When THE TERMINATOR opened on Oct. 26, 1984, it made Arnold Schwarzenegger a top star and launched James Cameron’s directing career.
Cameron had made his feature directing debut with 1981’s PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, from which he was fired after two weeks, but TERMINATOR was the film that put him in action. When Cameron was ready to send out his early screenplay for financing & distribution, he sold it for a token of $1 to Gale Anne Hurd, his producing partner & past collaborator at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.
Hurd promised not only to get the movie made but that she’d get Cameron a directing deal. Fortunately, she managed to do just that, turning down studios — like Paramount — that wanted the project, but not Cameron.
Cameron & Hurd began a relationship during the production of THE TERMINATOR and were married from 1985-89. They made ALIENS (1986) & THE ABYSS (1989) together, although by the time they did ABYSS they’d separated.
While casting TERMINATOR, they considered O.J. Simpson to play the cyborg assassin but decided he had too nice an image for moviegoers to accept him as a cold-blooded killer. Mel Gibson passed, saying he wasn’t right for the role. Sylvester Stallone also said no. Tom Selleck was a no because he had committed to doing MAGNUM, P.I.
At first, they thought Schwarzenegger could play Kyle Reese, the human soldier sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the cyborg killing machine. Schwarzenegger had gone from being a bodybuilder to making action films like 1982’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Orion Pictures’ production chief Mike Medavoy had met Schwarzenegger at a party and sent him Cameron’s script after Orion agreed to distribute TERMINATOR (with co-financing from John Daly’s Hemdale Pictures).
Cameron, however, just didn’t see the bulked-up Schwarzenegger as Reese. Medavoy pushed Cameron to have lunch with Schwarzenegger anyway. Schwarzenegger’s enthusiasm for the screenplay and his suggestions about how the cyborg villain should be played changed Cameron’s mind about casting.
He offered Schwarzenegger the title role, explaining the film wasn’t really about the hero, but about The Terminator. Schwarzenegger accepted happily, despite his agent saying he shouldn’t play villains. Michael Biehn was cast as Reese. By then Schwarzenegger was so essential to TERMINATOR that production was delayed until he fulfilled his commitment to do CONAN THE DESTROYER.
The Terminator’s now iconic line “I’ll be back” was almost changed to “I will be back” because Schwarzenegger thought that sounded more like a machine talking. This was Schwarzenegger & Cameron’s only dispute and was resolved when Cameron replied, “I don’t tell you how to act, so don’t tell me how to write.”
The American Film Institute ranked Schwartzenegger’s “I’ll be back” as the 37th greatest line in movie history.