The Terminator


1h 48m 1984

Brief Synopsis

A deadly robot from the future travels back in time to kill a woman whose son will one day defeat its masters.

Film Details

Also Known As
Terminator
MPAA Rating
Genre
Romance
Action
Adventure
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1984

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m

Synopsis

In the year 2029, the rulers of Earth, to ensure their success, decide to reshape the future by changing the past. They send The Terminator back in time to destroy Sarah Connor, who doesn't realize the awesome role her unborn child will play in the decades to come.

Crew

Lorna Anderson

Assistant Editor

Michael Bloecher

Associate Editor

Kathy Breen

Production Coordinator

James Cameron

Screenplay

David Campling

Sound Editor

Maria Caso

Set Decorator

Chuck Colwell

Camera Operator

George Costello

Art Director

John Daly

Executive Producer

Jeff Dawn

Makeup

Frank Demarco

Special Effects

Greg Dillon

Sound Effects Editor

Harlan Ellison

Source Material

Tommy Estridge

Props

Deborah Everton

Costume Supervisor

Brad Fiedel

Music

Jim Fritch

Sound Effects Editor

Ken Fritz

Stunt Coordinator

Ken Fritz

Stunts

Roger George

Special Effects

Derek Gibson

Executive Producer

Lisa S Girolami

Other

Mark Goldblatt

Editor

Adam Greenberg

Director Of Photography

Spike Allison Hooper

Assistant Editor

David J Hudson

Sound

Gale Anne Hurd

Producer

Gale Anne Hurd

Screenplay

Thomas Irvine

Assistant Director

Peter Kleinow

Other

James J Klinger

Sound Effects Editor

Mike Le Mare

Sound Effects Editor

Richard Lightstone

Sound

Joseph Liuzzi

Other

Betsy Magruder

Assistant Director

Horace Manzanares

Sound Effects Editor

Gil Marchant

Sound Effects Editor

Ken Marschall

Matte Painter

Mel Metcalfe

Sound

Rob Miller

Sound Effects Editor

Terry Porter

Sound

Emilie Robertson

Music Editor

Rob Roda

Assistant Director

Joyce Rudolph

Photography

Dylan Shepard

Key Grip

Gary Shepherd

Sound Effects Editor

Michael Slifkin

Casting Director

Donna Smith

Production Manager

Stanzi Stokes

Casting Director

Karola Storr

Sound Effects Editor

Peter Tothpal

Hair

Joseph Viskocil

Pyrotechnics

Gene Warren

Visual Effects Supervisor

Brenda Weisman

Script Supervisor

Stan Winston

Special Effects

William Wisher

Screenplay

William Wisher

Writer (Dialogue)

Hilary Wright

Costumes

Film Details

Also Known As
Terminator
MPAA Rating
Genre
Romance
Action
Adventure
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1984

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m

Articles

The Terminator


James Cameron's hard-wired hardware time travel thriller The Terminator was more than the surprise hit of 1984. Made in the pre-video era when young filmmakers could still learn their trade and flex their creative muscles on exploitation films cranked out for quick payoffs in urban theaters and drive-ins, it launched the filmmaking careers of Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, it gave star Arnold Schwarzenegger serious action movie star credentials and reactivated his foundering Hollywood career, and it added a dynamic entry into the dark subgenre of science-fiction dystopias seen in such films as Blade Runner (1982) and The Road Warrior (1981). The barreling pace and visceral action recalls the latter and the nocturnal setting and "tech noir" stylings echoes the influence of the former, but the contemporary milieu, the clever script and low-budget ingenuity, and Cameron's own sensibility gives the film an identity all its own.

James Cameron had apprenticed doing special effects and second unit work at Roger Corman's New World Productions (among his credits are miniature effects for John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), which hired Corman's effects crew for a few key sequences). Gale Anne Hurd, a former assistant to Corman, was working her way up through the company. Eager to break out, the two collaborated on an idea inspired by a pair of paintings that Cameron made between Corman assignments: a metallic, gun-wielding robot skeleton stepping out of fire in a futuristic war zone and the torso of the same skeleton crawling on the ground to some unseen target.

Those images were spun into a script about a cyborg (part flesh, part machine) from the apocalyptic future, where machines rule the world and wage a war to exterminate the surviving members of the human race. The cyborg is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the future leader of the human resistance. Her protector is scruffy human guerilla fighter Reese, who follows the cyborg to the past. (Science fiction author Harlan Ellison later claimed that they plagiarized some of his short stories, specifically "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand," and successfully sued the production; he is given story credit in new prints of the film.) Cameron and Hurd sold a small studio on financing the film as a low-budget action thriller with Cameron directing. His sole previous directing credit was Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), a production from which he was twice fired, according to his own account.

