Carrillo support him, each of whom is great. Some of the movie's one-liners are utterly iconic. Predator is one of the greats of its subgenre, with fantastic tension, suspense, and action. The reveal of the eponymous monster was epic.
20. Total Recall (1990, directed by Paul Verhoeven)
Total Recall is a sci-fi action movie based on the 1966 short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” It's about a construction worker who receives an implanted memory of a vacation on Mars but then finds it occurring in reality as an evil organization attempts to prevent him from recovering his memories of being a secret agent fighting a Martian dictator's oppressive regime.
Its excellent cast includes Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, and Michael Ironside, while Arnie plays the construction worker at the center of it all. Schwarzenegger does well playing a more sympathetic and vulnerable character, which is against type. True Lies is a complicated and visually intriguing movie (it won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects), but the execution of it is exceptional.
21. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, directed by James Cameron)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a sci-fi action movie, the second installment in the Terminator franchise, and a sequel to 1984's The Terminator. In this one, Skynet sends an advanced liquid metal Terminator back in time to kill resistance leader John Connor as a child. In response, the resistance sends back a less-advanced, reprogrammed Terminator to protect the boy.
It won a whopping four Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup, which were well deserved. Terminator 2 is a spectacular technical triumph with epic action, lots of emotional pull, and a strong message about protecting the value of human life. Arnie is fantastic as the reprogrammed Terminator and has some great lines.
22. The Terminator (1984, directed by James Cameron)
The Terminator is a sci-fi action movie and the opening installment in the franchise of the same name. It's about a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill the woman whose unborn son will one day save humanity from extinction by Skynet, a hostile artificial intelligence in a post-apocalyptic future. A resistance soldier also gets sent back to protect her.
A highly original movie at the time, The Terminator is one of the finest sci-fi films ever made. It's slick, action-packed, and adeptly performed by its outstanding cast. Arnie is fantastic as the eponymous nigh-indestructible killing machine. While its special effects don't hold up so well, it's a blisteringly exciting movie with a thrilling climax. It's undoubtedly Schwarzenegger's finest action flick.
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