Arnold Schwarzenegger may have gone into politics later in life, but when he started his professional career, he was a world-class bodybuilder. That career began in the early '60s and took on to win the title of Mr. Olympia in 1970 at the age of 23 making him the youngest ever to achieve such a goal. He continued to lift competitively for years, but retired from bodybuilding and lifting in 1975. When 1980 came around, he once again entered into competition for the sole purpose of adding the bulk he needed to start his professional acting career with a role as the titular hero in 1982's Conan the Barbarian. Schwarzenegger had worked in the film industry before that role, but Conan was the one that truly broke him into Hollywood as it was his first true starring performance.
Over the years, Arnold Schwarzenegger became known as the biggest and baddest guy in whatever film he was starring in. While he certainly banked on his massive build for some roles, others took him into law enforcement and comedy where his muscles were less of a plot device and more of a point of humor. Whatever his role, there's no denying the man is a beast—even to this day, which is why it seemed high time to rank his appearances in film by how much of a beast he was. This list looks back through his filmography and determines the level of beastliness based on his physique, but also his tasks and accomplishments performed in the film. With that, here are the movies Arnold Schwarzenegger is strongest in, ranked by how much he’s a beast.
20 ESCAPE PLAN (2013)
2013's Escape Proof was double-billed to co-lead stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, but to anyone who has seen the film, it's apparent this is more of a Stallone film than anything else. In the movie, Stallone runs a firm that determines the security of prisons by trying to break out of them. He is hired to take on a secret CIA prison in an unknown location and things go somewhat awry.
While in lockup, he meets Schwarzenegger's Emil Rottmayer in one of the actor's less-beastly roles. He's bigger than most folks his age (65 when it was filmed), but this is Schwarzenegger doing action without the same level of muscle mass he had in his youth. That being said, he still kicks the appropriate amount of butt in the film, but doesn't reach his earlier levels of strength.
19 COLLATERAL DAMAGE (2002)
Collateral Damage was released shortly before Arnold Schwarzenegger entered into political office as the 38th Governor of California. In the film, Schwarzenegger plays an LAFD firefighter whose family was taken out by a bombing in Los Angeles. It turns out a Colombian drug cartel was responsible for the bombing and after failing to get the U.S. Government to do anything, he heads down to Colombia to take care of the violent extremists himself.
Essentially, this is the story of a regular guy who has to go to war with a group of evildoers who destroyed his family. Fortunately, Schwarzenegger is more than capable of battling the bad guys with the help of a CIA operative, but in the end, it's his brutal strength (and an axe... he's a firefighter so there's an axe) that helps him win the day.
18 END OF DAYS (1999)
For most of his acting career, Schwarzenegger has remained strictly within the realm of action and sci-fi, but that doesn't mean he never stepped over into other genres. End of Days is a perfect example of this, but done in pure Schwarzenegger fashion. While the film is easily classified as a supernatural action horror flick, it still features Arnold Schwarzenegger as a NYPD detective with the relatively on-the-nose name of Jericho Cane.
After stumbling into an assassination attempt, he ends up getting thrown into a religious conflict of apocalyptic proportions. This was Schwarzenegger going up against the Devil himself in a movie that put him in-between the Lord of Darkness and a woman chosen to birth to the Antichrist. He was pretty buff in the flick, but not particularly "beast" in any way... though he did fight the beast...
17 THE 6TH DAY (2000)
In 2000, Schwarzenegger starred in The 6th Day, a particularly meta sci-fi flick about the dangers of human cloning. This was a few years after scientists successfully cloned a sheep they named Dolly, which meant that movies and television series worked around that sort of dystopian plotline for a little while. The 6th Day was all about what happens when a person is cloned, but doesn't even know it and how they deal with the situation when an evil scientist/organization is involved.
In the flick, Schwarzenegger is a pilot with some prior military training and he doesn't take being cloned without his permission particularly well. He gets into some serious combat situations with the bad guys who keep on coming thanks to being recreated every time they are taken out.
16 TWINS (1988)
If you think back to 1988's Twins, the movie isn't about Arnold being such a huge guy, but that fact isn't glossed over in any way. He may have worn a sport jacket through most of the movie, but he was ripped back int he 80s. Add in a scene where he is just getting out of the shower alongside the prying eyes of Kelly Preston and Schwarzenegger's size is pretty impressive.
There were even a few points in the game where his beast-mode was on display. There was a scene where a guy tried to steal his briefcase while riding by on a motorcycle and he isn't even shifted off his feet. Other instances have him clotheslining bad guys and pretty much standing around like a granite statue carved long ago in ancient Rome.
