Once upon a time, James Cameron was an aspiring director with no money and no reputation trying to get his big break in Hollywood.
To see his dream come true, he would sell the rights to his original script for The Terminator to producer Gale Anne Hurd for $1 and a shot in the director’s chair.
He was offered large sums of cash for the script from studios who did not want to hire an unknown to direct, but he turned all the offers down. The Terminator was going to be directed by James Cameron or not at all.
The deal with Gale Anne Hurd proved fruitful, and The Terminator went on to make $78.4 million worldwide on a reported $6.4 million budget.
The commercial success of The Terminator launched Cameron’s career and started a 30-year franchise that has seen five films, a TV show, comic serializations and countless pieces of merchandise grossing over $1.4 billion since its original release in 1984.
It was during the production of Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron’s first directing credit, that the idea for The Terminator came into being. Struck down by fever, Cameron had a dream about a metallic torso holding kitchen knives dragging itself from an explosion, and he knew there was a story to be told.
Cameron arrived back to Los Angeles with a dream and not much else, he was effectively homeless, sleeping on friends’ couches or in his car and was surviving on McDonalds and refillable coffee cups.
Cameron has described the time he spent writing The Terminator as one where he felt he had the most freedom to explore ideas, as quoted in the LA Times:
“It was actually easy to write cause I didn’t have to self-isolate like I do now, from multi-tasking with other businesses, and with a family with five kids. I was already isolated… basically just a sad, dark, isolated human being….I was the anonymous, kind of angry wannabe filmmaker. There’s some courage that comes from that, you say whatever comes into your head.”
Although this would be Cameron’s major breakthrough picture, he has some regrets about selling the rights, as he discusses in the Toronto Sun: “I wish I hadn’t sold the rights for one dollar, if I had a little time machine and I could only send back something the length of a tweet, it’d be — ‘Don’t sell.’ ”
Interestingly, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson were offered the Terminator role, but both turned it down. The studio suggested O. J. Simpson for the part, but Cameron did not feel that Simpson would be believable as a killer.
This would not be the last time that Cameron would sacrifice in the name of art. In 1997, he waived his producing, directing and participation fees for Titanic.
There is a new Terminator film set for release in November 2019 that will see Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger once again go head to head and will introduce a raft of new characters.
The story will be a continuation on from the last Cameron directed Terminator film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Of the production, Cameron has said “we’re pretending the other films were a bad dream…
…or an alternate timeline, which is permissible in our multi-verse.” In the director’s seat is Tim Miller of Deadpool fame with Cameron taking over production duties.