12 Things We Learned from 'The Terminator' Oral History


The Terminator is the film that put director James Cameron firmly on the Hollywood map, made an A-list star of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and provided a template for the modern sci-fi blockbuster. Back when it was released in 1984, however, its success seemed anything but assured. EW charts The Terminator’s rocky ascent to pop-culture prominence in its new oral history of the film, featuring quotes from the film’s stars, producers, and special-effects geniuses. Here are the most eye-opening bits of info from the article, including the shocking casting choice that would have changed the movie’s legacy completely.

The Terminator was inspired by a nightmare Cameron had when he was very sick, “about this metal death figure coming out of a fire.”

• The studio’s first choice for role of The Terminator was O.J. Simpson, based on his athletic moves in a Hertz commercial. Simpson was ultimately vetoed, in part, because he was considered too likeable to play a killer.


• Arnold Schwarzenegger was offered the role of hero Kyle Reese before Cameron suggested he’d make a better Terminator. “I said, ‘No, no, no—look, the guy has 17 lines,’” Schwarzenegger tells the magazine. “I didn’t want to do that. I was building my career, being a leading man and not being a villain. But Cameron said that he’d shoot it in such a way that all the evil stuff that I do will be totally excused by audiences because I’m a cool machine. And so cool that some of the people will cheer.”

• Linda Hamilton, fresh out of acting school, was initially concerned that taking the role of Sarah Connor would interfere with her ambition to be a Shakespearean actress. “Maybe I was a little snobby,” she admits. “I thought, ‘Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m not sure about that.’”

• The effects budget was so low that Cameron scouted Los Angeles for streetlights bright enough to shoot under at night.


• Special effects artist John Rosengrant recalls that, during a break in shooting, Schwarzenegger walked into a restaurant in full Terminator dress and demanded a table for four.

• Hamilton’s opening scenes in the restaurant were the last ones she shot. “I’m supposed to be young and fresh and they had to spend two hours covering the bruises on my body with makeup,” she recalls.


• Actor Michael Biehn, who played Kyle Reese, says that two of the most frequent comments he gets on the street are: “My name is Kyle and my parents named me after you,” and “I went into the military because of you.”

• Schwarzenegger credits James Cameron for making him realize that his accent wasn’t an impediment to an acting career. “He told everybody about how my accent was a huge plus. For me that was huge breakthrough,” he says.

• The final scene in the movie, in which Sarah Connor drives toward the mountains, was shot on a remote road without a permit. When a police officer approached them, producer Gale Ann Hurd convinced him that she and Cameron were clueless student filmmakers from UCLA. He gave them a pass. “I don’t know if that cop ever figured it out. Wherever he is, we thank him for not shutting us down,” Hurd tells EW.


• When studio executives screened the film, they hated it so much that they decided to pull most of their promotional support. “I’ve spoken to other executives at other studios who told me, even though it was quite successful, that it would’ve easily broken $100 million if they had properly advertised it,” says former Orion VP Barbara Boyle, one of the film’s champions.

• Cameron sees a lot of similarities between Terminator and his later film Titanic; namely, “ideas about our love/hate relationship with technology, our tendency as a species to move in a direction that might ultimately destroy us, and a central faith in the resourcefulness of humanity.”