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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Cameron|
|Produced by||Gale Anne Hurd|
|Written by||James Cameron
Gale Anne Hurd
William Wisher, Jr.
|Music by||Brad Fiedel|
|Editing by||Mark Goldblatt|
|Studio||Hemdale Film Corporation
Pacific Western Productions
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Running time||108 minutes|
The Terminator is a 1984 American science fiction action film directed by James Cameron, co-written by Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr. and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Linda Hamilton. The film was produced by Hemdale Film Corporation and distributed by Orion Pictures, and filmed in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator, a cyborg assassin sent back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, played by Hamilton. Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a soldier from the future sent back in time to protect Sarah.
Though not expected to be either a commercial or critical success, The Terminator topped the American box office for two weeks and helped launch the film career of James Cameron and consolidate that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Three sequels have been produced: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), and Terminator Salvation (2009). In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In a post-apocalyptic 2029, artificially intelligent machines seek to exterminate what is left of the human race. Two beings from this era travel back in time to 1984 Los Angeles: One is a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a cyborg assassin programmed to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton); the other is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter sent to protect her. After killing two other Sarah Connors listed in the telephone directory, the Terminator tracks its target to a nightclub. Kyle saves Sarah from the Terminator's attack and the two make an escape.
Kyle explains that in the near future an artificial intelligence network called Skynet will become self-aware and initiate a nuclear holocaust of mankind. Sarah's yet-unborn son John will rally the survivors and lead a resistance movement against Skynet and its army of machines. With the Resistance on the verge of victory, Skynet has sent a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah before John can be born, as a last-ditch effort to avert the formation of the Resistance. The Terminator is an emotionless and efficient killing machine with a powerful metal endoskeleton, but with an external layer of living tissue that makes it resemble a human being.
Kyle and Sarah are again attacked by the Terminator, leading to a car chase and their arrest. Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) tell Sarah that Kyle is insane. Kyle is questioned by psychologist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), who concludes that he is paranoid and delusional. The Terminator attacks the police station and kills many police officers, including Traxler and Vukovich, in its attempt to locate Sarah, but she and Kyle escape and seek refuge in a motel. Kyle confesses that he has long been in love with Sarah, having been given a photograph of her by her son John. Sarah reciprocates Kyle's feelings and they have sex.
The Terminator tracks them to the motel and wounds Kyle. In the ensuing chase the Terminator is caught in the blast of an exploding gasoline tank truck. With its flesh coating burned away, it pursues Sarah and Kyle into a factory. Kyle jams a pipe bomb into its abdomen, causing an explosion that severely damages it but also kills him. Still partially functional, the Terminator tries to kill Sarah. She leads it into a hydraulic press and crushes it, causing it to deactivate.
Later, a pregnant Sarah is traveling through Mexico. Along the way she records audio tapes which she intends to pass on to her unborn son, John. She debates whether to tell him that Kyle is his father. A Mexican boy takes a photograph of her which she purchases—it is the photograph that John will later give to Kyle. She drives on towards approaching storm clouds.
Additional actors included Bess Motta as Ginger Ventura; Rick Rossovich as Matt Buchanan; Dick Miller as the gun shop clerk; Shawn Schepps as Nancy; Bruce M. Kerner as the desk sergeant; Schwarzenegger's friend and workout partner, professional bodybuilder Franco Columbu as a Terminator in 2029; and Bill Paxton, Brad Rearden, and Brian Thompson as punks who are confronted by the Terminator; Marianne Muellerleile as one of the people with the name "Sarah Connor" who get shot by the Terminator.