Cameron had written the cyborg part with Lance Henriksen in mind and even painted an image of Henriksen in the role. The studio, meanwhile, suggested Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of the human hero, Reese, and the dubious Cameron met with the actor at their insistence. The rest, as they say, is history. Both Schwarzenegger and Cameron became much more intrigued by the possibility of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator himself, despite reservations from Schwarzenegger's agent and resistance from the studio. It was quite possibly the smartest decision ever made by Arnold in his Hollywood career. The biggest film in the former bodybuilder's still shaky screen career had been Conan the Barbarian (1982), a brawny fantasy adventure that, for all its success, did little to establish his credentials as a contemporary action star. As the Terminator, however, he's an unstoppable juggernaut. Schwarzenegger's size makes him a veritable sci-fi Golem in black leather, a badass who looks like a human and moves like a robot: deliberate, daunting, a tank on two legs. His dialogue is minimal and his accent, at the time a hurdle in his career, actually worked in his favor for the few lines he had. The combination of blank expression, emotionless baritone voice, and physical directness with an accent that rings just out of place in urban America made the character's familiar line, "I'll be back," into a trademark for the actor.

For Sarah Connor, the human innocent targeted by the Terminator, Cameron and Hurd cast Linda Hamilton, whose mix of tough and tender later won her the lead in the urban fantasy TV series Beauty and the Beast. Michael Biehn almost didn't get the role of Reese because he auditioned with a heavy Southern accent that he had worked up for an earlier audition that day, a stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won the part after a second audition using his own Midwestern voice (he grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska though he was born in Alabama) and brings a twitchy intensity to the role. Lance Henriksen was given a supporting part as a police detective who pegs Reese as a paranoid schizophrenic after hearing his tales of time travel and killer robots, and young Bill Paxton and future X-Files baddie Brian Thompson have small roles in the very memorable opening scenes. They play the punks who get beaten to pulp by Schwarzenegger after he emerges from a smoky ball, naked and utterly unfazed.

For all his excitement, Schwarzenegger was unavailable for a year, due to a contractual commitment to shoot the Conan sequel, and The Terminator was put on hold until he was free. Cameron used the time to tune up the script and storyboard the entire film and producer Gale Anne Hurd worked through potential production issues. At just over $6 million, the production was low-budget by studio standards but ambitious for the scope of action and effects that Cameron and Hurd had in mind. Stan Winston was hired to bring the Terminator to life, designing Schwarzenegger's make-up effects (such as the robot exoskeleton that shows through the rent flesh) and the stop-motion effects of the uncovered skeleton juggernaut first imagined in Cameron's paintings. Many of the more elaborate spectacles, notably the future-war effects, were created with elaborate miniatures shot on a smoky set with forced perspective photography to give the illusion of scale and distance. Budget-conscious back-projection and front-projection was employed for actors to run through the future landscape. When the production ran low of funds in the final days, Cameron and a skeleton crew ran around Los Angeles getting inserts and close-ups and necessary shots without bothering to get permits, a lesson in down and dirty filmmaking that he took away from his Corman apprenticeship. Schwarzenegger reportedly jumped in to do some of his own stunts.

Cameron gave the film a dark, grungy, "tech noir" look, dominated by night scenes and pounding action, and the effects followed suit, creating a vivid world on limited resources. If they don't always look "realistic" by the standards of CGI-enhanced modern effects, they are consistently dramatic and imaginative and have a visceral grit to them. Composer Brad Fiedel's percussive electronic score ("It was the idea of this mechanical man and his heartbeat," he explained in an interview) matched Cameron's driving pace. Reese shouted out exposition in the heat of action scenes, explaining the history of the future to Sarah Connor while on the run for their lives. The film slowed just enough for audiences to catch their collective breaths and ride the rhythm to the next action sequence, and Cameron punctuated the tension and the action with witty flourishes and moments of black humor.

"Originally the studio perceived it as a down and dirty action exploitation film," recalls producer Hurd, and Cameron couldn't convince them to promote it as a science fiction film. The studio planned to dump it in theaters and make its profit quickly, before word of mouth got out. It hadn't occurred to them that the word of mouth might be positive, but good reviews, repeat customers, and an unexpected female audience (responding to a tough, tenacious female hero and a surprisingly effective love story under fire) gave the lean, mean B-movie legs, as they say in the business, and turned it into a huge hit.

