Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest film Maggie opens this weekend, and it may feature his least characteristic role to date: The former “Austrian Oak” plays a mourning father who watches his teenage daughter slowly succumbing to a fatal zombie virus. No quips, no action sequences featuring him mowing down hundreds of people, not even any real gore – it’s a radical departure, even for an actor who has been known to play against type from time to time. In short, it’s an Arnold film with very little Ahnuld-ness in it.
Hardcore fans can rest easy, though. In two months, the former Governator will be back in his most iconic role — a T-800 robot — in the latest installment of the venerable man-versus-machine franchise, Terminator: Genisys. That means this year will probably have seen at least two films from Schwarzengger: one featuring his least typical role, and one featuring his most typical one. And that makes this the perfect time to look over the bodybuilding champion-cum-action movie superstar’s career, and assess what makes some of his films so essentially…his. Here are 15 of Arnold’s movies — some good, some bad, a few quite ugly — rated according to their abundance (or lack) of Ahnuld-osity.
Pumping Iron (1977)
The character: Arnold Schwarzenegger, renowned body-builder, as he trains for the 1975 Mister Olympia title. (It’s a documentary.)
Violence: There’s no violence in this movie, but we do see Arnold smoking pot at one point – which the future politician once considered a lot more troubling than the violence in his films.
Best Quip: On weight-lifting: “It’s as satisfying to me as coming is. Having sex with a woman and coming…Can you imagine how much in heaven I am?” (If only he had said this after he killed somebody.)
Most impressive physical feat: This entire movie is a physical feat, frankly.
Fun with Austrian accents: “Blood iz rushing indo your muscles, and dat’s what we call da pump.”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 5. Of course, this movie is Arnold, in all his bulging-biceps glory. But while Schwarzenegger’s charisma is already evident, it’s interesting to see how different the real man was from his later screen persona.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
The character: In his first lead role in a major action film, Arnold plays a Cimmerian warrior in the Hyborean Age who seeks revenge on the snake-cult that murdered his parents.
Violence: Conan slices, dices, beheads, and elbow-stabs his way through this movie. He also hacks up a snake, bites a vulture, and punches a camel.
Best Quip: Not so much a quip, but Conan’s response to the question “What is good in life?” is one of the all-time great Ahnuld lines: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”
Most impressive physical feat: Schwarzenegger handling a sword is surprisingly graceful – he reportedly had to lose weight in order to pull it off.
Fun with Austrian accents: Conan keeps admirably quiet for much of this movie, but his question “Doo flauwez grow around hiah?” is a high-point.
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 8.
The Terminator (1984)
The character: The T-800, a stone-faced, seemingly unstoppable killer robot from the future
Violence: James Cameron’s R-rated hit has Arnold graphically machine-gunning his way through crowded nightclubs and police stations, randomly murdering complete strangers, and wreaking general havoc across Los Angeles as he mows down anyone named “Sarah Connor.”
Best Quip: The T-800 is not exactly a quippy guy. But hey, this is the movie that made “I’ll be back” famous.
Most impressive physical feat: Being a robot from the future, the Terminator is virtually indestructible – but his exterior isn’t. His final re-emergence at the end of the film, now just a robot skeleton shorn of its Ahnuldian sheen, is one of the all-time great jump-in-your-seat scares in action cinema.
Fun with Austrian accents: The T-800 perfectly replicates human speech, but his pronunciations of “Sawah Cohnah” and “Ooozi 9 millimetah” have become iconic.
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 8. This is the hit that would define his career, but in retrospect, it’s somewhat less Ahnuld than some of his other films – and the violence is a lot less tongue-in-cheek.
The character: John Matrix, retired Black Ops commando who goes ballistic (pretty much literally) after his young daughter is kidnapped by a former enemy.
Violence: This might have the most violent set pieces of any Arnold movie, as our hero singlehandedly stabs, machine-guns, and bazookas his way into the bad guys’ military compound, then hacks, pitchforks, slices, and amputates a small army of men using farm equipment. He also impales the main villain on a steam pipe. (See the “every kill in Commando” montage above.)
Best Quip: This movie, like several Arnold movies, is all quips, but for sheer set-up and delivery, this one takes it: “You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Later: “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?… I lied.”
Most impressive physical feat: In one of the more ridiculous stunts of his career, Arnold’s character leaps off an airplane in mid-take-off and survives without a scratch. Also, he lifts an entire phone booth – with one of the bad guys still in it.
Fun with Austrian accents: “I eet green berets foh breakfast. Anrighnow, I’m very haangry!”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 10. Pure, uncut Ahnuld, in one of the most ridiculously Ahnuld-esque films he ever made.
