The 32 greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger movies

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Once upon a time in Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest movie star anyone had ever seen. Literally. And his movies have been some of the biggest, too. (Figuratively.) But which Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are actually his greatest of all time?

Originating from Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger began public life as a champion bodybuilder, winning the coveted Mr. Olympia title seven times. After retiring from bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger kept up his physique as a movie star, his chiseled face gracing the posters of violent action blockbusters, laidback comedies, and everything in between. In 2003, Schwarzenegger was sworn in as Governor of California, a role he served until he retired in 2011.

With a movie career spanning multiple decades and an imposing presence in other fields, there is truly no one else on Earth like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In celebration of the man, the myth, and the legend's career, here are 32 of his greatest movies of all time.

32. Red Sonja (1985)

Red Sonja

(Image credit: MGM)

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger hates Red Sonja, and once joked in an interview that he uses this movie to punish his kids when they misbehave. But this adaptation of the literary swords and sorcery heroine, directed by Richard Fleischer, has its charm as vintage pulp. Brigitte Nielsen leads the picture as its title hero, a vengeful woman who seeks to defeat the evil queen who killed her family. Schwarzenegger co-stars as Lord Kalidor, a role strikingly familiar to his own sword-wielding fantasy brute Conan. Red Sonja endured abysmal reviews during release, but it maintains a dedicated fan base who still dream of brave heroes.

31. Hercules in New York (1970)

Hercules in New York

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The first narrative feature film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a low-budget comedy that brings the Greek gods crashing down to New York City. Arnie plays the beefy hero Hercules who is granted by his father Zeus to visit and explore the world of humans. Arriving in modern day Manhattan, Hercules gets up into all kinds of kooky adventures, including befriending a skinny man named Pretzie (Arnold Stang) and adopting a career as a professional wrestler. Hercules in New York marked Schwwarzenegger's acting debut; versions of the movie dub over his lines with an unknown voice actor, though it's not hard to find cuts of the movie that retain Schwarzenegger's natural, accented speaking voice. Hercules in New York is absolutely bizarre and maybe the worst movie in Arnie's career, but it's without a doubt worth watching as a novelty.

30. The Rundown (2003)

The Rundown

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

To be honest, it hardly qualifies as an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. But in the middle of his governorship of California, Schwarzenegger made time for a quick cameo in The Rundown, the action-comedy starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a bounty hunter tasked with picking up the errant son (Seann William Scott) of a loan shark in South America. With The Rundown solidifying Johnson as the premier action hero of a new generation, Schwarzenegger's blink-and-you-miss-it cameo - where he side-eyes Johnson and tells him to "Have fun" - is the symbolic passing of the torch between a legend and his successor.

29. Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

In 2013, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were past their prime but far from has-beens. Enter: Escape Plan, a mostly serviceable prison breakout thriller that just so happens to star two of the biggest beefcake action heroes of the 1980s. Escape Plan, directed by Mikael Håfström, stars Stallone playing a prison security consultant who is hired to test a new, cutting-edge supermax prison. He recruits an intimidating inmate (Schwarzenegger) to help him escape - hence, the movie's very straightforward title. Escape Plan isn't a movie anyone should bend bars for, but it's worth it just to see Rambo and The Terminator together on the screen.

28. Raw Deal (1986)

Raw Deal

(Image credit: StudioCanal)

Shortly after Arnold Schwarzenegger's star-making performances in the Conan movies, he traded the Atlantean Sword for an FBI badge in the gritty film Raw Deal. Schwarzenegger plays an ex-FBI agent who resigns over accusations of excessive violence, and gets a second chance when he's tasked with infiltrating a mafia gang. While Raw Deal is so very forgettable as a generic gritty '80s action movie, it still has all the touchstones you expect from Schwarzenegger in his prime including satisfying butt-kicking and killer one-liners.

27. Junior (1994)


(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a man who gets pregnant feels like a parody of a showbiz drama, the part where a Hollywood star's career takes a severe downturn. Indeed, Junior marked a major shift for Schwarzenegger who, for a time, undertook more lighthearted fare following a straight decade of violent action movies. But Junior isn't terrible. It's strange, ridiculous fun that is, at the very least, less excruciating than real pregnancy. 

26. Sabotage (2014)


(Image credit: Open Road Films)

When Schwarzenegger officially left a career in politics behind, he returned to acting full time; during this time, Schwarzenegger fans found their hero readjusting to a new Hollywood in mid-grade action movies. One film of note is Sabotage, a gritty 2014 thriller in which Arnie plays the leader of a DEA task force who fight to survive after they raid a cartel safe house. Sabotage appeals almost exclusively to anyone with precious memories of Schwarzenegger kicking butt on screen. It doesn't push the envelope, but no one is asking it to anyhow.

