14 Interesting Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About The Terminator

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Released in 1985 on a relatively shoe-string budget of around $6.5 million, The Terminator is a bona fide cinema classic, but few are aware of how close this Sci-Fi cornerstone came to never being made . Today we’ll be covering this and many other interesting Terminator Facts.

1) To begin with, according to James Cameron, the idea for the Terminator came to him in a nightmare while he was directing the little known budget horror movie Piranha II: The Spawning. In the nightmare, Cameron claims he was chased by a mechanical skeleton, the image of which became the basis for the T-800 and the plot.

2) Speaking of the plot, it’s worth noting that it bears some resemblance to an episode of Outer Limits written by acclaimed Sci-Fi writer, Harlan Ellison called Soldier. The episode revolves around a soldier who is sent back in time. Ellison claimed the movie had unfairly lifted from this story, which itself was based on a short story he wrote called “Soldier from tomorrow”, without proper credit. In the end, in exchange for an undisclosed sum and accreditation on later versions of the film, the problem went away for the studio. How much money changed hands isn’t known as a gag order was placed on the case. To this day, Cameron is still reportedly bitter about the settlement and had attempted to get the studio not to settle.

3) Although several studios were interested in Cameron’s initial script, they were hesitant to let the young, as of yet, unproven director helm the project, so passed on it. Cameron was also representing himself, as he’d recently fired his agent for telling him he needed to scrap the Terminator project and work on something better. To ensure that he would be able to direct the movie, Cameron ultimately sold the rights to the script for a single dollar to producer Gale Hurd with the proviso that if she wanted to make it into a film, he had to be brought on to direct. One year after the release of Terminator, Cameron and Hurd got married, though divorced after just four years in 1989.

4) In an effort to secure financial backing for the film, James Cameron had his good friend Lance Henriksen (best known for portraying Bishop in the Aliens franchise) turn up 15 minutes early to a meeting he had arranged with John Daly from Hemdale Pictures dressed as the Terminator. Henriksen swaggered into Daly’s office wearing a leather jacket with cuts across his face and gold foil from a cigarette packet stuck to his teeth and sat down in the chair opposite Daly without moving or saying a word. A bit of agonizing silence ensued before Cameron ran into the room and pitched his idea of a robot assassin from the future. It must have worked because Daly ultimately agreed to partially back the film, along with HBO and Orion, at a budget of about $4 million which was later raised to $6.5 million.

As to why Cameron chose Henriksen for this, Henriksen was actually Cameron’s first choice to play the Terminator, with his likeness being used for much of the film’s early concept art. Cameron initially planned for the Terminator to look like an ordinary man; his thinking was that the Terminator would be scarier if it could potentially be anyone in a crowd. This idea fell to the wayside when Schwarzenegger was cast, but would ultimately wind up being the basis for the shapeshifting T-1000 in Terminator 2.

5) The studio decided against hiring Henriksen to play the Terminator as one of their conditions for backing the film was that it needed a big star in one of the title roles. Orion bigwig, Mike Medavoy infamously gave Cameron the suggestion of hiring O.J Simpson to play the Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger to play Kyle Reese. Cameron didn’t like the idea of hiring Simpson because he didn’t believe the NFL star turned actor would make a believable killer and because the idea of making a film featuring, as he said, “an African-American man chasing around a white girl” felt wrong to him.

Cameron was similarly hesitant to hire Schwarzenegger to play the film’s hero because at 6 feet 2 inches tall with the body of a Greek god, there were few actors in Hollywood Schwarzenegger wouldn’t tower over. Cameron actually planned to turn Schwarzenegger off the role by intentionally antagonising him over dinner and then going back to the studio to claim they’d clashed over “creative differences”. According to Cameron, the last thing he said to his roommate before leaving for lunch that day was “Do I owe you any money? Because I have to go pick a fight with Conan.”

Cameron’s opinion on Schwarzenegger softened considerably over the course of their first meeting when the actor explained to Cameron how he felt a Terminator should act. To quote: “When he loads a new magazine into his gun, he won’t have to look because a machine will be doing it, a computer. When he kills, there will be absolutely no expression on the face, not joy, not victory, not anything”

Cameron was so impressed by this succinct and nuanced take on the character that he offered Schwarzenegger the role. When offered the part, Schwarzenegger was hesitant to accept it, believing that it would be a step backwards for him to play an almost silent villain after being the hero of Conan the Barbarian. He ultimately decided that the movie would be small enough that playing such a role wouldn’t later negatively impact his ability to get larger speaking roles. Cameron, in an effort to sway the actor, used his skills as an artist to paint a picture of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and sent it to him. Arnold later stated that upon seeing the picture, he stopped and said to himself “I am the Terminator”.

6) After agreeing to play the Terminator, Schwarzenegger spent several weeks shooting guns with both hands so that he could do so without blinking or flinching and appear ambidextrous. He also spent many hours prior to the shooting of the film practicing taking apart and putting back together various guns until he could do it blindfolded. With all of this, Schwarzenegger was simply trying to minimise any and all unnecessary movement while playing the Terminator. This efficiency of movement also included scenes where he wasn’t using weapons. A good example of this can be seen when the Terminator searches for Sarah Connor in the parking lot; if you rewatch that scene, you’ll notice that Schwarzenegger moves his eyes before moving his head.

7) To make the Terminator seem more unsettling, Schwarzenegger refrained from blinking wherever possible and spent the majority of the film with his skin covered in a thin layer of Vaseline so that his face had a perpetually waxy appearance. This was to make it so that there was always something slightly off about the Terminator’s appearance that you just couldn’t quite put your finger on.