The character: Dutch, the tough-as-nails, cigar-chomping leader of a group of brawny Special Ops commandos on a secret mission in the Latin American jungle, who are in turn hunted down by the title alien.
Violence: Freeing some hostages, Arnold and his pals mow down a small band of guerillas. After that, though, it’s mostly Arnold trying to survive while a terrifying extraterrestrial picks off his men in gruesome fashion.
Best Quip: “Stick around,” after nailing a guy to a wall with a perfectly thrown hunting knife.
Most impressive physical feat: Arnold caked in mud, having forged a small arsenal for himself out of tree branches and roots, stalking the alien in question – outdoing his rival Stallone’s Rambo at his own game.
Fun with Austrian accents: “Get too dah choppah!”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 9. Prime Arnold.
The Running Man (1987)
The character: Ben Richards, a noble cop who is framed and forced to compete in a futuristic game show where contestants are chased (and generally killed) by an assortment of elaborate, surreal “stalkers.”
Violence: Arnold strangles one stalker to death with barbed wire, castrates another with a chainsaw, and launches the host (played by real-life Family Feud host Richard Dawson) to his doom in a futuristic death-luge.
Best Quip: Not unlike several films from this period, the whole movie is pretty much quips once the game gets started, but “He had to split” is the best one – uttered after cutting a man in half.
Most impressive physical feat: That he can wear that sleek, tight, bright-yellow outfit while keeping a straight face.
Fun with Austrian accents: We’re not going to phoneticize it, but “I hope you leave enough room for my fist, because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine” is one of the all time greatest Ahnuldisms.
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 8. It’s got some of Arnold’s most iconic moments, but we’re deducting points because the movie is not, shall we say, very good. Seriously, have you watched this lately?
The character: Julius Benedict, a brilliant, genetically engineered perfect human, who discovers that he has a twin – played by Danny De Vito – that is none of those things.
Violence: Though the naïve, sheltered Julius is decidedly a pacifist and prefers to negotiate, he eventually learns to use his brute strength to defend his brother.
Best Quip: “You have no respect for logic. I have no respect for those who’ve no respect for logic,” as he picks up a bad guy and throws him into an elevator. (It’s funny in context.)
Most impressive physical feat: He tears a shirt with a flexed bicep, after tensing up when a beautiful woman falls asleep on his shoulder.
Fun with Austrian accents: Arnold singing “Yakety Yak” (badly) is a running gag throughout the film.
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 8. This was Arnold’s first true comic departure, and it was such a hit that he would return to this well regularly.
Total Recall (1990)
The character: Douglas Quaid, average futuristic schmoe who signs up for a virtual reality adventure to Mars, then discovers that he might in fact be a man named Hauser — a former police state operative whose memory has been wiped.
Violence: Arnold snaps numerous necks and backs, drills one guy to death, and in one particularly notable moment, blasts his way through a spaceport while using a dead innocent bystander as a human shield. He also amputates the bad guy’s arms with an elevator.
Best Quip: “Consider that a divorce,” upon gunning down his duplicitous wife, played by Sharon Stone.
Most impressive physical feat: As the bad guys try to wipe away his memory (or are they trying to re-implant it?), Arnold breaks free of his arm braces, then uses the conveniently placed large screws on the bottoms of the braces to stab several guys.
Fun with Austrian accents: “If I’m nut mee, den hoo de hell am I?”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 8. Kind of amazing when you realize that the movie was clearly written with a normal person in mind.
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
The character: Detective John Kimble, who goes undercover as a teacher in his quest to take down a drug lord – and finds himself overwhelmed by a lovable, rowdy class of toddlers.
Violence: Arnold screams at and disciplines the kids. He also blows away a guy with the help of a ferret.
Best Quip: “I’m the party pooper!” as he blows away a baddie’s drug den.
Most impressive physical feat: The way his eyes bulge when he yells, “Shaaaaaahht Aaaaahhhp!” to the kids.
Fun with Austrian accents: A tie between “It’s nut a tuumah” and “Hoo iz yoh daddy and wut duz he doo?”
Ahnuld-o-meter: 7. Some of it’s choice Ahnuld, but the uneasy combination of his action movies and his kiddie movies makes for a strange experience.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The character: T-800, a stone-faced, seemingly unstoppable killer robot from the future….who’s now been reprogrammed to be a good guy.
Violence: Though he destroys half of L.A., Arnold’s character makes a point of not trying to kill any humans – an attempt by the politically-minded actor and future governor to change his public image.
Best Quip: “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Most impressive physical feat: A naked T-800 beats the living crap out of a bar full of Hell’s Angels.
Fun with Austrian accents: “I know now why you cry. But it’s something I can never do” is somehow both the funniest and saddest line in this entire film, and possibly the entire Schwarzenegger corpus.
