Note: This list will be amended to add Terminator: Dark Fate following the film's opening weekend.
In the early '80s, James Cameron the director of Piranha II: The Spawning was handed a modest sum of money to make a sci-fi actioner about a killer robot from the future. Before shooting commenced, its star, former Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote it off as “some s*it movie.” That movie, of course, was 1984's The Terminator, and it performed better than expected, though it was still bumped from its spot at the top of the box office in only its third week, by no less than the George Burns threequel Oh God! You Devil.
Thirty-five years later, it's the franchise that won't die, much like Ah-nuld's everlasting T-800. And that's not for lack of trying: The little genre movie that could birthed a bigger and badder sequel that many believe is better, and was even for a time the most expensive motion picture ever made. Since then there have been four more big screen returns to the well, none as profitable or as game-changing. That's to say nothing of a TV show, a lavish theme park attraction, and all that other consumer product arcade games, action figures, trading cards, etc. that comes with any brand worth its s.
Are some of these latter day sequels better than the rest? Which is the series' apex: the rickety first or the cutting edge second? And why on earth won't it just die? As Terminator 6, a.k.a. Dark Fate, arrives, let's consider this unusually robust franchise through some good old fashioned ranking.
Giving the top spot to the one that started it all may be a controversial choice, but it's really like flipping a coin. Or maybe it depends on your mood: Are you up for a down-and-dirty genre picture or a super-sized blockbuster? Perhaps more crucially, do you like your Arnold mean or relatively nice? When he made The Terminator, the future Governator was still a monosyllabic he-man, and — 1970's Hercules Goes Bananas aside — not exactly for kids. Twins and Kindergarten Cop were still half a decade away, and he wouldn't reveal his yen for post-kill quips until Commando, one year later.
This may be hard to imagine now, but at the time, Arnold was still able to pass as a blood-curdling Frankenstein's monster from the future. To moviegoers, he was either the ripped co-winner of Pumping Iron or the Teutonic übermensch of Conan the Barbarian and its goofier, less fascistic sequel. He was unknowable, and he was powerful, dangerous even when good. Cameron was partially inspired by seeing John Carpenter's original Halloween, and he turned the actor/muscleman's T-800 into an even scarier version of the era's slasher baddies — more fearsome than Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers because he was also a Reagan-era hard body with perfect abs.
The film itself is lean and mean, with no fat. Cameron didn't have all the money in the world, as he would by decade's end, so its visions of the post-apocalypse are brief and murkily lit. Its action is mostly relegated to car chases indebted to Wer Hill's minimalist 1978 classic The Driver: visceral, precise, calmly assembled yet harrowing, all at once.
Meanwhile, Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor — the mother of the forthcoming human revolution against the machines their ancestors created — is far from the rifle-toting badass of the first sequel. She's just an average Los Angeles single, a lousy waitress unlucky in love, and utterly flustered when she discovers she's suddenly wanted by two men: an android dead-set on icing her and a revolutionary dead-set on protecting her. Hamilton's sweaty, raw-nerve performance in T2 is justly lauded, but she's as strong in the original. She's utterly believable as an everywoman who, despite being the lone survivor, is cruelly condemned to a bleak future. She, who has no military or survivalist training, has to turn her son into a peerless rebel leader. Everyone's life is in her lonely hands. Try to ignore what you know will happen to her in the next film, and you'll be devastated by that open-ended ending: her driving into a literal storm, unsure how the hell she's going to save the future.
One could argue it was a punk move bringing Arnold's T-800 back only to make a him a good guy. One could also argue it's an inspired move, taking the series in a new and exciting direction. Still, the real reason it happened is because, for Arnold, a lot had changed. He'd crossed over into family comedies, even been named the chairman on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. If he was going to return to the franchise that made him a lovable A-lister, he'd shoot people, but only in the legs. This time, the T-800's many victims would live.
Either way, who'd kick T2 out of bed? Even at a then-pretty-long 137 minutes, the thing moves, one dynamic, intricate set piece following another, never slowing down once our heroes try to save the future by destroying [checks notes] an anonymous-looking office building in a corporate park.
As ever, Cameron is preachy about his big world concerns. “If a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can, too...” But he's sly with the commentary that really cuts. In the original, the villain was that Reaganite superstud — a vision of perfection mowing down the weak back when greed was good, played by a Reagan supporter. Here, the danger comes from technology, and the forces that let it thrive: the corporations who seek to profit from it, the police and authority figures who try to protect same. Of course, T2 teems with cutting edge tech; in 1991 Robert Patrick's silver, slippery, shape-shifting T-1000 was seen as the future of CGI, which he was. But it's important to note he's still defeated by the old ways — by humans who never give up, and by an obsolete model of killer robot played by an actor who by then was already well into middle age.