25. The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables 2

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

After making a buzzy cameo in the first Expendables movie in 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger finally loaded up to join Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and the rest in The Expendables 2. The crew attempts to exact revenge against a deadly mercenary (Jean Claude Van Damme) who murders one of their own in cold blood. Schwarzenegger isn't front and center in The Expendables 2, but he crowds a cool crowd-pleaser that explodes with masculine ferocity. 

24. Terminator Genisys (2015)

Terminator: Genisys

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The Terminator franchise might have wiped out this 2015 sequel from memory, but that doesn't mean it isn't without merit In Terminator Genisys, a pseudo-sequel/reboot from director Alan Taylor, the story of the original The Terminator are loosely retold when revolutionary soldier Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney) is sent to 1984 to prevent the assassination of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) only to learn the timeline is already altered. For all its faults, Schwarzenegger remains in top notch form in Genisys. 

23. The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Arnold Schwarzenegger still had the busy schedule of a politician when Sylvester Stallone got the manliest action stars he knew to star in their throwback extravaganza The Expendables. Along with Bruce Willis, Schwarzenegger appears for a lengthy cameo to play a business rival to Stallone's lead protagonist. Like Arnie himself, his character is also too busy to partake in the plot, but his brief involvement is a promise to the audience that he'll be around for the sequel. And indeed, they kept that promise. 

22. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

After Terminator Genisys failed to bring the franchise back online, the producers tried again with a direct sequel, 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate. Picking up after Terminator 2 and ignoring the rest, Dark Fate sees Schwarzenegger's T-800 model - now living a quiet suburban life, posing as a human family man - recruited by a world-weary Sarah Connor (played again by Linda Hamilton) and a new time-displaced soldier (Mackenzie Davis) to protect a young woman from a new, advanced Terminator (Gabriel Luna). 

21. Pumping Iron (1977)

Pumping Iron

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Arnold Schwarzenegger had already begun his acting career when he participated in the making of Pumping Iron. But this riveting and influential sports documentary about competitive bodybuilding is the film responsible for catapulting Schwarzenegger out of obscurity. Pumping Iron chronicles Schwarzenegger and rival Lou Ferrigno's training for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe competitions. The movie's subsequent popularity, being an enthralling snapshot into what was then a niche sport and lifestyle, launched Schwarzenegger further into the limelight. The documentary compelled the producers of Conan the Barbarian to pursue Schwarzenegger as their star. The rest is history.

20. End of Days (1999)

End of Days

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In one of the very few horror movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnie battles the forces of darkness as an ex-cop tasked with protecting a woman who is key to Satan's plan to conquer Earth. End of Days is a refreshing change of pace that allows audiences to see Schwarzenegger inhabit a more dramatic role, one where his muscles and one-liners alone aren't enough to defeat evil. Woefully End of Days doesn't strike a perfect balance and its execution isn't all there, but it doesn't stop being interesting.

19. Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Joel Schumacher's second and last Batman movie might have "killed" the franchise until Christopher Nolan came along. But with the gift of hindsight, Batman & Robin has aged better than anyone might expect when you regard it as a camp-oriented tentpole and faithful homage to the colorful 1966 TV series. Schwarzenegger cools the screen as Mr. Freeze, a scientist desperate to bring his wife, in cryogenic stasis, back to warm life. While the initial negative reaction of Batman & Robin forced the Caped Crusader back into the shadows for a time, the film gets credit for its ostentatious style and wise decision to adapt one of the best villain origin stories from the Emmy-winning Batman: The Animated Series.

18. Red Heat (1988)

Red Heat

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

It isn't the greatest movie in the filmography of either Walter Hill nor its leading man, but it still matters how Arnold Schwarzenegger has worked with one of the best to ever sit behind a camera. In Hill's buddy comedy Red Heat, the director lampoons Cold War-era tensions with Schwarzenegger as a tough Russian police officer from Moscow who teams up with a rigid Chicago cop (Jim Belushi) to take down a drug lord. Red Heat is an underrated late '80s gem that only adds to Schwarzenegger's towering career.

