Introducing us to a franchise that has lasted until the present day, The Terminator is now 35 years old, and it’s still as brilliant today as it was the first time we saw it.
Created on a budget and making a household name of its Austrian star, James Cameron’s sci-fi masterpiece may have been bettered by its expensive sequel, but the pre CGI effects of the original film were way ahead of their time, and personally we prefer Arnie as a baddie rather than a goodie.
As the original film (and its sequel) see a limited cinema re-release in preparation for Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth instalment in the franchise, we’re taking a trip back in time with the following things you might not have realised about the original 1984 movie.
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.
And if you think the idea of Arnie playing Reese is weird, wait until you see who was set to play the Terminator at that early stage…
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 that 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 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 Reese.
Still, the experience may have given James Cameron a taste for spiky blonde British musicians, as he would later come close to casting Billy Idol as the T-1000 in Terminator 2.
18. Rosanna Arquette and Bridget Fonda were considered for Sarah Connor
The casting process for the leading lady of The Terminator inevitably brought a few notable performers into the frame, the biggest names among them being Rosanna Arquette and Bridget Fonda.
Arquette was in the running shortly before she broke big alongside Madonna in 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan.
Fonda, meanwhile, was Hollywood royalty (son of Peter, niece of Jane, granddaughter of Henry) but had no credits to her name – but being 19 at the time, she was exactly the right age for Sarah Connor as written.
However, Linda Hamilton ultimately won out, and no one can question the wisdom of that decision.
Bridget Fonda would ultimately get her first film role proper in 1987’s Aria.
17. James Cameron sold the project to Gale Anne Hurd for $1
When James Cameron was pitching The Terminator around Hollywood, studios liked the script but didn’t like Cameron as director – small wonder, when all he’d done was the lamentable Piranha II: The Spawning.
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 with which to hunt down Sarah Connor.
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, and his inclusion in The Terminator serves a nice nod to the fact that Cameron – like so many other Hollywood figures – got his first film work through Corman.
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, and was regularly cast by Gremlins director Joe Dante.
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.
At one point, it was going to be explained that Sarah Connor had an old figure-skating injury – and this was going to be an identifying feature which The Terminator was looking out for whilst making his way through all the Sarah Connors in the phone book.
As it turned out, Hamilton recovered well enough to shoot the movie without her injury being too readily apparent, so these script additions 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 (the episode simply 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 lot like The Terminator, you’re not the only one – as 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 – so it might surprise you to learn that it 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, and clearly Cameron listened.
As The Terminator was always intended for an R-rating, more often than not there’s demand for at least a bit of sex to give the movie an extra selling 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 film’s long-standing fascination.
12. The studio also wanted Reese to have a cyber-dog
However, not all the studio suggestions were of quite so much value as the Sarah-Reese romance.
Another suggestion made by Orion was that Reese shouldn’t come back from the future alone, but 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 it was probably for the best.
While we can imagine that a mechanical man’s best friend might have made the angst-ridden time-travelling soldier a little more cheerful, it’s kind of hard to envisage it being part of something as grim and gritty as The Terminator.
We’re not saying it definitely would have been like Preston from Wallace and Gromit or K9 from Doctor Who, but it’s hard to imagine otherwise.
11. James Cameron makes an uncredited cameo appearance
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 Ginger’s dim-witted boyfriend Matt (Rick Rosovich).
However, this plan goes out the window when Sarah’s boyfriend stands her up with a semi-apologetic message on her answering machine.
It’s actually the voice of James Cameron himself we hear leaving the message in that scene – a moment which takes on a certain irony considering that, more than a decade later, he and Linda Hamilton were indeed an item.
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 – whilst Hamilton recently declared she’s been celibate since the divorce.
10. The inspiration for the T-800 came from James Cameron’s nightmares
Whilst promoting his movie Piranha II: The Spawning in Italy, director Cameron fell ill and had a feverish 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.
Small wonder that they’ve made a point of getting a bit of metal skull action into every Terminator movie since.
9. James Cameron was living in his car when he wrote it
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.
According to Lance Henriksen, actor and longtime friend of James Cameron, the filmmaker’s situation was far from comfortable when he was writing the movie.
Years later, Henriksen revealed that Cameron, who at the time was trying to make his name in Hollywood, 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.
A far cry from the millionaire lifestyle that Cameron enjoys today, after taking a percentage of the profits on Titanic and Avatar – which, until fairly recently were the two highest grossing films ever made.
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.
This was because he decided to sack 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.
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 and acting like the Terminator.
Not only was Henriksen wearing a leather jacket and sporting gold foil on his teeth, but he kicked open the office door!
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.
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 were 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 the killer cyborg, to such an extent that, as Schwarzenegger recently revealed, 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 belonged to set of The Terminator.
Arnie responded by saying “Oh some sh*t movie I’m doing, take a couple weeks.”
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.
But as it wound up being the movie that established him as the biggest action star of the 80s, it seems safe to assume the actor looks more fondly on the experience now.
Arnie has since declared the worst film he’s ever made to be 1985’s Red Sonja, which he once remarked he would force his children to watch when they’d misbehaved.
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 – a film which, like Red Sonja, Arnie has since expressed some regret about making.
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 worked on at the time, as he also wrote the first draft of the screenplay for 1985’s 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 in the first movie.
The filmmaker wanted a second, liquid metal Terminator to appear, but he very quickly realised that they couldn’t pull off the required special effects successfully; small wonder, given it had a budget of 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.
And even then, the special effects work helped bump T2 up to what was, in 1991, the biggest film production budget ever: $100 million.
It was worth it though, as T2 is still held up as a benchmark film for the use of CGI in movies.
2. The film’s most famous line was originally written as “I’ll come back”
The Terminator did of course also spawn a classic line, one that has been repeated and parodied on hundreds of different TV shows and movies over the years.
But believe it or not, Arnie’s legendary line “I’ll be back” 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”, as he thought it made more sense for the Terminator to speak in this way.
True enough, a machine would seem a lot less likely to use abbreviations.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing about the movie that defies common sense…
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, and 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 he 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?