It’s hard to explain why James Cameron’s “The Terminator” has found such a tender spot in pop culture history. Let’s be honest: a sci-fi flick about a time-traveling robot killing machine isn’t exactly a sure-fire recipe for widespread commercial success. Yet somehow, the metallic assassin found his niche: “The Terminator” was a box office smash back in 1984, earning over $78 million worldwide and numerous fans in the process (via The Numbers).
Beyond introducing us to a terrifyingly determined killer robot, “The Terminator” is also the film that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger into the Hollywood spotlight. While Schwarzenegger had been in movies before, it seemed like directors focused on his muscles more often than his acting skills. To be fair, he did win a New Star Of The Year Golden Globe for his role in the 1976 film “Stay Hungry,”, but he played an Austrian bodybuilder who seemed allergic to shirts — not exactly a stretch for the budding actor. In contrast, “The Terminator” played to both of Schwarzenegger’s strengths, combining the bodybuilder’s cold demeanor with his larger-than-life physique to create a truly terrifying villain.
Despite the fact that Schwarzenegger owes much of his current movie glory to “The Terminator” (and its sequels), it seems like he was among its early skeptics. According to a print-only article in Total Fil” that was later reposted to fansite Terminator Files, the then-budding actor was initially less than kind when describing the movie to Rick Wayne, a fellow bodybuilder. In the article, Wayne describes visiting Schwarzenegger as he was filming “Conan The Destroyer,” the actor’s last project before the “Terminator” franchise changed his career forever:
“As we sat there talking he picked up the Conan sword, which weighed a ton, and went through the moves he’d practiced. Then he grabbed a pair of shoes and I said: ‘What are those for?’. He said: ‘Oh, some s*** movie I’m doing, take a couple of weeks.’ It was ‘The Terminator.’ That was the movie that made Arnold. For him it was just some crap film.”
To be fair, there’s a chance that the actor was simply letting off a little steam by venting because he was tired from a long day of filming a sword-and-sorcery epic. At the same time, we wouldn’t exactly blame Schwarzenegger for having reservations: the premise for “The Terminator” was literally driven by fever dreams and ecstasy, a fitting combo for such an unconventional film. And then there’s the fact that writer/director James Cameron was not the Hollywood titan he is today — he was just some young newcomer helming a low-budget slasher movie about a killer robot. Schwarzenegger was right to keep his expectations in check.
While Schwarzenegger might have had reservations about “Terminator” before filming began, he claims to have changed his mind pretty quickly. In a YouTube interview with GQ, Schwarzenegger talked about his most iconic roles, including “The Terminator.” He recalled being absolutely amazed by an early cut of the film’s first 20 minutes, going so far as to say that he knew then that the film would be “bigger than we all think.”
While Schwarzenegger’s comments don’t necessarily contradict Wayne’s story (and we wouldn’t blame the actor for feeling hesitant initially, only to get excited when he saw how things were actually shaping up), they do come with a twinge of irony. In that same video, Schwarzenegger complained that the studio executives treated “The Terminator” as a B-movie at the time, but would likely say “I told you so” now (implying that they’d say that they always had faith “The Terminator” would become a hit). In light of Wayne’s comments, it’s hard to tell if Schwarzenegger himself changed his mind or if the interview was yet another “I told you so.”