While he was making Piranha II: The Spawning, James Cameron was sick and had one of those weird dreams — this one was about a metal torso holding knives dragging itself from an explosion — and was inspired to make a horror movie. His agent didn’t like that genre. Cameron fired that agent.
Gale Anne Hurd, who had worked at New World Pictures as Roger Corman’s assistant, bought the rights to produce the movie for one dollar with the promise that she would produce it only if Cameron was to direct it.
The money came from John Daly, chairman and president of Hemdale Film Corporation, and the presentation had Lance Henriksen in a leather jacket with wounds on his face kicking open the door for Cameron.
As for where the idea really came from, well…
Writer Harlan Ellison “loved the movie, was just blown away by it,” but that was because it was a cocktail of two of his stories, “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand.” Orion Pictures, who put out the movie, settled with Ellison for an undisclosed amount of money and an acknowledgment credit in later prints of the film. Cameron was against Orion’s decision, yet he was told that if he did not agree with the settlement, he would have to pay any damages if Orion lost the lawsuit.
Regardless of where the movie came from, it was an instant hit.
The Terminator (1984): This movie made $78.3 million against a modest $6.4 million budget. It also made both director Cameron and star Schwarzenegger as entertainment superstars.
The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) has come to our time hunting a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), while Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) has come back as well to ensure that she gives birth to man’s last hope, her son John.
That sounds like such a simple story but this is the very definition of well-told, as Cameron obsessed over the movie, delivering what could be one of the most perfect science fiction movies ever made. The scene while Arnold’s face is torn away to reveal the metal skull underneath is sheer movie magic thanks to the skill of Stan Winston and the mind of Cameron, whose sketch after his dream was used to bring the T-800 to cinematic existence.
Cameron and Herd’s experience working for Corman came in handy, as the final scene of Sarah driving away was shot without a permit. They told a cop that tried to ticket them that they were making a student film for UCLA.
T2: Judgment Day (1991): How do you think anyone making action movies felt after seeing this movie? Truly, nearly everything had been done by the end of it, a film that not only had tons of incredible stuntwork and special effects, but also a true heart behind it.
I often tell the story of my grandfather, who I saw get caught inside a burning car and not even flinch when all of the skin on his back was burned, who worked day and night inside a blast furnace, who rarely got emotional breaking down into tears at the end of this movie, making all of us leave the room so he could cry all by himself when Arnold’s T-800 melted itself down.
At more than one hundred million dollars, this was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, but it brought back five times that investment, owning the summer of 1991.
That budget was big before the movie ever started.
Back when James Cameron just wanted to get The Terminator made, he’d surrendered 50% of his rights to the film to the Hemdale Film Corporation. Things had not gone well, as Hemdale co-founder John Daly had attempted to change the ending of that movie and Cameron almost physically assaulted him. Also by 1990, Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gale-Anne Hurd and special-effects artist Stan Winston were all suing Hemdale for money they never saw for a movie that made nearly ten times its budget.
Complicating matters further was the fact that Cameron and Hurd had gotten divorced, with him selling the other half of the movie that he owned to her for $1 following their split.
Hemdale was experiencing financial difficulties and would eventually be forced to sell the rights to The Terminator, so Arnold worked with Carolco Pictures to purchase the rights. One of Carolco’s owners, Mario Kassar, said that the deal was the most he’d ever conducted, as Daly wanted $10 million for the rights, a number he believed was made up just to scare off anyone who wanted to buy it. Hurd was much easier to deal with, only requiring $5 million, but before filming had even begun, they were already in double digits of millions of dollars spent.
Kassar explained to Cameron that to make back this investment, the film would proceed with or without him; Cameron took $6 million to be involved and write the script. Caroloco nearly followed the Cannon model of pre-selling this movie as well as using tax breaks to make it happen.
After writing the script, Arnold didn’t understand why the T-800 had become good or why he’d stop killing humans. But he trusted Cameron and just had one request: “Just make me cool.”
As for the new enemy, the T-1000, it would be a mix of digital art and the physicality of Robert Patrick, who was a sleek predator compared to the bull in a China shop that was Arnold. And of course, Linda Hamilton would have to return as Sarah. She put herself through what she described as hell physically preparing for the role, as her character had been off the grid preparing for the end of the world. She summed up the movie’s emotional hook so well: “The T-800 is a better human than I am, and I’m a better Terminator than he is.”
In fact, that’s the most important lesson in this. If a machine can learn to value life, so can human beings. I’ve often thought of the mantra that film imparts at the end, “no fate but what we make” and its rejection of predestination for the truth of free will. That’s a big concept to include within a summer blockbuster, but hey, there it is.
Sadly, Caroloco would not survive the success of this movie. They finished 1991 with a net loss of $265.1 million, which was caused by the financial problems of its other films and subsidiaries. Four years later, they would file for bankruptcy and sell all of the assets, including this film, to Canal Plus for $58 million dollars.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): James Cameron was interested in directing this movie, but ultimately didn’t work on it. Sadly, he had some ideas while making Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time, seeing that theme park experience as the next step toward a third fim.
He no longer had any financia stake, as Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, who had produced Terminator 2: Judgment Day through Carolco Pictures, obtained the rights for the franchise as a result of Carolco’s liquidation auction and negotiations with producer Gale Ann Hurd. Yes, somehow they made money on the bankuptcy of Kassar’s company.
Director Jonathan Mostow made Breakdown and U-571 before this. Talk about an unenviable position, following James Cameron on a franchise that was universally loved.
Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris met while at college, where both were editors of The Harvard Lampoon. Until their professional relationsip ended in 2015, they made plenty of movies, from small budget films like The Unborn, Severed Ties and Mindwarp (all made with the fake name Henry Dominic) to Femme Fatale, The Net, The Game and, well, Catwoman.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was conflicted about doing the movie without Cameron. However, the director told him, “If they can come up with a good script and they pay you a lot of money, don’t think twice.” The script part is questionable, but Arnold made $30 million off this movie.
Nick Stahl replaced Edward Furlong as John Connor, Sarah was now dead and he was constantly on the run from Skynet, which now sent the T-X (Kristanna Loken), its most advanced machine ever, to kill all of Connor’s future soldiers back in the past.
Claire Danes plays Kate Brewster, who is destined to be the wife of John in the future, but now, her military father Lieutenant General Robert Brewster (David Andrews) has acquired all of Cyberdyne Systems’ remaining assets, so the future that was stopped in the last film can still happen, as of course the military boots up SkyNet, which wastes no time at all starting Judgement Day.
If T2 was never made, this movie would be much better considered. It’s up against an absolute classic, so if you can enjoy it on its own merits, then it’s not a bad movie.
Terminator: Salvation (2009): In addition to Terminator 3, producers Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar were already developing Terminator 4, which would finally be about the war between Skynet and humanity. Nick Stahl and Claire Danes were to return as John Connor and Kate Brewster, as director Jonathan Mostow was already on board.
But by 2007, that obviously wasn’t happening. And by this point, Caroloco was falling apart and Vajna and Kassar were no longer speaking. Entertainment Weekly interviewed Vajna, who said “After Rambo, we were trying to become a major studio. I felt that was the wrong direction,” Vajna told Entertainment Weekly. “After Rambo, we were trying to become a major studio. I felt that was the wrong direction. My feelings were very negative and it caused a lot of friction between Mario, myself and Peter Hoffman, who was by then Mario’s right hand. I disagreed with where they wanted to go and Peter played our egos against each other. He wanted to be a partner.” Vajna was paid approximately $100 million for his share in the company and within a few years, Hoffman and Kassar were at odds over how much money Kassar gambled on movies and how much he gave to his actors, like the $17 million dollar jet that was given to Schwarzenegger.
The Halcyon Company bought the intellectual property of Terminator and that’s when more lawsuits happened, as they went nearly bankrupt thanks to funding from the Pacificor hedge fund as well as a lawsuit between MGM and Halcyon subsidiary T Asset, as MGM had an exclusive window of 30 days to negotiate for distribution of the Terminator films and Halcyon turned down their original offer. At the end of the day — in court — Warner Bros. paid $60 million to distribute the movie and Sony threw in over $100 million to acquire the international rights.
There was another lawsuit after the movie played theaters, as producer Moritz Borman — who arranged the rights of Terminator going to Halycon — sued the company for $160 million, claiming that the company’s two managers, Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek, had pushed their way into taking over the production and even worse, wouldn’t pay his $2.5 million share of the production.
The script may have been even messier, as Brancato and Ferris wrote the initial draft, which was rewritten by Paul Haggis, then rewritten again by Shawn Ryan three weeks before filming started. Until a writer’s strike, Jonathan Nolan was doing rewrites on set, as did Anthony E. Zuiker. The script changed so much that Alan Dean Foster rewrote the entire novelization after submitting it to his publisher after he saw the shooting script and realized that there was no way his book would match.
That said, McG was always the director. He went so far as to meet with James Cameron, who didn’t bless or damn the project, but told McG that he was in the same shoes that he had been in once when he made Aliens.
Death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) was used by Cyberdyne as part of a trial to create living tissue for their robots, just as Judgement Day begins — moved from August 29, 1997 to July 25, 2003.
15 years later, John Connor (Christian Bale) learns that Skynet is trying to erase Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) before he can go back in time to become his father. He soon meets Marcus, who he believes is a Terminator sent to kill him until Marcus saves his life. Together, they will enter Skynet’s headquarters and rescue the captured Kyle.
Of course, Skynet’s plan was to use Marcus to get John into their base but as we’ve learned by now, fate is up to the individual. This was one of the first movies that were altered when the script leaked online. In that version, John would have been killed and his skin put onto Marcus’ body before he killed the entire cast. Talk about a dark fate, huh?
There’s an R-rated cut of this that is supposedly way better than what was in theaters. I’d love to see it.
Terminator: Savation was also the film where Bale flipped out on director of photography Shane Hurlbut for walking onto the set during a scene. I don’t take that as diva behavior; I love a celebrity meltdown.
Terminator: Genisys (2015): Directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and written by Kaeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, this film came so much later because The Halcyon Company faced legal issues and filed for bankruptcy, leading to Annapurna Pictures getting the franchise rights. And while they consulted James Cameron, nobody seems happy with this movie.
Amongst all the multiple timelines of the series, a Skynet of one universe that has already been defeated in several timelines gets smart and sends the T-5000 to defeat the humans by taking their best weapon: John Connor.
Now, Emilia Clarke is Sarah Connor, Jai Courtney is the time-displaced Kyle Reese, Arnold is “Pops,” a T-800 and Jason Clarke is John Connor, now a T-3000 after being attacked by the T-5000 as he traveled through time.
As for how Skynet gets launched, it’s through an Apple-like cell phone network known as Genisys. Yes, you thought your phone listening to you and giving you advertising was bad. Just imagine when it wants to kill you.
Set across seven different time periods this movie seems like it wants to confuse its audience, one that may have enjoyed the time travel in the original movie but really just like the simplicty of an unkillable soldier trying to wipe out a future enemy in the past.
Clarke was happy that there were no sequels, saying of the director Alan Taylor, “He was eaten and chewed up on Terminator. He was not the director I remembered. He didn’t have a good time. No one had a good time.” The double pain of doing this and a Thor movie no one liked led to Tayor saying that he “lost the will to make movies and to live as a director.”
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019): James Cameron came back to write the story of this film and produce it, but would anyone care after the numerous stumbles in the story of Terminator?
With a total of five writers — Cameron, Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman, David Goyer, Justin Rhodes — and Tim Miller following up Deadpool, it seemed like a can’t miss movie. So why does hardly anyone discuss it just three years later?
Even though this made $261.1 million at the box office, this movie still lost $122.6 million, making it one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Maybe audiences didn’t want to see Terminator 2 invalidated by a film that begins with John Connor being killed by a T-800, not after all we’d loved in that first film.
In the years after John’s death, Sarah (Linda Hamilton, returning to basically be the star of this movie) was given advanced warning of any Terminators as well as how to destroy Skynet, which never went live. Instead, another AI named Legion has come to the same conclusion that Skynet would have. Humans tried to nuke it, but that just ended up creating an unlivable world and now the future has sent a cybernetic soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to protect another future leader named Dani (Natalia Reyes) from Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna).
The messages that Sarah has been receiving come from Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the T-800 who murdered her son and has spent the time since trying to atone for its sins while starting a human family and a drapery business. Yes, the Terminator puts in blinds and curtains.
Cameron offered tons of suggestions throughout the edit and because of this — and the lack of final edit and control — Miller said he would likely not work with Cameron again. He also said, “Terminator’s an interesting movie to explore, but maybe we’ve explored it enough. I went in with the rock hard nerd belief that if I made a good movie that I wanted to see, it would do well. And I was wrong.” He also said that the goal was to never make a better movie than Terminator 2, but if that’s the goal, why even make the movie?
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Lasting 31 episodes and 2 seasons, this Fox series ignored Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and instead takes place after Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Sarah (Lena Headey), John (Thomas Dekker) and female Terminator Cameron (Summer Glau), spend the series being chased by a T-888 Terminator named Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) who believes that Sarah is a criminal.
Over the course of the series, they would learn that Skynet had sent numerous Terminators back in time, including a T-1000 who uses the human name Catherine Weaver and is played by Garbage singer Shirley Manson.
Unfortunately, Fox was unhappy with the ratings, despite the show being critically acclaimed and fans writing in to try and save it. Creator Josh Friedman refuses to share what would have happened next.
T2-3D: Battle Across Time (2001): James Cameron made one other sequel to Terminator and it could only be seen at three places: Universal Studios Japan, Hollywood and Orlando. Presented in two parts, it starts as a tour of Cyberdyne Systems before a 3D film allows riders to interact with T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John Connor (Edward Furlong) and T-1000 (Robert Patrick). There’s even the T-1000000, a giant liquid-metal spider that attacks the heroes.
The project was created by Gary Goddard (Masters of the Universe) and Landmark Entertainment. Universal wanted a stunt show, but Goddard thought that 3D theater show would be even more exciting. After a year-and-a-half of development, James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment was approached for approval and while Cameron was originally against the idea of turning the movie series into a ride, he loved the storyboards and concept. He would come on board to actually direct the battle between the Connors and T-800 against the T-70s, T-1000 and T-1000000.
Lady Terminator (1988): If you’re bored with all these machines and time travel, this Indonesian remix, ripoff and remake presents some of the same scenes from the original James Cameron effort but with a decidedly more occult — and way lower budget — feel. It’s also scummy as it gets, with its female killing machine literally removing men’s members through her murdering lady parts.
Shocking Dark (1989): Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi somehow were able to not only steal from Aliens, but also Terminator to create this movie which was sold as Terminator 2. Robert Patrick does not look pleased.
The Terminators (2009): The Asylum are the masters of “We have Terminator already at home.” I haven’t seen this but now I feel as if I have to.
It’d take a whole other article to get into all of the pop culture that Terminator created, but I just want to tease that by reminding you that at one point, we got a RoboCop vs. Terminator comic book and video game. Come on, Hollywood. Give us the real thing.