15 KINDERGARTEN COP (1990)
You might not think of Schwarzenegger being in beast mode in a film about him playing a kindergarten teacher, but that was just a cover. This movie features the former bodybuilder as a detective working to find the one woman who could help him put away his arch-nemesis for good. When he shows up to find the woman, he takes on the role of a kindergarten teacher and hilarity ensues around the fact that a gigantic, muscle-bound behemoth was there to teach children.
For a Schwarzenegger film, there wasn't a great deal of action going on. When action did come about, it was more suspenseful given the threats made towards the children in the film. Despite this, Schwarzenegger put his muscles to task as a shield to protect the innocent and uphold the law.
14 ERASER (1996)
Eraser was one of Schwarzenegger's movies that did relatively well at the box office, but isn't as well known as some of his other movies. The film starred the man in question as a U.S. Marshal named John Kruger whose job revolved around the Witness Security Protection Program, otherwise known as WITSEC. He was known as an Eraser due to his ability to make high-profile witnesses disappear via faking their passing and giving them new identities.
Unfortunately, a mole within the organization mucks things up for Marshal Kruger and he gets involved in countering an arms deal with new EM rifles. The weapons could fire bullets electromagnetically at supersonic speeds and Arnold got his hands on two of them. He proceeds through a group of bad guys with the weapons looking more beastly than he had in years.
13 RAW DEAL (1986)
Raw Deal was another film featuring Schwarzenegger as a law enforcement officer, but this one had a twist. He played Mark Kaminsky, a former FBI agent-turned small-town sheriff who was forced to leave the agency after beating a suspect accused of sexual assault. Eventually, the man who prosecuted him out of the agency called him back to service to take care of the Mob in Chicago and the presence of an agency mole.
He goes into the organization and gets in deep when the mole is revealed to be the man who sent him in on the unsanctioned assignment. The slaughter that ensues is one of the biggest in Schwarzenegger's filmography. This was a true '80s action flick with a ripped and angry version of Arnold who goes in, takes everyone out and gets his revenge.
12 RED HEAT (1988)
Back in 1988, Russia was still the Soviet Union and the Cold War was still raging on. Red Heat capitalized on the ever-present tension of the situation with a buddy cop film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi. Both men find themselves working on the same case involving a dangerous Soviet Georgian drug kingpin who happens to be the former partner of Schwarzenegger's character, Militia Captain Ivan Danko.
Arnold may be from Austria, but he managed to pull off a convincing Soviet police officer in this 1988 classic. Interestingly, this was the first American film allowed to film in Moscow's Red Square. Most of the film was shot in Hungary, but some of the shots took place in Russia, which was a big step for an American production.
11 JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996)
Jingle All the Way is a kid's movie that revolves around the main character trying to find the hottest toy for Christmas on Christmas Eve. As any parent knows, that's not possible... especially in the days before the Internet and eBay. Arnold plays a convincing absent father who continuously misses his kid's big events so there was no way he would drop the ball on getting his kid a Turbo-Man action figure.
He goes toe-to-toe with Sinbad and tears up the city with an extended fight with a bunch of Santas. In the end, Schwarzenegger snags a superhero suit and steps into the role of Turbo-Man! He actually became a superhero to help out his kid and save the day, which is why Jingle All the Way has a beast mode for Arnold in the end.
10 THE EXPENDABLES (2010 - 2014)
When the first Expendables movie came out, Schwarzenegger was still in office as the Governor of California so he was only able to make a short cameo. By the time the second film hit theaters, he was out of office and back in front of the camera as an action star and he remained for the sequel. In the movies, Arnold plays Trench Mauser, the sometimes rival/ally to Stallone's Barney Ross.
He wasn't particularly strong or anything in the first film, but he stood up for the second and kicked some butt. He returned for the third film and continued in his on again/off again role as Ross' friend and ally. The fourth film will see the return of Schwarzenegger in his role, but his level of participation remains unknown at the moment.
9 BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
Let's get it out of the way before we go any further: 1997's Batman & Robin was a terrible movie with a terrible set of enemies to include Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. While the character was poorly made and required Arnold to utter more cheesy one-liners in this one film than he uttered his whole career, it stands up as a performance by the guy and deserves a ranking.
In most versions of Mr. Freeze, the character is a tall, skinny man with little to no muscle tone. That wasn't going to work with Arnold behind the character and seeing as he was a supervillain, he definitely hit a high note in terms of strength. If only this movie weren't an atrocity to film itself, it might stand a bit higher on a list about Arnold's strongest roles.
8 LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
What do you get when you take a magic ticket and a little boy's love for Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies? You get a fantasy action adventure film that delves into the very core of Hollywood while bringing about a crazy adventure audiences loved! This movie starred Schwarzenegger playing himself playing another character who was the action star everyone loved. After a kid gets thrown into his movie, he covers just about everything in the genre.
