Introducing us to a franchise that has lasted until the present day, The Terminator hit screens in 1984, and it’s still as brilliant today as it was the first time we saw it. Made on a tight budget and making a household name of its Austrian star, James Cameron’s breakthrough movie may have been bettered by its blockbusting 1991 sequel, but the original remains a sci-fi action masterpiece in its own right.
Did you know the following 20 facts about The Terminator?
20. Arnold Schwarzenegger originally auditioned for Kyle Reese
He’s been synonymous with the role ever since the 80s, to such an extent that he was popularly known as ‘the Governator’ whilst serving as Governor of California. However, it wasn’t the title role of The Terminator which Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally up for, but that of hero Kyle Reese.
While director James Cameron was sceptical about casting Arnie in any capacity, he became intrigued by the ex-bodybuilder’s ideas about how the villain should be portrayed – even though that wasn’t the role he was officially meeting the director about. Unsurprisingly, Cameron soon realised that while Schwarzenegger would be no good as Reese, he’d be just right as the Terminator.
19. Sting was also considered for Kyle Reese
Naturally, they wanted a cast that would draw audiences in to see The Terminator – so who better to play the hero than the front man of The Police, one of the biggest bands in the world at the time? Nor was Sting any stranger to film, having taken a key role in 1979 cult classic Quadrophenia.
Sting was reportedly offered $350,000 to play time-travelling soldier Kyle Reese, but had to pass on both because of tour plans with The Police, and a prior commitment to star in David Lynch’s Dune. This cleared the way for Michael Biehn to land the role of the lovestruck, time-travelling soldier Reese.
18. Rosanna Arquette and Bridget Fonda were considered for Sarah Connor
The casting process for Sarah Connor, the now iconic leading lady of The Terminator, inevitably brought a few notable performers into the frame before Linda Hamilton was cast. Rosanna Arquette was in the running shortly before she broke big alongside Madonna in 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan.
Another contender was Bridget Fonda, who was Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Peter, niece of Jane and granddaughter of Henry. She had no credits to her name – but being 19 at the time, she was exactly the right age for Sarah Connor as written. Bridget Fonda would ultimately get her first film role proper in 1987’s Aria, and both she and Arquette would enjoy successful careers in the 90s.
17. James Cameron sold the project to Gale Anne Hurd for $1
When James Cameron was pitching The Terminator around Hollywood, studios generally liked the script but didn’t like Cameron as director; hardly surprising, as all Cameron had done as a director was Piranha II: The Spawning, an ultra-low budget exploitation sequel he’s long since disowned. Desperate for a break, Cameron turned to Gale Anne Hurd, who he knew from their time working for prolific B-movie producer Roger Corman.
Hurd was the only producer willing to allow Cameron to direct the film himself – and to secure this right, he sold her the project for a single dollar. Still, they both got something more out of the deal, as following the release of The Terminator they wed in 1985. Hurd would later produce Aliens and The Abyss with Cameron before the couple split in 1989, and today she works on TV’s The Walking Dead.
16. A B-movie legend makes a cameo appearance
Everyone remembers the scene when Schwarzenegger’s cyborg casually enters a strip mall gun store and picks up a lethal arsenal. Additionally, a great many of us have thought, “where do I know that guy from?” when we see the gun store owner. The actor in question is Dick Miller, a long-time veteran of Roger Corman movies.
After breaking through in the 50s with such Corman movies as Not Of This Earth and Rock All Night, Miller became king of the cult movie cameos. In his later years, the actor was regularly cast by director Joe Dante, popping up in such films as Gremlins, The Burbs, Small Soldiers and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Before he passed away in 2019 aged 90, Dick Miller amassed over 180 screen credits to his name.
15. Linda Hamilton broke her ankle before shooting began
In what might have been a disaster for the low budget production, Sarah Connor actress Linda Hamilton suffered a broken ankle not long before The Terminator started rolling. Rather than re-cast the role, Cameron made a slew of eleventh hour script re-writes to incorporate his leading lady’s condition: it was going to be explained that Sarah Connor had an old figure-skating injury.
As it turned out, Hamilton recovered well enough to shoot the movie without her injury being too readily apparent, so these script revisions were discarded. However, they did make a point of moving all of Linda Hamilton’s most physical moments – specifically, all the running – until the very end of the shoot.
14. The film was sued for plagiarism
In 1957, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison published a short story entitled Soldier From Tomorrow, which was later adapted into an episode of TV series The Outer Limits entitled Soldier. The story centres on a warrior from the distant future who is transported back to what was then present day America. If you’re thinking that sounds a whole lot like The Terminator, you’re not the only one.