Terminator 2 ended on an ambiguous but optimistic note. Why ruin it? And why ruin it when the only person returning is Arnold? But for a movie that has few reasons to exist beyond the monetary, Rise of the Machines is solid stuff. Despite the elephantine budget, it's closer to the original — a lean genre machine, crisply directed by Breakdown's Jonathan Mostow. The only memorable things are a decent mid-film chase and a wacko Oedipal slip in which John Connor, now played by Nick Stahl, tells overqualified love interest Claire Danes, “You remind me of my mom.” But its pleasures are in its simplicity: It's a pleasant night out at the movies, and a nice send-off to Schwarzenegger, who was about to ditch the movies to follow his dreams of being a conservative politician ruling over liberal California, perchance never to return. If only the series had ended there.
You thought this list would simply go in chronological order, did you? Sadly, the fourth entry is a drag. And the fifth, while unnecessary and convoluted, at least has some fun, including with itself. The one with the most time travel tomfoolery and the most annoying name, it's the Back to the Future: Part II of the series, playfully revisiting and reworking the original — letting, among other things, old and gray Arnold spar with his younger, perfect, very naked self. But it's too busy by half, its attempts to be topical are shallow, and turning the now forty-something John ConnorJason Clarke bad is not the same as making the murderous T-800 good. Consider it a C+ for effort.
The Schwarzenegger-less fourth is the only one that spends its entirety in the post-apocalyptic future, finally really letting us see John ConnorChristian Bale lead humanity's survivors against the robotic hordes. It should be rousing, it should be exciting, it should at the very least be compelling. And yet it's a humorless slog, despite being directed by McG, he of the amped-up aughts iteration of Charlie's Angels, going completely serious. At least J.D. Salinger liked it.
James Cameron, Linda Hamilton, and Edward Furlong didn't return for the third Terminator, but that doesn't mean the team never got back together. For ages, visitors to Universal Studios in Hollywood and Miami could take in this lavish spectacle, a combination of stage and screen that ends with Arnold's T-800 and Furlong's teen John Connor zipping to the post-apocalypse to battle some more robots including the “T-One Million”, all in three dimensions. It's still playing at Universal Studios Japan. That stuff is serviceable and what you'd expect, but what's actually interesting is the lengthy set-up.
The show begins as a commercial for Cyberdyne, the company that births Skynet, which unwittingly births Judgment Day. It brags about how they're taking over not only cutting edge tech products but the military as well — that pretty soon they'll be controlling everything, and that that should make consumers happy, not anxious. Not a lot of what the Terminator series depicted, of course, ever came true. But the notion of a future in which super-sized and short-sighted corporations own everything, and have effortlessly lulled consumers into selling over their identities and privacy and money, sure did. It's an idea the franchise's future sequels, from Rise of the Machines on, never meaningfully explored; they were too busy diddling with battle bots. The scariest idea in the Terminator series isn't Android Arnold with a gun; it's the possibility that our own Judgment Day may have already happened and we didn't even notice it.
Last month, box office analysts were projecting that Terminator: Dark Fate could end up with a record opening weekend, hauling in somewhere in the $40-plus million range. Turns out those estimates were a bit…generous. Because now that the latest Terminator movie has opened in advance previews, it looks like the Dark Fate box office is going to be a bit lower than projected.
What a difference a few weeks makes. In early October, I wrote up a story about Terminator: Dark Fate tracking towards a $40-plus million opening weekend, which would’ve put it on track to break previous franchise record holder, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which opened at $44 million. Now, however, on the weekend of the movie’s release, analysts suggest it might not even hit $30 million.
THR says that the film opened with $2.35 million in Thursday previews, which indicates it’s on track for a $28 million opening weekend. So what happened? Perhaps fatigue. Early reactions for Dark Fate started off strong, but they also started rolling in on October 20, almost two full weeks before release. Whenever a film launches its early reactions that early it can trip some folks up and cause confusion. Case in point: it already feels like the conversation around Dark Fate is over, even though it just opened.
Of course, that sort of logic only applies to film fans who obsess over this stuff. The average, casual moviegoer doesn’t pay attention to such things. Still, the reviews that eventually arrived for the film were mixed at best it’s sitting at a just-barely-fresh 68% on Rotten Tomatoes as of now. That could certainly deflate some excitement. Then you have to factor in the knowledge that Dark Fate is the latest entry in an altogether lopsided franchise. Most can agree that Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are great movies. Classics, even. But everything after that? Not so much.