8) Michel Beihn, who played Kyle Reese, almost didn’t get the role because he accidentally auditioned with a southern accent, which the studio wasn’t too keen on since they didn’t want the character to be from any specific place. As it turns out, Beihn had just been at a reading for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and forgot to speak in his regular voice. He had to audition again after realising his mistake.

9) Something that wasn’t in the original script was the relationship between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. This aspect was actually added after it was suggested by HBO, who partially funded the movie.

One suggestion that wasn’t taken was from an unnamed executive who reportedly felt quite strongly that Kyle Reese should have a robot dog.

10) The iconic laser mounted pistol used by the Terminator in several key scenes was created by a guy named Ed Reynolds working for a company that specialised in tactical flashlights now known as SureFire. Since diode lasers were still a fairly new technology at that point Reynolds had to use a helium-neon laser in the heavily modified .45 Longslide gun; this laser required significant power, resulting in a hidden power pack and a wire running inside Schwarzenegger’s sleeve from the power supply to the gun. For the considerable amount of work and money Reynolds put into the laser sighted gun, the prop company sent him a t-shirt and a poster as his only compensation. Arnold Schwarzenegger also later sent Reynolds an autographed poster after he learned of how little he was given for creating such an iconic part of the franchise.

11) This was by no means the only thing done to try and stretch the film’s budget as far as possible. For example, to save a bit of money, Cameron filmed several scenes without a permit, the most notable probably being the scene in which the Terminator punches in a car window and steals it. According to Schwarzenegger he was driven to the location by Cameron who told him to walk up to the car and punch its window. Cameron filmed the scene himself.

12) Although the film is regarded as a classic today, Orion executives reportedly hated it and had so little faith in the film that they refused to even screen it for critics. According to Linda Hamilton, interest in the film was so non-existent that she was uninvited from the pre-release press tour because nobody wanted to interview her. This lack of support left a bad taste in James Cameron’s mouth and afterwards he was decidedly critical of Orion, especially how quick Mike Medavoy was to take credit for the film’s success after refusing to support it with advertising.

13) The most famous line from the film, “I’ll be back,” almost never was. Schwarzenegger stated he had trouble saying “I’ll” and tried to convince Cameron to change the line to “I will be back” by reasoning that a robot would not use contractions. Cameron didn’t agree.

14) In Poland, The Terminator was re-named, The Electronic Murderer. You see, in Polish “terminator” more or less means “an apprentice”.

Bonus Facts:

  • While Arnold Schwarzenegger is best known for his acting and his work while Governor of California, he was actually remarkably successful even before any of that.  Before he was thirty, he’d already served in the army, won numerous body building competitions, while simultaneously going to business school and working at a health club. Once he immigrated to America, he continued to compete in bodybuilding competitions while also starting a bricklaying business, which he then used the profits from to start a mail-order business selling fitness related products like workout instructional materials. He then used the profits from that and his winnings in body building competitions to start a real estate investing business, ultimately making him a millionaire in his 20s, long before his breakout role at the age of 35 in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian
  • As for another famed physical specimen, who perhaps isn’t given enough credit for his brains, in 2009, a team of armed robbers broke into Dolph Lundgren’s home in Spain, tied up his wife, jewellery designer Anette Lundgren, who was home alone, and began stealing her jewellery and other expensive items in the house. Once they saw a family photo with Lundgren in it, however, they literally dropped everything and fled. They were probably aware that, “Whatever he hits, he destroys.” In truth, the 6 ft. 5 in. Lundgren was an elite ranger in the Swedish military and has a 3rd degree black belt in Kyokushin karate. Beyond his more obvious physical attributes, he has a Master’s degree in chemical engineering, and speaks 5 languages.
  • Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger was offered the lead role in what would become the movie Die Hard. Even more interesting than that, originally the role had been offered to a 73 year old Frank Sinatra, as Die Hard was technically a sequel to a 1966 film, The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra, based on a book of the same name. The sequel to the book was Nothing Lasts Forever, which inspired Die Hard. So, contractually, the role had to be offered to Sinatra. Of course, the aging star turned it down. Schwarzenegger was then offered the role. He turned it down and the role was then offered to Bruce Willis and the lead characters name was changed to John McClane instead of Joe Leland, as had been the name in The Detective. At this point, Willis was actually known more for comedy, not action, so the studio was less than thrilled with having to go with him initially. But as the movie grossed $140 million (about $268 million today) off a budget of just $28 million, and is still considered something of a classic as well as established one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, they got over it.
  • One of Linda Hamilton’s first lead roles was in Stephen King’s The Children of the Corn, which was filmed just before The Terminator. A little known fact about The Children of the Corn is that the story was original published in the March of 1977 edition of Penthouse Magazine. While King had been able to quit his day job as a high school English teacher after the success of the 1973, Carrie, he still occasionally published short stories in such magazines as Penthouse. He later bundled up many of these short stories into the book Night Shift, which would go on to win the Balrog Award for Best Collection, as well as be nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award.  It also spawned numerous film and TV adaptations of the stories including The Lawnmower Man, Graveyard Shift, Cat’s Eye (which incidentally starred 10 year old Drew Barrymore), The Mangler, and Sometimes They Come Back.
  • James Cameron and Linda Hamilton got married in 1997, but divorced just two years later. According to Hamilton, she felt that “Titanic was the mistress he left her for” and despite rumors of Cameron cheating on her with his eventual fifth wife Suzy Amis, Hamilton has always maintained that Cameron is rather a “serial monogamist”.
  • Linda Hamilton has an identical twin sister who appeared in Terminator 2: Judgement Day as Linda’s double in a scene where the T-1000 is impersonating her character.
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