EXCLUSIVE: I’ve just learned that CAA is negotiating a deal for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next movie that will pay him “top-dollar” money — even though no one knows if the 63-year-old is still a star who can open a movie. Filmmaker Al Ruddy — yes, the 81-year-old Godfather and Million Dollar Baby producer — bought a 1975 novel by the late N. Richard Nash who’d adapted it into the Cry Macho screenplay that CAA liked for Arnold. Now the agency and actor (turned California Governor turned actor again) are charging a king’s ransom for his services. I’m told the deal being closed right now with Bill Block’s financier QED International is to pay Schwarzenegger $10 million upfront and 25% first dollar gross on the back end. In his heyday, Schwarzenegger was a $25M/25% first dollar gross mega-player — and one deal even threw in his own giant jet. But only the rarest of the rare get those paydays these days, and the marketplace is still looking to see if Arnold can attract back his fanbase, which was already fading when he jumped into the 2003 California special recall election. Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) also is making this pic his next project, which insiders are describing to me as “The Ransom Of Red Chief meets Ruthless People with the heartbreak of Paper Moon.

The story revolves around a horse breeder (Schwarzenegger) who won the Kentucky Derby but whose wife and child get killed. He sinks into an alcoholic depression and winds up working for a hedge fund jerk who offers him a choice of getting fired or bringing back the rich guy’s son living with the ex-wife in Mexico. Unexpected plot twists ensue, including an Arnold-and-kid road trip back home. Problem is, the last time Schwarzenegger paired with a young co-star not his offspring, it was The Last Action Hero, and that 1993 movie tanked big-time. (I don’t count Kindergarten Cop.) “But Arnold is so smart about himself, his persona, and what he should play,” an insider tells me. And that’s usually true… Schwarzenegger has been busy lining up showbiz deals since he left political office. Just this week, he became attached to star in a rights package shopped by CAA to revive the iconic Terminator sci-fi franchises. Universal, Sony and Lionsgate, and CBS Films are looking hard at the package. And he announced at MIPTV that The Governator, his new 52-episode children’s animated series with Stan Lee and producer Andy Heyward, is closing in on sales overseas.