• Film

How Arnold Schwarzenegger Came Baaack as “Terminator 2”

The echo of The Terminator – a total cost of $6.4 million, with post-production and publicity included and a return of over $78 million – established new parameters in the industry: a new, successful take on action movies, and the careers of James Cameron as a filmmaker and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor with all the elements of a star.

According to Cameron, two months after wrapping The Terminator, he and Schwarzenegger began to exchange ideas for a sequel. “Arnold couldn’t stop talking about his character, and I had the basic idea of what a second film could be,” he told me. “We immediately began to work on it. In 84, and 85, I had written some two or three pages with the whole story. But nothing moved, nothing happened.”

This conversation took place in April of 1991, on one of the sets of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in Valencia, a suburb 40 minutes north of Los Angeles. A lot happened that day on that set but let’s go back to the bizarre stagnation after the miraculous success of the first film.

There was serious interest in the possibility of a sequel, especially from the independent company Carolco, founded by Mario Kassar.

At the same time, there was a furious battle between Cameron and John Daly, one of the producers and the head of Hemdale Film Corporation. The fight began with Daly trying to change the ending of The Terminator and ended with Hemdale locking down its rights to the film and its content.

“A big, big problem,” Cameron told me on the Valencia set. “We had been talking with them for years and nothing happened. It was ironic – I wrote it, directed it, and lost my rights because I was young and stupid when I made my first film and let go of my rights to be able to make it.”

In the ensuing long hiatus, Cameron wrote and directed The Abyss, founded his own company, Lightstorm Entertainment, and wrote and directed another film, Aliens. Schwarzenegger, now a hot name in the industry, had time to star in 11 films, including Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, and Predator.

Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall was, in a way, the salvation of the future Terminator. Schwarzenegger was impressed by Kassar’s acumen in negotiating complex situations. After a short while, he convinced Kassar that the film could be done, considering Hemdale’s current financial problems.

“We’ll do it with or without them,” Kassar would have said. In the end, all rights were purchased, Cameron got $6 million to write the script, and special-effects master Stan Wilson got the pay he had never received from Hemdale.

At the end of the negotiations, Terminator II’s budget was around $80 million. Word in the industry was that Carolco would be bankrupt by the end of the adventure.

Far from it.

With Le Studio Canal+ co-producing and Tri-Star distributing, Cameron jumped into the saga of the Terminator, once again with buddy Williams Wisher Jr, this time re-doing the terrifying and destructive Terminator from the first movie.

Arnold had become a major star, and his character has become equally famous. The last thing Cameron wanted was to turn Arnold’s Terminator into a monster.

“To keep Arnold as that Terminator would break our ethical boundaries. It would be a great danger to give a great star a role in which he kills everyone,” Cameron told me on the Valencia set, while Stan Wilson and his team set up what would be the final, dramatic scene of Terminator 2.

“When we did the first Terminator, there was no issue having him play an assassin completely cold and mortal. He was a champion bodybuilder with no track in movies. Seven years later this had changed completely. He’s an idol for young audiences all over the world.

“I can’t put Arnold again in a police station with a massive machine gun murdering cops. I had to redeem the Terminator. I had a Terminator that understands the value of human life.”

Cameron and Wisher came out with a rebooted T-800 Terminator reprogrammed to protect John Connor (newcomer Edward Furlong, 13 years old, in his first performance), the son of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) from the first film.

By the way: Wisher ended up getting another walk-in moment, this time as a guy walking down a street in Los Angeles and watching the Terminator fall from a skyscraper without a scratch.


To sustain the action and thrills of the plot, Cameron brought up an upgraded “bad” Terminator – T-1000, lean, mean, and pretty much indestructible, capable of adapting its frame to any environment. Robert Patrick, at that time, was picked to be T-1000 – both real and unreal.

It was a turning point for him – Patrick had been doing small parts in big and small movies (including Die Hard 2) but was going through a downtime, living in his car. Cameron saw him as “exactly the type of new Terminator I had in mind – lean and fast.”


After a strong appearance in the first Terminator, and with Cameron’s The Abyss and Aliens, a female-slanted action picture, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor had a much more powerful presence in the second one.

“I would be an idiot if I didn’t pay attention to the importance of the female audience,” Cameron said. “Especially in action and sci-fi movies, which usually ignore women.”

Shooting Terminator 2 with a comfortable budget – $ 60 million just for production and post-production – was slightly easier than the first time. Shot in Southern California, from Lancaster to Long Beach, for the live scenes and the background and elements for the now-available digital special effects – created by Industrial Light and Magic, and establishing the new level of digital effects -movie production stretched from October 1990 to April 1991.


At the very tail end of the shoot, Cameron and Stan Wilson retreated to the Valencia studio for the physical effects required for crucial moments, mainly the emotional ending of the movie with Schwarzenegger and the monster tanker truck whose demise empowers T-1000 in a key battle with T-800. (A note: the tanker was real and filled with water for the scene. It ruptured while this interview took place).

Cameron mixed practical effects with the brand-new digital transformations which made the T-1000 so much scarier, and the conflicts and chases, more thrilling.

With a $20 million marketing and merchandising campaign, Terminator 2: Judgement Day opened in the US and Canada on July 3rd, battling two other hot pictures: the comedy The Naked Gun, and the adventure Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, at the cusp with Dances with Wolves.

The premiere, on July 1st, in the then Cineplex Odeon of Century City, Los Angeles (now AMC) was a major event, with stars, including Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, and Michael Douglas.

Between Friday and Sunday, T2 made over $ 31 million and held the number one post the next week. It stayed in the top-ten highest grossing pictures for 15 weeks. Internationally, T2 collected over $321 million for a global take of $520 million. It became the highest-grossing picture of the year, and the number three at the biggest world box office, beaten only by Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). And on top of all that, four Academy Awards for sound, sound effects, visual effects, and makeup, plus two nominations for cinematography and editing.

Now, that’s a real summer movie.