Movies & TV / Columns

Will The Terminator Franchise Be Back?

February 1, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Terminator: Dark Fate Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Terminator franchise straddles the line between love and hate. The first chapters are beloved for their action, complexity. and straight entertainment factor. Take a look at the impact the first Terminator made back 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. It topped the box office and helped take James Cameron’s 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.  

Because of those numbers the studio has attempted to keep the franchise money machine going with mixed results. 

The latest attempt, Terminator: Dark Fate bombed in its U.S. opening weekend with a $29 million, didn’t find its international audience, and finished with an unimpressive $261,119,292 at the box office off an $185 million budget.

Most of you may remember that 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 James Cameron’s Terminator: Judgment Day, was a money loser and all signs point to wrapping it up. “It is time to let this franchise finally go to the great beyond,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners.

Dark Fate had plenty on its plate. In a massive retcon to the events that took place in Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys, Dark Fate tried to please too many masters and ended up failing them all. Killing off some characters. transferring importance to others, and introducing a new hero, Dark Fate had an uphill battle and star Linda Hamilton thinks this is it:

“I really think that box office is gonna be the thing that killed Terminator. Of course it’s the studios that put hundreds of millions of dollars into a film, but it’s just a fickle world in terms of fandom and maybe they were just worn out by the Terminators that preceded. I don’t have any desire to continue. I never did.”

Funny enough, after saying that, she left the door open for coming back:

“Only if there’s something really viable in the script and story and characters, would I ever consider doing it again. Otherwise it’s just diminishing returns, isn’t it?”

Diminishing returns. The Terminator franchise has been in trouble since 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.

WhileDark 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.”

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.”

As expected, after the opening of Dark Fate, we got an idea of what happened behind the scenes.  “I’m sure we could write a book on why it didn’t work,” Miller said. “I’m still not sure and I’m processing, but I’m very proud of the movie.”  

“The things they seemed to hate the most about the movie, were things I can’t control,” Miller said. “I can’t control if you didn’t like Genisys or you felt betrayed by Terminator 4. I can’t help that.” Miller also acknowledged that he was at odds with Cameron on some creative choices and said he wouldn’t work with him again. “It has nothing to do with whatever trauma I have from the experience,” Miller said. “It’s more that I just don’t want to be in a situation again where I don’t have the control to do what I think is right.”

No matter. The box office points to an apathetic crowd. Analysts point out that even leading up to its release, Dark Fate trailers barely elicited a reaction on social media, 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 that “diminishing returns” from 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.

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The Terminator, Steve Gustafson