2013 marked Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to full time acting, I quite enjoyed both of his releases last year, particularly The Last Stand, and looking over his filmography, realised that I’d seen almost every film he’d been in. For this worst-to-best feature, I decided only to consider films in which Arnie has a major role, not necessarily the lead, but I discounted all cameo roles, of which he’s had quite a few. This also meant discarding small pre-fame appearances like The Long Goodbye, which could have ranked quite highly otherwise, the TV movie he directed (but didn’t act in) and all documentary appearances except ones where he was the subject. A lot of these I saw numerous times in my teenage years and a few I re-watched before making this list. There were only actually a couple that I’d never seen before making it.
31. ‘Hercules in New York’ (1969)
A lot of actors have a pre-fame appearance they’d rather forget, for Arnie that film is Hercules in New York, his acting debut. Filmed when he was in his early twenties, he had his voice dubbed over and named changed to ‘Arnold Strong’ for its original release, though these were later restored after he became well-known. It’s a very poorly made low-budget fantasy film, whose title spells out its premise, sending the Greek demigod to NYC. The terrible dialogue and acting possess a certain camp so-bad-it’s-funny appeal in the early scenes but otherwise it’s one that Arnie, and his fans, would probably rather pretend never happened.
Quote: “Ha, ha, ha. You have strucked Hercules.” (not a typo)
30. ‘Red Sonja’ (1985)
The disappointment of Conan the Destroyer stopped Arnie from wanting to make any more Conan films, but as a favour to the producer agreed to cameo in this adaptation of another Robert E. Howard character. Upon arriving on set he found his role bumped up to a supporting one and received top billing. He’s not in it that much but it’s certainly an awful fantasy film, he reportedly once described it as “the worst film I have ever made”.
Quote: “If you yield only to a conqueror, then prepared to be conquered”
29. ‘The Villain’ aka ‘Cactus Jack’ (1979)
Another early role for Schwarzenegger came in this very silly comedy-western. He plays a cowboy called ‘Handsome Stranger’ who’s escorting a woman called ‘Charming Jones’ to collect her inheritance. The film deliberately tries to resemble a live-action Warner Bros. cartoon but it just comes up feeling childishly unfunny. Arnie has the straight role so leaves all the embarrassing parts to Kirk Douglas in the lead.
Quote: “This is a seven-shot six-shooter, and I had it especially made.”
28. ‘Batman and Robin’ (1997)
This legendarily terrible franchise-killer was an embarrassment for all involved, taking the Batman film series into ridiculous, high camp territory. Arnie plays famed scientist-turned super-villain Mr Freeze, who despite his apparent intellect, seems only able to speak in awful ice-related puns. A cringe-worthy film, often voted one of the worst blockbusters ever, but still one most film fans will have probably ended up seeing at some point.
Quote: “If I must suffer, humanity will suffer with me.”
27. ‘Jingle All the Way’ (1996)
This ill-advised attempt at a Christmas family comedy was supposed to be satirising the commercialisation of Christmas, as Arnie and a rival Dad battle to get hold of the year’s must have toy, but lacked any bite. Like virtually all Christmas films, it’s endured, but it’s a comedy that’s easy to ridicule and hard to like or defend.
Quote: “Put that cookie down! NOW!”
26. ‘The Comeback’ aka ‘Total Rebuild’ (1980)
This short documentary (46 minutes – it’s on YouTube) chronicled Schwarzenegger’s return to competitive body building after an absence of several years. Unlike Pumping Iron, which seemed to want to make the sport interesting for outsiders, this just documents the 1980 Mr Olympia competition itself, with lots of time spent on gratuitous shots of bodybuilders posing, and a few interviews, meaning it’s probably one only for bodybuilding enthusiasts.
Quote: “No matter if there’s a bomb exploding around you, you do not lose your concentration”
25. ‘Eraser’ (1996)
Probably the most unremarkable of his nineties films, Arnie plays a U.S. Marshal assigned to protect a weapons company executive. The film did reasonably well at the box office despite receiving deservedly middling reviews. Other than one moment when Arnie shoots an alligator, it’s completely unmemorable.
Quote: [to dead alligator] “You’re luggage!”
24. ‘Conan the Destroyer’ (1984)
Schwarzenegger was originally signed on for a number of Conan films, but this second outing effectively put a stop to them. Dropping the violent tone of the first film, it’s a more light-heated affair that was then edited down to receive a PG rating. It didn’t flop commercially but nobody, including Arnie seemed particularly pleased with the finished product. Re-watching it a few weeks ago it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, with a few amusing lines, but it’s still a lacklustre adventure film.
