Is this the end for the Terminator franchise?

Terminator: Salvation’s opening numbers disappoint, and the Sarah Connor Chronicles got the axe. Could Terminator be on the way out?

The Terminator

When you spend $200m on a big summer blockbuster movie, the news you don’t want the Monday after it opens is that it’s picked up the eight biggest opening weekend of the year. In fact, for Terminator: Salvation, its opening take didn’t even register the biggest opening weekend of the, er, weekend, as Fox’s Night At The Museum sequel pulled something of an upset by outgrossing it. By distance.

Over the four day Memorial Day weekend in the US, Salvation pulled in $53.8m. Night At The Museum 2? $70m. The three-day numbers, that don’t take into account Monday’s holiday, don’t make any easier reading: Night At The Museum 2 again emerges  victorious with $53.5m, against Terminator: Salvation‘s $43m. Ron Hogan’s box office report has more details on the weekend’s tussle here, but they certainly make better reading for Fox this morning than Warner Bros.

There were, to be fair, some factors that skewed the numbers slightly. The film did, after all, open on Thursday in the States (and Thursday numbers don’t add to the weekend scores), but Warner Bros would still have been looking for a healthier Memorial Day weekend take than it got. As it stood, it’s got the 20th most lucrative Memorial Day weekend take of all time, which, again, is hardly the kind of placing you’d expect $200m to buy you. It trails, for instance, by some distance, Adam Sandler’s much cheaper The Longest Yard remake. Right now, you’d wager that Warner Bros would rather it had backed that.

Most worrying of all is the news that Terminator: Salvation‘s numbers are tracking in some instances behind those of the maligned Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. Salvation‘s three-day weekend take was $43m, against Rise Of The Machines‘ opening weekend of $44m.

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Again, Salvation did open earlier in the week. That meant it started with $13.4m on Thursday, bringing the film’s current running total to $67m once that and Monday’s Memorial Day numbers have been factored in. Again, though, this is business in Terminator 3, rather than Terminator 2, territory. Rise Of The Machines opened early too though, to $12.4m on its first day, and Warner Bros must now be fearing the 55%+ drop in revenue next weekend that T3 also attracted.

Thus, while Terminator 2 had word of mouth and a less competitive marketplace to power it to a grand take of $204m in the US, Terminator: Salvation is likely to have a mighty job on its hands to beat Terminator 3‘s $150m. This is, after all, no Star Trek. JJ Abrams’ reboot has been powered by stellar reviews and exceptionally good word of mouth, that has seen it plot a course past the box office hurdles it faced. Terminator: Salvation has neither on its side, and a $20m second weekend is a fair target.

The problem, though, is that the film appears to be heading for somewhere around $130m in total. Granted, we’re not likely to see a Watchmen-esque trail-off, where a $55m opening weekend turned into a $107m total US gross. Conversely, if it beats Liam Neeson’s Taken – standing at $144.6m – then that would be some turnaround from the position that Terminator: Salvation finds itself in now. It has until Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen comes round the corner in a few weeks to snaffle as much cash as it can.

And this all, of course, asks wider questions of the post-James Cameron and post-Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator franchise. Recently, in spite of excellent reviews, the television spin-off Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles failed to get a third season, in spite of being one of the most acclaimed series in its genre. We’ve speculated as to why here, but the fact remains that the Terminator name did the show few favours in the long run, short of getting it commissioned in the first place, and ensuring some initial interest. Those aren’t minor contributions, granted, but they’re not enough, either.

The same, however, could now be applied to Salvation. The talk all along has been of a fresh trilogy of Terminator movies, but whatever shape Terminator 5 turns up in, it’s likely that there’s going to be a rethink somewhere along the road. It’s not that there’s no audience thirst for robots and cyborgs at war – check out the expected Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen numbers this time next month – rather that Terminator may, in its current guise, have simply run its course.

Because the key problem is that the two personnel most iconically associated with the name are nowhere to be seen. As Terminator 3 proved, you can just about get away with it if you have one of Arnold Schwarzenegger or James Cameron on board (arguably the necessary mix of star power and creativity for Terminator gold). But with neither, you have a problem.

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It’s not even that you struggle for quality without them. The ending of Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3 was quite brilliant, and James Cameron hardly made a killer contribution to the week-to-week adventures of Sarah Connor Chronicles, short of creating the world they existed in. And the latter show has proven that the universe that Cameron created is ripe for further exploration. It’s just without Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face on the poster, people are reluctant to buy a ticket.

So is this the end of the Terminator franchise? No, clearly not. But it might mark the end of things as they stand now. It’ll be interesting to see if the decision is made to press ahead with the follow-up to Salvation, and clearly the DVD and Blu-ray sales will have a rescuing effect on the balance sheet as it stands now. Salvation will, by hook or by crook, make a profit. Just nowhere near as much as those concerned would have wanted. And right now, Salvation looks anything but the start of a lucrative new movie trilogy.

The problem is that it all hints at a reduced interest in the world of the Terminator, that – without some fresh thinking – is likely to blight any Terminator 5 that continues along the same tracks. It’s fair to say too that the television adventures of Terminator are dead for the foreseeable future, as well.

And it means that one of cinemas most iconic and famous science fiction franchises is looking just a little bit sick right now. It’s saveable, of course, and there’s always that big reboot button waiting to be pressed. But, right now, there are few clues as to when and how Terminator will be back.

It goes without saying, therefore, that all eyes are on the second weekend drop for Salvation. And it ain’t looking too good right now…

See also:Terminator: Salvation review;Why Sarah Connor failed

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