Terminator, The (1984): James Cameron’s Sci-Fi Actioner, Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton

James Cameron directed The Terminator, a sci-fi actioner, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

The Terminator

Theatrical release poster

The woman’s unborn son would one day save mankind from extinction by Skynet, a hostile artificial intelligence in post-apocalyptic future. Michael Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a soldier sent back in time to protect Sarah.

The screenplay is credited to Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, while co-writer William Wisher Jr. received “additional dialogue” credit.

Cameron devised the film’s narrative premise based on a fever dream he experienced during the release of his first movie, Piranha II: The Spawning (1982), while in Rome.

He then developed the concept in collaboration with Wisher, and sold the rights to the project to fellow New World Pictures alumna Hurd contingent that she would produce the film only if he would direct it.

Hurd eventually secured a distribution deal with Orion Pictures, while executive producers John Daly and Derek Gibson of Hemdale Film Corporation set up the film’s financing and production.

Schwarzenegger agreed to play the title character after befriending Cameron.

Shooting took place mostly at night on location in Los Angeles.

The production was delayed due to Schwarzenegger’s commitments to the movie, Conan the Destroyer (1984), during which Cameron found time to work on the scripts for Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Aliens (1986).

The film’s special effects, which included miniatures and stop-motion animation, were created by artists led by Stan Winston and Gene Warren Jr.

Despite low expectations, The Terminator topped the United States box office for two weeks, eventually grossing $78.3 million against a modest $6.4 million budget.

It is credited with launching James Cameron’s film career and solidifying Schwarzenegger’s status as a leading man.

This gripping sci-fi horror thriller established James Cameron as a master of action, special effects, and quasi-mythic narrative intrigue, while turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into the hard-body star of the 1980s.

The film’s success led to a massive franchise, consisting of several sequels, a television series, comic books, novels and video games.

Critical Status:

In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator, a cybernetic android disguised as human sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor.
Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, human Resistance fighter sent back in time to protect Sarah.
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, young waitress and the Terminator’s target, soon to be mother of future Resistance leader John Connor.
Paul Winfield as Ed Traxler, police Lieutenant trying to protect Sarah.
Lance Henriksen as Vukovich, member of the LAPD.
Bess Motta as Ginger, Sarah’s roommate whom the T-800 murders after mistaking her for Sarah.
Rick Rossovich as Matt, Ginger’s boyfriend whom the T-800 also murdered.
Earl Boen as Dr. Silberman, criminal psychologist.


Directed by James Cameron
Written by Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd

Produced by Gale Anne Hurd
Cinematography Adam Greenberg
Edited by Mark Goldblatt
Music by Brad Fiedel

Production companies: Hemdale
Distributed by Orion Pictures

Release date: October 26, 1984

Running time: 107 minutes
Budget $6.4 million
Box office $78.3 million