The Terminator spawned two sequels and the 2008 TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cameron, who cited Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien (1979) as his inspiration for making a woman the hero of The Terminator, was hired to write and direct Aliens (with Hurd producing) after the success of The Terminator. (Cameron also consolidated Weaver's image as an action movie badass with Aliens). Hurd has since produced such films as Tremors (1990), Armageddon (1998), and Hulk (2003) and Cameron, after reteaming with Schwarzenegger on Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and True Lies (1994), went on to break box-office records with Titanic (1997). But for all the technical sophistication of Cameron's later productions, none of them have the scrappy energy of this grungy little tech noir. Gritty, clever, breathlessly paced, and dynamic despite the dark shadow of doom cast over the story, this sci-fi thriller remains one of the defining American films – genre or otherwise – of the 1980s.

Producer: Gale Anne Hurd
Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher (additional dialogue), Harlan Ellison (The Outer Limits teleplays "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand", originally uncredited)
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Art Direction: George Costello
Music: Brad Fiedel
Film Editing: Mark Goldblatt
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich).
C-108m. Letterboxed

by Sean Axmaker
The Terminator

The Terminator

James Cameron's hard-wired hardware time travel thriller The Terminator was more than the surprise hit of 1984. Made in the pre-video era when young filmmakers could still learn their trade and flex their creative muscles on exploitation films cranked out for quick payoffs in urban theaters and drive-ins, it launched the filmmaking careers of Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, it gave star Arnold Schwarzenegger serious action movie star credentials and reactivated his foundering Hollywood career, and it added a dynamic entry into the dark subgenre of science-fiction dystopias seen in such films as Blade Runner (1982) and The Road Warrior (1981). The barreling pace and visceral action recalls the latter and the nocturnal setting and "tech noir" stylings echoes the influence of the former, but the contemporary milieu, the clever script and low-budget ingenuity, and Cameron's own sensibility gives the film an identity all its own. James Cameron had apprenticed doing special effects and second unit work at Roger Corman's New World Productions (among his credits are miniature effects for John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), which hired Corman's effects crew for a few key sequences). Gale Anne Hurd, a former assistant to Corman, was working her way up through the company. Eager to break out, the two collaborated on an idea inspired by a pair of paintings that Cameron made between Corman assignments: a metallic, gun-wielding robot skeleton stepping out of fire in a futuristic war zone and the torso of the same skeleton crawling on the ground to some unseen target. Those images were spun into a script about a cyborg (part flesh, part machine) from the apocalyptic future, where machines rule the world and wage a war to exterminate the surviving members of the human race. The cyborg is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the future leader of the human resistance. Her protector is scruffy human guerilla fighter Reese, who follows the cyborg to the past. (Science fiction author Harlan Ellison later claimed that they plagiarized some of his short stories, specifically "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand," and successfully sued the production; he is given story credit in new prints of the film.) Cameron and Hurd sold a small studio on financing the film as a low-budget action thriller with Cameron directing. His sole previous directing credit was Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), a production from which he was twice fired, according to his own account. Cameron had written the cyborg part with Lance Henriksen in mind and even painted an image of Henriksen in the role. The studio, meanwhile, suggested Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of the human hero, Reese, and the dubious Cameron met with the actor at their insistence. The rest, as they say, is history. Both Schwarzenegger and Cameron became much more intrigued by the possibility of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator himself, despite reservations from Schwarzenegger's agent and resistance from the studio. It was quite possibly the smartest decision ever made by Arnold in his Hollywood career. The biggest film in the former bodybuilder's still shaky screen career had been Conan the Barbarian (1982), a brawny fantasy adventure that, for all its success, did little to establish his credentials as a contemporary action star. As the Terminator, however, he's an unstoppable juggernaut. Schwarzenegger's size makes him a veritable sci-fi Golem in black leather, a badass who looks like a human and moves like a robot: deliberate, daunting, a tank on two legs. His dialogue is minimal and his accent, at the time a hurdle in his career, actually worked in his favor for the few lines he had. The combination of blank expression, emotionless baritone voice, and physical directness with an accent that rings just out of place in urban America made the character's familiar line, "I'll be back," into a trademark for the actor. For Sarah Connor, the human innocent targeted by the Terminator, Cameron and Hurd cast Linda Hamilton, whose mix of tough and tender later won her the lead in the urban fantasy TV series Beauty and the Beast. Michael Biehn almost didn't get the role of Reese because he auditioned with a heavy Southern accent that he had worked up for an earlier audition that day, a stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won the part after a second audition using