Every now and again a movie comes along that changes everything and in 1984, The Terminator was that movie. Not only did it create a major franchise but The Terminator also established both director James Cameron and co-writer and producer Gale Anne Hurd as forces to be reckoned with in Hollywood. But for as successful as both the film and the team behind it eventually became, the road they traveled with the movie was anything but easy.
Last week in Los Angeles both Hurd and Cameron attended a screening at the Egyptian Theatre for a candid discussion about making the movie that 30 years later is still considered an American classic.
When Geoff Boucher asked the production dream team of James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd when they first knew The Terminator was destined to be a classic, Cameron calmly responded. “First screening, I guess,” while Hurd quickly followed up by saying, “Yeah, because up until that time we’d been told it really sucked.” It’s hard to believe that anyone would tell Cameron, a three time Oscar winner, and Hurd, one of the producers of the blockbuster television series The Walking Dead, that anything they did “sucked.” But, as the two explained, the landmark Terminator was exactly that experience.
James Cameron: The head of marketing of Orion Pictures at the time told us point blank: one, it’s not a science fiction film; two, it’s a down and dirty action film that will come and go —
Gale Anne Hurd: “Exploitation film.”
James Cameron: Exploitation and action film that will come and go in one week.
Gale Anne Hurd: and that we couldn’t screen it for critics because the word would get out and we wouldn’t have a second weekend. Maybe not even a first weekend!
James Cameron: …he thought it wasn’t Star Wars so it’s not science fiction.
So why, in Cameron’s opinion, does this dark, fantastical movie still resonate with audiences all these years later? Said Cameron, “I like to think that it was just story that people got, that they could invest in, I think The Terminator character that we realized after the film came out how popular it was really kind of struck a chord which is really a dark wish fulfillment. So, for everybody who is disgruntled and would like to walk into the room with a flamethrower. Unfortunately people actually do that [now]. It wasn’t happening that much or it wasn’t as prominent back when we made the film or I probably wouldn’t have done it. The film reflects a lot of my own anger at society and my whole dystopian worldview and I guess it just struck a chord. It was a bit of a genre bender because it put together slasher movie heroine concept like the female main character, then everyone else gets killed, she’s the last one and she’s got to prevail against this overwhelming force of evil but slammed it into a science fiction vein and put a kind of cyber punk veneer on it, kind of the tech-noir style of the film, so it didn’t look like anything else that was out there at the time.”
Does the ever outspoken director have any thoughts on the sequels to his movies, including the upcoming Terminator: Genisys? “It’s always the challenge on any sequel, it was the challenge we had on Aliens, you know, if you have a beloved film and you’re going to make a sequel to it you get all of the benefit to that in terms of awareness but you also have a standard that you have to live up to. And you know, I haven’t seen a foot of the new film [Terminator: Genisys] but I know that the intention of everybody involved is really to knock it out of the park.”