Linda Hamilton with a rocket launcher. A gloopy shape-changing robot. Arnold Schwarzenegger with a cool beard. The trailer for Terminator: Dark Fate was filled with elements designed to appeal to fans of the long-running, and often lackluster, sci-fi franchise. But none were as important as a simple block of text declaring, “Producer James Cameron Returns.”
While Cameron created the franchise with the stripped-down The Terminator in 1984, and then returned with the definitive action blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, he remained hands-off for everything that followed. And everything that followed failed to live up to the standard Cameron set. Sure, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles have their defenders, but no one would argue that either entry holds a candle to the first two movies.
Based on a story by Cameron (and Charles Eglee and Josh Friedman, and a script written by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray), Terminator: Dark Fate found Hamilton’s Sarah Connor called away from destroying T-800s to defend future resistance leader Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from a new Terminator from the future (Gabriel Luna). Along the way, Connor and Ramos team with Grace (McKenzie Davis), an augmented soldier from the future, and Schwarzenegger as “Carl”, a T-800 who has been living a peaceful existence with his family.
Although many consider Dark Fate to be the best in the franchise since T2, Cameron does look back on the movie with some regret. While promoting his latest flick Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron admitted to Deadline that his return to the series didn’t go the way he had hoped. And things started to go wrong with the people responsible for making Terminator: Cameron and Schwarzenegger.
“I think the problem, and I’m going to wear this one, is that I refused to do it without Arnold,” Cameron explained. Director Tim Miller didn’t want to include Schwarzenegger, but he did want Cameron’s involvement, so he relented and allowed the producer to bring in the original Terminator. From that point, things got out of hand, Cameron recalled, because Miller brought back Hamilton as Sarah Connor.
“I think what happened is I think the movie could have survived having Linda in it, I think it could have survived having Arnold in it,” Cameron reasoned. “But when you put Linda and Arnold in it and then, you know, she’s 60-something, he’s 70-something, all of a sudden it wasn’t your Terminator movie, it wasn’t even your dad’s Terminator movie, it was your granddad’s Terminator movie.”
That might seem obvious to him now, but Cameron didn’t see the problem during production. “We loved it, we thought it was cool, you know, that we were making this sort of direct sequel to a movie that came out in 1991,” he said. But such a movie could not connect with an audience who “wouldn’t even have been born for another 10 years” after T2 came out.
Dark Fate bombed hard at the box office, losing $122.6 million and putting an end to the franchise (for now). But given that Avatar: The Way of Water isn’t quite meeting financial expectations, perhaps part of the problem might extend past the stars on screen to the director himself.