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Hollywood Superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Best Movies

Published 03/13/2023, 10:40 AM EDT

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Hollywood’s favorite action hero, king of bodybuilding, and the former governor of California—Arnold Schwarzenegger is a true testament to the American dream. In the year 1968, the Austrian immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 to pursue his career in bodybuilding. Nonetheless, through his incredible flair and unquantifiable passion, he made a big splash in the fitness fraternity by winning the reverent title of Mr. Olympia in 1970. Since then, he has been unstoppable. Following his momentous victory in 1970, Schwarzenegger went on to win a set of another six Mr. Olympia trophies and established the roots of modern bodybuilding. However, in 1980, the bodybuilder retired from his beloved sport to pursue his interest in cinema, and since that point on, he gave the Hollywood entertainment industry some of the most highest-grossing movies.

Though many of us are versed in his passion for building deltoids, many are still oblivious to his journey of becoming the classic action star of Hollywood. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest breakthrough movies that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a dominant force in the entertainment industry.

Any Arnold Schwarzenegger list is incomplete without – Pumping Iron (1977)

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Directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler, the 1997 film Pumping Iron paved the way for then-28-year-old Schwarzenegger to rise to superstardom through his natural charisma and ripped physique. The film gives a panoramic view of several aspects of the bodybuilding universe. More so, the Terminator was seen as the untouchable European Adonis who gives the spectators a ride in the bodybuilding realm. Nonetheless, the docudrama became a box-office success, making Schwarzenegger a household name.

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Though he already won the Golden Globe for best acting in 1977 for his performance in Stay Hungry, he still craved more mainstream exposure. Pumping Iron proved to be just the opportunity that the Austrian was looking for. Interestingly, even almost four decades later, Pumping Iron still remains one of the most classic documentaries that gave spectators a totally new perspective of the sport. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakthrough film – The Terminator (1984)

It was the year 1984, when the Austrian donned black shades and a black leather jacket to play a cyborg assassin, who travels time and was on a mission of creating mayhem—that’s The Terminator. Though he played the role of a vicious villain on-screen, he became Hollywood’s heartthrob after delivering a blockbuster performance in the movie. Nevertheless, the sci-fi action thriller not just paved the way for Schwarzenegger to solidify his status as a leading man, but also the film gave a completely new perspective of science fiction to the spectators. 

The Terminator proved to be Schwarzenegger’s biggest career breakthrough because it gave him a platform to make a haven in the hearts of millions as an action hero. Interestingly, the director James Cameron was one who got piqued by Schwarzenegger’s meticulous persona and spotted an action superstar in him. More so, after its release, The Terminator topped the United States box office records by grossing over $78.3 million against the overall movie budget of $6.4 million. The film’s success led to the dawning of a new era for the Terminator actor, as it went from a movie to a movie franchise. That was the point in cinematic history when the icon got his alias as ‘the Terminator’.

Owing to the commendable performance of the Austrian, an incredible storyline, and impressive cinematography created by its makers, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. That’s how, the 1984 film franchise, the Terminator gave rise to the T-800’s successful career as an action hero. 

Most famous film of the Austrian’s career – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

After the massive success of The Terminator, director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd ratified the rights for six more sequels. However, the 1991 film The Terminator 2: Judgement Day trumped all the installments and became the highest-grossing movie of its time. Interestingly, in the Terminator’s 2nd part, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned as a cyborg machine who was sent back in time as a protector instead of a villain.

T2 even crunched the box office records of its first installment. Judgment Day earned over $519-$520.9 million, and it became the highest earning movie of 1991 worldwide. The perks that made the film earn a treasure trove of success were its groundbreaking visual effects and the upgraded liquid metal Terminator that redefined the sci-fi genre. More so, Terminator 2 won some of the most prestigious accolades like Saturn, BAFTA, and Academy Awards and was later considered one of the best movies ever made in the history of cinema.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the sci-fi world – Predator (1987) 

In 1987, the Austrian returned with another power-packed performance in the sci-fi action thriller, Predator. He once again caused a stir in cinema through his action sequences and commendable fighting prowess. The bodybuilder played the role of a soldier on a mission to fight the deadly predator in order to save mankind. Interestingly, the movie’s action thriller genre caught the critics and viewers’ attention, and it grossed $98 million against a budget of $15 million.

Nonetheless, because of its outstanding CGI effects and cinematography, Predator became one of the best action and science thriller movies of the 80s. It later got a nomination for the Academy Awards for best visual effects.

The Austrian’s journey to Mars – Total Recall (1990)

In the 1990 megahit science fiction movie Total Recall, Schwarzenegger played the leading role of a construction worker. The protagonist kept fantasizing about an adventure to Mars in his recurring dreams. More so, the unique-themed concept of a man who dreams about visiting Mars made the shakes among the spectators and the movie went on to earn $261.4 million worldwide.

