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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to form as a wise-cracking one-liner machine and ultimate badass is more than welcome, and incites a sense of nostaliga we can’t let go of. That’s why we’re taking a look back of some our executive editor’s greatest roles, and ranking them like true fanboys. Arnold is undeniably the ultimate action star, so pitting role against role is almost as impossible a task as refraining from asking him to do some of his classic lines in person.
Now, let’s break the ice:
Yes, Batman and Robin made this list. Yes, it’s a terrible movie. But neon-blue Arnold is its saving grace, with lines like “Freeze in Hell!” “Let’s kick some ice!” and “You’re not sending me to the cooler!”
Looking at the movie as camp, there’s no better casting choice for Batman’s frigid foe. If you are militantly against this movie, you should chill.
The kids almost steal the show from Arnold in this 1990 classic comedy. Seeing a warmer side of Schwarzenegger in this and Twins was an enjoyable departure from a long list of R-rated action flicks. Kindergarten Cop was an accessible film for young kids in the ‘90s who weren’t allowed to see Commando, Predator or The Terminator, and yielded two of the most quoted Arnold lines ever: “IT’S NOT A TUMAH!” and “Who is your daddy and what does he do?”
Some of Arnold’s best movies are adaptations of science fiction novels, and this was his first. The Running Man is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and features lead character Ben Richards in a fight-to-the-death TV show based in a dystopian future. This movie is The Hunger Games on hallucinogens, with chainsaw-armed motorcyclists and a fat dude in a robo-suit coming for Arnold’s blood, and the over-arching commentary on people’s obsession with violence and entertainment is similar to Robocop. Richard Dawson, the infamously kissy Family Feud host, plays the villain and owner/host of the show.
1990’s Total Recall trumps the abysmal 2012 adaptation in every single way. Extremely loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Arnold plays lead character Douglas Quaid, a working man (or is he?) on Mars (or is he?) who is constantly being chased down for elimination to cover up a conspiracy involving oxygen resources, women with three boobs, and the existence of an ancient alien race … or is he? Aside from Arnold’s performance, the special effects in this movie stand on their own for their innovation, weirdness and ability to make you yell “WTF?”
Arnold’s quietest role is also one of his most notable and quotable. After conquering as Conan, Schwarzenegger turned villain for the first time as the intimidating and near-invincible T-800 we all know and love-hate. Don’t call his acting robotic though–Arnold trained hard with both weapons handling and movement to make his role believable. And his signature line up there? In drafts it was “I’ll come back” and was almost delivered as “I will be back.” Thankfully we can’t redefine history like Skynet.
It’s not his best movie, but it is the one that put Arnold on the map as a silver screen superstar and ensured his future as an action icon. So much of this production centered on Arnold and his body: he was the only actor considered for the role, and at the time he was so built that he had to cut his size down to wield a sword. Arnold’s training was so intense for the role that he came out of retirement as a bodybuilder and entered the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition, which he handily won. Conan the Barbarian initiated a new wave of fantasy-genre films in the 1980s, which kids of the decade can really appreciate.
This is where the rankings get really difficult. There’s no denying that Predator ranks among Arnold’s best films, but of course this list centers on his roles and not the films as a whole (hence why The Running Man made the cut). As the character Dutch, Schwarzenegger leads an ensemble cast of fellow badasses including Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura into the wilds of the Amazon on a rescue mission, only to find something more nefarious hunting them one by one. Dutch uses his cunning, instinct and hard-as-nails badassery to counter the Predator, and finds the time to fit in classic lines like “Stick around!” “What’s the matter? CIA got you pushing too many pencils?” and of course, “GET TO DA CHOPPA!”
This role showed Arnold’s prowess as an actor who could at once be humorous and quippy without losing his action star appeal, further cementing his legacy as a battle-hardened quote machine.
Once again working with James Cameron, Arnold steps up for what many still consider the most complex and compelling role in his filmography. As Harry Tasker, Arnold lives a double life as a spy for the Omega Sector (performing hairy tasks, get it?) while at once trying to restore integrity to his relationship with his bored wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) who thinks he’s a computer salesman. A little foreplay turns into a hostage situation with Arab terrorists, although plot remains rife with humor as Arnold and Curtis inevitably get the upper hand. This role is light on quotable one-liners, but it was Cameron’s intention to give Schwarzenegger a more challenging role, which he delivered on with the precision of a laser-guided helicopter missile.
Over-the-top action and constant one-liners, full of guns, melee weapons and all forms of brutality, Commando is the ultimate ’80s Arnold flick and one that defines the action genre of the time. If we were observing that decade alone, this would unquestionably be at the top of the list. But nostalgia aside, Arnold stands tall as a revenge-seeking badass better than anyone else in the biz as John Matrix, a retired special ops colonel and loving single father who also handles every known weapon with expert precision. The next time you want to let off some steam, just watch this movie, sit back, and enjoy the best pre-Tarantino revenge-porn that the film industry has to offer.
Still Arnold’s most iconic role, a reprogrammed T-800 returns to the distant past (the olden times of 1997) to protect Sarah and John Connor against the liquid metal T-1000. Whether he’s requesting clothes, boots and a motorcycle or blasting a shotgun round into the face of Robert Patrick’s malleable villain, Arnold is at his most entertaining and engaging in T2. Despite the action and apocalyptic overtones of the film, more subtle details like creating unlikely friendships and teaching the importance of patience as you train robots in the art of smiling and using ’90s lingo makes it hard not to laugh, and in that difficult final scene, have a drop or two of liquid come out of your eye.
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