Retro Review: Terminator (1984)

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The Terminator is one of those movies that grew into something much larger than it was. It became a phenomenon. It launched the career of James Cameron (it’s hard to believe there was a time when he wasn’t a household name), skyrocketed the fame of already popular Arnold Schwarzenegger, and created a franchise that has existed to this day. In other words, The Terminator is one amazing film.

The idea of a machine, cold and soulless, hunting you down stuck with me as a kid. It would never, ever stop. Not until you were dead. This terrified me! Add in a great soundtrack, intense shoot-outs, nail biting car chases, and special effects that were unheard of at the time. What do you get? One of the best films of the 80’s that pushed the genres of sci-fi and action forward. From the opening shots of the Terminator appearing in a flash of electricity, to the red-eyed robotic skeleton at the end, this was a movie that demanded your attention.

The Terminator had plenty of chances to be something completely different. Cameron had no interest in Schwarzenegger, though the studio was pushing him to play Reese (Michael Biehn ended up playing the role). Cameron was concerned he wouldn’t be able to find someone bigger than him to play the Terminator. The role of the Terminator was first offered to Stallone, who turned it down, and then Mel Gibson, who also passed. At this point Cameron met with Schwarzenegger and it went well. He was cast as the Terminator, and as they say in show business, the rest is history.

Schwarzenegger never expected much out of the movie. He was already gaining fame as Conan the Barbarian, and was actually shooting the sequel when he landed the role in Cameron’s film. It was a low budget film and if it failed he felt like it wouldn’t hurt him one way or the other. It wasn’t until they started shooting that he realized that James Cameron was one of the most talented directors he’d ever seen, and considered him on par with Spielberg, Hitchcock, and Coppola. The Terminator role only had 18 lines but they’re all memorable (how many times have you said “I’ll be back” in a robotic accent?).

Quite a few other actors benefited from the success of the film. Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton all went on to bigger success, mainly thanks to Cameron recasting them in future projects, all of which were bigger than Terminator. On a budget of just over 6 million dollars, The Terminator would top the box office for two weeks and go on to gain over 70 million at the box office. VHS sales would further add to the cult status of the film as it became a top renter at video stores.

The legacy cemented by the original Terminator paved the way for Aliens, Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar. Without the success of The Terminator, Cameron never would’ve gotten the future funding to make the movies he wanted to make. You could argue that the future of cinema would have had a completely different landscape without the trickle down effects that this film had on the industry. Love him or hate him, Cameron has had a huge impact and it all started with a dream of a robot torso pulling itself holding knives in its hands.

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