On the back of its technologically advanced depiction, imaginative creatures, hyper-violence, and one-liners, the movie was a galactically huge box office success. Now, crediting the massive success of the movie to Schwarzenegger’s incredible acting prowess, the director Paul Verhoeven once stated, “He’s the soul of the movie. Before shooting, during shooting, after shooting”.

A perfect blend of action and comedy – True Lies (1994)

In 1994, Arnold Schwarzenegger once again joined forces with The Terminator director James Cameron to give yet another superhit movie, True Lies. The action comedy movie was hailed globally for more than one reason. First, the Austrian re-teamed with Cameron for another action adventure. Second, the film added the allure of Jamie Lee Curtis as the female lead. Third, the movie won a series of awards in various domains, including the nomination for BAFTA and Academy awards. Moreover, True Lies grossed over $378 million worldwide against its hefty $100 million budget, and it became the third highest-grossing movie of 1994.

A test of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comic ability – Twins (1988)

In the year 1988, the Austrian stunned his fandom through his comic timing and hilarious performance. Not just that, the viewers and critics loved the pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger with none other than Danny DeVito. Their incredible dynamics gave the audience a belly-aching laugh and, in return, they bagged a hoard full of reviews. Schwarzenegger’s fans were rendered spellbound after witnessing the action superstar in the comic role. Moreover, the reviews from viewers and critics made it clear that the 7x Mr. Olympia passed the test of his comic ability with flying colors.

Interestingly, DeVito and Schwarzenegger agreed to take 40% of the film’s box office collection. Fortunately, the comedy genre movie was a commercial success, grossing $216 million worldwide. As a result, the Austrian and DeVito both received the biggest paychecks of their film career.

An action-packed thriller – Commando (1985)

Classic action full of guns with unlimited ammunition, explosions, and an action hero who fights off the villain and performs top-notch stunts… that’s the 1985 film Commando in all its glory. The film goes down as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most notable works. The action thriller proved to be a box office megahit, as it became the 7th highest-grossing R-rated film of 1985 worldwide. Nonetheless, Schwarzenegger justified every bit of his role as John Matrix, a soldier who dispatches bad guys and delivers charismatic one-liners. Interestingly, the film went on to gross $57 million against a $10 million budget.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early days in Hollywood Conan the Barbarian (1980)

After earning recognition as an actor in the Hollywood film industry in the Pumping Iron era, the Austrian signed his first action-adventure film with John Milius in 1980. Schwarzenegger played the character of the warrior in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. The movie became a commercial success after it grossed between $68.9 million and $79.1 million at the box office. Interestingly, the warrior film was the sole reason for Schwarzenegger to return to bodybuilding in 1980 after his retirement in 1975. 

After winning his 7th Mr. Olympia title, the bodybuilder stated, “We’re going to start shooting the first few scenes (of Conan) in October, and so I really wanted to be muscular because the idea was that Conan was very muscular, heroic looking guy, and that I should be in top shape…the closer I came to this competition more people started speculating on the idea that I would be competing and the more I started thinking about the possibility. And so around 3 weeks or 2 weeks ago, I decided, well, I think it would be a kind of an interesting challenge to do something in 8 weeks that most of the guys do, preparing a year or two years in advance”. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spy teacher? Best combination – Kindergarten Cop (1990)

The 1990 action comedy Kindergarten Cop showed a completely different persona of the bodybuilder. The action star played a role of a teacher who tries to wrangle a classroom full of kids, all the while working undercover for the police. To his credit, the seven-time Mr. Olympia did a great job of switching between teacher and cop. 

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James Cameron Once Caught Arnold Schwarzenegger Off Guard After Using His Iconic Line Against Him on Set 

More so, the goofy-comedy film isn’t only children’s favorite, but it’s also one of Schwarzenegger’s favorites. Expressing his fascination with the Kindergarten Cop, the actor once said, “I think Kindergarten Cop is my favorite movie, probably. For so many years, I tried to get into comedy, and I couldn’t because the studios made all this money from the action movies, so they said, ‘why would we go and change the mold? We’re making a lot of money with you. We keep giving you action scripts’. Then, when I finally met Ivan Reitman and when we did Twins and Kindergarten Cop…It was really great”. 

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Clearly, Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled off every role he has been assigned to. Whether it is action or comedy, the Austrian earned all the brownie points of critics and viewers through his commendable flair in every genre. Nevertheless, the bodybuilder continues his spree of giving some more exceptional performance to the entertainment industry. Now, it’s been a matter of few more months until we can witness the icon as an action superstar in the Netflix spy adventure series, FUBAR.

Watch this storyFrom Total Recall to Terminator 2: Here are the top five best Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes

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Written by:

Purva Jain

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Purva Jain is a US Sports author for EssentiallySports. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Mody University of Science and Technology. Purva is an avid reader and author of 3 books that are published in national and international marketplaces.
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Edited by:

Jahnabi Choudhury