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Terminator: James Cameron on Franchise Legacy & Why Dark Fate Failed

There's no question how much James Cameron has done for the entertainment industry, given his franchise work in 1986's Aliens & Terminator along with his other classics, including 1997's Titanic, 2019's Alita: Battle Angel, and 1989's The Abyss. While the bulk of his attention has been focused on the Avatar franchise with the imminent release of the second film, Avatar: The Way of Water, the writer and director's had time to reflect on his previous work talking to Deadline Hollywood about how he pushed the special effects envelope starting with 1984's The Terminator.

Michael Biehn played Kyle Reese in The Terminator (1984) Credit: Paramount Pictures

The climactic scene of The Terminator found Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese trying to stop Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 cyborg from killing his target Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. When Reese left the truck Sarah was driving with the machine in hot pursuit; he set one of his explosives inside the exhaust pipe of the tanker truck the Terminator was driving. The resulting explosion caused all the skin to burn off of the machine as it continued the chase into a manufacturing plant before Sarah could stop it in her final stand with the help of Kyle's final pipe bomb and a hydraulic press.

Potts Shots: Terminator

"That scene took it to another level, and we just had to stand firm on that," Cameron said. "Yeah, when the gas truck blew up, they said that's where it ends because I suckered for their pitch that they knew how to watch movies and felt it was their job. My job was to make it, and their job was to look at them, and I believed what they said. And it turned out they weren't able to watch a visual effects film before the visual effects were done. There were a lot of missing shots, slugs, and things like that, and they didn't get it. But we stayed the course, we got it done, and then you go on."

Termionator: Is This The End Of The Road?
L-R, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis star in Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures' "TERMINATOR: DARK FATE."

Following 1991's hugely popular Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron abandoned the franchise creatively until the rights reverted back for the 2019 follow-up in Dark Fate. Acting as the new third film, director Tim Miller (Deadpool) took over at the helm with Hamilton back as Sarah. Cameron conceded there were creative decisions that hamstrung its potential success, with Schwarzenegger continuing to be synonymous with the franchise in Rise of the Machines (2003), Salvation (2009), and Genisys (2015).

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Linda Hamilton stars in Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures' "TERMINATOR: DARK FATE."

"I think, I'm actually reasonably happy with the film. Tim and I had our battles, and we've both spoken about that, but the crazy thing is we're still pals. Which is weird. I liked him before the movie, didn't like him very much during the movie, and I like him now, and I think he feels the same way," Cameron explained. We're both these crazy sci-fi geeks, and we like a lot of the same things, and I love his show, 'Love, Death + Robots.' But yeah, we butted heads."

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Gabriel Luna as the Rev 9; Ectoskeleton, left, and Endoskeleton, right, star in Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures' "TERMINATOR: DARK FATE."

Guilt also factored into the decision. "I think the problem, and I'm going to wear this one, is that I refused to do it without Arnold. Tim didn't want Arnold, but I said, 'Look, I don't want that. Arnold and I have been friends for 40 years, and I could hear it, and it would go like this: 'Jim, I can't believe you're making a Terminator movie without me.'' It just didn't mean that much to me to do it, but I said, 'If you guys could see your way clear to bringing Arnold back and then, you know, I'd be happy to be involved.'"

Cameron also conceded there could be some generational disconnect, "And then Tim wanted Linda. I think what happened is I think the movie could have survived having Linda in it, I think it could have survived having Arnold in it, but when you put Linda and Arnold in it and then, you know, she's 60-something, he's 70-something, all of a sudden it wasn't your Terminator movie, it wasn't even your dad's Terminator movie, it was your granddad's Terminator movie. And we didn't see that. We loved it; we thought it was cool, you know, that we were making this sort of direct sequel to a movie that came out in 1991. And young moviegoing audiences weren't born. They wouldn't even have been born for another 10 years. So, it was just our own myopia. We kind of got a little high on our own supply, and I think that's the lesson there."

For more on Cameron's work on Avatar, Peter Jackson, COVID, and more, you can check out the interview here. Avatar: The Way of Water comes to theaters on December 16th.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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