Schwarzenegger. The name. The man. The legend. Lovingly known as “Arnie”, the ultimate action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger has been blowing minds of action movie fans for almost 50 years. With his star-making role as Conan The Barbarian, Schwarzenegger has been at the forefront of action cinema ever since, delivering one smash-hit classic after the next. With many iconic action movie rivals attempting to steal the crown, such as Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme, our Arnie has always retained it, thanks to his spectacular movies, his diversity and the have-a-go attitude of his characters. So to kick of a new series of top 10’s which look at the careers of the biggest stars in action cinema, we need to kick off with the best.
10. ‘Last Action Hero’ (1993)
There are many lists floating around online of the supposed greatest Schwarzenegger movies ever made. And on very few of those lists will you see the action jewel that is ‘Last Action Hero’. Hot off the spectacular and iconic classic ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Schwarzenegger was looking to continue his dominance at the box office with his bravest movie yet. Sadly, ‘Last Action Hero’ has rarely been given the love it deserves, as it was critically mauled on release and although has come to be fondly remembered by a lot of fans is now largely forgotten. But not by me. Arnie stars as Jack Slater, a tough take-no-crap cop who takes on deadly terrorists and constantly saves the city. But his world is about to change, as a young boy comes crashing into his life and reveals to Slater that he is actually no more than a figment of imagination, a movie character written to entertain audiences, and played by a legendary action star (Schwarzenegger, of course!). With the boy now trapped in Slater’s latest action adventure movie, the two must partner up to survive the movie’s plot and its dastardly villains. But what if, just once, your favorite hero could actually come into your world, right from the cinema screen? What would happen? ‘Last Action Hero’ answers that question, with a kind of joy that no other Schwarzenegger movie has ever matched. Mixing satire (The cameos from various other movie characters are especially wonderful) with explosive action and brilliant comedy, this movie is easily the greatest movie-in-a-movie we will ever see. And as much praise as Arnie must receive, we can’t forget the fantastic ‘Die Hard’/ ‘Predator’ director John McTiernan, who yet again delivers the goods, thanks to both his history of working with Arnie and his skill at presenting both action and comedy almost equally on screen. ‘Last Action Hero’ demands your respect.
9. ‘Red Heat’ (1988)
The second half of the 1980’s saw Schwarzenegger at an all-time high, when he was delivering one action-fueled hit movie after the next. And in 1988, he starred in one of his best. ‘Red Heat’ sees Arnie team up with James Belushi as a Russian and American cop forced to work together on a case involving a notorious drug lord who is wanted in Russia for the murder of a police officer. As the two cops take their fight on drugs to crazy heights, they fight more and more with each other, while slowly growing a strange friendship. ‘Red Heat’ is directed by the fantastic action director Walter Hill, who gave us many classics including ’48 Hrs’ and the fantastic Sylvester Stallone thriller ‘Bullet To The Head’. He also served as producer on the ‘Alien’ franchise. Arnie is at his best here, this time opting to leave behind his large amount of quips, in favor of hardcore brutal violence. He plays the Russian with great power, even getting the accent spot on. Belushi is on top form too, in his best movie role, playing the perfect sidekick to a very tough Schwarzenegger. ‘Red Heat’ is often overlooked, but in my opinion it remains one of Arnie’s greatest action movies.
8. ‘Commando’ (1985)
How can anyone review ‘Commando’?… Action-packed, super violent, as funny as Saturday Night Live and ultra gay? That about covers it, right? Schwarzenegger became a name with Conan, a star with Terminator and an absolute action God with ‘Commando’ in 1985, one year after the iconic sci-fi action classic ‘The Terminator’. Arnie stars as John Matrix, a former commando in war, who settles down as a single widowed father to raise his young daughter in peace and solitude. But when a brutal chain vest-wearing enemy/ former ally from his past (played brilliantly and stupidly by Vernon Wells) comes back to exact revenge, Matrix is forced back into action. With his daughter kidnapped and his only way to free her being to kill a president of another country, Matrix decides instead to take the war to his enemies one more time, in a desperate beat-the-clock mission to rescue his child and blow away anything with a pulse, using almost every major weapon known to man, as he takes down a massive army of mercenaries. ‘Commando’ is just wonderful. Filled with powerful action, energetic fight sequences, a glorious heart-pounding should-be-iconic score from the late great James Horner, and more laughs than any other Arnie action classic. The 1980’s wouldn’t have been quite so much fun without this movie.
7. ‘Predator’ (1987)
Continuing his reign of awesomeness though the 80’s, Arnie’s next movie would go down in history as one of the best Sc-fi classics ever made. Starring as Dutch, the leader of a small group of soldiers sent to rescue a CIA agent, ‘Predator’ pits Schwarzenegger against his deadliest enemy yet, as the mission proves to be faked and Dutch along with his team end up in a horrific bloody battle with a mysterious creature who has crash landed from another world, and is in the mood for a little hunting of the human species. ‘Predator’ rightfully ranks among the greats in science fiction cinema, thanks to the mystery, the action and the creature that is the Predator itself. Leading way to two direct sequels and two spin-offs (The poor ‘Alien Vs Predator’ and the magnificent ‘Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem’, as well as a comic book series and a new upcoming movie from one of the original movie’s stars, Shane Black (The man responsible for blessing us action movie fans with ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘The Last Boy Scout’), ‘Predator’ has stood the test of time and remains as loved now as ever. Side note: Features two of Schwarzenegger’s greatest movie lines… “You are one ugly mother-f**ker” and the fan-fave “Get to the choppa!”.
