CATEGORIES Movies
What if the man who said, "I'll be back" came back, and no one noticed?

Not that anyone was expecting huge numbers from "The Last Stand," the first Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring vehicle in 10 years, but they sure weren't expecting him to get his ass kicked by Jessica Chastain. At this weekend's box office, the willowy redhead delivered a one-two punch, starring in the newly-minted No. 1 film, horror hit "Mama," and the No. 2 movie (last week's champ), the real-life spy thriller "Zero Dark Thirty." Meanwhile, Arnold barely cracked the top 10 with the debut of "The Last Stand."

"Mama" exceeded expectations with a debut estimated at $28.1 million, while "Zero Dark Thirty" took in an estimated $17.6 million, a healthy number for a movie in its fifth week of release. Down at No. 10, "Last Stand" premiered with an estimated $6.3 million, or just $2,163 per screen at its 2,913 venues. ("Mama" took in 10,624 per screen, while "ZDT" claimed $5,974 per screen.) Given pre-weekend predictions of $14 to $16 million, "Last Stand" did only about half as well as expected, and its low per-screen average suggests that very few people wanted to see it -- or will want to see it during what is sure to be a brief theatrical run.

So, what happened that made everyone say, "Hasta la vista, baby" to Arnold? And will the movie's poor showing kill his attempt at a career comeback?

You can't really blame the movie, which enjoyed strong word-of-mouth among those who actually saw it. Even critics believed the aging action star still delivered the goods.

Still, does anyone really want to see a 65-year-old action hero? And has Schwarzenegger been away from the screen so long that audiences have forgotten him -- or grown up unaware of him?

Those are certainly possibilities. It didn't help, however, that the movie was competing for a largely older, male audience with another new thriller, Mark Wahlberg's "Broken City." (That movie opened at No. 5 with an estimated $9.0 million, or $3,435 per screen.) Not to mention such holdovers as "ZDT," "Gangster Squad" and "Django Unchained." By contrast, "Mama" appealed to a more heavily female audience (as horror films tend to do), and with its PG-13 rating ("Last Stand," like most of the other hard-boiled fare on the chart, was rated R), it was able to pull in a younger audience as well.

Plus, "Mama" had the cachet of producer Guillermo Del Toro. On the other hand, "Last Stand" marked the Hollywood debut of Korean director and cult fave Kim Jee-woon. Discerning genre fans had reasons to check out both pictures, then. Nonetheless, even for movie geeks, Del Toro is a much bigger draw than Kim.

Schwarzenegger shouldn't feel too bad. After all, Wahlberg owned this same weekend a year ago with his action movie "Contraband," which opened at $28.5 million, almost the same take as "Mama." This year, he didn't even muster a third of that. He, too, was competing in an oversaturated marketplace this weekend, and he probably suffered as much damage from Schwarzenegger as "The Last Stand" did from "Broken City." Or maybe Wahlberg, who is 41, is also aging out of the action-hero sweet spot.

As for whether the failure of "The Last Stand" will nip Schwarzenegger's comeback in the bud, the answer is clearly, "No." He already has wrapped another action extravaganza, "The Tomb" (co-starring fellow ancient-but-indestructible action hero Sylvester Stallone), which is due for release in September. And he has six more projects in the works, including extensions of his "Terminator" and "Conan" franchises. Maybe he really is an unstoppably cyborg from the future. No matter how badly this movie tanked, he'll be... you know.