15 Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies of All Time

For many movie fans, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the number one action hero. He started his movie career with the role of Hercules in the 1970s comedy Hercules in New York and appeared in a few movies during the ’70s, finishing the decade with a role in Kirk Douglas’ comedy The Villain.

It was in the ’80s when the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were made. He became an international star. He continued to rise during the first part of the ’90s. His career went into a kind of decline in the second part of the ’90s and the early 2000s, but there were a few good ones in these years too, like Eraser and the comedy Jingle All The Way.

His acting career was on hold between 2003 and 2011 during his political career. Finally, he returned to acting with a role in Stallone’s Expendables franchise. During the rest of the 2010s, he made several quality movies, like The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Sabotage, and also continued the Terminator franchise.

Let’s take a look at the list of the 15 best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in a lead role (ordered by release date):

1. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: John Milius
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (35), James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow

Conan the Barbarian is a story about a boy who is enslaved after an evil warlord destroys his tribe and kills his parents. He grows up to become a fearless gladiator and eventually is set free. With a group of companions, the mighty warrior Conan now decides to go on a quest to avenge his parents.

This epic sword and sorcery film earned Schwarzenegger worldwide recognition. It was his breakthrough movie.

2. Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (37), Grace Jones, Olivia d’Abo

In the sequel to Conan the Barbarian (1982), Schwarzenegger reprises his role as Conan in a new adventure. This time he has a whole group of adventurers with him. He needs to protect a young princess on a journey to find a magical crystal.

3. The Terminator (1984)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (37), Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg from a dystopian future called Terminator, who is sent to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. Her son is the one who will end the rule of the machines in the future, and in order to prevent that, a cybernetic killer is sent into the past to kill her. Humans also sent their own soldier, Kyle Reese, to protect Sarah.

4. Commando (1985)

Genre: Action
Director: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (38), Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya

Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a retired Special Forces Colonel who is living a quiet life in the mountains with his daughter. A group of mercenaries led by his former soldier kidnaps his daughter to ensure that Matrix helps them with a military coup they have planned. Now he is forced out of retirement and needs to save his daughter and hunt down the bad guys.

It’s the ultimate Schwarzenegger movie with endless action and a bunch of one-liners.

5. Predator (1987)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (40), Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall, Jesse Ventura

Predator is certainly one of the best and most recognizable Schwarzenegger movies. He plays Major Dutch, who leads a group of commandos on a mission in a Central American jungle. Instead of being the hunters like they used to, they become the hunted. An alien Predator starts to kill them one by one. The best-trained commandos are just trophies to him.

The success of Predator spawned several sequels, including a crossover movie with the Alien franchise.

6. The Running Man (1987)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (40), Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto

The year is 2017, the economy has collapsed, and the United States is a totalitarian society where everything is controlled. In order to keep the population pacified, a game show called The Running Man is broadcast. Participants are criminals who want to avoid serving sentences, and they are chased by killers. If they survive, they are free, but nobody does. A falsely convicted police officer, Ben (Schwarzenegger), is forced to appear on The Running Man.

7. Red Heat (1988)

Genre: Action, Comedy
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (41), Jim Belushi

Schwarzenegger plays a tough Russian police captain who came to Chicago to extradite a Georgian drug lord back to Russia. However, the crime lord manages to escape, and Captain Danko now needs to cooperate with a Chicago detective to hunt him down.

Buddy cop action comedies are always fun to watch, and this one is one of the best.

8. Total Recall (1990)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger 43), Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside

The year is 2084. A construction worker named Douglas Quaid has obsessive dreams about visiting Mars. He goes to a company that implants false memories of ideal holidays so that people don’t need to actually go on them. Something goes wrong with the false memory implant, and Quaid starts to remember that he has actually been to Mars and that he is not a construction worker but a secret agent who fights against Mars administrator Cohaagen.

It’s one of Schwarzenegger’s highest-grossing movies.

9. Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Genre: Comedy, Crime
Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (43), Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed

Police detective John Kimble needs to put a dangerous drug dealer behind bars, but before doing that, he needs to locate the dealer’s wife before him. She is on the run, and she is the only one who can testify. The only clue he has is the name of a school her son attends. John will go undercover on his toughest assignment – posing as a Kindergarten teacher.

