Two weeks ago, in the run-up to RAMBO: LAST BLOOD, we broke out a retrospective Top 10 Sly Stallone Action Roles. Well, since they’ve competed with each other for damn near their whole careers, it is only right we allow Schwarzenegger to flex a rebuttal.

Indeed, as Arnie nears his return as the T-800 in TERMINATOR: DARK FATE at the end of the month, we’re interested in how he got there. What made him into the hall of fame action star that he is. After all, just like Sly, Arnie is known most known for a specific role or two, but let’s not forget about the awesome action characters he’s played with aplomb throughout the years. Are you ready? Here is our Top 10 Favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger Action Roles!


What do you get when you mix the Schwarz with Walter Hill in 1988? RED mother*cking HEAT, that’s what! While overtly comedic in spots, Arnie’s role of Harry Danko, the coldly stoic and brusque Russian copper partnered with the slovenly wise-cracking Chicago trooper Art Ridzik (James Belushi). Their task is to arrest a wealthy drug runner from the Middle East and successfully extradite him to Georgia. In the same year, he made TWINS (a movie I love), Arnie flexes his dramatic action muscle as a foreign law official in ways we’ve rarely seen.


As far as latter-day Arnie action standouts are concerned, few feature such a reflective and ruminative central performance as THE LAST STAND. Sure, we almost went with roles from END OF DAYS, THE 6TH DAY and COLLATERAL DAMAGE, but there’s something undeniably emotive about Ray Owens that transcends the action genre in ways those others do not. It’s also the first major leading role Arnie took since leaving office, and the way Korean director Jee-woon Kim shoots the action scenes – including Arnie blasting the Gatling gun from a moving school bus – is as stylistically cool as anything Arnie had done in over a decade.


RAW DEAL and RED HEAT often get confused, but both feature ultra-badass action turns from the Schwarz. Arnie not only busts backs and breaks all kinds of bones in the flick, but he also gets a chance to train his acting muscle by playing dual roles. First, he’s disgraced FBI agent Mark Kaminski, who’s facing demotion for barbarous excessive force. Now a small-town lawman, Mark is tasked with going undercover to infiltrate the Italian mob under the name of Joseph Brenner. Finessing both sides of the law, Schwarzenegger shows he can use his brain and brawn to get the job done right!


Three years before declaring himself King of the World, Jimmy Cameron harnessed the best of what Arnie had to offer in 1994 – comedic timing, physical dominance, star-power, bankability, etc. – into a breathtaking action-assault on the senses via TRUE LIES. The brilliant balance between intimate domestic strife and sprawling international intrigue is second to none, with Arnie central performance being the pivotal cog around which the rest of the story functions. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the perfect friend and foil to Arnie’s unassuming Harry Tasker, as he contends with a marital fidelity and a terrorist plot with ass-kicking focus!


THE HUNGER GAMES franchise owes a great debt of gratitude to one of Arnie’s best and least appreciated action joints to date, THE RUNNING MAN. Based on the Stephen King novel, Arnie plays Ben Richards, a wrongly convicted man given a spectacular chance of pure schadenfreude to escape captivity and clear his name. Amid an exhilarating set design, Richards must successfully slalom through a lethal gauntlet of public execution traps, mazes, and obstacle courses if he wants to make it out alive and unscathed. The caveat? All of this is televised across the nation as a form of sadomasochistic entertainment. Life imitates art!


Take one part Philip K. Dick, one part Paul Verhoeven, and one part Arnie the Schwarz – throw those suckers into a blender with a dash of Dan O’Banon and bam…out comes one of the coolest sci-fi action cocktails ever concocted. Indeed, Douglas Quaid in TOTAL RECALL is at once the confused conduit through which the audience views the intense action, as well as the jacked-up super-heroic hulk that overcomes it and prevails in the end. Michael Ironside plays the perfect foe (Cohagggggen!) to Quaid’s muscle-bound everyman who guides us through the otherworldly exoticism of colonized Mars.


In his first real starring role as a leading man, Arnold enjoyed an epic three-part reprisal as CONAN THE BARBARIAN, CONAN THE DESTROYER, and, although his name was changed to Kalidor due to a strange rights issue, in RED SONJA as well. Using his chiseled physique as an instrument of mega brute force, the macho slave-warrior goes on a dogged quest to avenge his parents’ death at the hands of Thulsa Doom, an equally formidable overlord without a shred of remorse. This is simply one of Arnie’s most iconic roles, one that proved he could easily carry a movie on his yoked-up traps and lats. Without CONAN, the others may never have come about.


Personally speaking, John Matrix might be my all-time favorite Arnie role. Dude kicks so much ass in COMMANDO, while delivering some of the funniest deadpan one-liners (“I eat Green Berets for breakfast…and right now, I’m very hungry!”), all in the attempt to save his daughter (Alyssa Milano) from the perhaps Arnold’s most psychotically hysterical villains of all – Bennett (Vernon Wells). Whether it’s vicious hand-to-hand fisticuffs or blowing up mother*ckers with a rocket launcher, Matrix marauds his way through an army of inferior foes en route to a classic boiler-room showdown that ends with Matrix launching a steaming pipe through his enemy’s chest with the line: “let off some steam, Bennett!” F*ck I love John Matrix!


“Get back to the chopppaaaaaaa!” Come on now. Who in their right mind would put DUTCH, perhaps Arnold overall most badass performance to date, anywhere other than the top two or three spots? Not a soul! Made in his prime, both physically and commercially, Dutch remains so damn memorable because the movie itself, PREDATOR, is as great as any movie Schwarzenegger has ever participated in. Arnie convinces as a leader of men, a fair but strict commander of special ops soldiers enlisted to serve a search and rescue mission in the South American jungles. When his men are savagely slaughtered by an invisible, quasi-camouflaged alien, Dutch is the only survivor strong enough to kill the otherworldly monster.

#1. T-800 (TERMINATOR)

His turns as the T-800 model in the TERMINATOR franchise is inarguably Arnold’s best action role to date. Why? In addition to the massive popularity of the cybernetic killing machine, it has to be the longevity. The sheer breadth of the character’s menacing material and the length of its story arc are too cool and comprehensive to consider any other role for the number one spot. Think about it. When DARK FATE drops on October 31st, Arnie will have gotten the chance to develop his most famous character for 35 years. Never mind the iconic one-liners like “I’ll be back” and “hasta la vista, baby,” just look at the character’s evolution. He starts as a shark-like murderer in part one, a humanized android in part 2, with various iterations of each throughout the other sequels. Here’s hoping DARK FATE bolsters Terminator as Arnie’s best action role of all time!