Although the latest film in the Terminator franchise, 2019's Dark Fate, appears to have recouped its $185 million budget, it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Producer James Cameron, who originated the franchise and was heavily involved with the film, believes he knows why the movie bombed, and it’s because it starred the films’ original headliners Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. Which seems weird to me.
As part of a sprawling interview with Deadline that encompasses much of his career, Cameron explained his theory why audiences didn’t respond to the film, which was unquestionably miles better than 2009's Terminator: Salvation and 2015's Terminator: Genisys:
“I think the problem, and I’m going to wear this one, is that I refused to do it without Arnold. [Director Tim Miller] didn’t want Arnold, but I said, ‘Look, I don’t want that. Arnold and I have been friends for 40 years, and I could hear it, and it would go like this: ‘Jim, I can’t believe you’re making a Terminator movie without me.’ It just didn’t mean that much to me to do it, but I said, ‘if you guys could see your way clear to bringing Arnold back and then, you know, I’d be happy to be involved.’
“And then Tim wanted Linda. 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, 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. And we didn’t see that. 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. And young moviegoing audiences weren’t born. They wouldn’t even have been born for another 10 years. So, it was just our own myopia. We kind of got a little high on our own supply, and I think that’s the lesson there.”
He’s not wrong about catering Dark Fate itself to fans of 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But there are plenty of modern movies that have been doing the same thing, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Top Gun: Maverick, and even the Star Wars sequel trilogy to varying degrees of success. I can’t help but think that the mediocrity of 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the terribleness of Salvation and Genisys were much bigger reasons for audiences not giving another Terminator film a chance. When 60 perfect of a franchise is bad, and there hasn’t been a good installment for nearly 30 years, another movie is going to be a hard sell. Which is kind of a shame, because Dark Fate was quite good! Still, I’d be shocked if Paramount didn’t give the franchise another go in the next decade.
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