Explosions, gunfights and even an instance where he is dropped into a tar pit see Schwarzenegger at his height of action movie glory. The film played off his physique whenever it could and even made fun of Stallone by placing him into the role of the Terminator when the characters stumble into a Blockbuster Video.
7 TOTAL RECALL (1990)
He may have just been playing a construction worker of epic proportions, but Arnold ended up becoming a massive star in Total Recall. This is one of the greatest films in the genre thanks to the brutal depictions of violence and over-the-top action sequences you might expect from an epic action flick. In the movie, he plays a man who has false memories installed into his mind so he believes he traveled to Mars and became a secret agent.
Unfortunately, something went wrong and it turns out he actually was a secret agent all along! A trip to Mars sees him come into conflict with the bad guys in charge there. This movie had everything to include a happy ending... or did it? Debate still rages as to whether or not the whole thing was in his head...
6 THE RUNNING MAN (1987)
Looking back, The Running Man was guilty of having some pretty cheesy dialogue with some fun one-liners, but other than that, it employed some seriously over-the-top violence. That makes sense seeing as the film revolved around the most popular television show about former convicts put into a deadly arena filled with zany bad guys intent on taking them out. This movie had some of the best fights in Arnold's career thanks to the characters he went up against.
The movie played out like a bunch of wrestlers got their hands on supervillain-level weaponry... which is kind of what actually happened seeing as many of the actors came from the world of wrestling. Arnold went into full-on beast mode in this movie and took out the bad guys with his strength and will... but mostly strength.
5 COMMANDO (1985)
You know how movies like Taken are all about what happens when the daughter of a cunning former agent is taken and he has to go get her back through cunning and the use of intelligence? Commando is a bit different in that it involves the abducting of the guy's daughter, but instead of cunning, he picks up every weapon known to man and takes on an entire army all by himself... and wins.
Granted, Schwarzenegger's character was only put into this position due to his work as a former Special Forces Colonel, but that's beside the point. If this movie taught the world anything, it's that it is probably in nobody's best interest to abduct the child of a SOCOM soldier, blackmail them into doing something you don't want to do and thinking you will get away with it.
4 PREDATOR (1987)
Predator was a movie that revolved around Arnold's muscles for much of the plot. When he walks up to Carl Weathers in the beginning, the audience is treated to the biggest biceps in all of film, but that's not all. He continues through the jungle with his compatriots to take out a military detachment only to come upon an alien intent on collecting their skulls.
After nearly everyone is taken out but Schwarzenegger, he confronts his enemy who picks him up and takes a look at him. Predators don't engage people unless they are armed, but it chose to fight Arnold one-on-one. That means it respected his mass enough to classify him as a walking, talking weapon and the two fought. Seeing as Arnold walked away from that fight, he established himself as more of a beast that the Predator!
3 HERCULES IN NEW YORK (1969)
All the way back in the earliest days of his acting career, Arnold was tasked to play the lead role in Hercules in New York. The only problem was his accent... He didn't speak English back in the '60s as well as he does today and while we all know and love his accent these days, it wasn't something producers thought would work back in the day. To combat this, they dubbed over his dialogue.
To put it simply, this was not a good movie. That being said, it was Arnold's first time on film, though he wasn't properly credited. They put his name up as "Arnold Strong" to combat his foreign surname. He was 22 when this film was made and at the cusp of competing for Mr. Olympia so he was pretty ripped when this movie was made.
2 THE TERMINATOR (1984 - 2019)
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a lot of iconic roles spread throughout his long career, but none as important or memorable as the Terminator. This is the film that gave him his catchphrase, "I'll be back," but also elevated him from a relatively unknown action star to blockbuster gold. He starred in Terminator in 1984 and then took on the role again in 1991 with T2: Judgement Day and only elevated his star power with that film.
Subsequently, he played the Terminator or appeared as a version of the character in three additional films. As he got older, some CGI was needed to bulk him up to his previous size, but even with age, there isn't another person on the planet who can or has played a Terminator quite like Arnold did all the way back in 1984.
1 CONAN (1982 - 1985)
As we previously mentioned, Arnold reentered the world of bodybuilding competition in 1980 solely to prepare for a film. The role of Conan was truly his first successful showing in Hollywood and he managed to play it in a sequel as well as via an appearance in Red Sonja in 1985, though as a different character. When fans think back on his career to identify Schwarzenegger at his strongest, you won't find many people who don't go back to Conan the Barbarian.
This was Arnold at the absolute peak of his physical career. He toned his body in such a way as to become a walking muscle mass capable of battling demons and gods. He even slaughtered several gods in body Conan films and you can't get more beast than that.