At this point, the ”I’ll be back” jokes are irrelevant. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back and busier than ever. Recently, Warner Bros. committed to three big-budget projects starring the 54-year-old, though his last vehicle to top $100 million in the U.S. was 1996’s ”Eraser.” His overseas box office luster is also in decline. (Compare the $49 million generated abroad by 2000’s ”The 6th Day” with the $143 million banked by 1999’s ”End of Days.”) Two of the new films are widely seen as consolation prizes for Arnold’s bowing out of ”I Am Legend,” a last-man-on-earth epic to which he’s been contractually attached since 1997. Earlier this year, Warner began talks with Will Smith to star in and ”Pearl Harbor”’s Michael Bay to direct ”Legend,” while Arnold settled for a producer credit. (Schwarzenegger and Warner, a division of EW parent AOL Time Warner, had no comment.) While naysayers are pumping irony, don’t count Arnie out yet: When Clint Eastwood was his age, he grossed a then-promising $41 million with the 1985 throwback ”Western Pale Rider.” Here’s Arnold’s road map to reclaiming barbarian status.
? T3 ”People want to see this guy come back in that role,” says ”The 6th Day” producer Mike Medavoy of the July 2, 2003, release of the ”Terminator” sequel, whose reported $170 million-plus budget includes $30 million for Arnold. But can his ticker still handle high-adrenaline action? Medavoy says he had no trouble getting health insurance on ”6th Day” for Arnold, who underwent heart surgery in 1997. ”Obviously, he’s clicking away.”
? WESTWORLD Consider that Yul Brynner was 58 when he played the gunslinging, rampaging robot in the 1973 original. And never underestimate the career-rehabilitating power of producer Joel Silver and writer Richard D’Ovidio, who worked wonders with Steven Seagal in ”Exit Wounds.”
? KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON Don’t think creaky franchise. Think ”The Matrix”’s Wachowski brothers, who will exec-produce with Jon Jashni. The latter says writer-director John Milius (who helmed the 1982 original) will use Arnold’s age to make Crown ”Lear-like.” As in the book series, Conan passes the torch to his son, Kon, a role Jashni had wanted The Rock to play before Universal greenlit the similarly sandy battle pic ”The Scorpion King.” Now Jashni’s eyeing Vin Diesel, among others, and promises ”a blood-drenched third act…. We’re getting back to the fundamentals.” And so, it seems, is Arnold.