Ellison took out a lawsuit against production company Hemdale and distributor Orion Pictures, claiming The Terminator plagiarised his story. Although James Cameron denied this, Hemdale and Orion wound up paying out to Ellison and adding an acknowledgement to his work in The Terminator’s credits. Cameron was not best pleased with this, calling Ellison “a parasite who can kiss my a**” (prior to Ellison’s death in 2018).
13. The studio suggested adding the love story
An integral part of The Terminator is the bond that forms between the distraught Sarah Connor and her guardian from the future, Kyle Reese. It might surprise you, then, to learn that this love story wasn’t part of James Cameron’s original story. Orion Pictures, financial backers of the film in tandem with Hemdale, suggested the relationship between the two should be made more of a focal point.
Cameron, to his credit, found a way to incorporate this whilst making it a pivotal story element: the conception of future saviour John Connor. Without it, we wouldn’t have that head-scratching paradox (if Skynet hadn’t sent the T-800 back to kill John Connor, then John Connor would never have existed!) which has proved key to the long-standing fascination with the film.
12. The studio also wanted Reese to have a cyber-dog
Not all the studio suggestions were of quite so much value as the Sarah-Reese romance. Another suggestion made by Orion, which fans may find somewhat hard to believe today, was that Reese shouldn’t come back from the future alone. Orion executives suggested the future solider should have a companion – in the form of a cyborg dog.
Whether it was for budget reasons, or concerns about tone, or the old adage about never working with children or animals, Cameron disregarded this studio note – and this was probably for the best. It’s easy to imagine a mechanical man’s best friend making the angst-ridden time-travelling soldier a little more cheerful. As such, it would have been completely out of place in something as grim and gritty as The Terminator.
11. James Cameron makes an uncredited cameo appearance as Sarah’s unseen boyfriend
Sarah Connor’s night from hell begins as she prepares herself for a night on the tiles in a double date with her best friend and roommate Ginger (Bess Motta) and Matt (Rick Rossovich), but this plan goes out the window when Sarah’s boyfriend stands her up with an answering machine message. It’s actually the voice of James Cameron himself we hear leaving the message in that scene.
Perhaps ironically, Hamilton and Cameron were indeed an item later. Cameron had already been married three times – to Sharon Williams, Gale Anne Hurd and Kathryn Bigelow – before Hamilton became bride #4 in 1997 (he was her second husband, after actor Bruce Abbott). The marriage ended in 1999, and Cameron soon thereafter wed Suzy Amis, to whom he is still married; Hamilton has remained single.
10. The inspiration for the T-800 came from James Cameron’s nightmares
Whilst promoting his movie Piranha II: The Spawning in Italy, filmmaker James Cameron suddenly fell ill. In a haze, Cameron had a fever dream that gave him the inspiration for The Terminator. Cameron’s dream featured a metallic torso holding kitchen knives and dragging itself away from an explosion.
This idea was the seed from which the concept of The Terminator would grow, with some significant fleshing out (no pun intended). Next to the sunglasses-clad visage of Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, the metallic T-800 endoskeleton is surely the most iconic image from the Terminator movies.
9. James Cameron was living in his car when he wrote the script
We now know James Cameron as one of the most biggest filmmakers in history – so it’s easy to forget that, like so many Hollywood success stories, Cameron’s has humble beginnings. Before breaking through in writing and directing, Cameron was one among the many in Hollywood scraping a living as a technician and special effects artist.
According to Lance Henriksen, actor and longtime friend of James Cameron, the filmmaker was living in his car when he wrote The Terminator. It seems likely Cameron’s experience may have informed the emotional scenes in which we see Michael Biehn’s Reese sleeping rough in a car himself.
8. Cameron fired his agent for not liking the story
Not only was James Cameron homeless when he wrote The Terminator, but he didn’t even have an agent. Cameron fired his previous agent after they confessed to not liking the story Cameron had conceived for The Terminator. This was a bold move for a very minor film industry figure, who had gained virtually nothing from his one previous stint behind the camera.
However, Cameron stuck to his guns and believed in his vision – and, as the world now knows, this approach paid off. Meanwhile, we’d have to imagine the agent Cameron fired feels a bit like the record companies who said no to The Beatles. Put together, Cameron’s body of work has grossed almost $6.3 billion at the worldwide box office to date.
7. Lance Henriksen turned up to the pitch meeting dressed as the Terminator
When pitching the movie’s script to Hemdale Film Corporation, James Cameron’s actor friend Lance Henriksen showed up to the meeting early, dressed as the Terminator. The actor kicked upon the office door sporting gold foil on his teeth and wearing a leather jacket. Thankfully Cameron arrived at the meeting soon after – and presumably this creative sales pitch worked, as Hemdale ultimately gave the project a green light.