17. Maggie (2015)


(Image credit: Lionsgate)

In a post-The Walking Dead climate, the zombie horror movie Maggie admirably sought new dimensions in the decaying genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the picture as a loving father who stays by his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) as she slowly turns into a cannibalistic zombie in a post-apocalyptic world. Maggie is only one of few movies where Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles as a dramatic actor instead of an action hero, and indeed Maggie - directed by Henry Hobson - is a stirring exhibition of what Arnie is capable of when he's not asked to mow down bad guys. While Maggie is, on paper, an "Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie," it's also so much more than that. 

16. The 6th Day (2000)

The 6th Day

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Arnold Schwarzenegger's recognition came from high-concept movies like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, and Total Recall. At the dawn of the 21st century, Schwarzenegger returned to that kind of escapist filmmaking with his middleweight bomb The 6th Day. Schwarzenegger plays a family man who is illegally and accidentally cloned by a billionaire and races to clear his name and protect his family. Terminator 2 it is not, but The 6th Day is simply more of Schwarzenegger doing what he does best. 

15. Eraser (1996)


(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

If you need someone "erased," you can call up Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this mid-'90s action thriller set in the political world of Washington D.C., Arnie plays a U.S. Marshal of WITSEC who specializes in "erasing" critical witnesses. But while protecting a whistle-blower with evidence of a conspiracy involving a major arms corporation selling weapons to terrorists, Schwarzenegger finds there's a mole inside his department. Schwarzenegger is squarely in his element in Eraser, a tried and true set piece-driven popcorn fare.

14. Twins (1988)


(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

It's hard not to see double in Twins. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito co-star in this delightful buddy comedy about a perfect, genetically-engineered specimen (Schwarzenegger) who finds and befriends his fraternal twin "brother" (DeVito), a streetwise criminal. This classic '80s gem, directed by Ivan Reitman, was one of the first times that mainstream moviegoers saw and enjoyed Schwarzenegger in a comedy-oriented hit. After all this time, Twins keeps its charms as an easygoing laugh-riot.

13. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Conan the Barbarian

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

From Cimmerian slave to brawny hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger rises to movie stardom in the 1982 fantasy epic Conan the Barbarian from director John Milius and co-written by Milius and Oliver Stone. Based on Robert E. Howard's pulp literary hero, Conan the Barbarian details the origin story of Conan, who embarks on a lifelong quest to avenge his parents' cold-blooded murder by conquering warlord Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan is one of the biggest fantasy hits of the 1980s, alongside other must-see movies like Excalibur, Highlander, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, The Empire Strikes Back, and Willow. 

12. The Last Stand (2013)

The Last Stand

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

It's one of the grittiest and gnarliest movies in Arnold Schwarzenegger's career, and that's saying something. Helmed by Korean filmmaker Kim Jew-woon, The Last Stand overcomes its generic title to feature Schwarzenegger playing a small town sheriff who must stop a drug lord's runaway escape to Mexico. Amid the increased dominance of superhero blockbusters, The Last Stand threw Hollywood back to star-driven action vehicles where the only real "superpower" is being a proper movie star like Schwarzenegger.

11. Jingle All the Way (1996)

Jingle All the Way

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Arnold Schwarzenegger meets Mighty Morphin holiday hysteria in this Christmastime comedy classic. Schwarzenegger plays a workaholic father who tries to win the love of his son by getting the must-have toy of the season: Turbo-Man. The only problem? Everyone is after Turbo-Man, and Schwarzenegger races against a mailman (Sinbad) for the prized doll. Heavily inspired by American consumerism and '90s toy phenoms Cabbage Patch and Power Rangers, Jingle All the Way keeps the whole family jolly all through the year.

10. Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Kindergarten Cop

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Never send a cop to do a teacher's job. In Kindergarten Cop, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a police detective who, after a comical series of events, must go undercover as a kindergarten teacher to weed out the drug dealer whose child attends the school. Although Kindergarten Cop received mixed reviews at release, it has since attracted praise and appreciation as a heartwarming comedy where Schwarzenegger flexes the might of his funny bones. 

9. Conan the Destroyer (1984) 

Conan the Destroyer

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

For anyone hankering for an old school Dungeons & Dragons-like adventure with a side of Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is Conan the Destroyer. In this fist-pumping sequel to Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer puts the Atlantean Sword back into the hands of Schwarzenegger, who must escort a virgin princess (Olivia d'Abo) on behalf of a queen (Sarah Douglas) who secretly has her own plans. While Conan the Barbarian is a celebrated fantasy classic, Conan the Destroyer is a lively successor with deliriously cool creature effects and memorable set-pieces, not to mention a cast that includes Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, and André the Giant in the uncredited role of a monster. 

