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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of ‘The Terminator’ - The One That Started It All

August 17, 2021 444 votes 53 voters 2.7k views15 items

List RulesVote up the most interesting stories about the low-budget success that kicked off a franchise.

The original The Terminator (1984) remains a monumental achievement in science-fiction moviemaking. All these years later, the movie that kicked off a decades-spanning franchise remains a towering cinematic experience, a masterful technical marvel that also benefits from a fantastic screenplay and world-class performances. But its long-term vindication was never guaranteed. The project, from an FX man turned B-movie director and a relatively unproven B-movie producer, relied on tactical cost-cutting ventures, its filmmakers' chutzpah, and some unproven performers to create one of the greatest movies ever. 

What are some of your favorite casting what-ifs? Favorite tales of surprising behind-the-scenes moments? Vote up your favorites below!

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  • "The Terminator was very important for me," Arnold Schwarzenegger noted to Entertainment Weekly. Schwarzenegger, a former bodybuilder out of Austria, had struggled for years to get into acting. For his first-ever film role, Hercules in New York (1970), his voice was dubbed. His accent was hidden in The Long Goodbye (1973) when he played a deaf and mute assassin. "The studios said they didn’t want to cast me because of my accent. And Cameron came along and said, 'F**k, if you wouldn’t have this accent, if you wouldn’t talk like a machine, I don't think we ever would have had a Terminator.' He told everybody about how my accent was a huge plus. For me that was huge breakthrough."

    Partially thanks to the successes of Conan and Terminator, Schwarzenegger would go on to be one of the biggest box-office stars in the world for the next two decades, his unshakable accent becoming a unique component of his charm.

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  • Although Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hollywood star appeared to be on the rise after his unforgettable turn as the titular pillager in the original Conan the Barbarian (1982), his Terminator co-stars were dubious about his acting chops.

    "I was going to be a Shakespearean actress when I came out of the Strasberg studio in New York," Sarah Connor actress Linda Hamilton told Entertainment Weekly. "And so I wasn’t as excited about The Terminator as my people were. Maybe I was a little snobby. I thought, 'Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm not sure about that.' I was a little nervous about whether all the pieces would fit together."

    "Arnold has obviously gone on to prove himself over and over again, but you have to remember what people thought of him at the time," Kyle Reese performer Michael Biehn noted in the same article. "When I told my actor friends that I was doing a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, they kind of snickered at me and said, 'Well, good luck with that.'"

    "Believe me, I did go to the set to check Arnold out," Hamilton continued. "And I remember standing back and watching him and going, 'Hmm, this might work.' There was something so utterly robotic and terrifying about him. I realized that we were doing something new here, and all of a sudden, I believed."

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  • Effects man Stan Winston and his studio took on the task of creating the Terminator makeup effects and realizing the signature metal endoskeleton that would track Sarah and Kyle at the end of the movie.

    Tom Woodruff Jr. described how the team went about translating initial concept sketches by James Cameron into a finished product to Entertainment Weekly. "We all sat down with a clay casting of Arnold’s head and just started sculpting it away, putting in glass eyes and acrylic teeth and pieces of metal details and trying to come up with how it would look fleshed out as a three-dimensional puppet," Woodruff said.

    "I took the head cast of Arnold and sculpted it down," Shane Mahan said. "It was kind of a reverse forensics study, and the result is that the metal skull incorporates Arnold’s cheekbones, brow lines, and jawline."

    "Stan broke the endoskeleton all down among John and Shane and myself," Woodruff added. "For wide shots, we had a waist-up version of the endoskeleton that was mounted to a backpack that Shane wore and had a radio-controlled head on it. But for more specific action, I was able to put my arm inside a vertebrae in the neck and grab a handle inside the head and lock my arm into the back of the rig."

    According to this informative TV documentary produced around the time of the movie's release, the finished Terminator skeleton weighed 200 pounds, comprised 1,000 hand-crafted, chrome-plated moving parts, and stood at a height of 6 feet 2 inches. The critter's construction, from concept sketches to the final build, took nearly a year.

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  • The signature metallic endoskeleton of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerging from a fiery explosion during the climax of The Terminator (1984) came about as the result of a terrifying fever dream.

    Terminator writer/director James Cameron told the BFI in 2021:

    The Terminator came from a dream that I had while I was sick with a fever in a cheap pensione in Rome in 1981. It was the image of a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire. When I woke up, I began sketching on the hotel stationery. The first sketch I did showed a metal skeleton cut in half at the waist, crawling over a tile floor, using a large kitchen knife to pull itself forward while reaching out with the other hand. In a second drawing, the character is threatening a crawling woman. Minus the kitchen knife, these images became the finale of The Terminator almost exactly.

    "Nightmares are a business asset; that's the way I look at it," Cameron noted to Entertainment Weekly. "I was sick, I was broke, I had a high fever, and I had a dream about this metal death figure coming out of a fire. And the implication was that it had been stripped of its skin by the fire and exposed for what it really was."

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