If there is one trait that seems to be associated with James Cameron as a director, it would be that his movies have a habit of pulling massive numbers at the box office. Now the director of 3 films rated in the top 10 of the highest-grossing movies, Cameron is a guaranteed earner. While his movies tend to veer into different genres, most possess an element of science-fiction that ties them all together, with a few notable exceptions.
RELATED: All 9 James Cameron Directed Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score
Along with his feature film work he has directed two documentaries, both of which are about exploring the vastness of the ocean. His directing career began with Piranha II: The Spawning, the sequel to the cult classic killer fish movie. Cameron was removed from the production after two weeks and replaced, though his name still remains on the finished film despite having no involvement in the final cut. As there are no records of the film’s box office performance online, it has been left off the list.
‘The Terminator’ (1984)
Available to stream on AMC+.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator
Cameron’s true directorial debut after the Piranha II fiasco, The Terminatorfollows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as a robotic assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill her. Joined by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), another future visitor that was sent to save her, Sarah goes on the run from the unstoppable Terminator.
The Terminator was a breakout hit for Cameron and is one of the best action movies of the 1980s. Made on a relatively low budget, the film makes the most of its hulking villain to create tension just from his mere presence, as the sight of him hunting down Sarah and Kyle is frightening enough even without robotic special effects.
‘The Abyss’ (1989)
A human about to touch an alien life form
When an American submarine goes missing in the ocean, a team is sent in to retrieve it before the Soviets. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a doctor responsible for creating an experimental drilling platform is sent in with the SEAL team, where they encounter alien lifeforms under the sea.
Despite making slightly more than The Terminator at the box office, The Abyss is Cameron’s most overlooked movie. It is the first film that allowed him to explore his love of the ocean, and he does so by creating some visually wonderful underwater scenes in this claustrophobic thriller that is less bombastic than some of his bigger hits.
Available to stream on Starz.
Ripley and Newt in Aliens
One of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time, Aliensis even better than its predecessor. Picking up where the last film ended, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her escape pod are recovered by Weyland-Yutani. After a colony goes dark, Ripley is asked to accompany a Colonial Marines unit to the planet, where she is faced with the Xenomorph threat once more.
Often hailed as one of the best-ever sequels, Aliens set the template for going bigger and bolder with your follow-up. From the cast to the action and the number of Xenomorphs, everything is scaled up in this sequel. It proved the right call as Aliens was both a critical and commercial success and remains the last universally liked film in the franchise.
‘True Lies’ (1994)
Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies
Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) seems like the perfect family man as he lives with his wife and daughter in the suburbs. His job as a computer salesman is merely a front, however, as he is secretly an agent for the government. As his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) becomes suspicious of him, she is thrown into his world of international espionage.
The third collaboration between Cameron and Schwarzenegger, True Lies is one of the most well-regarded movies in Arnie’s filmography. Full of the over-the-top action that its director and star are known for, the film is also frequently funny as it finds new ways for Harry and Helen to awkwardly lie to each other.
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)
Available to stream on HBO Max.
Edward Furlong as John Connor on a motorcycle with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator aims a shotgun
Image via Tri-Star Pictures
After the Terminator in the original film failed to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she could give birth to her son, John (Edward Furlong), a new and improved version is sent to finish the job. As the young John evades the relentless killing machine, he is protected by a new incarnation of the assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from the original film.
Not content to only make one of the greatest sequels of all time with Aliens, Cameron followed it up with the masterpiece that is Terminator 2. The film set the bar for visual effects at release, and they still hold up today, while the T-800 riding a motorcycle with a shotgun in hand remains one of the most iconic images in cinema.
Britain Dalton as Lo’ak with Payakan in Avatar: The Way of Water
Image via 20th Century Studios
Picking up 12 years after the events of the first movie, Avatar: The Way of Watersees Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) fully adapted to his life with the Na’vi. Having fathered children with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), their happy home life is ruined by the arrival of an old threat in a new form, prompting them to seek shelter in a new land.
Despite releasing over a decade since the last film, The Way of Water has made a splash at the box office as it looks at closing in on $2 billion. While it is unlikely to reach the heights of the first film’s massive haul, it is still a mighty impressive showing and has cemented Cameron’s place in the box office record books.
Available to stream on Showtime.
Rose and Jack on the helm of the Titanic
One of the greatest romance movies of all time, Titanicuses the real-life tragedy to tell the love story between the high-class Rose (Kate Winslet) and the low-born Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). As the young lovers enjoy their time together, their joy is cut short by the arrival of the fateful iceberg and the fatal disaster that it brings.
Titanic was a gigantic success and its tender love story swept the world. It usurped Jurassic Park to take the crown for the highest-grossing film of all time, which it held for 12 years until Cameron surpassed it again. It also helped launch the careers of Winslet and DiCaprio, who have become two of the finest actors of their generation.
Available to stream on Disney+.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) covered in seeds in Avatar as Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) watches
Image via 20th Century Studios
The first entry in the ongoing Avatarsaga, the movie sees Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) arrive at the planet Pandora as part of a military operation. After encountering the native Na’vi, Sully realizes his side is in the wrong in their conflict, and he decides to stand with the local tribe and battle against his own race.
The highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar achieved that thanks to its groundbreaking visuals and incorporation of 3D technology. It was briefly overtaken by Avengers: Endgame for the top crown, but a re-release saw it take back the honor. It is unlikely any of the Avatar sequels will ever overtake the original’s eye-watering box office haul, but if history has taught us anything, it is to never bet against James Cameron.