The 33 Worst Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies: Part 1

What did you do over lockdown? Perhaps you baked a banana bread bust of Captain Tom or developed a COVID vaccine. You may have discovered Cameo and received a Christmas greeting from Nirvana’s Nevermind baby. Or maybe you watched every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie to devise a definitive ranking which you regretted ever starting.

“Give you a list?”

First some ground rules. We only counted features in which Arnie has a subtantial role (or won a Golden Globe), which covers most of his work but excludes the Expendables trilogy, Pumping Iron, Dave, The Long Goodbye, Killing Gunther etc. We’ve also reviewed them all in one masochistic form or another. The ranking goes from best to worst, and is interesting in how quickly it becomes a list of bad films. Indeed the bulk of this effort was devoted to working out whether one terrible movie was marginally better or worse than another, sometimes requiring multiple viewings to understand the granularity of these placements. It wasn’t always easy, and was often quite painful – but as Arnie might say: “Hasta la lista, baby!”

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

T2 is Arnie’s finest work both physically and emotionally. And with it James Cameron set the gold standard for movie sequels going bigger, better and building on the original’s mythology. If only the franchise hadn’t come back after the Terminator’s final thumbs up. AC

2. The Terminator (1984)

This could easily have taken the top spot, cinematically slighter than T2 but barely. The Terminator packs enough invention, love and fear into its skeletal frame to flatten viewers as if by steamroller. Ingeniously designed, directed and performed, it provides a simultaneous glimpse into a dystopian future and a utopian past where this idea was as fresh as the ink on James Cameron’s first divorce. DM

3. Total Recall (1990)

The ultimate in Schwarzemania, Total Recall delivers all the screaming, quipping and exploding you could possibly want from an Arnie movie and so much more. The vividly eccentric future and nuanced noir narrative elevate it beyond subsequent attempts to simulate Paul Verhoeven’s style, and to compare it to the Colin Farrell remake is as redundant as a human worker in a robot factory. DM

4. True Lies (1994)

It’s no coincidence that three of our top four are directed by James Cameron, the only director who can consistently get the best out of Arnie. This results in Schwarzenegger’s only genuinely good comedy, with a rare subtelty in his performance, meaning we’re actually laughing at the lines rather than how bad he is. Pack in plenty of first rate action and you have one of his best films, no word of a lie. AC

5. The 6th Day (2000)

This sci-fi action film may have borrowed some of its DNA from Total Recall, but thanks to a well-imagined future, a twisty, turny plot and some killer Arnie lines it goes beyond mere replication. Plus Arnie gets to show his range as two versions of the same character, making this the most underrated film on our list. AC

6. Predator (1987)

If I told you back in 1987 that Arnold Schwarzenegger was starring in a Vietnam-inspired slasher flick about a dreadlocked space alien, you’d probably have said, “Cowabunga!” and then moonwalked away. But Predator is a masterclass in stripped-down suspense and jungle carnage. The only reason it isn’t higher up the list is because Arnie takes a young woman prisoner and kicks a vulture in the face, and yet it’s still way better than loads of films in which he doesn’t. DM

7. Commando (1985)

Commando is a time-honoured tale of a father rescuing his daughter. But when the daughter has been abducted by a South American general and taken to an island fortress, and the father is an elite Marine commando prepared to unleash hell to get her back, it’s not long before the island makes Dr Moreau‘s look like a pleasant vacationing spot by comparison. AC

8. The Last Stand (2013)

The first and best film of Arnie’s post-gubernatorial career, The Last Stand is South Korean director Kim Jee-woon‘s Hollywood debut. It can’t be easy working with non-English speakers, but thanks to translators the cast were able to understand Arnold eventually. Seriously though, considering how many of the films further down this list struggle tonally, the clarity of Jee-woon’s comic-Western vision would be impressive even if he wasn’t directing in a second language. DM

9. Eraser (1996)

Here is where we start seeing that tonal mismatch typical of ’90s Arnie, where comedy scripts designed to accommodate his garbling goofiness are shot like straight-faced thrillers and end up amusing in all the wrong places. In this case it’s The Mask director Chuck Russell (presumably chosen for his experience with rubber faces) who makes Eraser so impermanent, failing to realise that an Arnie flick involving laser weapons and a character called Tony Two Toes wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Nevertheless Eraser manages to bounce back and succeeds as a film to laugh at if not with, so very much on-brand for Mr. Schwarzenegger. DM

10. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Years before he kicked a vulture in Predator he punched a camel in Conan the Barbarian (the camel gets its revenge in Conan the Destroyer). This fun fantasy flick was Arnie’s first major leading role and showed he could handle the action if not so much the emotion. Featuring James Earl Jones as snake cult supremo Thulsa Doom this treasure trove of fantasy tropes is daft, fun and much better than its sequels. AC

11. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Is there a greater admission of failure than to keep making the same film until one of them sticks? Ignoring the previous 3 instalments (and the Universal Studios ride T2-3D: Battle Across Time), Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2/no longer canon depending on how far in the future you are reading this. But at the time of writing it is the third-best instalment of the franchise by virtue of feeling a bit like a proper film, and reuniting James Cameron and Linda Hamilton for the first time since his fourth divorce. DM

We’ll be back tomorrow with part 2.


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