From ‘The Terminator’ to ‘Twins’: The Movies That Made Arnold Schwarzenegger a Hollywood Legend

With a career spanning over four decades and having appeared in more than 30 films, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an international superstar. In 2003, the former Mr. Universe took an acting hiatus when he was elected the Governor of California. By that time, he already had a slew of Hollywood blockbusters under his belt — including the Terminator films, which earned him the nickname “The Governator.”

His action star roles cannot be ignored, but he also played some great comedic characters as well. Everyone has a favorite Schwarzenegger movie, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the films that made him a household name — starting with his earliest films and leading up to his more recent work.

Stay Hungry (1976)

Arnold Schwarzenegger stands next to a woman holding a can in Stay Hungry

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry | Outov Productions

Stay Hungry is a Schwarzenegger movie that most people don’t even know exists, but the film was a success for the actor as he received a Golden Globe for his part.

The movie was adapted from the 1972 Charles Gaines novel of the same name. It starred Jeff Bridges as a businessman named Craig Blake and had Schwarzenegger in a supporting role as a weightlifter named Joe Santo.

The film garnered mostly positive reviews from critics, who called it a solid movie about the bodybuilding scene.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a sword in Conan the Barbarian

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian | Universal Pictures

The reactions from critics to Conan the Barbarian, in which Schwarzenegger played the title character, were mixedDespite that, the movie was a hit at the box office and introduced audiences to the actor, who would go on to become one of the biggest action stars of our time.

The fantasy film also starred James Earl Jones as the evil wizard Thulsa Doom.

Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones battle in Conan the Destroyer

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones in Conan the Destroyer | Dino De Laurentiis Company

Two years after the first film was released, Schwarzenegger returned to star in the sequel, Conan the Destroyer.

The film was a box office success internationally, although most critics gave it negative reviews. Still, it was another one of the actor’s early works that gave him recognition as an up-and-coming Hollywood movie star.

The Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing sunglasses in The Terminator.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator | Orion Pictures

James Cameron tapped Schwarzenegger for the role of the assassin in the 1984 movie, The Terminator — and the rest in history. The actor played the villainous cyborg, who was sent back in time to kill a women (Linda Hamilton) before she gives birth to the leader of the human resistance against the machines. It was in this film that Schwarzenegger uttered his signature line, “I’ll be back.”

The commercial success of the sci-fi action picture led to several sequels and even a TV series titled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. 

Commando (1985)

Arnold Schwarzenegger holds up a weapon in Commando

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando | Silver Pictures

Commando is filled with over-the-top action scenes showing Schwarzenegger in a role only he can do.

The actor plays retired Delta Force operative Col. John Matrix, who will stop at nothing as he takes out the bad guys to save his kidnapped daughter (Alyssa Milano). The film was a huge hit and landed at No. 1 the week it was released.

Predator (1987)

Arnold Schwarzenegger holds up a rifle in Predator

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator | 20th Century Fox

Another great action movie Schwarzenegger starred in the ’80s was Predator. His character, Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, leads a group of special forces into a Central American jungle on a supposed rescue mission. Soon, however,  extraterrestrial being begins to hunt the soldiers, picking them off one by one.

The fight scene between the alien killer and Schwarzenegger at the end of the film is classic.

The Running Man (1987)

Arnold Schwarzenegger wears a yellow suit in The Running Man

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man | Braveworld Productions

Schwarzenegger played the role of Ben Richards in the sci-fi thriller The Running Man, loosely based on the novel of the same by Stephen King (published under the author’s pen name, Richard Bachman).

After Schwarzenegger’s character was wrongly accused of murdering civilians, he became a contestant on a game show in which he must battle professional killers for his freedom. The movie has been praised for its prediction of the reality TV-obsessed culture we live in today.

Red Heat (1988)

Arnold Schwarzenegger wears a uniform and hat in Red Heat

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Red Heat | Carolco Pictures

Schwarzenegger starred with James Belushi as a Russian cop in the comedy action film, Red Heat.  

This was really the first comedic role for the actor, and while the film didn’t do bad at the box office, its success paled in comparison to some of his other comedies.

Twins (1988)

Arnold Schwarzenegger stands next to Danny Devito in white suits in Twins

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito in Twins | Universal Pictures

Schwarzenegger had another chance to star in a comedy the same year as Red Heat was released, and this time, he struck box office gold.

He starred alongside Danny Devito in the movie Twins, which enjoyed commercial success and grossed well over $200 million worldwide. The film is about two fraternal twins who team up to find their estranged mother, and their adventure serves up some laughs along the way as they also learn valuable lessons from one another.

Total Recall (1990)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall | Carolco Pictures

Total Recall is another classic Schwarzenegger movie in which he returns to the sci-fi action roots that made him a household name.

The film takes place in 2084, and the actor plays a character who wants to travel to Mars. The plot takes some unexpected twists and turns, leaving fans on the edge of their seat while watching a great Schwarzenegger performance.

Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Arnold Schwarzenegger screams in Kindergarten Cop

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop | Imagine Entertainment

Schwarzenegger played the character John Kimble in the action comedy Kindergarten Cop.

In the film, Kimble is a no-nonsense cop, who has to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher in order to catch a bad guy. The movie raked in decent numbers at the box office and marked the second action comedy Schwarzenegger worked on with director Ivan Reitman, following Twins.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger looks over his shoulder in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day | Carolco Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the second installment in the Terminator franchise and one of Schwarzenegger’s best films. Many movie critics and fans alike have agreed that this sequel is even better than the first one and it’s widely considered as one of the best action film ever made.

In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Schwarzenegger returns as the terrifying cyborg he played in the first film, but surprisingly, he’s the good guy this time. The actor also delivered another memorable quote in this movie: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger pilots an aircraft in True Lies

Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies | Lightstorm Entertainment

Schwarzenegger teamed up with Cameron again in this popular film, which featured an all-star cast, and they made magic.

In True Lies, the actor played  Harry Tasker, a spy tasked with locating the leader of a terror group. Meanwhile, his family has no idea that he is a government agent and believes he is a computer salesman. The movie delivers plenty of action and fight scenes and is a classic Schwarzenegger film.

Junior (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson look at a baby in Junior

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson in Junior | Northern Lights Entertainment

Following the success of the action comedies Twins and Kindergarten Cop, Reitman tapped Schwarzenegger again to star in his 1994 film titled Junior. He also collaborated with DeVito again in this movie.

Schwarzenegger played a doctor who agrees to undergo a pregnancy as part of an experiment. Though critics didn’t love the film, the actor received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Dr. Alex Hesse.

Eraser (1996)

Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a weapon in Eraser

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser | Kopelson Entertainment

Schwarzenegger starred alongside Vanessa Williams in the action thriller, Eraser.

There are a few holes in the film’s plot, but the stunts and visual effects are so appealing that it does its job. And, of course, it’s hard to go wrong with one of the best in the business playing the lead character in an action film.

Follow Michelle Kapusta on Twitter @philamichelle.

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