Arnold Schwarzenegger has lived many lives: champion bodybuilder, actor, movie producer, one-time film director, author, businessman, philanthropist, and the 38th Governor of California.
Born on July 30, 1947 in a small village in Austria, Schwarzenegger was inspired to take up bodybuilding after seeing Reg Park and Steve Reeves on-screen. After winning multiple Mr. Universe titles and winning Mr. Olympia seven times, his acting career didn't exactly begin auspiciously. His first film role was that of Hercules in the 1970 adventure comedy Hercules in New York.
After several other small roles in the '70s, his acting career took off in the '80s. In 1982, he starred as the titular adventurer-warrior in the John Milius fantasy film Conan the Barbarian. It wasn't long before he became one of the most popular actors in the world.
In the four decades since the release of Conan the Barbarian, he has starred in quite a few iconic films. Here is a rundown of 15 films starring Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger lost a significant amount of bulk for his first major dramatic role in this acclaimed cult classic from the late director Bob Rafelson. Jeff Bridges stars as Craig, a rich kid entrusted with buying up a gym for a land development, but as he gets to know receptionist Mary (Sally Field) and Mr. Universe trainee Joe (Schwarzenegger), he has a change of heart. Don't miss the crazed climax involving one of the screen's most unforgettable displays of muscle power!
This popular and influential documentary was shot in 1975, but was completed and released two years later in 1977. The lifestyles of Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, among others, are chronicled as they prepare for the upcoming Mr. Olympia competition. As the film's key poster image, Schwarzenegger became a pop culture fixture, helping to usher in mainstream popularity for bodybuilding and fitness in general for many years to come.
Director John Milius' violent, gritty, and compelling sword and sorcery classic brought Robert E. Howard's pulp novel hero to the screen, and became one of the must-see films from the summer of '82, kicking off a wave of offshoots including a sequel, Conan the Destroyer (1984), and another Howard adaptation with Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen, Red Sonja (1985). Conan the Barbarian, co-starring James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow and Sandahl Bergman, proved to be a powerhouse showcase for its star, who soon was in high demand.
The Terminator launched the longest-running franchise of Schwarzenegger's career. This sci-fi action neo-noir slasher film put James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd on the map with its juggernaut story of a deadly cyborg from the future hunting Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a woman whose son will grow up to lead in the war against the machines, in 1980s L.A. From its signature "I'll be back" line to the eye-popping practical effects (from Stan Winston and other artists), the film set the standard for gritty action films to come.
If you're looking for the prototypical '80s action film, Commando checks all the boxes. Explosions, wisecracks, and a percussive score by Oscar winner James Horner form the backdrop of this fast-paced chase film with military vet John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) unleashing mayhem when his daughter (a young Alyssa Milano) is abducted. L.A. location spotters will also enjoy a huge sequence set in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, previously seen in the 1982 coming-of-age comedy-drama Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among other films.
Schwarzenegger's streak continued with another film that still inspire sequels to this day, and one that made a name for its director, John McTiernan, the year before the release of his 1988 action classic Die Hard. In Predator, Schwarzenegger stars as Dutch, a paramilitary leader whose team is confronted in a Central American jungle by a most inhuman adversary. This Predator begins to hunt them all down, one by one. A returning Stan Winston devised the look of this movie monster, which has continued through the sequels. (This year's prequel, Prey, will be the fifth film in this franchise.)
One of Stephen King’s pseudonymous Richard Bachman novels served as the basis for this dystopian sci-fi action film about the toxic intersection of government propaganda and the media. As a contestant fighting for his life on a game show emceed by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson, the original host of Family Feud), falsely convicted Ben (Schwarzenegger) faces off against a colorful gallery of foes, including Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura) and Fireball (Jim Brown). Come for the action, stay for the shiniest costume of Schwarzenegger's career.