In Rome, during the release of Piranha II: The Spawning director James Cameron grew ill and had a dream about a metallic torso dragging itself from an explosion while holding kitchen knives. When Cameron returned to Pomona, California, he stayed at Randall Frakes' home where he wrote a draft for The Terminator. Cameron later stated that his influences while writing the script were 1950s science fiction films and episodes of The Outer Limits as well as contemporary films including The Driver and The Road Warrior. To translate the draft into a script, Cameron enlisted his friend Bill Wisher, who had a similar approach to storytelling. Cameron gave Wisher the early scenes involving Sarah Connor and the police department scenes to write. As Wisher lived far away from Cameron, the two communicated script ideas by recording tapes of what they wrote by telephone. Cameron's agent hated the idea for The Terminator and told him to work on something else. After this, Cameron fired his agent. The initial outline of the script involved two Terminators sent to the past. The first was similar to the Terminator in the film, while the second was a liquid metal cyborg that could not be destroyed with conventional weaponry. Cameron could not think of a good way to depict this robot, stating that he "was seeing things in his head that couldn't be done with existing technology." The story of the cyborgs in the film was cut down to a single robot idea. The liquid metal Terminator would be revisited with the T-1000 character in the 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Gale Anne Hurd, who had worked at New World Pictures as Roger Corman's assistant, showed interest in the film project. Cameron sold the rights for The Terminator to Hurd for one dollar with the promise that she would produce it only if Cameron was to direct it. As a producer, Hurd had suggested edits to the script and took a screen writing credit in the film. Cameron has stated that Hurd "did no actual writing at all". Cameron and Hurd had friends who worked with Roger Corman previously and who were now working at Orion Pictures. Orion agreed to distribute the film if Cameron could get financial backing elsewhere. The script was picked up by John Daly at Hemdale Pictures. Cameron wanted his pitch for Daly to finalize the deal and had his friend Lance Henriksen show up to the meeting early dressed and acting like the Terminator. Henriksen showed up at the office kicking open the door wearing a leather jacket and had gold foil smothered on his teeth and fake cuts on his face and then sat in a chair. Cameron arrived shortly after which relieved the staff from Henriksen's act. Daly was impressed by the screenplay and Cameron's sketches and passion for the film. In late 1982 Daly agreed to back the film with help from HBO and Orion. The Terminator was originally budgeted at $4 million and later raised to $6.5 million.
One of Cameron's first tasks was to find someone to play Kyle Reese. Orion wanted a star whose popularity was rising in the United States but who also would have foreign appeal. Orion's co-founder Mike Medavoy had met Arnold Schwarzenegger and sent his agent the script for The Terminator. Cameron was dubious about casting Schwarzenegger as Reese as he felt he would need someone even bigger to play the Terminator. The studio had suggested O. J. Simpson for the role of the Terminator, but Cameron did not feel that Simpson would be believable as a killer. Cameron still agreed to meet with Schwarzenegger about the film and devised a plan to avoid casting him. Cameron planned to pick a fight with him and return to Hemdale and find him unfit for the role. Upon meeting with Schwarzenegger, Cameron was entertained by Schwarzenegger who would talk about how the villain should be played. Cameron began sketching his face on a notepad and asked Schwarzenegger to stop talking and remain still. After the meeting, Cameron returned to Daly saying Schwarzenegger would not play Reese but that "he'd make a hell of a Terminator". Schwarzenegger was not as excited by the film; during an interview on the set of Conan the Barbarian, an interviewer asked him about a pair of shoes he had (which were for The Terminator). Schwarzenegger responded, "Oh some shit movie I'm doing, take a couple weeks." In preparation for the role, Schwarzenegger spent three months training with weapons to be able to use them and feel comfortable around them.
For the role of Reese, various other suggestions were made for the role including rock musician Sting. Cameron chose Michael Biehn for the role. Biehn was originally skeptical about the part, feeling that the film was silly. After meeting with Cameron, Biehn stated his "feelings about the project changed". Hurd stated that "almost everyone else who came in from the audition was so tough that you just never believed that there was gonna be this human connection between [Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese]. They have very little time to fall in love. A lot of people came in and just could not pull it off." In the first few pages of the script, the character of Sarah Connor is written as "19, small and delicate features. Pretty in a flawed, accessible way. She doesn't stop the party when she walks in, but you'd like to get to know her. Her vulnerable quality masks a strength even she doesn't know exists." For the role, Cameron chose Linda Hamilton, who had just finished filming Children of the Corn. Rosanna Arquette had previously auditioned. Cameron found a role for Lance Henriksen as Detective Hal Vukovich, as Henriksen had been essential to finding finances for the film. For the special effects shots in the film, Cameron wanted Dick Smith who had previously worked on The Godfather and Taxi Driver. Smith did not take Cameron's offer and suggested his friend Stan Winston for the job.
Filming for The Terminator was set to begin in early 1983 in Toronto. Production was halted when producer Dino De Laurentiis applied an option in Schwarzenegger's contract that would make him unattainable for nine months while he was filming Conan the Destroyer. During the waiting period, Cameron was contracted to write the script for Rambo: First Blood Part II. He also used this time to refine parts of The Terminator's script and meet with producers David Giler and Walter Hill to discuss a sequel to Alien.
