The Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Comedies, Ranked
Arnold Schwarzenegger is extremely funny, both accidentally and on purpose. After spending the first decade or so of his blockbuster film career making gonzo action films about impossibly buff heroes with hilariously improbable names (he frequently plays characters with ordinary names like “John” and “Benjamin” as if anyone who looks or sounds like him would ever be named something like that), Schwarzenegger began appearing in comedies that played with his superhero image, at which point we all discovered that he loves making fun of himself. Throw that onto the pile of truly outstanding facial expressions and wordless noises he makes in every single one of his movies, and it all adds up to a marble statue of muscular joy.
In the interest of the historical record, I have rewatched every Schwarzenegger comedy and ranked them according to level of Austrian chuckles. I didn’t include any cameos, which is why this list doesn’t begin with Around the World in 80 Days, a film holding the dual distinction of being one of the shittiest things both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan have ever done.
Image via Lionsgate
Killing Gunther is like What We Do In The Shadows if it were about a bunch of wacky assassins and also extremely bad. A hitman named Blake (Taran Killam) hires a documentary crew to follow him and his team of fellow contract killers as they attempt to hunt down and kill the legendary assassin known as Gunther (Schwarzenegger). Direct-to-camera faux documentary comedies are already kind of tired, and Killing Gunther doesn’t do much to take advantage of the format, instead relying on tropes and gags that were established over a decade ago by The Office. Schwarzenegger is having fun as an over-the-top assassin, and Killam’s fellow SNL alumnus Bobby Moynihan absolutely kills it as Blake’s explosive expert Donnie. But the movie feels like a mediocre sketch that was stretched out for way too long, with a premise that has been outdated since the mid-90s. (Remember how many “They’re hitmen, but funny!” movies we got in the wake of Pulp Fiction?) There’s a lot of talented performers here, but very few of the jokes land, and I had wished for the blessed release of a spectacular sniper shot more than once by the time the movie finally ended.
Image via Universal Pictures
Schwarzenegger actually made two comedies in 1994 – True Lies, which was released during the summer, and Junior, which plopped into theaters over Thanksgiving. Arnold plays a scientist named Alex Hess who, alongside his colleague Larry (Danny DeVito), is developing a fertility drug designed to prevent miscarriages. After a series of improbable events, they decide to impregnate Alex to demonstrate that their drug works. It’s one of the most strangely forgotten films of the 90s – Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a pregnant man in a movie directed by Ivan Reitman should be a thing that we never stopped talking about, and yet we all abruptly did. That’s probably because the movie isn’t very good, partially because of its completely unbelievable premise (they literally just inject an embryo into Alex’s stomach and simply never explain how the baby is staying alive without a womb or umbilical cord and how it is growing without rupturing every single one of Alex’s internal organs) and partially because the laughs just don’t really come. Most of the comedy is based on the cold, clinical Alex slowly beginning to behave like an overly emotional pregnant woman stereotype, which just isn’t all that funny. Like always, Schwarzenegger is game as hell and he absolutely goes for it, but the writing never does him any justice. Junior’s main strength is Emma Thompson, who is absolutely killing it in every possible definition of that phrase. Watching Junior, you are reminded what an incredibly gifted physical comedian Thompson is – she does more with a quick gesture and facial expression than the entire script ever manages to pull off. Junior was an interesting movie to revisit after having not seen it in almost three decades, but it’s one that I never feel the need to see again.
Jingle All the Way
Image via 20th Century Studios
Schwarzenegger’s 1996 Christmas comedy Jingle All the Way, about an absent father named Howard scrambling to find his son the hottest toy of the season on Christmas Eve, is a fun but flawed movie. It also wound up being weirdly topical, as it was released the same Christmas as the infamous Tickle Me Elmo craze, which was virtually identical to the frenzy surrounding Turbo Man in the film. (People literally fought and trampled each other to get their hands on Elmo, and scalpers sold the doll for nearly $2,000.) The game of the movie is Schwarzenegger’s rivalry with Myron (Sinbad), another desperate father fighting to get his son a Turbo Man action figure. They trade barbs and slapstick hijinks, and constantly try to sabotage each other using various degrees of treacherous violence. It’s a great premise, with a solid supporting cast including Phil Hartman as Howard’s smarmy neighbor Ted (think a sleazy Ned Flanders), Robert Conrad as a motorcycle cop Howard keeps accidentally offending, and Harvey Korman in a brief cameo playing the President of the United States in an episode of Turbo Man. However, the final act takes an incredibly bizarre turn, abandoning the film’s mostly grounded tone for a climactic superhero battle in which Myron takes Howard’s son hostage and Howard dons an actual working jetpack to defeat him. It’s… unexpected.
