Welcome back! Today we look at our first man-made monster, and this year he celebrates his 30th anniversary: the Terminator.
The idea for the Terminator came to James Cameron in a nightmare he had in which he saw a metallic torso dragging itself from an inferno while holding kitchen knives. Inspired by directors like John Carpenter, he wanted to take this vision and put it in his own version of a slasher film while incorporating elements from science fiction like The Outer Limits and The Road Warrior. After writing a rough script, Cameron’s agent told him that it was a bad idea and that he should work on something else instead. Cameron fired his agent afterward.
Initially, Cameron had planned for two Terminators to be sent back in time: one similar to the Arnold Terminator and the other liquid metal. Because technology was limited on how to portray a liquid character in 1982, Cameron scrapped that idea and reduced the number of killer cyborgs down to one. (He’d get his chance seven years later.)
Cameron sold the rights to his script to his future ex-wife Gale Anne Hurd for the price of one dollar under the condition that he would direct the film.
During pre-production, Hurd and Cameron went through a difficult casting process. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star was on the rise, so they originally wanted him to play the role of the hero, Kyle Reese. Cameron was skeptical because he believed that if Arnold was cast as the hero, they’d have to look even harder for a bigger and more imposing actor to play the Terminator. The studio suggested that O.J. Simpson play the role of the titular character, but Cameron balked at the idea, stating that he didn’t think Simpson would be believable as a killer.
After meeting him, Cameron felt that Schwarzenegger would be perfect as the Terminator, even though Schwarzenegger was not as enthused. In fact, most of production team was leery about how seriously the film would be taken. Michael Biehn, the actor who was cast as Reese, thought the movie was going to be silly, and even Gale Anne Hurd was worried if they were going to be able to create a believable romance between Sarah and Kyle. How wrong were they?
Everything fell perfectly into place with The Terminator. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn both became household names, and Arnold’s Austrian accent and limited dialog made him the ideal cyborg assassin. What really solidified the film’s legacy were the visual effects, thanks to the iconic Stan Winston. Using stop-motion, robotic and advanced makeup techniques, Winston was able to turn the former Mr. Universe into the ultimate boogeyman. The enormous body and glowing red eyes of the T-800 reflected macabre demise of anyone caught in its sight. Unfeeling, unrelenting and unstoppable.
When becoming a pop culture phenomenon, sequels are almost always inevitable, for better or worse, but in 1991, James Cameron released Terminator 2: Judgment Day on a budget that was $90 million more than the first film. With an unprecedented budget like that, nothing was going to stop Cameron from realizing his vision this time, again with the help of Stan Winston.
T2 became one of those rare exceptions in which the sequel improves upon the original film. The stakes are higher, our characters have grown and changed–Sarah fights back against the robotic killer, and the original T-800 has the responsibility of defending Sarah and her son John–and it continues to build upon the brilliant story we already loved.
Since the first two films, the franchise has gone on to have immense influence on popular culture. Two more sequels have been released, and the fifth film, Terminator: Genisys, is scheduled to be released in 2015 with Schwarzenegger returning to play the Terminator again. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ran for two seasons and received mostly positive reviews. And since 1990, there has been a slew of video games based on the franchise for virtually every device.
Even though the franchise is not marketed in the horror genre, there’s no denying that the various Terminators have done more than there fair share of scaring the daylights out of audiences everywhere. Whether it’s Robert Patrick as the wolf in sheep’s skin or the massive death machine that is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator’s reputation for deathly terror has not faded with its age and shows no signs of going away any time soon.