Naturally, Cameron had initially hoped to cast his friend as The Terminator, but ultimately Henriksen had to make do with the small supporting role of Detective Hal Vukovich. Later, Cameron would cast Henriksen in probably his best remembered role, as the android Bishop in Aliens. Henriksen has worked extensively in sci-fi, fantasy and horror since, his other credits including Near Dark, Pumpkinhead and Alien vs. Predator.
6. O.J. Simpson almost played the Terminator
We’re sure you can’t imagine anyone but former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, but a number of other people (aside from the aforementioned Lance Henriksen) were considered for the role. Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson turned The Terminator down – but one actor who was more interested in the role was… yikes… O.J. Simpson.
The former American football player was a serious contender for role of the killer cyborg, and James Cameron himself painted a mock poster showcasing Simpson in the role. The irony is, apparently producers thought Simpson was ‘too nice’ to be taken seriously as a cold-blooded killer! Simpson would later enjoy big screen fame in The Naked Gun movies, before he achieved infamy for… well, you know.
5. Schwarzenegger was not initially a fan of the script
During an interview on the set of Conan the Destroyer, Schwarzenegger was asked about the origin of a pair of shoes he was wearing that came from the set of The Terminator. Arnie responded by saying the shoes were for “some s**t movie I’m doing, take a couple weeks.” This would indicate the bodybuilder-turned-actor did not have high hopes for the film.
We probably shouldn’t be too hard on Arnie for this early assessment of The Terminator. It was, after all, a low budget B-movie from a director no one had ever heard of at the time. But as it wound up being the movie that established him as the biggest action star of the 80s, we can safely say the actor looks more fondly on The Terminator now.
4. Cameron wrote Aliens whilst waiting for filming on The Terminator to begin
As if having written one classic sci-fi movie wasn’t enough, James Cameron also penned another whilst he waited for filming on The Terminator to begin. Filming of the movie was delayed for nine months because Arnold Schwarzenegger already had a commitment to Conan the Destroyer. But rather than twiddle his thumbs during the downtime, Cameron wrote another movie you might have seen called Aliens.
This sequel to 1979’s Alien would be the next film Cameron made as director, after The Terminator’s success made him a hot property in Hollywood. Nor was this the only major movie sequel Cameron had worked on at that time, as he also wrote the first draft of the screenplay for Sylvester Stallone’s action sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II.
3. The T-1000 was originally meant to appear in the film
We all remember Robert Patrick’s shape-shifting T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day – but you might not have known that James Cameron had originally envisioned this character as part of the first movie. The filmmaker had originally wanted a second, liquid metal Terminator to appear in The Terminator.
Of course, Cameron quickly realised that they couldn’t pull off the required special effects successfully when the film’s overall budget was only $6.4 million. However, when computer generated imagery was successfully used to create a liquid-based life form in Cameron’s 1989 film The Abyss, he brought the idea back for his Terminator sequel in 1991.
2. The film’s most famous line was originally written as “I’ll come back”
The Terminator did of course also spawn a classic Arnie one-liner, which has been repeated and parodied on hundreds of different TV shows and movies over the years: “I’ll be back.” But believe it or not, Schwarzenegger’s legendary line was originally written as “I’ll come back.” Not only that, but Arnie tried to persuade James Cameron to let him say “I will come back.”
The actor argued, not unreasonably, that as a machine with a computer brain, the Terminator would not use abbreviations. However, Cameron held firm and Schwarzenegger delivered the line as directed, even if he felt it didn’t make sense. Schwarzenegger went on to say “I’ll be back” in many other movies, including Commando, The Running Man, Twins and Last Action Hero.
1. Cameron admits that casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator makes no sense
James Cameron has admitted that casting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of the Terminator doesn’t make any sense whatsoever – and when you think about it, he’s absolutely right. Cameron has been quoted as saying: “the guy is supposed to be an infiltration unit. [But] there’s no way you wouldn’t spot a Terminator in a crowd instantly if they all looked like Arnold. It made no sense whatsoever.”
Schwarzenegger, aged 37 when The Terminator was made, had retired as a professional bodybuilder only four years earlier, having won the title of Mr Olympia seven times – and while he’d slimmed down a bit, Schwarzenegger certainly hadn’t let himself go since. It’s certainly true that his Terminator couldn’t hide in plain sight too easily, but would he really be so menacing without that physique?