6. ‘Jingle All The Way’ (1996)
Just like the 80’s wouldn’t be the same without the joyful ‘Commando’, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without one of the holiday’s most fantastic movies, ‘Jingle All The Way’. Arnie continued his incomparable career (Despite what “critics” tell you!) with this classic, starring the great man as Howard Langston, a business man who somehow never has time to spend with his family. But one Christmas Eve, after forgetting to pick up an action figure for his son, he sets out to retrieve one just in time for the big day. What he didn’t know is that the figure, “Turbo Man”, is the biggest selling toy of all time, and he stands more chance of rescuing his child from armies or killer robots than ever getting his hands on one of these toys. With only a matter of hours until Christmas Day, Howard is pushed to the brink as he bashes and crashes his way across an entire city in search of “Turbo Man”, to keep a special promise to his child and to show his family just how much they mean to him. ‘Jingle All The Way’ is simply one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. It sums up the spirit of the greatest holiday in all the ways it should, and delivers everything we need from a festive movie. Family, love, honor, cheating crooks and stealing from your horrible neighbors. Arnie is always known for mixing his terrific sense of humor through his movies, but to see him at the heart of a major Christmas movie has always made me so happy. And with all the adventure we’ve come to expect from Schwarzenegger, ‘Jingle All The Way’ is pure comedy gold and all the excitement a festive Christmas family movie can deliver. I’m a huge fan.
5. ‘The Terminator’ (1984)
While ‘Conan The Barbarian’ was Schwarzenegger’s first hit movie, ‘The Terminator’ is the movie than made him an icon. A then unknown director, James Cameron, wrote an insane script about a future war between man and machine, a self-thinking system of computer technology which would wipe out the human race and take control of the planet, but in order to do so, needing to send an assassin robot disguised as a human being to execute a young woman who will later give birth to a child who grows to become the man who saves the human race from being wiped out, but not counting on mankind to send back a genuine human being, a war-torn soldier who not only is assigned to protect the mother of man’s savior, but also happens to be the man who becomes the father to this woman’s future child. On paper, it sounds so absurd, and to many studios, it was, as Cameron hunted high and low to gain any kind of budget to make it. But once he did, he needed an actor to play his robot assassin, so he turned to Schwarzenegger, hot off the back that Conan movie. And that’s where action movie cinema changed forever, as ‘The Terminator’ went on to make icons of both Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, propelling them to dizzy heights and bringing them fame and fortune they never thought possible from such a low budget, silly sounding movie. ‘The Terminator’ works on every level, the action scenes are wonderful, the special effects considering the time and budget constraints are incredible and Arnie himself is irreplaceable and unbeatable as the title character, filling his every scene with epic shootouts, extreme violence and for the first time the immortal quip “I’ll be back!”, which has gone on to become one of cinema’s greatest quotes. ‘The Terminator’ is now a beloved and respected movie, leading to a major franchise, namely the next entry in this countdown…
4. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’
Seven years after the stunning original Terminator movie, James Cameron came back with a far bigger script, far bigger budget and far bigger movie when he rejoined with Arnie and then wife Linda Hamilton to create the first sequel to his 1984 creation. With the arrival of T2, James Cameron had already become a hugely respected name in the movie business after ‘The Terminator’, ‘The Abyss’ and spectacular smash hit classic ‘Aliens’ (A sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien), but this time he outdid himself in every way, untilizing state of the art visual effects, a far more complicated (Although severely flawed) story and action sequences that laid waste to almost every single blockbuster movie that came before it. As for Arnold himself, T2 pushed his fame to a limit so high that even angels got dizzy. Following on from ‘The Terminator’, T2 continues the story of Sarah Connor’s battle to keep her son John alive in an effort to thwart an impending nuclear war than will wipe out almost the entire human race. This time, a cyborg has been sent back to protect the young boy and another far more advanced machine (The legend Robert Patrick as the T-1000) has been sent back to kill him and secure the victory of war for SKYNET in the future. ‘Terminator 2’ is troubled, yes, thanks to plot holes and some very OTT acting from Linda Hamilton and ‘Edward Furlong’, but at its heart, this is pure action cinema at its best, with the screen’s biggest hero at the center of it all. Arnie is magnificent in the title role, going bigger, tougher and cooler than ever before, while Cameron gives us visual thrills the likes we’d never seen. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is as important and spectacular now as it has always been.