Perhaps the lesson here is that Hollywood should just stop making Terminator sequels. Then again, things could turn out differently after the weekend ends. Maybe Dark Fate will end up surpassing these now-adjusted expectations and be a bigger hit after all. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the very few places playing The Irishman in theaters this weekend, you should probably go see that instead.
James Cameron produced the November tentpole, which is a direct sequel to the filmmaker's first two 'Terminator' films.
Competing with Halloween festivities, Paramount and Skydance's Terminator: Dark Fate started off its North American box office run with $2.35 million in Thursday previews.
The direct sequel to Terminator: Judgment Day 1991 is directed by Deadpool helmer Tim Miller and produced by James Cameron, creator of the the original Terminator franchise.
The R-rated movie reunites Cameron with original stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who join new franchise actors Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta.
Dark Fate is tracking to open in the high $30 million to low $40 million range domestically. Overseas, where Disney is releasing the November tentpole, it opens in a raft of major markets, including China. In North America, it rolls out in more than 4,000 theaters, including Imax locales.
Elsewhere, Harriet and Motherless Brooklyn also open nationwide after making the rounds at the fall film festivals.
From Focus Features, Harriet stars Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, the courageous Underground Railroad conductor who became a hero of the anti-slavery movement. Kasi Lemmons' directs the bio-drama.
Harriet, playing in more than 2,000 locations, is tracking to debut to $7.5 million to $9 million domestically.
Warner Bros.' Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton, is opting for a more modest footprint, or 1,332 theaters.
Norton also stars in the adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel about a New York detective with Tourette syndrome, alongside Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The movie is projected to open in the $5 million to $7 million range.
Another high-profile title hitting select cinemas this weekend is Martin Scrosese's mob pic The Irishman. Netflix has major Oscar ambitions for the pic, which will premiere on the streamer on Nov. 27.
Netflix doesn't report grosses for its original movies. The Irishman will debut in three theaters in New York City and five in Los Angeles, including the Landmark and the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown and the Egyptian Netflix is in the midst of a deal to buy the historic Hollywood theater.
Say what you will about James Cameron, he doesn’t sugarcoat things. When he’s not making countless Avatar sequels, the filmmaker is being brutally honest about, well, everything. Case in point: Cameron recently revealed that the Terminator: Dark Fate editing process was a bit bumpy. So bumpy, in fact, that he hints at a metaphorical bloodbath of sorts – one that had him and director Tim Miller at odds sometimes. But Cameron makes it clear this is all part of the creative process, and not the sign of some beef between himself and Miller.
Terminator: Dark Fate is arriving in theaters this weekend. Normally, when a movie is about to hit theaters, the folks that worked on the film in question spend their press days talking up how fun and exciting the project is. But not Mr. James Cameron. The filmmaker and Avatar prisoner is being open and honest about the behind-the-scenes process of Terminator: Dark Fate, and he’s not saying it was all smiles and sunshine.
Speaking with CinemaBlend, Cameron said that the editing process turned out to be a little tricky, primarily because he and director Tim Miller didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Cameron compared it to his recent experience working with director Robert Rodriguez on Alita: Battle Angel. Asked if there were disagreements while editing Dark Fate, Cameron replied: “I would say many. And the blood is still being scrubbed off the walls from those creative battles.” He went on to add:
“This is a film that was forged in fire. So yeah, but that’s the creative process, right? I mean, my work with Robert on Alita was very different. Robert loved the script, loved everything, said, ‘I just want to make this movie. I want to make the movie the way you see it.’ I was like, ‘No, you got to make it your movie.’ I had the reverse experience with Tim, which is Tim wanted to make it his movie. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I kind of know a little about this world.’ So I had the matter and the anti-matter version of that producorial experience.”
In a past interview also with CinemaBlend, Cameron said of the editing process: “It wasn’t a slam-dunk at the time. I felt there were a lot of pathways that were taken that were unnecessary. I’m an editor myself, so I gave notes that were both broad, and very specific…I was very involved in the writing and I was very involved in the cutting of the film. And to me, the cutting is really an extension of the writing.”
While I can understand Miller wanting to have a bit more control over his specific movie, I also think Cameron has a point when he says that he knows “a little about this world” – since he’s the guy who created the Terminator world, after all.
"I've done two 'Terminator' movies without Linda. Finally, she's back," Schwarzenegger said of his co-star.
Linda Hamilton andArnold Schwarzenegger, iconic duo of The Terminator franchise, stopped by The Late Late Show With James Corden to talk returning to the robo-pocalypse in Terminator: Dark Fate.