Image via Universal Pictures
Twins was Schwarzenegger’s first official comedy, and also the first of a multi-film collaboration with Ivan Reitman. It’s also easily the most cheerful film about eugenics ever created. Schwarzenegger plays Julius Benedict, a “perfect” human created on a tropical island in a secret genetic experiment. Unbeknownst to him, he was separated at birth from his twin brother Vincent (Danny DeVito), who grew up in an orphanage in America. Julius leaves the island to find Vincent, and let me tell you, hijinks absolutely ensue. Obviously, the main joke of the movie is the idea that Schwarzenegger and DeVito are in any way related, let alone twin brothers. But the script takes that idea and develops it further by making Julius a big, loveable, naïve kid and Vincent a shrewd, opportunistic conman. It’s like watching a musclebound, enthusiastic Spock hang out with Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. DeVito is always great and Twins is no exception, but Schwarzenegger proved that he could be charmingly self-deprecating with this role. Much of the comedy of Twins is derived from subverting Schwarzenegger’s image as a taciturn action hero, and watching him play Julius like an adorably excited puppy is even more entertaining than it sounds. The plot is unnecessarily complicated and takes some bizarre turns in the second half, but the core premise works surprisingly well, and Schwarzenegger and DeVito are having a blast playing off of each other.
Hercules in New York
Image via RAF Industries
Hercules in New York was Schwarzenegger’s first starring role, and it remains a sturdy monument to accidental comedy. Credited as “Arnold Strong” for the film’s original release, Schwarzenegger’s lines were also re-dubbed by some rando cheeseball you’ve probably heard in a dozen kung fu movies because the filmmakers thought Arnold accent was so thick it made his English unintelligible. They were 100% correct. Watching a barely coherent Schwarzenegger scamper through 1960s New York, pummeling cartoonish mobsters, buff sailors, and a man in a literal bear costume while a soundtrack of playful Greek music relentlessly blazes on in the background is a treat every human being should experience at least once in their lifetime. Also, the fresh-faced leading man is so new to acting he clearly forgets his lines in a few scenes, including one blockbuster moment when he flubs “Such fine foods for few small coins?” and simply restarts the line halfway through. (Every DVD and streaming release I’ve seen include Schwarzenegger’s original dialogue track, and there is no point experiencing the film in any other way.) You can also clearly hear cars driving by and honking on Mount Olympus, which was almost certainly filmed somewhere in Central Park. Hercules in New York is a tour de force and I simply will not hear otherwise.
Image via Universal Pictures
It is my duty to inform you that Kindergarten Cop rips. It’s a surprisingly dark action comedy starring Schwarzenegger as Detective John Kimble, who is forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher to try and catch Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson), a murderous drug dealer trying to track down his ex-wife and son, who are living under an assumed name. At first, Kimble is gruff and irritated by the children, employing blatant and ineffective interrogation tactics to try and determine which of his new students is Crisp’s son. Directed by renowned comedic filmmaker Ivan Reitman, Kindergarten Cop plays out like a bonafide crime thriller generously peppered with some solid-ass jokes. The first half of the film, featuring the perpetually annoyed Kimble struggling to deal with a bunch of chaotic toddlers, is particularly hilarious, including an all-time moment in which Kimble confronts a lunch thief and simply drops the kid in bewildered disgust. It’s also one of the most quotable of Schwarzenegger’s films, with lines like “Who is your daddy, and what does he do?” and “It’s not a tumor!” forever ingrained in the pop culture lexicon.
