Movies & TV / Columns

Should the Terminator Franchise Be Terminated?

November 4, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Terminator: Dark Fate Arnold Schwarzenegger

Will the Terminator be back? I wouldn’t be too sure. When The Terminator came out in 1984, it was both a critical and box office success. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, a cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, whose son will one day become the leader who would save humanity against the machines in a post-apocalyptic future.

The movie topped the box office and helped take James Cameron’s film career to the next level. It launched a franchise that now consists of FIVE sequels, a television series, comic books, novels and video games. Most importantly to Hollywood, the franchise has generated over $3 billion in revenue.

But all is not well and the franchise might finally be done for. 

This weekend wasn’t a good one for Terminator: Dark Fate, which bombed in its U.S. debut with $29 million. Given that the movie had an $185 million budget, analysts were projecting it to make just over $40 million, which seemed possible since it had strong reviews coming in.

Not so. And it doesn’t look like it will get much help overseas, where it fell flat in China with $28 million and now has a global total of $123.6 million. Terminator Genisys was saved by the foreign box office after making a little dent stateside, making over $108 million there.  Dark Fate, the direct sequel to Cameron’s Terminator: Judgment Day, is now projected to lose tens of millions of dollars. “It is time to let this franchise finally go to the great beyond,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners.
Where did it go wrong? 

Most obvious, the Terminator franchise has been in trouble since 2003’s Rise of the Machines. Outside 2008’s underrated Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series, it has been a confusing mess of timelines, forgettable characters, and stories.

While Terminator: Dark Fate looked to milk off of nostalgia, it also had input from Cameron, giving hope to long time fans. Cameron delivered the two movies that mattered and in an interview with Vulture, he seemed clear on what needed to happen in order for the franchise to go forward. “I suppose it is an unusual situation from a high-level perspective since I wasn’t involved in three intervening films, but when I talked to David Ellison about it his vision for this was basically to go back to basics and do a continuation from Terminator 2, which is one of his favorite films,” Cameron said. “He’s always believed in the potential of Terminator but he really felt that his own film, Genysis — and he was quite honest with me about this — fell short of the mark and didn’t really do what he had wanted it to do. So he said, ‘Let’s start with a blank slate and take it back to Terminator 2.’ And that idea was intriguing.”

Also in the mix was the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, the heart of the franchise. While Cameron wasn’t directing, the movie was in capable hands with Tim Miller, from Deadpool fame. Plenty of questions surrounded Dark Fate, like just how much creative input Miller would have, being in Cameron’s shadow. “My belief is that if you get a director who’s a grown-up and knows what to do, you turn them loose,” Cameron said. “My role as producer was in pre-production, and prep and shepherding the script. But it was Tim’s film when it reached the floor.”

Many took that with a grain of salt. Cameron’s name is all over this project and the last thing he wants is a project to flop or not meet expectations. Even with everything going on with his Avatar sequels, Cameron is sure this one gets it done right. Or as close to possible.

While Dark Fate got solid reviews, the box office points to an apathetic crowd and it wasn’t enough. Even leading up to its release, Terminator: Dark Fate trailers barely elicited a reaction, a bad sign of a fatigued fan base that’s been disappointed too often to care. The Terminator name doesn’t have the shine it once did and thanks to the Law of Diminishing Returns, the string of bad movies have hurt the franchise with the general audience.

Anymore reboots or sequels at this point would just be a waste of money and the Terminator franchise should be shelved indefinitely. We have two classic movies and it should have been left at that. Not everything needs to be a trilogy but money talks and franchises will be milked until they have nothing left to give. 

What are your thoughts on Terminator: Dark Fate?