Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Best Non-Action Performances, Ranked

With an unmistakable look, voice and name, Arnold Schwarzenegger has become iconic. The bodybuilder turned actor rose to fame through a string of action roles in the 1980s and beyond, most notably the characters Conan and the Terminator. Easily parodied, Schwarzenegger has been repeatedly characterized as a brash hero. But given the opportunity, he has proven that he is capable of successfully tackling both comedic and dramatic roles. Here are our picks for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eight best non-action performances on film and television.


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8 Jingle all the way (1996)

Inspired by an increasing demand for popular Christmas toys (resulting in occasional violent disputes) in the years leading up to its 1996 release, Jingle All the Way reportedly pulled Schwarzenegger with the chance to play a relatively ordinary character. As a father looking for a sold out toy for his son (young Jake Lloyd, several years earlier) Star Wars fame), Schwarzenegger goes to increasingly absurd lengths, sometimes merging into his action movie character. Critics couldn’t decide whether the film was satirical or celebrating the holiday season commercialization. Still, Emanuel Levy, writing for Variety, found that Schwarzenegger had “developed a light comedic episode” and given his character “a very welcome touch of humor.”

7 Kindergarten Cop (1990)

His second comedy with director Ivan Reitman, 1990’s Kindergarten Cop finds Schwarzenegger undercover as a detective who discovers he enjoys teaching kids. Released the same year as Total Recall, Schwarzenegger had reached a point in his career where he could explore various options, including commercial appearances, and even directing a horror show. Many critics still didn’t like Schwarzenegger in a comedic role, but the film was commercially successful and made him want to make a sequel.

Related: How Stan Lee Made Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop 2 Wish Come True

6 Stay Hungry (1976)

Although not technically his film debut (a young “Arnold Strong” starred in the low-budget film Hercules in New York in 1970), many forget that Schwarzenegger won the Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Movie for his role in the unpredictable comedy/drama stay hungry. He appeared alongside rising stars Jeff Bridges and Sally Field in the semi-autobiographical role of Joe Santo, a bodybuilder who competed in the Mr. Universe contest. The film received mixed reviews, but Schwarzenegger was acclaimed and the award brought him some early attention, years before his breakthrough roles.

5 Twins (1988)

after two Conan movies, the terminatorand PredatorSchwarzenegger was one of the biggest and most recognizable movie stars of the eighties. But he took an unexpected turn of action and comedy opposite the diminutive Danny DeVito in Ivan Reitman’s Twins. Critically panned for offering little more than its wacky premise, it was nevertheless a huge success and quickly became one of the top-grossing films of 1988, despite being released in December. Schwarzenegger would once again collaborate with both DeVito and Reitman, and despite the director’s death, a sequel may still be made.

4 Iron Pumps (1977)

The 1977 movie Iron pumps is sometimes categorized as a documentary, although “docudrama” might describe it better. Based on a book of the same name, some scenes are definitely staged or dramatized, and possibly even scripted. The story that emerges is a rivalry between two bodybuilders who became both actors and stars, Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. What the audience saw at the time was the beginning of Schwarzenegger’s performance in character: cocky, but charismatic, smiling and with one-liners. Indeed, it was a rough cut of the film that convinced producers that Schwarzenegger was perfect for the title role in Conan the Barbariana portrait that would earn him action movie stardom.

Related: Mark Hamill Shares The Terrible Advice He Gave Young Arnold Schwarzenegger

3 Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten (2021)

The animated series Superhero Kindergarten arose out of Schwarzenegger’s desire to create a sequel to Kindergarten Cop, but it took the legendary Stan Lee to make it happen. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the last project Lee worked on before his death in 2018. Schwarzenegger voices the lead character, Arnold Armstrong (Captain Fantastic), who must teach a new generation of superhero kids lessons about life and use their strengths to a better world. Well-reviewed after its debut on Kartoon Channel, the series has been renewed for a second season.

2 Junior (1994)

Schwarzenegger’s third and final project with Ivan Reitman, Junior re-teamed him with Danny DeVito. In the 1994 film starring Emma Thompson, Schwarzenegger agreed to secretly become the world’s first pregnant man to test a new fertility drug. It didn’t have a strong opening and most of the reviews were negative. An exception was Roger Ebert, who called Schwarzenegger “perfect for the role.” Surprisingly, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association agreed and nominated Schwarzenegger for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, with Thompson also receiving a Best Actress nomination for her performance. The movie may not last, but in hindsight, it could be Schwarzenegger’s best comedic performance yet.

1 Maggie (2015)

After two terms as California governor, a public divorce, and a scandal involving a previously unrecognized son, Schwarzenegger had inevitably learned something about the burden of responsibility. This is evident from his powerful but restrained performance in Maggie, a surprisingly thoughtful but slow film from 2015. Though ostensibly a zombie film, Schwarzenegger shines not in the occasional flash of violent action, but rather in the tender relationship with his character’s daughter, played by Abigail Breslin. Reviews were mixed, but almost all celebrated Schwarzenegger in his best dramatic role.

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