The Terminator, released in 1984, is credited as being the first megahit of its director, James Cameron. The screenplay was written by Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd, and William Wisher Jr. Terminator would go on to grow into an entire franchise with 6 films, a television series, two web series, multiple video games, theme park rides and more. The most recent movie installment was Terminator: Dark Fate released in 2019. The original film, simply titled The Terminator, follows Sarah Conner, played by Linda Hamilton, being informed she will birth the leader of humanity’s future resistance as she fights for her life. In the year 2029, an artificial intelligence defense network, Skynet, which has taken over the world, sends a cyborg back in time to kill Sarah Conner and prevent the birth of her son, John Conner. The cyborg, known as The Terminator, is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and arrives in the year 1984 killing every woman with the name Sarah Conner. Before The Terminator can kill Linda’s Sarah Conner, she is saved by a human sent from 2029 by John to protect her. This human, Kyle Reese, is played by Michael Biehn. Kyle and Sarah fight tirelessly to destroy The Terminator and protect the future resistance of the human race. Without the events in the movie, Sarah Conner would never have known about Skynet and would never have raised her future son to be the leader of the resistance. Check out The Terminator screen facts below.
Cameron Sold The Terminator Rights for $1
James Cameron, who wrote the screenplay for the film, worked with William Wisher Jr. to develop the story. While Wisher was only created as an additional dialogue writer, it is known he worked on key scenes and character details. The third screenplay writer, Gale Anne Hurd, did not do any writing at all and only suggested script edits. Hurd was also the movie’s producer and purchased the rights to the screenplay’s production from Cameron for only $1. Cameron made her agree to let him direct the film and only sold it to her for this reason. Cameron and Hurd would go on to get married in 1985 and divorced in 1989.
Idea Came from a Fever Dream
James Cameron was in Rome, producing his low-budget horror movie, Piranha II: The Spawning. Cameron did not enjoy working on Piranha and was up late doing edits for a movie he did not believe in. He went to bed sick and dreamt of a chrome robot dragging itself out of an explosion. James quickly came up with the plot of The Terminator being sent back in time to kill the mother of humanity’s last hope. James fought for the directing rights to The Terminator and has since considered it his directorial debut, distancing himself from Piranha. After much back and forth with the costume designer, Stan Winston, the final cyborg looked just like Cameron had seen it in his dream.
O.J. Simpson was Almost The Terminator
The production studio wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the human Kyle Reese, and they wanted O.J. Simpson to play The Terminator. James Cameron was not fond of either of these choices and was going to have a meeting with Arnold, in which he intended to walk out angry. Instead, Schwarzenegger came in speaking enthusiastically about the villain in the movie. Cameron suddenly found the actor he wanted to play The Terminator. He went to the studio, and they agreed, signing Schwarzenegger the next day. O.J. Simpson lost out on the role and The Terminator became the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger as we know him today.
Shot Without Permits
Much of the film was shot without permits in very public locations, resulting in some of the background characters being real bystanders. James Cameron called this strategy “guerilla filmmaking.” Cameron required the cast and crew to arrive at location and quickly set up, film and leave before police arrived. Cameron even called Arnold Schwarzenegger at 3AM to meet on location in full costume to do a re-shoot.
Cameron Wrote Aliens and Rambo: First Blood Part II on a Production Pause
Arnold Schwarzenegger had commitment to another film while making The Terminator. This led to a nine month pause on production of the film. In that time, James Cameron spoke with producers at 20th Century Fox who liked The Terminator screenplay and wanted him to write on a project which became Aliens which was released in 1986. The same day he received the job from 20th Century Fox, Cameron was asked to write the script for Rambo: First Blood Part II, released in 1985. Cameron took on both jobs, calculating his time and doing the required page writings to successfully stay on track. He even worked on The Terminator edits in this time frame.
The Original Idea Became Terminator 2: Judgement Day
James Cameron’s original plot involved two Terminators being sent back in time, one protecting Sarah Conner and the other attempting to kill her. Cameron had envisioned one of the cyborg’s being a liquid metal. The idea would cost too much money and Cameron settled on a simpler plot with one terminator and a human protector. Eventually, his original idea of multiple cyborgs and liquid metal came to life in the second instalment of the franchise, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, released in 1991. The Terminator (1986) had a budget of $6.4 million, while Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) had a budget of $94 million. James Cameron went from a modest budgeted project to the most expensive movie ever made at the time by 1991.