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (44), Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong

It’s the second installment in the Terminator franchise and the best and most popular in the series. In fact, it’s widely considered to be the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. With a rating of 8.5 and over 900,000 votes, it’s the highest-rated Schwarzenegger movie on IMDb.

It has been 10 years since a Terminator failed to kill Sarah Connor. The supercomputer Skynet has now sent another improved Terminator to kill her son, but the second, less advanced Terminator (played by Schwarzenegger) is also sent back in time to protect John.

11. Last Action Hero (1993)

Genre: Action, Comedy
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (46), F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney

While watching an action movie starring his hero Jack Slater, young Danny uses a magic ticket given to him by his friend to transport himself inside the movie. Things start to get worse when an evil character from the movie uses the same ticket to enter the real world. Now Jack Slater, a movie character, needs to stop the bad guy, but this time in the real world, where he can actually get killed.

It’s a very amusing parody of action movies.

12. True Lies (1994)

Genre: Action, Comedy, Thriller
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (47), Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold

Harry (Schwarzenegger) is a secret agent, but his family thinks that he is a computer salesman. While he is investigating a possible terrorist threat to the U.S., he finds out that his wife is bored with her life and that she is looking for some excitement. He decides to give her this excitement, but things turn bad when terrorists kidnap her. Now she will not only get the excitement but also find out that her husband is not a computer salesman.

In True Lies, Schwarzenegger reached the peak of his career in 1994.

13. Eraser (1996)

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Director: Chuck Russell
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (49), Vanessa Williams, James Caan

John Kruger is a U.S. Marshal who works in the Witness Protection program. His job is to “erase” the identities of the people he is assigned to protect. John’s latest assignment is a woman who works for a corporation that has developed a high-tech weapon and plans to sell it to enemies. He must protect her.

It’s one of Arnold’s last action movies where he is still at his full strength. He made some good action movies later on too, but he is much older in those.

14. Jingle All the Way (1996)

Genre: Comedy, Family
Director: Brian Levant
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (49), Sinbad, Phil Hartman

Howard is a salesman who often puts his work ahead of his family. He promised his son a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas but didn’t realize that this popular figure can’t be bought so close to Christmas. Now he needs to travel all over the town, find the action figure, and compete with everyone else who also didn’t manage to buy it on time.

This movie can easily be Schwarzenegger’s best comedy. It’s a hilarious movie for the whole family.

15. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (56), Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken

The story is set ten years after the events in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. John Connor is living off the grid, and his location is unknown to Skynet. The new Terminator model T-X is sent back in time to kill other top members of the resistance and ensure the rise of the machines. A reprogrammed T-101 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) was also sent to protect them, including Connor.

15 Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies According to IMDb

According to IMDb, these are the 15 best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in the lead role:

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – 8.5
  • The Terminator (1984) – 8.0
  • Predator (1987) – 7.8
  • Total Recall (1990) – 7.5
  • True Lies (1994) – 7.2
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982) – 6.9
  • Commando (1985) – 6.7
  • The Running Man (1987) – 6.7
  • Terminator Genisys (2015) – 6.4
  • Last Action Hero (1993) – 6.4
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) – 6.3
  • The Last Stand (2013 – 6.3
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – 6.3
  • Eraser (1996) – 6.1
  • Red Heat (1988) – 6.1

15 Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies According to Box Office

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – $521 million
  • Terminator Genisys (2015) – $441 million
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) – $433 million
  • True Lies (1994) – $379 million
  • Total Recall (1990) – $261 million
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – $261 million
  • Eraser (1996) – $242 million
  • Batman & Robin (1997) – $238 million
  • Twins (1988) – $216 million
  • End of Days (1999) – $212 million
  • Kindergarten Cop (1990) – $202 million
  • Last Action Hero (1993) – $137 million
  • Jingle All the Way (1996) – $130 million
  • Predator (1987) – $98 million
  • The Terminator (1984) – $78 million

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