An action thriller from the word ‘go,’ The Terminator is about the nightmare of fleeing from an indestructible robot assassin. Sent to the present from a future controlled by machines, a ruthless and logical android is disguised in living flesh and has one purpose: to kill Sarah Connor. It will do anything to complete its mission, whether by manipulating human emotions to flush out its target, or just by using brute force—and a lot of guns.
Even the well-armed police seem powerless as they die at the hands of this killing machine clad in a black leather jacket. And in a series of gripping and explosive chase scenes, the bits of flesh covering this future android are shot, cut and burned away; revealing the indestructible robot inside—and making any hope for the survival of Sarah Connor seem like folly. But no matter how clever and resourceful she is, she cannot escape this assassin, and we soon learn that if Sarah Conner is killed, the fate of the world is at stake.
The Terminator was a worldwide breakout success for both director James Cameron and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two originally met thinking that Schwarzenegger was up for the romantic lead, but they both left the meeting with the secret knowledge that Arnold should be the Terminator, which is how he was cast. He shined in the role, and with a scant 17 lines of dialogue, he set the stage for his long career as the muscular action hero with deadpan quips.
Inspired by the director’s dream of a metallic torso dragging itself away from an explosion, the film delves into the fear that our own technology will one day destroy us. Shot with a modest $6.4 million budget, The Terminator created one of the most iconic villains of science fiction, with the help of the special effects wizardry of Stan Winston. Director Cameron drew many detailed sketches of the robot and originally intended to use stop motion animation for most of the Terminator’s scenes, but Winston convinced him to use a mix of puppets and animatronically controlled devices for a completely convincing robot. Ultimately, only a few sequences were stop motion—and they are the least successful ones.
He also toyed with the idea of the robot being able to shape shift, but the technology for that effect was not available until he shot the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, seven years later.
Schwarzenegger was afraid that the make-up would not work until he saw a mock-up of his head with bits of flesh torn away—it was so good that they were often able to use Arnold in his makeup instead of the dummy head they had built for certain shots. Schwarzenegger was also alarmed when, to achieve the effect of his jacket smoldering after a fire, they applied acid to his clothes just before shooting!
The enormous success of Terminator led Cameron to direct the first sequel, which was another critical and box office success, and inspired an ongoing franchise of sequels. There was also a well received, but short-lived, TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as well as a theme park attraction, T2: 3-D: Battle Across Time, at the Universal Studio Theme Parks.