Schwarzenegger's aptitude for comedy was already obvious from his delivery of jokes in his action films, but everyone was still surprised when he starred in this hit comedy for director Ivan Reitman after starring in Raw Deal (1986) and Red Heat (1988). Here, he and Danny DeVito star as twins, born via a medical experiment and completely unaware of one another, whose very different lives intersect on a search for their missing mother. Aware of the risks involved in tampering with his image, Schwarzenegger worked for no pay in exchange for a profit percentage — which he later cited as one of the best career decisions he ever made.
One of Schwarzenegger's most beloved blockbusters arrived at the turn of the '90s with this sci-fi thriller from director Paul Verhoeven, based on a 1966 short story by Philip K. Dick. Here, he plays Quaid, an average joe dreaming of a trip to Mars, much to the annoyance of his wife Lori (Sharon Stone). But his trip to a virtual vacation clinic takes a very unexpected turn!
This rollercoaster ride features a classic electronic score by Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith, and stunning visual effects by Eric Brevig, Rob Bottin, Tim McGovern, and Alex Funke, who received a Special Achievement Award Oscar for their work. Remade in 2012 with Colin Farrell in the Quaid role and Kate Beckinsale in the Lori role, Total Recall is still referenced in pop culture today.
Ivan Reitman and Schwarzenegger teamed up again with beloved results once again for this action-comedy featuring a can't-miss concept: Schwarzenegger plus a classroom full of adorable kids. Here, he plays Det. John Kimble, an undercover cop out to nab a ruthless drug dealer, only to discover that teaching can have rewards even greater than nabbing perpetrators. The director and star would reunite one more time for the quirky 1994 comedy Junior, which brought back DeVito as well.
A staple on lists of all-time great movie sequels, this trailblazing sci-fi action epic expands the narrative canvas on the original. This time around, Schwarzenegger plays a terminator from the future that has been programmed to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong), the boy who will grow up to lead the humans in their war against the machines. Robert Patrick plays the T-1000, an advanced prototype metallic terminator capable of shapeshifting and running at speeds topping 40 mph, among other things. He is determined to get to John and complete his mission, nearly stealing the show with his many memorable scenes.
The beloved Terminator 2: Judgment Day was nominated for six Oscars, winning four (Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound, and Sound Effects Editing). Schwarzenegger would appear as a terminator in three more of the multiple big screen sequels, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Genisys (2015) and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019).
Widely misunderstood at the time, this mega-budget, meta-humorous take on action movie tropes features Schwarzenegger and John McTiernan teaming up once again with the star tweaking his own image as Jack Slater, the idol of young movie fan Danny (Austin O'Brien), who, with a magic movie ticket, gets propelled into Jack's latest cinematic adventure. Packed with cameos and jaw-dropping stunt sequences (not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime collection of showbiz cameos), this action-comedy has since gone on to find a substantial cult following since its release nearly 30 years ago.
An action-comedy of a very different kind, this James Cameron spy epic casts Schwarzenegger as Harry, a U.S. spy who keeps his job a secret from his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) — which becomes an issue when terrorists start hitting too close to home. Though filled with instant classic action scenes, including the phenomenal helicopter sequence over the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, True Lies never forgets it's also a hilarious domestic comedy about a couple learning to grow closer under extreme duress.
Schwarzenegger returned to sci-fi with The 6th Day, an action thriller that took some time to find its audience. Here, he plays Adam, a charter pilot who finds his life flipped upside down when he is cloned against his will and thrown into an insidious corporate conspiracy. Featuring the screen debut of Terry Crews, the film offers the spectacle of two Arnolds for the price of one as his original character and his character's clone appear in scenes alongside one another, a situation that has been replicated with other actors in several subsequent films.
The most unexpected of Schwarzenegger's more recent features, this post-apocalyptic mixture of family drama and horror gives the star a more emotionally demanding role than usual. Set in a world decimated by a virus that turns the infected into zombies, Wade (Schwarzenegger), a farmer, is driven to violent extremes to save his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin), after she's been infected.