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Return to Hollywood Is Always a Possibility

October 09, 2003|James Bates and Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writers

Like the cyborg he plays in the "Terminator" films, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hollywood career can't be killed, even by a move to Sacramento.

With DVD sales exploding, cable networks proliferating and new technologies developing to distribute and watch films, Schwarzenegger movies will continue to deliver a payday that will make his government paycheck look like pocket change.

"The movies are substantial businesses that will continue to make money not only for him but for his children and his heirs," said director Ivan Reitman, who gave Schwarzenegger leading roles in three big-screen comedies, "Twins," "Kindergarten Cop" and "Junior."

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co., said, "Arnold Inc. continues in all its various forms."

Next week, Fox Home Entertainment is releasing a boxed DVD set of four Schwarzenegger films: "Predator," "Total Recall," "The Running Man" and "Commando."

Schwarzenegger's last film, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," has just hit theaters in Italy, Switzerland and Egypt and is expected to be a major DVD release in the U.S. by Warner Bros. next month. So is "Pumping Iron," the 1970s bodybuilding documentary that made Schwarzenegger famous and to which the actor has owned the rights since 1991.

Observers see the possibility of a small bump in sales of Schwarzenegger films from his election, but few believe it would be significant because so many people already are familiar with his work.

"I think everyone knows who he is," said Jim Salzer, president and chief executive of Salzer's Records & Video in Ventura.

Although the 56-year-old action star's box-office appeal has waned in recent years, Schwarzenegger has remained popular in foreign countries and in home video. Judith McCourt, research director for Video Store Magazine in Santa Ana, said Schwarzenegger's major titles on DVD had sold about 1 million copies since the start of summer.

Artisan Home Entertainment expects to sell more than 1 million copies of a new, "extreme" DVD of Schwarzenegger's 1991 film "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" released this year to coincide with the theatrical release of "Terminator 3."

"The Schwarzenegger titles are perennial successes," said Jeff Fink, the company's home entertainment marketing chief.

"Terminator 3" was expected to be one of the bigger Christmas-season DVDs even before Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy in early August. The film to date has grossed $150 million domestically and about $275 million more in foreign markets. Films that have performed similarly have sold about 8 million DVDs domestically.

Schwarzenegger's situation is far different from that of the last actor to occupy the governor's office. At the time Ronald Reagan ran for governor in 1966, his film career was in decline and he appeared mostly in TV programs such as "Death Valley Days."

Nonetheless, Reagan was a prolific actor, with more than 50 movies to his credit. Schwarzenegger has appeared in about 30.

Reagan's most memorable films include "Kings Row," "Bedtime for Bonzo" and "Knute Rockne, All American," in which he played dying football star George "the Gipper" Gipp.

During Reagan's time as California governor and later as president, his films generated little money but did inspire midnight movie showings on college campuses, quirky film festivals and scattered TV airings.

For Schwarzenegger, moving into the governor's mansion puts his film career on ice, outside of a cameo in the forthcoming "Around the World in 80 Days."

"From the day he decided he was running in this race, he was in it to win it, and there was no backup plan, no second options," said Jill Eisenstadt, his Hollywood publicist. "But, if or when he's ready to return to the entertainment business, Hollywood will be there."

Moonlighting in Hollywood, even in cameos, seems out of the question, friends of Schwarzenegger say, given the effort and money it took to get elected and a campaign that stressed the urgency of California's problems.

Returning to Hollywood after a stint as governor could prove challenging for Schwarzenegger.

For one thing, the aging action star may have a tough time convincing fans that he still can carry weight as Hollywood's leading box-office draw. Despite a return to his signature cyborg role in this year's release "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," Schwarzenegger has struggled with such costly misfires as "Collateral Damage," "End of Days" and "The 6th Day."

Many say he would have to prove that he could move beyond his traditional roles.

Off screen, Schwarzenegger's image also may need some rehabilitating whether he returns to Hollywood or not. His reputation took a hit during the campaign when women came forward alleging he groped and humiliated them -- in some cases on movie sets.

Schwarzenegger has issued a blanket apology to women he may have offended but has declined to address the allegations specifically.

"I'd like to believe that it won't have much or any impact on his governorship or any future film career," said Reitman, who has defended Schwarzenegger publicly against such charges.

He noted that he never witnessed or heard any complaints from women about the actor on his movie sets. "I would not be supporting him if he was a womanizer and had no respect for women," he said.

People who know Schwarzenegger believe there's no reason he can't revive his acting career after finishing in Sacramento if he so chooses. Producer John Davis, a friend of Schwarzenegger who made such films as "Predator" with him, cites the case of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who resumed acting after leaving Washington. Thompson now stars as Dist. Atty. Arthur Branch in the popular TV show "Law & Order."

"You can always come back in our business," Davis said.

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