Quote: “Enough talk!”
23. ‘Collateral Damage’ (2002)
One of the last roles he took on before moving into politics, this action thriller from The Fugitive director Andrew Davis has Arnie play a fire-fighter whose wife and son are killed in a terrorist attack. Let down by the law, he then heads to Columbia to track down and face those responsible. It was delayed and re-edited following the 9/11 attacks. It gains something form its Columbian setting but is otherwise a very generic, substandard action film.
- (bad guy) “What’s the difference between you and I?”
- Arnie: “The difference is… I”m just going to kill you.”
22. ‘Junior’ (1994)
This is the notorious comedy in which Schwarzenegger becomes pregnant. That does happen, but the film is nowhere near as awful as one might fear. The first half detailing his scientific pursuits is fine and even seems vaguely plausible, plus it gives us the strange prospect of a Schwarzenegger/Emma Thompson rom-com. Unfortunately it later descends into scenes of Arnie prancing around in drag, though also scored him a best actor Golden Globe nomination.
Quote: “Does my body disgust you?”
21. ‘The Running Man’ (1987)
Loosely adapted from a Stephen King novella, The Running Man takes place in a totalitarian future that was very clearly designed in the eighties. Arnie plays a wrongly convicted man who, rather than being sent to prison, is put on a game show where criminals are hunted down and killed, but gain their freedom if they survive. It’s a great premise that the film could have done more with.
Quote: – (bad guy) “You bastard! Drop dead!”
Arnie – “ I don’t do requests.”
20. ‘Raw Deal’ (1986)
This mid-eighties action film was a more low-key affair than Arnie’s usual output at the time. He plays a small town sheriff and former FBI agent who winds up helping his former employers infiltrate the mafia. A watchable but forgettable action thriller.
Quote: “You should not drink and bake!”
19. ‘Red Heat’ (1988)
Arnie commits to the role of an icy Russian detective sent to Chicago in Walter Hill’s comic action thriller. Not one of the best eighties buddy cop films (which include Hill’s own 48 Hours), Red Heat is, like Raw Deal, a serviceable but unessential film from Schwarzenegger’s eighties period.
- Art: “In this country, we try to protect the rights of individuals. It’s called the Miranda Act, and it says that you can’t even touch his ass.”
- Arnie: “I do not want to touch his ass. I want to make him talk!”
18. ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ (2003)
The prospect of a third Terminator film had been on the cards for several years, but Schwarzenegger had refused to participate unless James Cameron was involved in some way. Ultimately relenting, he took Cameron’s advice and agreed to do the film for a massive pay check, but he does put some effort in, and doesn’t feel like he’s just there for the money. Taken on its own terms, Terminator 3 isn’t that bad of a film, it has some good action scenes and an interesting ending, but it’s just not possible to divorce it from the two previous films. Considering how big a fan I am of those, I’d just rather this film hadn’t been made.
Quote “Your levity is good, it relieves tension and the fear of death.”
17. ‘End of Days’ (1999)
After a two year break for his heart surgery, Schwarzenegger returned, quite surprisingly, with his first and so far only attempt at a straight-up horror film. At the dawn of the new millennium, the devil possesses a human (Gabriel Byrne) in New York to find his bride and father a child. Arnie plays a widower and former cop who becomes involved and has to save the girl and stop the devil. His role was quite a change from his normal fare as he’s suicidally depressed, but there’s not too much moping around. Sure it’s a totally ridiculous film but I honestly recall quite enjoying it and don’t feel it deserved all its negative reviews.
Cardinal: “We’re not afraid to die for our cause.”
Arnie: “Good, because I’m not afraid to kill you!”
16. ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982)
After a decade of trying, Schwarzenegger’s breakthrough role as a leading man finally came in this violent, sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventure. Arnie embodies the pulp hero, and the film creates its world well with some good action scenes, but it’s an overlong affair that feels somewhat dated too.
- “Conan! What is best in life?”
- Conan: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”
15. ‘The Expendables 2’ (2012)
Arnie had his brief cameo in the original Expendables film expanded to a supporting role in this sequel. The film has a lot of creaky dialogue and poor attempts at self-aware humour but is undoubtedly superior to its predecessor. See my full review here.
Stallone: “That thing belongs in a museum.”
Arnie: “We all do.”
14. ‘Escape Plan’ (2013)
Arnie’s second starring role in his comeback year of 2013 saw him finally sharing the screen with Sylvester Stallone for a whole film. While still enjoyable, this prison thriller was the lesser of the films to The Last Stand, but featured one of the best performances Arnie has given. See my full review here.
Quote: “You hit like a vegetarian!”