If we’ve learned anything during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 40-plus years in show business, it’s this — he’s one of the greatest action movie stars of all time. Between the big guns (his and the ones his characters wield) and the witty one-liners, his wham-bang movies helped make Schwarzenegger a Hollywood legend. Still, he also proved to be a solid comic actor, too. Out of Schwarzenegger’s many films, these are eight essential starting movies to start with, ranked in order of Rotten Tomatoes freshness scores.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ | Paramount Pictures/CBS via Getty Images
8. Eraser (1996)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 40% fresh
If you want thought-provoking, award-winning cinema, look elsewhere. But if a fun B-movie cloaked in a blockbuster budget sounds interesting, then Eraser has you covered.
The rundown is similar to other Schwarzenegger movies: He plays a hard-edged, high-level government agent (in this case, a witness protection pro) who has to take out a host of bad guys while completing his mission. Still, Arnold’s other movies don’t have James Caan at his sniveling, weaselly peak. Nor do they have solid comic relief (courtesy of Robert Pastorelli) or a slew of expertly cast character actors (James Cromwell, James Coburn, Man Men’s John Slattery, and Aliens’ Mark Rolston).
7. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
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Rotten Tomatoes score: 51% fresh
Schwarzenneger turned to comedy movies after he knocked out dozens of action roles. Twins was a surprising hit in the comedy department, but Kindergarten Cop earns the nod among essential Schwarzenegger movies.
The underlying plot driver — Schwarzenegger’s Det. John Kimble posing as a teacher in a small town to locate the ex-wife of a drug kingpin so he can lock him up for good — might be thin. Yet The juxtaposition of a hulking undercover cop next to pint-sized kid actors made for some surprisingly funny and endearing moments. The Rotten Tomatoes score might not look great, but there’s no way a list of must-see Schwarzenegger movies can’t include his personal favorite.
6. Stay Hungry (1976)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 67% fresh
Relatively obscure? Yup. A little light on plot? Sure. Worth it to see Schwarzenegger, Jeff Bridges, and Sally Field all in one place? Absolutely.
Schwarzenegger doesn’t stray very far from his background in this one. He plays Joe Santo, a bodybuilder at a gym that’s the last parcel of property a real estate syndicate needs to start its gentrification project. Bridges, as Craig, is the front man for the syndicate, and Field, as Mary Tate, is Santo’s friend whom Craig falls in love with.
Schwarzenegger made more notable movies in his career, but this accounted for one of his only award wins. He took home the Golden Globe for best male movie debut.
5. True Lies (1994)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (left) and Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘True Lies’ | Ronald Siemoneit/Sygma via Getty Images
Rotten Tomatoes score: 69% fresh
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