At first, The Terminator was all a dream.
James Cameron had exactly one feature film credit to his name when he came up with the idea for The Terminator: Piranha II: The Spawning. While sick with fever, Cameron had a dream about a skeletal metal death machine emerging from a fire, as though it had been covered in human flesh. A cybernetic organism, one might say...
Hollywood counted out James Cameron.
It's a story as dependable as the various loops in time travel franchises: people doubt James Cameron. People are wrong. Dead wrong. Plenty of folks turned him down and even after the film was made, the film's backers were less than pleased. In the decades since the movie's release, Cameron has been outspoken about the lack of support he felt from studio executives. The doubts didn't stop there. While it was in production, a lot of ink was spilled about the impending disaster that was his wildly expensive disaster movie period piece romance, Titanic. And there were a lot of doubts about another of his big budget films, a 3D epic with blue skinned aliens.
Lance Henriksen was almost The Terminator.
After The Terminator was turned down by a bunch of shortsighted Hollywood types who clearly couldn't see into the future, James Cameron brought his police chief from Piranha II: The Spawning to a pitch meeting in costume. Lance Henriksen reportedly accompanied the director with gold foil covering his teeth and fake wounds on his head, which helped seal the deal. Cameron ultimately decided against making Henriksen the title character, opting to cast him as another cop, instead. Cameron did eventually cast him as a futuristic machine man, Bishop, in Aliens.
The Studio Wanted O.J. Simpson as the T-800.
Orion Pictures chief Mike Medavoy insisted Cameron find a major star to play the T-800. His suggestion? O.J. Simpson. In a 30-year anniversary oral history of The Terminator, Cameron told EW that both he and producer/cowriter Gale Anne Hurd were against the idea. A decade before the double homicide and the trial of the century, Cameron felt that OJ Simpson was simply too likable to play The Terminator. "This was when everybody loved him, and ironically that was part of the problem," Cameron said. "He was this likable, goofy, kind of innocent guy."
Arnold was originally drafted to pay Kyle Reese.
In the same Oral History, Arnold said he was originally approached about the role of resistance fighter Kyle Reese. "Medavoy came up to me at a screening and told me that they already had the Terminator cast with O.J. Simpson," the Austrian Oak recalled. Cameron wasn't interested in casting the Conan the Barbarian star, until he met with him for lunch. "I went to lunch to pull 'creative differences,' but I actually liked him." It was there that Cameron decided Arnold would make a fantastic T-800.
There were almost 2 Terminators.
The original plot for The Terminator would have seen two Terminators sent back in time, one to kill Sarah Conner and the other to protect her; both played by Arnold. The film's meager budget made this too difficult to pull off. The good Terminator vs. bad Terminator idea of course ended up in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, along with another scrapped idea from earlier Terminator treatments: a liquid metal cyborg.
Arnold helped make Aliens and Rambo happen.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was under contract to make a sequel to Conan, so production on The Terminator was postponed for several months so he could shoot Conan the Destroyer. With "Terminator" like efficiency, James Cameron made incredible use of the break, writing the sequels to Alien and First Blood simultaneously. Cameron of course went on to direct Aliens. Rambo: First Blood Part II is credited to director George P. Cosmatos, 'though like Tombstone, the movie was in reality mostly directed by its star behind the scenes. If Arnold hadn't been cast in The Terminator, and if he didn't have to skip out for a bit to make another Conan movie, Cameron may very well have never ended up working on Aliens and Rambo. Thanks, Arnold!
Arnold wanted to change the Terminator's most famous line.
The former Mr. Universe and multiple-time Mr. Olympia was determined to conquer Hollywood just as he'd conquered the world of bodybuilding. He wanted to be a leading man, which made him a little self-conscious about his accent. He tried to change "I'll be back" to "I will be back," but Cameron wouldn't let him. Now of course, fans only want to hear The Terminator with that awesome Austrian accent.
A legendary Sci-fi writer accused Cameron of stealing his ideas.
Harlan Ellison, the prolific sci-fi scribe responsible for a small library's worth of stories and arguably the most famous episode of Star Trek ever, thought different elements of The Terminator bore a striking resemblance to two episodes he'd written of the anthology series The Outer Limits. "Soldier," adapted from his short story "Soldier Out of Time," has a similar aesthetic and Stan Winston's T-800 exoskeleton does resemble a robot design in "Demon with a Glass Hand." As part of a settlement, Orion Pictures agreed to give Ellison a small credit in subsequent prints, much to Cameron's chagrin. In a 1994 interview, Ellison said he liked The Terminator. "I would have been flattered. All he had to do was get on the phone."
The Terminator was called 'The Electric Murderer in Poland.
The Terminator had a very different name in Poland. And, with the country notorious for having such off the wall posters for all U.S. movies released there, this one was pretty cool.