3. ‘End Of Days’ (1999)
We’re getting real serious here, boys! After 20 years of battling armies, aliens, robots, alligators and crooked Santas, it’s time for Arnold Schwarzenegger to take on the greatest evil power the world will ever know, the creator of all evil on earth… Satan himself! I still remember the moment I heard that Arnie would battle the Devil in a movie, I was so overcome with joy I almost passed out. I couldn’t believe it. But when I finally saw the movie (Sadly not at the cinema, money is hard to come by as a 15 year-old boy), I was blown away. Peter Hyams, the director of one of my all-time favorite movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ‘Sudden Death’ takes on the challenge of pitting the ultimate forces for good and evil against each other on the eve of the new millennium. Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger) is a suicidal cop with a tragic past, who has been born to save the world. Christine York is a young woman who has been born to eventually give birth to the son of Satan. And Satan himself is about to take over his intended body, that of a hated wall street banker (Gabriel Byrne). On December 31st, 1999, all hell is about to become our world, as the Devil is intended to create his love child and lay waste to mankind. But can Cane fight his inner demons and fulfill his destiny to save us? Or will Christine become the bride of evil itself? ‘End Of Days’ is one of a handful of movies I consider to be too good. Too awesome. Too much. Packed with incredible action sequences, including a finger-biting train ride and a finale that must be seen to be believed, and wonderful performances from both Arnie and Irish treasure Gabriel Byrne. Byrne gives my personal favorite performance of Satan, and Arnie’s performance is the best he’s ever given, in my opinion. The soundtrack is another jewel here, with a spectacular and terrifying score from John Debney (Who ironically is well known for his award-winning score to Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion Of The Christ’, but to me most loved for his score incredible action score on ‘Sudden Death’ also with Hyams), and several fantastic songs from rock music legends like Guns N’ Roses and Rob Zombie. Peter Hyams as a director has always been unappreciated, but I consider him one of the greatest filmmakers we’ll ever witness. His work on ‘End Of Days’ is powerful and absolutely epic. And even more so on ‘Sudden Death’, which is also Van Damme’s very finest movie. The direction on both goes beyond the generic directing we’re used to on most action movies, as Hyams has both wonderful camera skills and an eye for the spectacular. Whether it be Arnie standing in the middle of an exploding church or Van Damme scaling the roof of a massive sports arena, Hyams gives shots that even Michael Bay would swoon over, and that’s why I adore both him and his work. ‘End Of Days’ is the perfect showcase for an action legend and a bloody fantastic director, as is ‘Sudden Death’. Go buy all of Peter Hyams’ movies now!
2. ‘Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines’ (2003)
With Schwarzenegger about to turn his back on his full-time movie career to become Governor of California, he had time to do one last movie for a long time. So what better than to return to his most iconic role? Arnie stars for the 3rd time as the time-traveling cyborg who is now on a mission to protect John Connor and his future wife, in an attempt to finally end the future war of SKYNET upon the planet. But as the trio take to the road, a brutal new killing machine has been sent back, the deadliest, most advanced and most unstoppable cyborg yet, the T-X. And for the first time, a female assassin. Played by the magnificent Kristanna Loken (If you’d like to know more about Kristanna, click here), the T-X is programmed to find and kill Connor and all of his future comrades in an attempt to stop their fight against SKYNET in the future. With the last chance to save the world at their finger tips, can Terminator, John Connor and his wife survive long enough to protect mankind? Or will T-X be successful in her mission and destroy our future by bringing about the Rise Of The Machines? Not a favorite for a lot of people, but ‘Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines’ has always been my favorite of the trilogy. For so many reasons. The action, the effects, the more robotic Terminator performance I’d always wanted from Arnie, and of course the stunning and awesome Kristanna Loken. Everything I could want from a movie. And with the brilliant Jonathan Mostow (Kurt Russell’s ‘Breakdown’ and fantastic all-star war movie ‘U-571’)) taking over directing duties for James Cameron, I knew the franchise was in safe hands. Until ‘Terminator Genisys’ happened anyway. In the past, I’ve written a full review of T3, if you’d like to see it, check it out here.
1. ‘Eraser’ (1996)
We all have our own favorite Schwarzenegger movie, and it’s clear that this list represents my own opinion more than it would the whole collective of us here at Action A Go Go. But that’s the fun of lists, isn’t it? There is no one definitive list out there. Just many from fans of movies. And I personally will always close out a list of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies with ‘Eraser’. His best, his most fun and perhaps his most bad ass, ‘Eraser’ is always the movie I think of when I think of Arnie. He’s the man who gave us action, comedy, sci-fi, horror, romance etc… And somehow those genres are all represented here in one movie. And they all compliment each other brilliantly. Schwarzenegger stars as a tough US marshal who must protect a woman who is standing witness against a major arms manufacturing who she has discovered are selling state-of-the-art weapons to terrorists overseas. I’ve been a big fan of ‘Eraser’ since its release. It’s action is supreme, the humor is brilliant, and the supporting cast (including Vanessa Williams and James Caan) are all on top form. I could never ask more of a Schwarzenegger movie, and that’s why not only is it my #1, but has remained high in my favorite movies since my childhood. To read my full review, click here.
“I’ll be back” with the top 10 Sylvester Stallone movies soon. Until then, it seems right to end this article with piece of James Horner’s incomparable score for ‘Commando’. James was a genius, a fantastic expert in music, in every genre, and especially for action movies. He proved it with this, released just before his epic work on James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’. R.I.P.