There was limited interference from Orion Pictures. Two suggestions Orion put forward included the addition of a canine cyborg for Reese which Cameron turned down and the second was to strengthen the love interest between Sarah and Reese which Cameron accepted. On creating the Terminator's look, Winston and Cameron passed their sketches back and forth. They eventually decided on a design that was nearly identical to the original one Cameron drew in Rome. Winston had a team of seven artists work for six months to create a puppet of the Terminator. It was first molded in clay, then plaster reinforced with steel ribbing. These pieces were then sanded, painted and then chrome-plated. Winston sculpted a reproduction of Schwarzenegger's face in several poses out of silicone, clay and plaster. Both the sequences in 2029 and stop motion scenes in the film were developed by Fantasy II, a special effects company headed by Gene Warren Junior. A stop motion model is used in several scenes in the film involving the skeletal frame. Cameron wanted to convince the audience that the model of the structure was capable of doing what they saw Schwarzenegger doing. To allow this, a scene was filmed of Schwarzenegger injured and limping away. This limp made it easier for the model to imitate Schwarzenegger.
One of the guns seen in the film and on the film's poster was an AMT Hardballer Longslide modified by Ed Reynolds from SureFire to include a laser sight. Both non-functioning and functioning versions of the prop were created. Due to cost considerations, the laser sights used an external power supply that Arnold Schwarzenegger had to activate manually. Reynolds states that his only compensation for the project was promotional material for the film.
In March 1984, the film began production in Los Angeles. Cameron felt that with Schwarzenegger on the set, the style of the film changed, explaining that "...the movie took on a larger than life sheen. I just found myself on the set doing things I didn't think I would do – scenes that were just purely horrific that just couldn't be, because now they were too flamboyant." Most of The Terminator's action scenes were filmed at night, which led to tight filming schedules before sunrise. A week before filming started, Linda Hamilton sprained her ankle, leading to a production change whereby the scenes in which Hamilton needed to run occurred as late as the filming schedule allowed. Hamilton's ankle was taped every day and she spent most of the film production in pain.
After production finished on The Terminator, some post-production shots were needed. These included scenes showing the Terminator outside Sarah Connor's apartment, Reese being zipped into a body bag, and the Terminator's head being crushed in a press. The film's soundtrack was synthesizer music composed by Brad Fiedel. Fiedel described the film's music as being about "a mechanical man and his heartbeat". Almost all the music in the film was performed live.  The Terminator's theme is played over the opening credits and is played in various points in the film in sped up versions: a slowed down version when Reese dies, and a piano version during the love scene. Fiedel created music for when Reese and Connor escape from the police station that would be appropriate for a "heroic moment". Cameron turned down this theme, as he believed it would lose the audience's excitement. The soundtrack to the film was released in 1984.
Orion Pictures did not have faith in The Terminator performing well at the box office and feared a negative critical reception. At an early screening of the film, the actors' agents insisted to the producers that the film should be screened for critics. Orion only held one press screening for the film. The film was premiered on October 26, 1984. On its opening week, The Terminator played at 1,005 theaters and grossed $4,020,663 making it number one in the box office. The film remained at number one in its second week. It lost its number one spot in the third week to Oh, God! You Devil. Cameron noted that The Terminator was a hit "relative to its market, which is between the summer and the Christmas blockbusters. But it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than the other way around."
Writer Harlan Ellison stated that he "loved the movie, was just blown away by it", but believed that the screenplay was based on an episode of The Outer Limits he had written, titled "Soldier". Orion gave Ellison an undisclosed amount of money and an acknowledgment credit in later prints of the film. Some accounts of the settlement state that "Demon with a Glass Hand", another Outer Limits episode written by Ellison, was also claimed to have been plagiarized by the film, but Ellison has explicitly stated that The Terminator "was a ripoff" of "Soldier" rather than "Demon with a Glass Hand".
Cameron was against Orion's decision and was told that if he did not agree with the settlement, they would have Cameron pay for any damages if Orion lost Ellison's suit. Cameron replied that he "had no choice but to agree with the settlement. Of course there was a gag order as well, so I couldn't tell this story, but now I frankly don't care. It's the truth. Harlan Ellison is a parasite who can kiss my ass."
Around and shortly after The Terminator's release in theaters, a number of merchandise items and media were released and sold to coincide with the film. Shaun Hutson wrote a novelization of the film which was published in 1984. In September 1988, NOW Comics released a comic based on the film. Dark Horse Comics published a comic in 1990 that took place 39 years after the film. Several video games based on The Terminator were released between 1991 and 1993 for various Nintendo and Sega systems. A soundtrack to the film was released on 1984 which included the score by Brad Fiedel and the pop and rock songs used in the club scenes.
