Before he retires, Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to make a third Conan movie.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a place in his career that he has never really been: not all that busy. As much as he has an outsized, unquestioned place in action movie history, it cannot be denied that his heyday as a box office dress is long in the past; when one stars in a movie as epically successful and world-conquering as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where can you go from there? In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s case, it was to the highest executive office in California, and then to diminishing returns at the box office, which is why we say he needs to make one last movie before he retires for good: a third Conan movie, returning to the Robert E. Howard character that made him a star to begin with.
The idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger making a third Conan movie is by no means a new one. The Austrian actor first portrayed the character in the 1982 John Milius film Conan the Barbarian, which made great use of his intimidating physique, impressive screen presence, and near-total lack of a functioning level of the English language. The sequel 1984 film Conan the Destroyer (directed by Richard Fleischer this time around) failed to achieve the same box office, but plans still began developing for a third movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So what happened with the third Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie, which was tentatively titled Conan the Conqueror? Long story short, a bunch of rights issues (which are notoriously convoluted when it comes Robert E. Howard’s work) started to get in the way, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s contract with producer Dino De Laurentiis (who knows something about rights issues) expired, the actor had prior commitments to Predator, and eventually, the screenplay got turned into the terrible Kevin Sorbo vehicle Kull the Conqueror. A third turn for Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan has been brought up by the actor periodically throughout the years, who has usually explained the slow progress as being the fault of young producers trying to make their mark in Hollywood (ie, the “those darn kids” defense).
But now is the perfect time for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return as Conan, and for a very simple reason: he is finally old enough. A third movie made in the 1980s would have offered us pretty much just more of the same thing we had already seen in the first two, a young, terrifically muscled near-mute conquering everything in sight and treading the jeweled thrones of the earth beneath his feet. But now Arnold Schwarzenegger is 75 years old and, more than ever before seems ready to return to his old roles to set them aside.
For example, he already portrayed an aging, self-aware T-800 in Terminator: Dark Fate, which gave him the opportunity the play his most iconic character as a being who has found some kind of peace late in life. If all goes well, soon he will return to the role of perfect human being Julius Benedict opposite Danny DeVito and Tracy Morgan in the long-delayed Triplets movie. There is no better time than now for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return to the role that first brought him fame.
But importantly, Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to play Conan in a new way, to reflect the quieter, more internal acting he has periodically shown in movies like the underrated 2015 zombie movie Maggie. There is no reason to bring back the actor as the kind of killing machine he used to be at this late stage in his career when he has already long ago passed on that baton. Instead, we need to see the former king of action movies portraying a different kind of king late in life and wondering where he goes from there.
This Conan movie should be a small-scale, low-key examination of a figure defined by his physical strength and never-ending success, after the world is already conquered. Arnold Schwarzenegger literally could not rise any higher in Hollywood than he already did and could not succeed any more in American politics than he already has. A final Conan movie could give him the perfect career send-off if people can ever just stop arguing about the movie rights.
We don’t want Arnold Schwarzenegger to ever have to retire. But if he does decide to, this is how he should go out.