Transitioning from bodybuilding to acting is not an exemplary feat today, considering the number of buffed up dudes want to become an actor but fail. But Arnold’s transition was quite exemplary indeed, because he chose to become an actor and not a performer, and he started things off by focusing on his primary strength i.e., his physique. Gradually, he started exploring his own talent and capabilities, something he was very well aware of. He then went on to become the biggest superstar of his generation, and the rest as we say is history. He had his own distinct style for action, it was less of punches and more of explosives, combined with a very savage sense of humor.
After the 70s that was overloaded with action that came with a very nihilistic tone, Arnold brought something fresh to the genre. His movies were pure entertainment, and were a favorite among critics as well. Most of them now, have grown into cult classics and are still very relevant in pop culture with every generation acknowledging his courage. So without dwelling further on the past, here is the list of top 10 Arnold Schwarzenegger movies:
10. Conan The Barbarian (1982)
Starting off the list with ‘Conan the Barbarian’, where Arnold plays the titular character of the same name. The movie was a live action adaptation of the pulp comics written by Robert E.Howard, and was also Arnold’s breakthrough performance. The sword-and-sorcery epic made him a popular figure among mainstream audiences, and gained a considerable cult following itself, leading to a sequel in 1984. The film follows Conan, who seeks vengeance for the death of his parents in a world that is plagued by dark sorcery and savagery. Up until the release of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, this movie was considered as the grandest sword-and-sorcery film, with its beautiful production design and iconic soundtrack.
9. Eraser (1996)
‘Eraser’ is not really a name that springs up when we talk about Arnie’s action flicks. It is possibly the last classic action flick he made in his career, I’m not gonna consider ‘Terminator 3’. Eraser was a blockbuster and despite its numerous plot holes, it was an action film with technical achievements of the highest order. The spectacular stunts and special effects were a notch ahead of its counterparts, and it even got nominated for an Oscar in the sound effects category.
8. The Running Man (1987)
‘The Running Man’ is a highly entertaining sci-fi built on subject matter that cannot be more relevant today. The 70s and 80s were dominated by a brand of dystopian sci-fi movies that focused on the worst case scenario of the future that lay ahead. The Running Man revolves around a TV show where convicts have to battle professional killers for freedom, a concept that was borrowed later by ‘The Condemned’, ‘Death Race’ and ‘Battle Royale’. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a policeman wrongly convicted of massacre and has to face absurdly dangerous situations to get out alive. The movie’s depiction might be exaggerated but the addition of campiness was a staple move for satirical pieces, which otherwise would have turned to be too dark.
7. Total Recall (1990)
Schwarzenegger was the biggest entertainer (pun intended) at the beginning of the 90’s after a never ending streak of hits. To start off the decade in a smashing fashion, he collaborated with ‘RoboCop’ director Paul Verhoeven for this sci-fi action film, which was one of the most expensive films made during that period. Set in the futuristic world of 2084, it tells the story of a construction worker who has nightmares about Mars and an unknown woman residing there. For a mainstream flick, the plot was complex and riveting, and borrowed a lot of visual elements from cyberpunk classics.
6. True Lies (1994)
‘True Lies’ marked the entrance of James Cameron in the action-comedy subgenre, and to ensure optimum results he chose the undisputed king of action. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Having previously collaborated with the star on two occasions, Cameron trusted Arnie to deliver, and True Lies became one of the highest grossing films from that year. Inspired from the French comedy film ‘La Totale’, it revolves around a secret U.S government agent whose profession is oblivious to his family.
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5. Commando (1985)
After the tremendous response to ‘The Terminator’ in 1984, Arnold followed it up with ‘Commando’. Commando can be considered the archetypal hardcore action movie of the 80s. With tongue-in-cheek humor as effective as the explosions, it soon amassed a cult following like every other Schwarzenegger movie in the 80’s. The plot revolves around a retired black-ops commando, whose daughter has been kidnapped by mercenaries who intend on killing every member of his unit. To save his daughter and to beat the clock, John Matrix sets out on the most devastating rampage any Arnold character has ever gone.
4. Stay Hungry (1976)
‘Stay Hungry’ is probably the most overlooked movie on this list, it is so overlooked, even some of the holiest Arnold worshippers wouldn’t be aware of its existence. Maybe it’s because the movie came out during the 70’s and had the Austrian beast in a supporting role to Jeff Bridges’s lead character. The film basically follows Craig Blake (Bridges) who’s asked to help buy a businessman a gym, which would later be demolished. But Craig falls for a worker, and develops a friendship with bodybuilder Joe Santo (Arnie). Arnold was awarded a Golden Globe for his efforts and the film was lauded for providing an intriguing picture of the bodybuilding scene, something not very familiar with the 70’s audiences.
3. Predator (1987)
The Predator franchise along with the Aliens, include the most iconic set of films from the sci-fi/horror category. Though they may be “ugly motherf*ckers”, the monsters have become so beloved among enthusiasts, they had their own cross-over film. ‘Predator’ was initially loathed by critics but was later reassessed, and its use of various genre tropes with some great practical effects by Stan Winston was heavily praised. Though the movie is set in a vast guerilla territory, the use of rainforests to create a feeling of entrapment heightened by the invisible extraterrestrial killer will always keep you on the edge of your seat.
2. The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’ is without an ounce of doubt, the movie that turned Arnold into a superstar. Though his cyborg assassin character was inspired from Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger from ‘Westworld’, his personality added a lot of conviction and toughness. The Terminator was both, a commercial and critical success, and is now considered a classic from the genre. The movie redefined the mechanics of action films, with terrific action sequences, special effects, well calculated pacing and strong performances from the cast. Nobody has utilized Arnie as efficiently as Cameron did, by giving him a mechanical role that did not let his lack of acting skills get into the way.
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
‘Terminator 2’ has to be the crowning achievement in a career that is filled with the greatest action films. If ‘The Terminator’ gave a new direction to sci-fi action films, its sequel can be considered the movie that defines them. Terminator 2 was a cinematic achievement, its technical aspects were never explored before in the history of cinema, and it was no surprise when it won 4 Academy Awards for it. The movie doesn’t try to be complex, it uses its sci-fi elements as icing on the cake, while its primary focus lies on 150 minutes of gripping drama and action. To cater to Arnold’s status as the greatest movie star during that period, his character was switched to a protagonist, which gave him more screen-time and one-liners. The movie was also the first film to use motion capture technology. Improvising on the prequel, T2 focused on building the two characters, Sarah Connor and T-800 around the central character of the franchise, John Connor.
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