Can James Cameron Fix the Terminator Franchise?

Travis Newton
Movies
Movies

If you saw Terminator Genisys, then you know the Terminator franchise is in trouble. The latest sequel was a modest box office success internationally, but it underperformed here in the states. Critics shot it to pieces. The film quickly fell out of the global pop culture conversation. In the aftermath, the future of Terminator was uncertain. But we all know those pesky robots are hard to kill. Now, James Cameron is developing a new Terminator with Deadpool director Tim Miller. To talk about the future of this troubled franchise, I’ve brought in my friend and Fandom Entertainment Editor Drew Dietsch.

TRAVIS NEWTON: I’ll cut to the chase, Drew — if this new Terminator stands a chance of saving this once mighty blockbuster series, I think Cameron and Miller need to demolish the idea of Terminator as audiences know it.

DREW DIETSCH: But what does that even mean? There are inescapable tenets to this franchise. Will fans accept a Terminator film that doesn’t feature time travel? Ask the fourth film, Salvation. Does it need to wrap around the tired plots of John Connor, the robot uprising, and an unstoppable lead villain? As much as we all love the action of T2, even that film showed how limited the concept was. It doesn’t seem like there are many interesting stories to tell in this universe.

NEWTON: As with all movie franchises, there will always be some element of “remixing” previous films in the series. But if there’s anything that writers haven’t appropriately mined for remix material, it’s the 1984 original. Terminator Genisys revisited some of the same characters and scenarios used in The Terminator, but to tedious effect. But not a single film in the series has ever revisited the tone and low-budget chutzpah of Cameron’s original. The survival of this blockbuster franchise is now predicated upon huge international audiences, who by and large, want PG-13 action films with oodles of CGI mayhem. But instead of trying to capture the widest audience possible, I think Terminator needs to go smaller. They could appeal to the John Wick audience — people who want their action flicks lean and full of attitude.

DIETSCH: It’s a shame that the franchise got away from the horror movie feel of the original. There’s a scrappy, grungy charm to The Terminator that Cameron left behind for the bombastic and streamlined action of the sequel. Every successive Terminator film has felt like it was chasing T2. If there’s a core element to making Terminator work again, it’s embracing the ugliness and the simplicity of the original. But even if that happens, I just don’t know what kind of a story you have left to tell in this universe that will appeal to a broad audience.

NEWTON: The audiences are there — I don’t think there’s any question about that. The mid-budget John Wick got a shockingly fresh and niche sequel. Fans and critics are really enjoying it. And they could be on board for a more niche Terminator flick. There’s an opportunity here for Cameron and Tim Miller to embrace the scrappier mentality of the first film. And you said a key word that audiences have mostly forgotten about Terminator: horror.

The Terminator is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a moody little flick where a scary golem stalks Sarah Connor through the streets of Los Angeles. Revisiting that tone might not be the most potentially profitable approach for a Terminator film, but it’d be interesting. That approach would already have a leg up on bloatquels like Genisys. And if Terminator is worth saving now, then maybe having the director of 2016’s highest-grossing R-rated blockbuster (Deadpool) is what the franchise needs. Miller could bring style and teeth back to this franchise.

DIETSCH: If this new film can try and shake off the albatross that is T2‘s success and influence, something special that could come from this. As someone who considers The Terminator to be one of the absolute best films ever made, I want nothing more than to see this franchise succeed. Still, a part of me that feels like The Terminator should go the way of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. They were legends in their time, but now they need to hang it up. They can inspire new ideas and characters. Even if this new Terminator manages to do something interesting, it’s always going to be forced into the shadow of those first two films. Even so, I’ll see whatever they come up with.

Travis Newton
Travis Newton is a Fan Contributor at Fandom. He began writing about movies and TV for CHUD.com in 2012, and co-hosts The Drew Reviews Podcast with Fandom Entertainment Editor Drew Dietsch. He’s partial to horror movies, action games, and Irish Breakfast tea.
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