his own Midwestern voice (he grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska though he was born in Alabama) and brings a twitchy intensity to the role. Lance Henriksen was given a supporting part as a police detective who pegs Reese as a paranoid schizophrenic after hearing his tales of time travel and killer robots, and young Bill Paxton and future X-Files baddie Brian Thompson have small roles in the very memorable opening scenes. They play the punks who get beaten to pulp by Schwarzenegger after he emerges from a smoky ball, naked and utterly unfazed. For all his excitement, Schwarzenegger was unavailable for a year, due to a contractual commitment to shoot the Conan sequel, and The Terminator was put on hold until he was free. Cameron used the time to tune up the script and storyboard the entire film and producer Gale Anne Hurd worked through potential production issues. At just over $6 million, the production was low-budget by studio standards but ambitious for the scope of action and effects that Cameron and Hurd had in mind. Stan Winston was hired to bring the Terminator to life, designing Schwarzenegger's make-up effects (such as the robot exoskeleton that shows through the rent flesh) and the stop-motion effects of the uncovered skeleton juggernaut first imagined in Cameron's paintings. Many of the more elaborate spectacles, notably the future-war effects, were created with elaborate miniatures shot on a smoky set with forced perspective photography to give the illusion of scale and distance. Budget-conscious back-projection and front-projection was employed for actors to run through the future landscape. When the production ran low of funds in the final days, Cameron and a skeleton crew ran around Los Angeles getting inserts and close-ups and necessary shots without bothering to get permits, a lesson in down and dirty filmmaking that he took away from his Corman apprenticeship. Schwarzenegger reportedly jumped in to do some of his own stunts. Cameron gave the film a dark, grungy, "tech noir" look, dominated by night scenes and pounding action, and the effects followed suit, creating a vivid world on limited resources. If they don't always look "realistic" by the standards of CGI-enhanced modern effects, they are consistently dramatic and imaginative and have a visceral grit to them. Composer Brad Fiedel's percussive electronic score ("It was the idea of this mechanical man and his heartbeat," he explained in an interview) matched Cameron's driving pace. Reese shouted out exposition in the heat of action scenes, explaining the history of the future to Sarah Connor while on the run for their lives. The film slowed just enough for audiences to catch their collective breaths and ride the rhythm to the next action sequence, and Cameron punctuated the tension and the action with witty flourishes and moments of black humor. "Originally the studio perceived it as a down and dirty action exploitation film," recalls producer Hurd, and Cameron couldn't convince them to promote it as a science fiction film. The studio planned to dump it in theaters and make its profit quickly, before word of mouth got out. It hadn't occurred to them that the word of mouth might be positive, but good reviews, repeat customers, and an unexpected female audience (responding to a tough, tenacious female hero and a surprisingly effective love story under fire) gave the lean, mean B-movie legs, as they say in the business, and turned it into a huge hit. The Terminator spawned two sequels and the 2008 TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cameron, who cited Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien (1979) as his inspiration for making a woman the hero of The Terminator, was hired to write and direct Aliens (with Hurd producing) after the success of The Terminator. (Cameron also consolidated Weaver's image as an action movie badass with Aliens). Hurd has since produced such films as Tremors (1990), Armageddon (1998), and Hulk (2003) and Cameron, after reteaming with Schwarzenegger on Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and True Lies (1994), went on to break box-office records with Titanic (1997). But for all the technical sophistication of Cameron's later productions, none of them have the scrappy energy of this grungy little tech noir. Gritty, clever, breathlessly paced, and dynamic despite the dark shadow of doom cast over the story, this sci-fi thriller remains one of the defining American films – genre or otherwise – of the 1980s. Producer: Gale Anne Hurd Director: James Cameron Screenplay: James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher (additional dialogue), Harlan Ellison (The Outer Limits teleplays "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand", originally uncredited) Cinematography: Adam Greenberg Art Direction: George Costello Music: Brad Fiedel Film Editing: Mark Goldblatt Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich). C-108m. Letterboxed by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1984

Released in United States on Video 1985

Re-released in United States on Video June 26, 1991

Re-released in United States on Video April 23, 1996

Re-released in United States on Video August 20, 1996

Based on the teleplays "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand" from the TV series "The Outer Limits" (USA/1964), written by Harlan Ellison.

Harlan Ellison was originally uncredited but sued James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. He eventually settled out of court. The end credits have been amended to state: "Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison."

Formerly distributed by HBO Video and Hemdale Home Video.

Completed shooting 1984.

Re-released in United Kingdom March 16, 2001.

Released in United States Fall October 1984

Released in United States on Video 1985

Re-released in United States on Video June 26, 1991

Re-released in United States on Video April 23, 1996

Re-released in United States on Video August 20, 1996