Image via 20th Century Fox
Schwarzenegger’s 1994 action comedy True Lies reunited him with Terminator director James Cameron, resulting in one of the better films of their respective careers and a classic of the genre. Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, an international super spy who runs espionage missions against some of the most dangerous people in the world. But Harry’s wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) think he’s a nerdy computer salesman and one of the most boring human beings on the entire planet. And wouldn’t you know it, Harry’s two lives gradually collide and comedy ensues. There are some legitimately righteous action sequences, and Schwarzenegger gets some memorable laughs, but the real star is the absolutely incandescent Curtis. She plays Helen with a geeky earnestness that gradually morphs into undeniable badassitude, beginning with a near-farcical B-plot involving a sleazy con man / used car salesman named Simon (Bill Paxton, in one of his most thunderous performances). Not everything in True Lies has aged well, most notably a great deal of the jokes Tom Arnold makes about his ex-wives – Arnold is funny as Harry’s partner Gib, but the running “my ex-wife is a bitch” gag is tired and off-putting in 2020. And the movie trucks with some cringeworthy racial stereotypes in that just about every non-white person in the film is a villain. But despite its flaws, it remains a thoroughly fun and mostly hilarious action film featuring Schwarzenegger in his prime.
Image via 20th Century Fox
Listen, Commando isn’t technically a comedy in the sense that you would not find it in the Comedy section at Blockbuster unless I had been in the store a few minutes earlier. However, it is absolutely a comedy in that it is unquestionably one of the most hilarious films Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever made. Schwarzenegger plays formal spec ops badass John Matrix, and I could honestly stop right there. His daughter Alyssa Milano is kidnapped by his former teammate Bennett (Vernon Wells) in an attempt to force Matrix into using his considerable talents to help carry out a coup in the fictional country of Val Verde to install the villainous Arius (Dan Hedaya, inexplicably cast as a vaguely South American coke baron) as the new leader, and woe be to those motherfuckers. Matrix does not entertain their plot for one solitary second and instead proceeds to murder every single person involved as he cuts a righteous path of furious violence all the way to Arius’ palace in Val Verde to rescue his daughter. Commando features some of the cheesiest one-liners of Schwarzenegger’s career second only to The Running Man, a movie I seriously considered also including on this list. (He very matter-of-factly breaks a man’s neck sitting next to him on an airplane, then covers him with a hat and blanket and tells the flight attendant “He’s dead tired.”) Matrix obliterates his enemies with excessive 1980s violence that can only be described with a phrase containing the words “juvenile” and “cartoonish,” and yet neither term is a strong enough descriptor. Commando is one of my favorite comedies and I love it with my entire heart.
Last Action Hero
Image via Columbia Pictures
Last Action Hero is not only the best Schwarzenegger comedy; it is, quite frankly, one of the best movies Schwarzenegger has ever made. A spoof of action movie tropes of the 80s and 90s co-written by Shane Black (who was largely responsible for creating a number of those tropes), the film is carried by a game-as-hell Schwarzenegger operating at maximum enthusiasm. He fully embraces poking fun at both himself and at the genre that made him a superstar. A young latchkey kid named Danny (Austin O’Brien) gets a magic ticket that allows him to travel inside the world of his favorite action film series Jack Slater, starring Schwarzenegger as the titular loose cannon police detective. Schwarzenegger plays both Jack and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the fact that he plays this film’s version of his real-life self as kind of a dope is a testament to how absolutely committed he is. And do not even get me started on Charles Dance as Benedict, a Jack Slater movie villain who steals Danny’s ticket and uses it to enter the real world, where he joyously discovers that bad guys can actually win here (and they frequently do). Last Action Hero was a notorious bomb, eviscerated by critics and losing $26 million after suffering the cosmic misfortune of opening a week after Jurassic Park hit theaters. (One review called the film “joyless,” leading me to believe it was written by an alien who does not understand human emotion.) But in the decades since its release, the movie has enjoyed a bit of a cultural reevaluation, and literally every single comedy writer I know freaking loves it. Last Action Hero might not be a perfect film (and I’m really stressing “might” here), but it is absolutely a great one.
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About The Author
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Tom Reimann is a writer and comedian and somehow an Associate Editor at Collider. He has written for Cracked.com, Mad Magazine, BunnyEars.com, and Some More News, and is the co-founder of the Gamefully Unemployed podcast network.
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