Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images; AFP/Getty ImagesWhether you agree with his politics or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 election to the California governorship was a defining moment in the evolution of American society. It wasn’t the first time that a celebrity with zero political experience has ascended to high political office — “Pappy” O’Daniel, anyone? — but the sheer unlikelihood of Schwarzenegger’s rise is astounding. You could argue that Schwarzenegger’s election was an “Only in America” rags-to-riches story… or you could note that his status as one of the most powerful politicians in the country AND one of the biggest movie stars in history is the best indication yet that we are already living in an Orwellian dystopic future. Either way, we’re left pondering the same question: Does the man still have a movie career?
It’s easy to forget that, before Schwarzenegger assumed office, he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire anymore. He was coming off of three utterly forgettable action movies — 1999’s End of Days, 2000’s The 6th Day, and 2002’s Collateral Damage — before he took a role in 2003’s Terminator 3. That movie was a big hit, and it proves what a canny businessman Schwarzenegger can be: By revisiting his classic ’80s franchise, he set a template that fellow aging action stars would follow later in the decade. (See: Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard and Sylvester Stallone in everything he has done in the last five years.) Schwarzenegger was also riding the kooky-cameo gravy train with very bit parts in The Rundown and Around the World in 80 Days.
It’s not too crazy to suggest that, if he hadn’t of run for governor, Schwarzenegger would have continued to follow that cameo/sequel structure. (Oh, what might have been! Maybe Schwarzenegger could have played the celebrity cameo role in Zombieland? Or perhaps that long-discussed Commando reboot could’ve just been a way, way, way-too-late sequel?) And it’s entirely possible that, free from the constraints of political office, he’ll slip right back into that career track. He already had a brief cameo role in The Expendables, and you have to figure that Stallone would love to give his old friend a bigger role in the sequel. But does Schwarzenegger even want to act anymore?
I hope so, because I think the guy still has one more great role in him — and it’s a role that only he can play. In the classic closing moments of 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, we see a much-older Conan, who has become a true King. But it’s not a joyful moment — he wears the jeweled crown upon a “troubled brow,” and the implication is that, even though the savage has achieved everything he ever dreamed of in life, his life has only become more complicated, even dangerous. What better role for Schwarzenegger, who ascended to the highest political office available to him, only to now leave that office with incredibly low approval ratings? King Conan: the role Arnold Schwarzenegger was born to play!
What do you think, PopWatchers? Should Schwarzenegger return to any of his old franchises? Do you think he even wants to act anymore? Or should he settle in for a long, happy career of brief cameos in Hangover sequels?
Also, quick note for Schwarzenegger fans: in honor of the Governator’s final day in office, PopWatch Rewind is hosting a special week-long examination of three of his most iconic films. Check back on Wednesday for an in-depth look at Conan the Barbarian (Arnold punches a camel!), followed on Thursday by a close thematic reading of Commando (Arnold slices a man’s arm off!), and finishing up on Friday with an exquisite exploration of Predator (Arnold punches an alien!).