The Terminator franchise has had its ups and downs (mostly downs). 1984’s The Terminator was a cultural phenomenon that showcased what can be done in terms of sci-fi. Terminator 2 saw James Cameron return to what put his name on the Hollywood map and pushed the limit of CGI and filmmaking. Unfortunately, every subsequent sequel has had its runs with troubled productions, box-office flops, and just plain bad films. The last entry in the franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate, was a new direction for the franchise – but a flop as well. However, James Cameron thinks he knows why.
2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate opened the door to what was possible in the Terminator mythos. The movie tackled the idea of a future without humanity’s savior, John Conner. It also brought back leads Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Deadpool director Tim Miller took over as director and James Cameron was brought back as producer.
James Cameron has recently stated that the return of Hamilton’s and Schwarzenegger’s involvement made Terminator: Dark Fate look like a movie for “grandads.” The man of many talents sat down with the people over a Deadline and gave his honest thoughts on why it failed to resonate with today’s audience:
“I’m actually reasonably happy with the film. Tim and I had our battles, and we’ve both spoken about that, but the crazy thing is we’re still pals, which is weird. I liked him before the movie but didn’t like him very much during the movie, and I like him now, and I think he feels the same way. We’re both these crazy sci-fi geeks, and we like a lot of the same things, and I love his show, Love, Death + Robots. But yeah, we butted heads. I think the problem, and I’m going to wear this one, is that I refused to do it without Arnold. Tim didn’t want Arnold, but I said, ‘Look, I don’t want that. Arnold and I have been friends for 40 years, and I could hear it, and it would go like this: Jim, I can’t believe you’re making a Terminator movie without me.’ It just didn’t mean that much to me to do it, but I said, ‘If you guys could see your way clear to bringing Arnold back and then, you know, I’d be happy to be involved.’ And then Tim wanted Linda.
I think what happened is I think the movie could have survived having Linda in it, I think it could have survived having Arnold in it, but when you put Linda and Arnold in it and then, you know, she’s 60-something, he’s 70-something, all of a sudden it wasn’t your Terminator movie, it wasn’t even your dad’s Terminator movie, it was your granddad’s Terminator movie. And we didn’t see that. We loved it; we thought it was cool, you know, that we were making this sort of direct sequel to a movie that came out in 1991. And young moviegoing audiences weren’t born. They wouldn’t even have been born for another ten years. So, it was just our own myopia. We kind of got a little high on our own supply, and I think that’s the lesson there.“
The film, directed by Miller with a screenplay from David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray, found Hamilton’s Sarah Connor back as a grizzled lone wolf. She teams up with new protagonists, played by Mackenzie Davis, and an older T-800, played by an older Schwarzenegger. Their mission was to protect a new savior of humanity, played by Natalia Reyes. The movie ignored the events of Terminator 3-5 with the idea of Dark Fate jump-starting a new trilogy.
It should’ve worked, especially with James Cameron as producer, but it didn’t. Going back to basics with a low-budget, more realistic Terminator might have worked – but for now, however, it seems like the Terminator franchise is dead in the water.