8. Commando (1988)


(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Ever wanted to see Arnold Schwarzenegger take on hordes of bad guys with gardening tools? That's the magic of Commando, a quintessential 1980s classic with Arnie in tip top form. Schwarzenegger stars as a family man and former U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel who must rescue his young daughter (played by Alyssa Milano) from mercenaries. Hard-hitting and wise-cracking ("Please don't disturb my friend, he's dead tired"), Commando is the movie everyone thinks of when they hear the words, "Arnold Schwarzenegger movie."

7. The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Before the reality TV boom, Stephen King (under the pen name Richard Bachman) explored the dark side of popular entertainment with his dystopian novel The Running Man. In 1987, filmmaker Paul Michael Glaser brought a version of King's story to the big screen. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the lead role of a wrongfully-accused cop who must compete in a deadly televised game show in which contestants run and fight for their lives to win freedom. Being one of the more insightful movies in Schwarzenegger's filmography, The Running Man endures far beyond its 1987 release for its smart take on exploitative entertainment and authoritarianism. 

6. Last Action Hero (1993)

Last Action Hero

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

In this affectionate satire of Hollywood action cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger blows up his own image as Jack Slater, a fictional franchise movie hero who leaps into our real world thanks to a die-hard adolescent cinephile (Austin O'Brien) with a magical ticket. Director John McTiernan and writer Shane Black work like dynamite in a lively, inventive movie that gleefully pokes fun at genre cliches. For all its reverence to broad-shouldered heroism, Last Action Hero went woefully under-appreciated in its time; it straight up bombed in theaters, and not in the cool action movie way either. In the decades since its release, McTiernan's film has earned recognition as a cult classic that stands out in Schwarzenegger's explosive filmography. 

5. True Lies (1994)

True Lies

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

From cinema maestro James Cameron, True Lies mixes up domestic living with spy business in this big budget '90s classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. Schwarzenegger stars as Harry Tasker, a federal secret agent who hides his dangerous profession from his suburban family. When a terrorist plot ropes in his family, Harry works overtime to finally achieve a proper work/life balance. For all its thunderous spectacle, True Lies maintains its musculature through its low-key romantic story with a high-wire premise. 

4. Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall

(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

A science fiction movie like Total Recall, which is all about the fallacy of memories and the true nature of self, might sound complicated on paper. But with a director like Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger as its star, Total Recall is a blast, a hyper-violent jaunt that warps between Earth and Mars. In this 1990 cult sci-fi hit, Schwarzenegger plays a frustrated construction worker who discovers his life and memories are actually artificial, kicking off a dangerous race to escape the people who gave him his false identity in the first place. Come for the think-y science fiction themes, stay for Schwarzenegger delivering more one-liners and surreal imagery (like eyeballs popping in the vacuum of space).

3. Predator (1987)


(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

"If it bleeds, we can kill it." From John McTiernan is this towering science fiction beefcake classic, in which the deadliest alien trophy hunter in the galaxy goes up against the manliest man to ever lace up a boot. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Vietnam vet Alan "Dutch" Schaefer, a military commando who is dispatched, along with a team, to rescue a politician in South America only to encounter a more menacing enemy than guerilla soldiers. The first film in the Predator franchise remains one of its finest; strip away all the Predator lore and what you have is a movie that capitalizes on a basic but effective premise: Who would win in a fight, Arnold Schwarzenegger or a space alien?

2. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator

(Image credit: Orion Pictures)

Pumping Iron made Arnold Schwarzenegger an entity, Conan the Barbarian made him an actor, but The Terminator made him a movie star. James Cameron's classic 1980s sci-fi thriller memorably stars Schwarzenegger as the T-800, a villainous cyborg from the future sent to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who is fated to give birth to humanity's resistance leader. A star-crossed romance disguised as a violent tech noir monster flick, The Terminator is an era-defining classic that made Schwarzenegger a household name. When Schwarzenegger says his now-iconic catchphrase, "I'll be back," you can bet it was more than a promise. It was a guarantee.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

There are sequels, and there is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Arnold Schwarzenegger reunites with director James Cameron and co-star Linda Hamilton for this sequel that completely redefined expectations for sequels. A maximalist sci-fi summer blockbuster, Terminator 2 reintroduces Schwarzenegger as a new model T-800, one modified by humans in the future and is sent again to the past to meet Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her reckless son, John (Edward Furlong), and defend them from the cutting-edge assassin, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Terminator 2 is a seismic movie, a 10/10 perfect action flick that did more than just change the immediate present of Hollywood, but also predicted its future.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.