By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "I'm old. Not obsolete," says Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator defiantly, three decades after his humanoid cyborg assassin first stormed onto the big screen.
But after an eight-year stint as California's governor, has Schwarzenegger, 67, still got the muscle to pull in the crowds in the role that cemented his international movie star status?
"Terminator: Genisys," in movie theaters on Wednesday, sees the action star return to the franchise that has grossed $1.5 billion globally from four films, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
"It was really a big surprise for me when I got a phone call a month after I was finished with the governorship, 'Hey Arnold, do you want to still be the Terminator?'" Schwarzenegger told Reuters.
After his 2003-2011 stint as California governor, Schwarzenegger has struggled to make a major box office impact especially with younger audiences who may have been babies when he was in his heyday.
"Terminator Genisys," made by Paramount Pictures for an estimated $155 million, is expected to open over the U.S. Independence Day weekend with upwards of $50 million over five days in North American theaters, according to box office trackers Rentrak.
That compares to the record-setting $208 million domestic opening for Universal Pictures' "Jurassic World" over three days in June, and a $91 million weekend opening last month for Pixar's animated "Inside Out."
In the past four years, Schwarzenegger's biggest role was alongside Hollywood's aging heroes in Sylvester Stallone's "Expendables" trilogy. Those films have grossed about $790 million globally, drawing bigger crowds internationally than in North America. His other movies were mostly small, independent fare.
The first "Terminator" in 1984, which launched the catchphrase "I'll be back", featured the strapping Austrian-born body builder turned actor as an invincible killer robot. He reprised the role for two sequels.
"He is essentially having to start from scratch to build that credibility and appeal with a younger audience, and that is incredibly challenging for him to do at this age," said celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev.
Schwarzenegger is aware that his return to "Terminator" will be a test of his mass audience appeal.
"When you are in politics, you have to do the things that people want you to do. When you're in movies, you also want to do different types of movies that people want you to do, because otherwise they don't show up," he said.
While Schwarzenegger is featured heavily in the marketing campaign for "Genisys," he is more of a supporting star to two younger leads - "Game of Thrones" actress Emilia Clarke (Sarah Conner), and "Divergent" star Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese).
Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian says Schwarzenegger's presence remains significant for the franchise.
"Arnold is woven into the DNA of the 'Terminator' brand ... this is a big hook that he's back. He's funny, self-deprecating. This is the way people see Arnie, they make fun of him aging," he said.
Reviews for "Genisys" have been poor, scoring only 26 percent on aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com. Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter said the film "lumbers along, often tediously," while Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly called "Genisys" a "wildly expensive, decent-looking, mildly diverting mess that doesn't make a lick of sense."
Paramount Pictures is owned by Viacom Inc., Disney/Pixar is a unit of Walt Disney Co., and Universal Pictures is a unit of Comcast Corp.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant and Christian Plumb)