The Terminator was released on VHS and Betamax in 1985. The film performed well financially on its initial release. The Terminator premiered at number 35 on the top video cassette rentals and number 20 on top video cassette sales charts. In its second week, The Terminator reached number 4 on the top video cassette rentals and number 12 on top video cassette sales charts. In March 1995, The Terminator was released as a letter boxed edition on Laserdisc. The film premiered on DVD on September 3, 1997. IGN referred to this DVD as "pretty bare-bones...released with just a mono soundtrack and a kind of poor transfer." A special edition of the film was released on October 2, 2001 which included documentaries, the script and advertisements for the film. On June 20, 2006, the film was released on Blu-ray in the United States.
Positive reviews of The Terminator focused on the action scenes and rapid pacing. Variety praised the film, calling it a "blazing, cinematic comic book, full of virtuoso moviemaking, terrific momentum, solid performances and a compelling story...Schwarzenegger is perfectly cast in a machine-like portrayal that requires only a few lines of dialog." Richard Corliss of Time magazine said that the film has "Plenty of tech-noir savvy to keep infidels and action fans satisfied." Time placed The Terminator on its "10 Best" list for 1984. The Los Angeles Times called the film "a crackling thriller full of all sorts of gory treats...loaded with fuel-injected chase scenes, clever special effects and a sly humor." The Milwaukee Journal gave the film 3 stars, calling it "the most chilling science fiction thriller since Alien." A review in Orange Coast magazine stated that "the distinguishing virtue of The Terminator is its relentless tension. Right from the start it's all action and violence with no time taken to set up the story...It's like a streamlined Dirty Harry movie–no exposition at all; just guns, guns and more guns." In the May 1985 issue of Cinefantastique it was referred to as a film that "manages to be both derivative and original at the same time...not since the Road Warrior has the genre exhibited so much exuberant carnage" and "an example of science fiction/horror at its best...Cameron's no-nonsense approach will make him a sought-after commodity". In the United Kingdom the Monthly Film Bulletin praised the film's script, special effects, design and Schwarzenegger's performance.
Other reviews focused on the film's level of violence and story-telling quality. The New York Times opined that the film was a "B-movie with flair. Much of it...has suspense and personality, and only the obligatory mayhem becomes dull. There is far too much of the latter, in the form of car chases, messy shootouts and Mr. Schwarzenegger's slamming brutally into anything that gets in his way." The Pittsburgh Press wrote a negative review, calling the film "just another of the films drenched in artsy ugliness like Streets of Fire and Blade Runner." The Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars, adding that "at times it's horrifyingly violent and suspenseful at others it giggles at itself. This schizoid style actually helps, providing a little humor just when the sci-fi plot turns too sluggish or the dialogue too hokey." The Newhouse News Service called the film a "lurid, violent, pretentious piece of claptrap". The film won three Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, best make-up and best writing.
In 1991, Richard Schickel of Entertainment Weekly reviewed the film giving it an "A" rating, writing that "what originally seemed a somewhat inflated, if generous and energetic, big picture, now seems quite a good little film" and called it "one of the most original movies of the 1980s and seems likely to remain one of the best sci-fi films ever made." Film4 gave the film five stars, calling it the "sci-fi action-thriller that launched the careers of James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the stratosphere. Still endlessly entertaining." TV Guide gave the film four stars referring to it as an "amazingly effective picture that becomes doubly impressive when one considers its small budget...For our money, this film is far superior to its mega-grossing mega-budgeted sequel." Empire gave the film five stars calling it "As chillingly efficient in exacting thrills from its audience as its titular character is in executing its targets." The film database Allmovie gave the film five stars, saying that it "established James Cameron as a master of action, special effects, and quasi-mythic narrative intrigue, while turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into the hard-body star of the 1980s." The film holds a 100% "Certified Fresh" rating and a score of 84/100 ("universal acclaim"), respectively, on the review aggregate websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
The Terminator has received recognition from the American Film Institute. The film ranked 42nd on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding films. The character of the Terminator was selected as the 22nd greatest movie villain on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. Arnold's catch phrase "I'll be back" was voted the 37th greatest movie quote by the AFI. In 2005, Total Film named The Terminator the 72nd best film ever made. In 2008, Empire magazine selected The Terminator as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. Empire also placed the T-800 14th on their list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters. In 2008, The Terminator was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Darian Leader considers The Terminator one example of how the cinema has dealt with the problem of masculinity, showing us that "to be a man requires more than to have the body of a male: something else must be added to it. The motif of the man machine reveals that, "To be a man means to have a body plus something symbolic, something which is not ultimately human." In this respect, The Terminator is similar to The Six Million Dollar Man and RoboCop.
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