Why the Terminator Franchise Lost Direction After Arnold Schwarzenegger Ditched Hollywood for Politics

Shortly after the success of Conan the Barbarian (1982)Arnold Schwarzenegger received an offer to star in a unique project. James Cameron, a newcomer, was in charge of the sci-fi movie project. While the former Mr. Olympia was excited to begin filming the Conan the Barbarian sequel, Conan the Destroyer (1984), the prospect of starring as the lead of another project excited him. Schwarzenegger met Cameron to discuss the plot and script of The Terminator (1984). However, after meeting Arnie, Cameron flipped the offer.

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After seeing the seven-time Mr. Olympia’s stature and physique, Cameron offered Schwarzenegger to star as the antagonist. Instead of starring in the lead role, Cameron convinced Arnie he would be the perfect actor to portray a time-traveling robot assassin with human features. While Schwarzenegger didn’t decline the offer, he seemed hesitant. So, the then-newcomer director drew the bodybuilding legend as he imagined him in the film and sent him the sketch. Schwarzenegger was so impressed that he agreed. However, his character, the T-800, had only 27 lines in the film. Arnie treated the film as a side project. However, he would find he had judged a book by its cover.

James Cameron lost interest


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Since Conan the Destroyer and The Terminator were released in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed both projects simultaneously. One day, one of Arnie’s bodybuilder friends visited him on the sets of Conan the Destroyer. However, he was shocked to find a pair of leather boots amidst the medieval props. So, he asked the Austrian Oak about them. “Oh, some s*** movie I’m doing, take a couple of weeks,” the bodybuilding icon told his friend Rick Wayne. However, Schwarzenegger couldn’t be more wrong, as Conan the Destroyer failed to replicate its predecessor’s success.

Meanwhile, The Terminator was a smash hit. It put James Cameron on the map and made the former Mr. Universe a superstar. Fans yearned for a sequel, as the universe James Cameron had created showed immense potential for further exploration. Fans pined for a sequel, but the Avatar director took his time to make one. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, released in 1991, improved every aspect of the original and became one of the biggest blockbuster hits of all time. However, after some trouble selling the franchise rights, Cameron lost interest in making the third film.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger wraps up the trilogy

Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar paid $12 million for the Terminator franchise rights. So they greenlit T3, even though James Carmon wouldn’t helm the project. Jonathan Mostow directed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. However, the director couldn’t capture the Titanic director’s vision, and despite its commercial success, T3 was a step down from its prequel. While the cracks were apparent in T3 after Cameron’s departure, Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving acting for politics sent the franchise into disarray.

The seven-time Mr. Olympia ran for governor in the 2003 California recall election. The Terminator star defeated Gray Davis and took office as the 38th Governor of California. After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s departure, the Terminator franchise tried to recapture the glory of the first two films.

The franchise spirals into chaos

In 2008, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, starring Lena Headey, graced TV screens. Headey starred in the role originally played by Linda Hamilton. It focused on the period between T1 and T2, as Sarah Conner spent her days trying to evade authorities. While the series was well received, it only ran for two seasons before being canceled. By 2009, another Terminator film had hit theaters. However, not even Oscar-winner Christian Bale could save the fourth installment. Terminator: Salvation (2009) was a sequel to Rise of the Machines. However, it was also a soft reboot.

Attempting to recreate Arnie and Cameron’s iconic creation resulted in the worst box office performance of any Terminator film. After its commercial and critical failure, the franchise devolved significantly. Terminator video games also launched during this period, which tied into the universe. However, the TV series, games, and Terminator Salvation resulted in the story branching into different continuities. Despite many attempts, the series never recovered without Arnie and Cameron. Yet, in 2015, the franchise got a new lease on life.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was back, but it was too late


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After stepping away from politics, Arnie returned to acting in 2013. Two years later, staying true to his iconic one-liner, “I’ll be back,” Schwarzenegger starred in Terminator: Genysis. However, it was too little, too late. Helmed by Sopranos creator Alan Taylor, the film was another reboot. Despite Arnie’s return and a massive marketing budget, fans didn’t show love to the film co-starring Emilia Clarke. According to Bloomberg Business, the film needed to earn at least $450 million to break even after its expensive marketing campaign. However, it earned $446 million globally.

Not even Arnie’s return made a difference. However, the franchise would try one more time in 2019. This time, Cameron and Linda Hamilton joined the project. While Cameron didn’t direct the film, he acted as a creative consultant. Terminator: Dark Fate retconned everything that had been produced after Judgment Day and was a direct sequel to T2. Yet, despite the original trio of Ameron, Schwarzenegger, and Hamilton contributing to the film, Dark Fate couldn’t revive the franchise.


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Earlier this year, Arnie announced he was stepping away from the franchise. “I got the message loud and clear that the world wants to move on with a different theme,” the 76-year-old said about the 2019 film. In 2003, after Arnold Schwarzenegger departed, the Terminator films lost their essence.

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