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 9.
Last Action Hero (1993)
The character: Jack Slater, a fictional Hollywood hero cop (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) into whose shoot-em-up world the film’s young protagonist enters. Later, Slater comes back with his young sidekick into our world.
Violence: Since this movie is an amped-up spoof/indulgence of Arnold’s oeuvre, it’s hard to do justice to the violence on display. Just know that at one point, he plays Hamlet in an imaginary movie version of the play and blasts his way through Elsinore. Oh, and one guy dies from an ice cream cone lodged in the back of his head.
Best Quip: “Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers!” (Trust us, it’s funny in context.)
Most impressive physical feat: Arnold hangs from a crane with a flatulent corpse loaded with nerve gas. Close second: Slater’s signature move of walking across the roofs of cars to arrive on a crime scene.
Fun with Austrian accents: “Could I speak to de drug dealeh of deh house pleaze?…It’s a beautiful day, and we ah out killing drug dealehz. Ah deah any in de house?”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 6. Arnold having fun with his persona is at times very funny – but Arnold is always having fun with his persona. Plus, it feels more like he’s spoofing Bruce Willis in Die Hard here.
True Lies (1994)
The character: Harry Tasker, a James Bond-esque superspy who pretends to be a boring computer salesman as his cover, much to the chagrin of his frustrated wife (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Violence: The movie is wall-to-wall violence, but for some reason the scene where Arnold and a couple of terrorists lay waste to a men’s room while having a knock-down, drag-out fist- and gunfight, really stands out. Also the scene where Arnold imagines himself breaking Bill Paxton’s face. Also the scene where he blows away an office building full of terrorists with a harrier jet.
Best Quip: “You’re fired,” as he fires off a laser-guided missile, with the bad guy attached to it.
Most impressive physical feat: The action is great, but Arnold waltzing — with Tia Carrere at the beginning, then Jamie Lee Curtis at the end – is surprisingly elegant and sexy.
Fun with Austrian accents: Arnold’s accent doesn’t get in the way too much in this movie, but Harry is supposed to be a linguistic genius, and we’d love to hear what his Arabic and his French sound like to native speakers of those languages.
Ahnuld-o-meter: 7. This is a great action movie, and director James Cameron knows exactly how to play off Arnold’s typical persona. But oddly enough, he’s playing more of a straight man here than usual.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The character: An overworked dad traverses the city during the holidays in an attempt to buy his young son a coveted Turbo Man action figure.
Violence: Besides rampaging through a crowded store, Arnold at one point fights a small army of department store Santas with a giant plastic candy cane. And he nearly gets knocked out by a seven-foot behemoth, with the help of a dwarf. (This is a very strange movie.)
Best Quip: “Veah’z yo Christmuss spirit now?” as Arnold lifts up two store clerks laughing at him by their collars.
Most impressive physical feat: Arnold on a jetpack, crashing the Christmas Day parade.
Fun with Austrian accents: “I’m nut a puuuhvuuuht. I’m just lookin’ for a Tuhhbo Man doll!”
Ahnuld-o-meter Score: 4. Weak stuff. Arnold’s attempt at kiddie fare had gotten tiresome by this point.
The Last Stand (2013)
The character: As a grizzled, laid-back small-town sheriff who has to combat a ruthless drug lord, this is Arnold in “I’m too old for this shit” mode.
Violence: The whole final half of the movie is basically one extended gunfight, with exploding heads galore.
Best Quip: “Welcome to Somerton” (that’s the name of the town) as he blows away a bunch of guys with a Gatling gun hidden inside a school bus.
Most impressive physical feat: This movie is more about how old and tired Arnold is – but at one point, he jumps off a building with a guy, while also shooting the man in the head.
Fun with Austrian accents: “I’m duh sheriff!”
Ahnuld-o-meter: 5. (Though to be fair, it would be a 9 on the Eastwood-o-meter.)
The character: Arnold is the head of a corrupt DEA task force whose members are being targeted one by one – possibly from within.
Violence: This is a grisly, grisly movie, with the mysterious killer in question doing gruesome things to Arnold’s team. Arnold saves most of his firepower until the end, for an epic car chase, and a final, extremely violent shoot-out in a Mexican saloon.
Quips: “Look at you! With your fucking 48% body fat!” – to two men questioning his team’s credibility.
Most impressive physical feat: Managing not to look completely ridiculous in full-on cowboy get-up in the film’s Mexico-set coda.
Fun with Austrian accents: “It’s an occupational hazaahd…ven youfight deh cahtelz!”
Ahnuld-o-meter: 3. It’s not a particularly bad movie — just not a particularly good Ahnuld movie.