It's been a while since Arnold Schwarzenegger released a truly great movie. Recent projects like Escape Plan and The Last Stand weren't quite good enough to make us forget his 1980s and 1990s classics, even if Maggie is surprisingly enjoyable and we're cautiously optimistic about Terminator Genisys. We didn't think much of Terminator 3 (and let's pretend the Arnold-free Terminator Salvation didn't happen), but the new installment doesn't look all that bad. It also got us thinking about Schwarzenegger's many past triumphs, so we asked our readers to vote for their favorites. Here are the results.
Until Twins came out in 1988, Arnold Schwarzenegger had only made action films. Nobody knew if he had any comedic ability or if audiences would accept him as anything but a muscly killing machine. It turned out that he was hysterical, and people loved to watch him mix it up with Danny DeVito. The two actors played twins that were created in a genetic experiment and on a quest to find their mother. The film grossed an astounding $216 million, cementing Arnold as one of the biggest stars in the world. Six years later, the pair teamed up again for Junior, but the magic just wasn't there. There's been talk of a Twins sequel where Eddie Murphy plays their lost triplet, but so far there's no solid word that's ever going to happen – which is probably a good thing.
Take a 1982 Stephen King novel written under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann, then throw in Family Feud host Richard Dawson, football great Jim Brown, two future governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura) and choreography by Paula Abdul. The result is one weird movie. Running Man takes place in the impossibly distant year of 2017, a time when America has devolved into a police state where criminals fight for their lives on a reality show. (Imagine a society that would debase down-and-out people on TV!) It grossed just $38 million and even Arnold was critical of the finished result, but it's become something of a cult classic.
John McTiernan knows how to direct an action movie. The man gave the world Die Hard and the criminally underrated Die Hard With a Vengeance. Arnold Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, knows how to star in an action movie. Throwing them together, right near their primes, should have resulted in one of the greatest ever made. Instead, it wound up as a parody film where a kid gets sucked into the movie universe and teams up with his idol. The hype around 'Last Action Hero' was insane, but critics tore it to shreds and it grossed a disappointing $137 million. Judging by this poll, however, it has some fans.
It's 2048 and a construction worker starts having crazy dreams about a woman on Mars. He ultimately decides to get memories of an outer-space vacation implanted into his brain, kicking off an insane series of events where he winds up doing battle on the actual red planet. (Mankind evolves quite a bit in the next three decades.) Sharon Stone plays the woman Arnold believes to be his wife, shortly before Basic Instinct made her wildly famous. The movie grossed $261 million, and Arnold's own fame would grow the next year when he returned to the character that made his movie career.
Much like Rambo, John Matrix is an extremely reluctant warrior. The retired special agent lives in a mountain home with his young daughter, but when she's kidnapped he's forced to get involved with a South American revolution. The ultimate lesson – as is the case in many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies – is don't fuck with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's handy with a rocket launcher and can easily take on an entirely army by himself. Bullets magically go around him while he hits every single time. Nothing about this movie seems even remotely plausible, but it was 1985 and this is what Hollywood did back then.
True Lies is basically the only film in the James Cameron library that's not insanely ambitious. He wasn't trying to push the boundaries of computer graphics, sink the Titanic, find a way to top the original Alien or create a distant planet full of giant blue creatures. This is simply a movie about an American secret agent who poses as a computer salesman. Jamie Lee Curtis plays his bored housewife; she has an affair with Bill Paxton before being sucked into an international criminal plot through which she discovers the truth about her husband. It's an extremely fun movie, even though it's clear Cameron was just clearing his throat before he delved into Titanic.
Before he starred in 1982's Conan the Barbarian, the public knew Arnold Schwarzenegger simply as a bodybuilder with a weird last name and a thick accent. The Conan producers saw greatness in the young Austrian and offered him the breakthrough title role. The script, which was written by Oliver Stone, places Conan in a magical prehistoric world where a warrior seeks revenge against the sorcerer that murdered his parents. It was a huge success, and a sequel came just two years later. There's been talk of a third movie called The Legend of Conan, but it has yet to get an official green light.
In one of the great ironies of Hollywood history, the studio originally wanted O.J. Simpson to play the Terminator – until James Cameron pointed out that nobody would believe the football star as a remorseless killer. Arnold was hot after the huge success of the original Conan movie and had to be convinced that he should work with a first-time director on a little movie about a cyborg from 2029 sent back in time to kill the mother of a future resistance army leader. Thankfully, he signed on and the rest is history. It was eventually overshadowed by its sequel, but the original Terminator remains a brilliant low-budget action film that only gets better with repeat viewings.
One year before he essentially created the modern action movie with Die Hard, John McTiernan directed this frightening film about a group of special ops soldiers being stalked by a killer alien. It's a riveting hour and 45 minutes, but sadly the series has been watered down by a disappointing sequel and spin-off films in which the entity battles the creature from Alien. Forget all those exist and just watch the original Predator.
In the original Terminator, Arnold is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she gives birth to the leader of the army that battles his evil robot brothers. In the sequel, he's sent back to protect her and her son from an even more advanced Terminator. This thing can only be destroyed if it's submerged in a giant vat of molten metal – you'll never guess where they wind up at the end of the flick. Conveniently located steel mills aside, this is one of the greatest sequels in film history. It dramatically expands the universe of the original, while never once feeling like a retread. It should be studied by any screenplay writer even thinking about following up a classic.