If I Could Write… Terminator! (Part 1)

Author’s Note: This article ended up being really long, so it’s split into two parts.


Man, they really did try after Terminator 2, didn’t they? 3 Movies. 3 Sequels. And all semi to complete failures.

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If only the movies were as successful as his… Ohhhhh. My bad.

For those of you that aren’t quite up to date with the wild ride that is the Terminator franchise, let’s recap!

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Erupting from the fevered dreams of director James Cameron, Terminator (T1) would be released in 1984 to critical and commercial acclaim; and make a worldwide star of the Austrian Oak known as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Unlike today, where sequels are pumped out faster than a prematurely ejaculating teenager, the sequel known as Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) wouldn’t appear on screens till 1991. But that 7 year wait seems to have been worth it because T2 blew the doors off its predecessor with a worldwide box office gross of over half a billion.

It would be another long wait of 12 years before Hollywood saw fit to release a third installment in 2003. Witty called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (T3), the film was profitable, though the critical and audience reaction left a lot to be desired.

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Introducing “a lot to be desired”

Nonetheless, 6 years later Terminator: Salvation, starting Christian “We are done professionally!” Bale, would be released to even lesser critical and audience reaction; as well as the lowest gross so far.

Still, the phrase “scraping the bottom of the barrel” doesn’t seem to be a negative one in Hollywood’s books; and after years of Hollywood machinations the 5th film, Terminator: Genisys, would be released.

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Atrocious spelling aside, the film would be met with the barest of shrugs and wouldn’t even reach $90 million in the United States.

And so here we are. In 2017 the Terminator franchise languishes in a ditch, a shadow of its former self. But do not fret fellow sci-fi fanatics. There is hope! The Terminator can rise again!

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That being said, there are several aspects that need to be taken into account when we go about crafting a new Terminator film.

1) Budget

We can’t keep making eye-watering $200 million Terminator films. I’m sorry, but for Genisys to make nearly half a billion dollars worldwide and STILL be considered a failure is unacceptable. I appreciate that might be difficult due to the various deals that might be in place from the previous Terminator films, but every time that budget increases, the blander the story has to be in order to get the most bums on seats (just look at the recently released Passengers.)

Admittedly this is partly due to T2. Because it was so successful, every Studio that gets their hands on the franchise thinks they need to repeat those beats. Well guess what? EVERY SINGLE TIME they make an action-y Terminator movie, the first thing everyone does is compare it to T2. Because of that we HAVE TO move away from the blockbuster explosion type deal. To this end…

2) Change Genre

The Terminator franchise has already shown that it can handle a change in genre. T1 is a stripped down, horror/thriller type film; while T2 changed to a big budget blockbuster. There is no reason why the Terminator franchise can’t change genre again.

The film I’m thinking of, while it would contain action beats, would fundamentally be a sci-fi/drama film. (Think Arrival or Contact.) It’s a risk, I agree. But in order to heal the “wounds” the Terminator franchise has taken over the past few decades, this change is absolutely necessary.

3) Creating one movie

This really is a wider problem with Hollywood, but we have to get away from the ridiculous idea that a story has to be told over multiple films/mediums. NO! NO! NO! One film. One story. One ticket. One experience.

We need to go “old school” and give audiences a complete story over 2 hours. 99% of questions they might have should be answered by the end of the film.

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The fact that I have to use the phrase “old school” really says it all, doesn’t it?

But to clear, that doesn’t mean I’m against doing or even setting up a sequel. Rather we have to stop expecting audiences to pay for an unfinished story. All that does it create hatred and resentment for the Terminator franchise.

4) Introducing new characters

I love many of the characters that the Terminator franchise introduced. Their mark on pop culture is indisputable, with Sarah Connor in particular becoming an amazing example of the change a woman can go through when she’s fighting for freedom.

But as much as I love Sarah, John and Kyle, we need to move away. Respect their contribution and impact, but at the same time new blood is needed.

5) But keep Schwarzenegger

It’s not impossible to do a Terminator film without Schwarzenegger, and I honestly went back and forth on whether my idea should include him. In the end though, I have to take into account the commercial needs of the project, not just the artistic. The love that international audiences have for the Austrian Oak is necessary to create a successful film.

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5) Try to respect the timeline of the original 2 films as much as possible.

Terminator: Genisys got one thing right: Spinning off from a certain point in the timeline to create a new story. The problem was that they went too early and ripped away everything we loved.

Don’t get me wrong, as X-men: First Class demonstrated, if you have to choose between continuity and a great film; choose the latter every time. But, in this case, I’m going to adhere to T1 and T2 as much as possible.

6) And do not f**k with time travel.

What a lot of the later movies didn’t understand was that time travel was never particularly important to the Terminator story. It was just a means to an end. A way to get a guy/robot from the future to the present day in order to tell the actual story.

Once you start introducing overly complex methods of time travel, then the audience completely shuts off. Either don’t mention time travel, or if you have to, then just mention it in the context of A—->B.


So, with the above mentioned in mind, my idea for a Terminator film can pretty much be summed up in one sentence:

What does a Terminator do if it fails its mission?

Really think about it guys. In all the movies, we’ve never seen a Terminator fail its mission and survive. Every movie where we see a Terminator fail, it fails because it’s destroyed before it can complete its mission.

That’s the story I want to explore. If a Terminator fails in its mission, what does it do afterwards?

Does it shut down or destroy itself? No, because T2 told us Terminators can’t self-terminate.

Does it travel back to the future? (Ha!) No, because as we know from all the movies, time travel is a one way trip.

So what does a failed Terminator do?

The easiest way to explore this aspect is to make a small diversion in the current timeline of T2. Rather then seeing the Terminator succeed, we need to watch him fail. In other words, we need to watch Sarah and John Connor die.

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I know what you’re thinking.

Vijay! You son of a bitch! You want to pull an Alien 3!

I know, I know. And if I was actually writing Terminator 3, then this opening is totally NOT what I would have gone for.

But this article has already gone on for too long. I’ll see you in part 2 for the explanation!


Click here to see my previous ideas in If I Could Write… Home Alone! and If I Could Write… Star Wars!

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