Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress.
“I’ll be back! Ha! You didn’t know I was gonna say that, did you?”
“That’s what you always say!”
Is there a more memetic Hollywood actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger? Think about it: His characters and his persona have endured the test of time as quotable punchlines, for certain. Arnold will always be back. He’ll always want to know who your daddy is. He’ll always be the king of cool puns. And he’ll always have the best one-liners after decimating baddies.
With the release of Terminator: Mis-spelled Second Word, or just Terminator 5 for ease, Consequence of Sound decided, like the T-800 himself, that it was prime time to revisit the past. We’re looking at and listing off all the roles that Arnie conquered. Our mission: to rank the 10 most memorable Arnold Schwarzenegger performances and protect Arnold’s legacy (from what it sounds like, the new movie isn’t doing the Austrian muscle star any favors).
Whether or not Arnold’s been a quality actor in his movies is entirely up for debate; however, there’s no denying that he’s developed a ridiculously memorable body of work. His size, his pronunciation, his humor, and his distinct penchant for high-concept action have made Arnold Schwarzenegger a staple that we’re still not tired of talking about. Everybody has a favorite Arnold flick. What’s yours? So let’s do it! Let’s kill this list! Now!
And like Arnold always says, I’ll be back. Later. In this list. To talk about his more memorable roles, remember?
I’m about to get terminated, aren’t I?
Senior Staff Writer
10. Howard Langston
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Choice Line: “Put that cookie down. NOW!”
Let’s specify again, in case you skipped ahead of the intro: this list is for the most memorable performances, not necessarily the best. Jingle All the Way is a film from a very different time, a time when Sinbad’s face was on movie posters that weren’t in one of 30 Rock’s hallways or something and nobody in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life was bothering to tell him that his performances in the Kindergarten Cop mode were unwise to continue. Here you get the Arnold that late-night comedians have been impersonating since time immemorial, the bug-eyed one hollering what’s ostensibly English in a series of strange inflections that suggest something otherworldly.
As Schwarzenegger and Sinbad (god, what a Demolition Man matchup this could’ve made) repeatedly attempt to murder one another over a Turbo Man doll that Howard’s son wants more than anything, all while Phil Hartman is playing Mr. Steal Yo Girl with Howard’s wife, Jingle All the Way allows for an actor nearing the declining days of his powers to go absolutely apeshit for 90 minutes. But seriously, this is may be the darkest Christmas movie ever made, if you really stop to think about it. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
09. Harry Tasker
True Lies (1994)
Choice Line: “You’re fired.”
James Cameron doesn’t know how to make a film without it becoming a worldwide event. Yet True Lies, for all its nuclear explosions and galloping horses and Harrier Jump Jet sequences and Bill Paxton-stealing moments, still feels like something of an afterthought compared to what came before (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and what came after (Titanic, Avatar). Granted, that’s not exactly a fair summation — after all, it was the most expensive film ever made at the time (and the first to have a budget over $100 million dollars) — but the smart and genre-defying 1994 blockbuster does play out like an extended vacation for all parties considered.
Everyone’s having a blast, no pun intended, as evidenced by Jamie Lee Curtis and her hilariously sexy performance or Tom Arnold and what’s inarguably his greatest role to date. Still, it’s Cameron and Schwarzenegger’s 140 minutes to shine, and they do by delivering what’s essentially a multi-million dollar comedy special by a Hollywood director and an action star. The stakes are always questionable, and the two are so hyperaware of their ludicrous proceedings, but the winking actually serves the story, and the set pieces are both sublime and original. It’s a style that would effectively alter Arnold’s brand of action and be crudely imitated for years to come. –Michael Roffman
08. Douglas Quaid/Hauser
Total Recall (1990)
Choice Line: “See you at the party, Richter!”
It’s hard to empathize too much with Douglas Quaid. He’s a muscular construction worker in a sterile future world, who can call Robert Costanzo his friend and Sharon Stone his wife. Not too shabby, right? Yet he’s plagued with these strange dreams of a life on Mars, where he has a true purpose, another woman, and a set of skills. Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy? You never know for sure in Paul Verhoeven‘s Total Recall, an ultraviolent sci-fi action-adventure that’s best remembered for its triple-breasted women, stuttering robots, and Ronny Cox’s bloated head.
But that’s what makes the film so surreal and unique. Verhoeven’s over-the-top trademarks are louder than ever in this lewd Philip K. Dick adaptation, and Schwarzenegger is all in for the ride. In hindsight, he’s probably the worst candidate to play a would-be hero like Quaid — who would ever question those biceps? — but the big lug really sells the notion that he’s in utter disbelief at what’s happening. His larger-than-life features also assist with the film’s iconic blend of body horror that left its audiences either running for the parking lot or applauding over popcorn. –Michael Roffman
07. Detective John Kimble
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Choice Line: “It’s not a too-mah!”
Vin Diesel tried it. Hulk Hogan tried it. The Rock did, too. But no one except Arnold could pull it off. That’s right, I’m talking about the Big Guy Bonds with Kids comedy. And that particular sub-genre peaked with 1990’s Kindergarten Cop, which saw Schwarzenegger playing the role of John Kimble, an inner-city detective who has to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher in an idyllic Oregon hamlet. Everything from its title to its concept to its villain’s hair is ridiculous, but the movie is much better than any of that would suggest, namely due to Ivan Reitman’s direction and Randy Edeman’s surprisingly effective score.
Well, and Schwarzenegger, of course. Kindergarten Cop was Arnold’s first comedy since Twins two years before. But here, divorced from Danny Devito, Arnold was left do all the comedic heavy lifting on his own. He succeeds admirably on that front – several of the film’s quotes have permeated the zeitgeist, whether you realize it or not – and, by the third act, even brings a genuine warmth to Kimble. But what a lot of people forget about Kindergarten Cop is that it’s still an action film, the kind where innocent old men get slammed in car doors, drug addicts overdose, and homeboy gets gunned down in a locker room shower. It’s Kimble’s humanity and his connection to the kids that people remember, however, because, for the first time in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie, the bullets took a backseat to the humanity.
As in Commando and The Running Man, Kindergarten Cop required Arnold to be both vulnerably human and inhumanely unstoppable. Here, though, he allowed himself to be more man than machine. –Randall Colburn
06. Mr. Freeze/Dr. Victor Fries
Batman & Robin (1997)
Choice Line: “Allow me to break the … ice.”
People remember a lot of things they were never supposed to about Batman & Robin: the garish colors, the prolonged pause-heavy editing, the adrift performances, the nipples. But perhaps the most memorable of all the inexplicable star turns assembled in Joel Schumacher’s late-‘90s NOW That’s What I Call Music montage of a bunch of actors who’d peaked or were peaking around the time (and one who made it out and is still embarrassed about it to this day) is Schwarzenegger’s.
Say what you will about Mr. Freeze’s ice-cold puns and one-liners, but there’s an argument to be made that Schwarzenegger’s aggressively exaggerated turn as the onetime tragic hero and present walking action figure is at least aware of the film around it. There’s also another to be made that Schwarzenegger was paid a reported $25 million for his services and dived far too enthusiastically into one of the all-time worst superhero movie villains. We’ll never know. But Mr. Freeze is one of the most uproarious parts of a film that stands as a tarnished golden monument to the Hollywood studio system in one of its most hubristic eras. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer