The Terminator launched the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, spawned a billion dollar franchise, and announced James Cameron’s arrival as one of Hollywood’s biggest talents. We’ve got the lowdown with 20 huge facts about The Terminator.
James Cameron’s The Terminator was released in 1984. It was a box office hit and went on to spawn a billion-dollar franchise. Telling the tale of Sarah Connor and her fight for survival as she is hunted by a merciless time-travelling cyborg, the movie catapulted he career of Cameron and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a Hollywood superstar.
We’ve got the behind the scenes story on Cameron’s science fiction/action classic, via 20 fascinating facts about The Terminator.
1. Cameron based his fictional universe on real life
The Terminator opens in the war-torn wasteland of 2029 Los Angeles. Machines have taken control and waged war against mankind, leaving humanity on the verge of extinction.
Cameron explores his dystopian future via several flash forward scenes troughout the film. In these sequences we see society as we know it has crumbled and civilisation is now confined to shared underground lairs, short on food and supplies. Cameron paints a grim picture in these moments, and took inspiration from real life images he saw of Warsaw ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
The dystopian future of The Terminator
2. Cameron’s original ideas were different
The movie sees two time-travellers sent back from 2029 to 1984. The machines send back the cyborg Terminator to find and kill Sarah Connor. Humans send back Kyle Reese – a lone warrior – to protect Sarah.
The original script, though, actually had 4 time travellers- 2 terminators and 2 humans. Reese’s partner was killed instantly when he materialised in a wire fence.
The other Terminator was liquid metal but, due to budget and effects limitations of the time, Cameron had to shelve those plans. He revisited the idea of a shape-shifting cyborg in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgment day.
The Terminator arrives in 1984
3. Cameron’s background was mostly in special effects
The Terminator was the first movie James Cameron worked on as director (start to finish). Previously, he’d worked as model builder and designer on Battle Beyond The Stars (1980) and Escape From New York (1981).
Then, on Piranha II: The Spawning (1982) when the director Miller Drake was fired, Cameron was promoted from special effects director to director. Producer Ovidio Assonitis had a reputation for being eccentric, and produced Tentacles! in 1977. Cameron himself was then fired by Assonitis for not getting a particular shot that was needed.
Cameron’s concept art for The Terminator
4. The idea for the film came to Cameron in a dream
Cameron’s time on Piranha II wasn’t a total waste, however. It was when he was working on Piranha II in Rome that Cameron came up with the idea for The Terminator. Suffering from a fever, Cameron had a nightmarish dream in which he saw a vision of a cyborg crawling from flames. Cameron developed this image into the screenplay for The Terminator.
5. Cameron sold the script for $1
As a relative novice filmmaker, studios did not want Cameron to direct The Terminator. However, he had the power of a screenplay that everyone wanted.
Cameron sold the rights to the script for $1 to producer Gale Anne Hurd. He did this in order to get the movie made with him as director. He later regretted it, saying: “If I had a little time machine and I could only send back something the length of a tweet, it’d be — ‘Don’t sell The Terminator.'”
James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd on the set of The Terminator
6. The The studio wanted some changes
When the production copmpany – Orion Pictures – read the script, they asked for two changes. Firstly, they requested that a cyborg canine should accompany Reese – an idea Cameron turned down. The second suggestion was that Orion wanted there to be a stronger relationship between Reese and Sarah. Cameron took this request on board and developed the love story aspect between the two.
7. Cameron’s reputation as a hard director started on The Terminator
Over the decades in the industry, James Cameron has garnered a reputation as being very tough with cast and crew on set. This has led to him earning the nickname, ‘Iron Jim’. Even at this early stage in his career, Iron Jim was already in full flow on The Terminator.
Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) said of Cameron: “Task master. Very difficult man to work for.”
Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese) said, “The problem is he knows everyone’s job better than they do and is usually better at it than they are.”
The crew found Cameron pretty difficult too and, during the shoot, had t-shirts made up saying: “You don’t scare me, I work for James Cameron!”
Cameron directs Linda Hamilton on the film
8. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t the first person up for the title role
One of the most iconic aspects of the film is the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger – in sunglasses and leather jacket – as The Terminator. The film made Schwarzenegger’s career. However, hard as it is to imagine anybody but the Austrian Oak in the role, Cameron originally envisioned something different.
Cameron’s first idea for the Terminator was as an anonymous figure who could slip away and blend into crowds. Cameron was thinking of Lance Henriksen in the role. O.J. Simpson was also considered. As were Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline. Mel Gibson turned the part down. As did Tom Selleck.
When Schwarzenegger first read script he was thinking about playing Reese as he’d been asked to read as him. A meeting was set up betwen Schwarzenegger and Cameron, even though Cameron had no intention of casting him. After meeting and talking, however, both Cameron and Schwarzenegger thought Arnold could work as the Terminator.
Schwarzenegger has only 14 lines in the entire film, which is two more than the 12 he has in Conan The Barbarian (1982).
9. Many actresses were up for the part of Sarah
The protagonist of the story is Sarah Connor. Starting as a 19 year old happy-go-lucky waitress, she goes on a journey of survival that turns her into a hardened, battle-ready leader. Sarah is played by Linda Hamilton, but there were some twists and turns before Hamilton was cast.
Originally, Debra Winger won the part. Known at the time for her acclaimed performances in dramas such as An Officer And A Gentleman (1982), and Terms Of Endearment (1983), she was concerned that what seemed to be a B-Movie sci fi film could damage her reputation. Because of this, Winger pulled out of the running.
The part then came down to two actresses: Linda Hamilton and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Jennifer Jason Leigh would go on to have a highly successful career but, on this occasion, Hamilton won out, and the part of Sarah Connor.
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
10. Michael Biehn almost ruined his audition
Sarah’s protector and mentor figure in the film is Kyle Reese. Sent from the future, he falls in love with Sarah and becomes father to John Connor, the man who sent him back in the first place.
Before Michael Biehn auditioned for the role, Sting was considered to play Reese. Bruce Willis was also considered by Cameron.
Then, when Michael Biehn came in to read, he unintentionally read with a southern accent. Earlier that morning, Biehn had read for a part in the broadway play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and didn’t realise the southern twang was still in his voice. Cameron called up Biehn’s agent and said he liked Biehn for the part, but he had to lose the accent. Biehn’s agent was more than happy to say that was fine.
Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese
11. The film created a new science fiction subgenre
One of the famous action sequences in The Terminator takes place in the Tech Noir nightclub. This is where the Terminator first comes across Sarah Connor, and she is saved by Reese.
Cameron named the club Tech Noir as, with its roots in film noir, he thought the movie was aptly described by that phrase. In doing so, Cameron spawned a new subgenre of science fiction, now referred to as “tech noir”. A movie that explores themes around futuristic technology with a narrative or visual aesthetic influenced by Film Noir is referred to as Tech Noir.
Movies such as Total Recall (1990), 12 Monkeys (1995), Brazil (1985), Minority Report (2002) all fall under this umbrella.
The Tech Noir nightclub scene
12. The most iconic line in the film was changed at the last minute
In one scene, the Terminator walks into a police station looking for Sarah Connor. On being told by the desk sergeant he can’t see her, the machine says, “I’ll be back.” This phrase went on to become Arnold Schwarzenegger’s catchphrse in the next few years, across a range of Hollywood movies. However, the line was originally different.
In Cameron’s first drafts of the script, the Terminator actually said, “I’ll come back.” Cameron later changed this to, “I’ll be back,” but not before having a disagreement with Schwarzenegger. The actor thought that his machine shouldn’t speak in contractions, and would say, “I will be back.”
Cameron ended the conversation by saying to the Austrian Oak, “I don’t tell you how to act so don’t tell me how to write.”
“I’ll Be Back” spoken for the first time
13. The composer had ties to a famous 80s pop duo
One of the most memorable aspects of The Terminator is the iconic score. A driving, percussive beat, it’s became a staple of all Terminator films. The composer on the film was Brad Fiedel, a musician who previously had played keys for the soft-rock duo Hall & Oates.
Fiedel perfromed everything live. The idea behind the main theme was that the metallic percussive sound represented a robotic heartbeat. And the more melodic, melancholic element represented humanity.
In the scene where the Terminator invades the police station, Fiedel originally composed music that incorporated the score. Cameron, though, told Fiedel, “No, I don’t want the audience thinking about anything but that moment”. Fiedel later said he, “Hadn’t worked with a director on that level before.”
Brad Fiedel’s score for The Terminator
14. A legendary effects artist worked on the film
Cameron was told by Orion that, for the picture to be approved, Cameron had to hire famous make-up artist Dick Smith. Smith had already worked on classics such as The Godfather (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Amadeus (1984) to create the look of the Terminator. Smith read the script and said the right person for the job was Stan Winston. With a career going back to the 1970s, it was Winston’s work on The Thing in 1982 that brought him to prominence in Hollywood.
Winston read Cameron’s script for The Terminator and was blown away. He did the make up and prosthetics work on the film, as well as building the endoskeleton structure, based on Cameron’s designs. Winston later called The Terminator, “a huge breakthrough in my career.”
The endoskeleton built by Stan Winston
15. The film took inspiration from 1940s Hollywood
The Director of Photography on the film was Adam Greenberg. An expereienced cinematographer with almost 20 years movie industry experience, Greenberg’s most notable previous work was possibly Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980). As Cameron was interested in developing his ‘Tech Noir’ idea, he and Greenberg shot almost all of The Terminator at night.
Greenberg took influence from Film Noir classics like Double Indemnity (1944) and The Third Man (1949). Geenberg later said: “I was aiming for a cold look, lots of dark shadows, strong back light, a very strong, hard, contrast.”
16. Cameron was sued for plagiarism
Two people have separately claimed that James Cameron stole their idea. Science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Sophia Stewart.
In 1981, Sophia Stewart’s novel The Third Eye was published. Stewart’s story tells of a dystopian future where machines have risen and taken over. She raised lawsuits against The Terminator, and also The Matrix, in the early 2000s. Both lawsuits failed.
Also, acclaimed science fiction author writer Harlan Ellison claimed that Cameron had copied two episodes of TV show The Outer Limits that Ellison had written. One was called Soldier (1964), where two soldiers are sent back in time from a dystopian future. The other was called The Demon With A Glass Hand (1964), where travellers go back in time to protect the saviour of mankind.
Cameron wanted to go to court but Orion didn’t, so they settled. Ellison was paid $65,000 and the end credits of The Terminator say, “Acknowledgement to the works of Harlan Ellison”. Cameron said of Ellison: “He’s a parasite who can kiss my ass.”
17. Some impressive scale model work was utilised
One of the most spectacular moments in the film is towards the climax when Reese blows up a truck being driven by the Terminator. In order to achieve this, the truck was rigged with 42 separate explosions to create the effect of the explosion moving back to front. Also, the truck was an 8 foot long scale model created by Gene Warren – the special effects supervisor. Cameron had wanted to blow up a full size tanker truck but couldn’t for safety reasons – they were shooting the scene outside a police armoury.
Also, the Executive Producer on the film, John Daly, wanted the film to end right after the truck explosion. They were keen on making the ending a bit more upbeat. Hurd and Cameron fought over this and won. Recalling the incident later, Cameron said: “I told him straight, ‘F**k you! The film isn’t over yet.'”
The truck explosion climax to the film
18. The movie was a huge hit
The budget for The Terminator was relatively small at $6.4m, but it managed to gross $78.3m worldwide. A huge return for the studio.
An instant smash hit with audiences, the film had slightly mixed reviews from critics at the time.
The L.A. Times called The Terminator, “A crackling thriller full of all sorts of gory treats … loaded with fuel-injected chase scenes, clever special effects and a sly humor.”
However, the Newhouse News Service were not so kind, calling the film a, “lurid, violent, pretentious piece of claptrap.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger in particular came in for some criticism. Bill O’Connor of the Akron Beacon Journal said: “It is a monument to Schwarzenegger’s acting that the metal wires of the Terminator are more eloquent than him.”
And Ed Blank of The Pittsburgh Press wrote a review that he may like to take back. He said: “The Terminator is just another of the films drenched in artsy ugliness. Like Blade Runner.”
Revisits since 1984 have, of course, been a lot kinder to the film. Empire Magazine have since selected The Terminator as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time and said: “As chillingly efficient in exacting thrills from its audience as its titular character is in executing its targets.” Empire also placed the Terminator itself as 14th on their list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters.
19. James Cameron has a cameo in the film
Cameron always makes a voice cameo in his movies. And, according to some, he shows up twice in The Terminator.
Firstly, a disputed cameo, comes near the start of the movie. Sarah takes a phone call from a guy who is breaking off a date with her. That’s said to be James Cameron’s voice. The other cameo is confirmed. That’s where Cameron voiced the manager at the motel Sarah and Reese stop at for the night.
Also, the body bag we see Reese put into at the end of the film was actually James Cameron’s suit bag.
Cameron’s movie cameos, including The Terminator
20. The sequel was even more successful
Cameron followed up on The Terminator with a huge sequel in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). With a budget of $94m it was, at the time, the most expensive film ever made. And Cameron made sure every cent of that budget was seen on the screen. The opening sequence reportedly cost more than the entirety of the first film. Stan Winston was back with some spectaculer practical effects work, but it’s the inclusion of effects studio ILM that the film is most celebrated for. ILM provided the groundbreaking CGI work used to create the liquid metal T-1000, a jaw-dropping effect in 1991.
The film went on to make $520m at the box office, almost 7 times the gross of The Terminator.
The opening to Terminator 2: Judgment Day
And we’re at the end of our list – 20 interesting and fun facts about The Terminator – one of Hollywood’s great science fiction/action movies. Please share on your social platforms, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
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