Before the two discussed their reunion in Tim Miller's installment,Schwarzenegger participated in a round of "Spill Your Guts" with Corden. The game focuses on asking tough questions, and if a player can't "spill their guts," they must eat one of several undesirable dishes. This round's menu featured some exceptionally gross options: bird saliva and turkey testicles.
Questions forSchwarzenegger included what was a lie he told while serving as California's governor. Instead of eating an unsavory dish, the actor and politician revealed that the infamous use of "FUCK YOU" in a veto letter toCalifornia assemblyman Tom Ammiano in 2010 was intentional.Speaking to reporters at the time, the former governor had said the f-bomb "was a total coincidence."
When the gross table of food was turned on Corden, Schwarzenegger asked the host what he said to Ivanka Trump when he and the president's daughter both recently attended the same wedding. The late-night host shared that he, along with Orlando Bloom, drunkenly told Ivanka, "You can do something. You can make a difference." Ivanka, according to Corden, replied "I'm trying," and the following day approached him to say, "I bet you got a headache."
When they were later joined by Terminator: Dark Fateco-star Linda Hamilton, the duo shared their admiration for each other.
"I love this man, and it grows better with every film," Hamilton remarked.
"I've done two Terminator movies without Linda. Finally, she's back," Schwarzenegger added.
Asked to sum up what happens in the latest installment of the franchise, Hamilton joked, "What doesn't happen?" Then, summing up the events of the film, of which audiences can see starting Nov. 1, the actress added, "Sarah Connor can't but help getting involved."
Schwarzenegger explained how his infamous Terminator role has evolved from "a killing machine" to a robot who's adapted to the human world, now calling himself Carl and selling, of all things, drapes.
When Hamilton was asked how it felt to recite Schwarzenegger's famous "I'll be back" quote, she quipped, "It does come with pressure. You can't say it without sounding like Arnold...I gave it my own little thing eventually."
It doesn't look like making Terminator: Dark Fate was the smoothest project for Tim Miller to jump on. James Cameron says he ended up having a lot of say over the final cut and how the movie was edited, even though he never visited the set once. Cameron even admits that he hasn't met any of the newest cast members of the highly anticipated sequel. The director knows the franchise better than anyone and was prepared to fight over his beliefs.
One of the biggest points of contention was the rough cut of Terminator: Dark Fate that Tim Miller assembled. Miller is an experienced director, but it turns out he didn't do a lot of things that James Cameron would have done, which is understandable since he's a different person. Cameron had this to say about the initial rough cut of the sequel.
"It wasn't a slam-dunk at the time. I felt there were a lot of pathways that were taken that were unnecessary. I'm an editor myself, so I gave notes that were both broad, and very specific. I continued in that process up to about two and a half months ago when we locked picture... I never went to the set. I've yet to physically meet the new cast because I never went to the set. But I was very involved in the writing and I was very involved in the cutting of the film. And to me, the cutting is really an extension of the writing."
Terminator: Dark Fate is very much James Cameron's baby, even though he didn't direct it. He had a heavy hand in writing it and during the editing stage, which caused some disagreements. It appears that some of those disagreements are still fresh wounds as Cameron describes the process as bloody. Tim Miller had a lot on his plate and Cameron seemed to make sure there was even more at the end of the day. Cameron explains.
"I would say many disagreements. And the blood is still being scrubbed off the walls from those creative battles. This is a film that was forged in fire. So yeah, but that's the creative process, right?"
When arguments like this come up, one has to wonder why James Cameron didn't just direct Terminator: Dark Fate on his own. We all know he has the crazy amount of Avatar sequels on the way, but if this project means that much to him, it sounds like he should've waited or done it before jumping into Avatar 2. With that being said, Cameron didn't want someone to make exactly his vision. He had this to say.
Related: Terminator: Dark Fate & The Grudge Reboot Are Both Rated-R, Here's Why
"My work with Robert on Alita was very different. Robert loved the script, loved everything, said, 'I just want to make this movie. I want to make the movie the way you see it.' I was like, 'No, you got to make it your movie.' I had the reverse experience with Tim, which is Tim wanted to make it his movie. And I'm like, 'Yeah, but I kind of know a little about this world.' So I had the matter and the anti-matter version of that producorial experience."
Regardless of anything, James Cameron sounds like a tough person to work with on any project. The director does not mince words and speaks his mind whenever possible. One has to wonder how he'll take it if critics and fans don't respond the way he anticipated for Terminator: Dark Fate. The interview with James Cameron was originally conducted by CinemaBlend.
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