What's an aging action star/mostly reviled former governor to do?'
With California nearly $20 billion in debt and polling at 22 percent voter approval, Arnold Schwarzenegger exits public life in January in much the same way he came in -- on the run from failure.
So where does he go from here?
It's turned into a source of intense speculation, with Schwarzenegger tweeting only a few hints to his 1.8 million followers last week. (The big reveal? He might write a book or do another movie, "if someone comes with a great script.")
See slideshow: "6 New Schwarzenegger Movies We'd Like to See."
In fact, the soon-to-be ex-governor even exploited the frenzy on Wednesday afternoon, when he directed his Twitter posse to tune in for the new "project" he did with James Cameron.
It turned out to be an anti-Prop 23 ad.
“People still love Arnold -- he can choose whatever he wants,” Hollywood uber-flack Howard Bragman told Reuters.
But as conservative political gadfly Andrew Breitbart told TheWrap, while voters generally see California as having systematic ills that transcend Schwarzenegger, “the sordid world of politics has taken off the mystique of him as a mega-celebrity.”
Indeed, with a return to competitive bodybuilding out of the question, the legendarily ambitious immigrant social climber’s options may be far more limited than ever before.
Of the two choices open to him -- movies and politics -- neither seems to hold much promise for a man with an ego the size of Schwarzenegger's.
The fact that his box-office appeal was on the downslide went somewhat unnoticed outside Hollywood in 2003, when he helped introduce the controversial recall ballot that removed newly re-elected Gov. Gray Davis from his gubernatorial post -- an office Schwarzenegger would eventually grab amid a voter rout of Democratic Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante later that year.
But it has been 14 years since his last real box-office hit – Cameron's action-comedy “True Lies," which grossed $379 million worldwide. When he left Hollywood for Sacramento, he was coming off a string of money losers, including “Collateral Damage,” “The 6th Day” and “End of Days."
Even his last “Terminator” foray, 2003’s “Rise of the Machines,” didn’t light the world on fire, grossing $433.4 million worldwide on a production budget of over $200 million (and global marketing costs that were probably close to that figure).
Seven years older and perhaps decades removed from the weight room, he did a cameo in peer Sylvester Stallone’s tongue-in-cheek summer action homage “The Expendables.” According to producer Avi Lerner, he arrived on the set on an early Sunday morning and was out by noon.
“He did it out of friendship – it was just a favor to Sly,” Lerner told TheWrap. “He didn’t take any money or try to get any money.”
With Hollywood being “the ageism capital of the world,” Breitbart suggested that Schwarzenegger could transition, like Stallone, into the savvy role of self-aware producer, using his wealth, connections and celebrity to make things happen behind the camera.
But unlike Stallone, who actually wrote and sold his own breakout role -- 1976's Best Picture-winner "Rocky" -- Schwarzenegger has always relied on his pure-play onscreen persona to get by.
On several recent occasions, his “True Lies” co-star, Tom Arnold, has suggested to reporters that he’s talked with Cameron and Schwarzenegger about a sequel.
And certainly, Cameron and Schwarzenegger have been talking of late, evidenced by the political video they debuted Wednesday to combat the environmental-rollback ballot measure.
In fact, Schwarzenegger’s environmental acumen seems to be the most solvent aspect of a tainted gubernatorial legacy.
Not only did he fail to deliver on his main campaign directive of solving the state’s budget crises, he also failed to move the ball on key issues like water infrastructure. One of his best-received decisions, however, was turning down $100 million from oil companies seeking to conduct offshore oil-drilling off the California coast.
With the moderate-Republican governor enjoying a warm relationship with President Obama, graduating into some federal environmental watchdog role is an entirely foreseeable outcome, Breitbart believes.
“The faux cover of having a (former) Republican governor representing his environmental interests would probably work for Obama,” he noted.
Beyond that, however, political aspirations become hazy, especially for a moderate, socially progressive Republican operating in the age of the Tea Party movement.
“His popularity has plummeted, and he doesn’t have the marketability in politics that he once did,” said Republican political consultant Sal Russo to TheWrap.
Added Brietbart: “I think that Schwarzenegger won a novelty election. But he now represents politics-as-usual to people. He came in with the mystique of a superhero, but rightly or wrongly, he never made the tough choices. He just kicked the can forward. In the end, he was a Hollywood guy -- he wants to to be liked.”