There are really only two camps of people in the world. Those who think that Terminator 2: Judgementis the best action movie of all time, and those of us who think that T2 is the best movie of all time, period. (I guess you could maybe say Point Break too… but we’ll agree to disagree.)
Regardless of how you feel about it, T2 is certainly one of the most famous, audacious, and visually stunning blockbusters of all time. And even today, 30 years later, it still looks as fresh, cool, and explosive as ever.
In case you missed it, to help celebrate T2’s 30th anniversary, The Ringer dropped a very insightful article detailing the entire oral history of Judgement Day as told by key players like James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, and the producers and other key players who helped to get it made.
Here are our biggest filmmaking and fandom takeaways from these conversations.
James Cameron Sold the Terminator Rights to Get it Made
The story for Terminator2 of course begins with the original The Terminator. Dubbed by Cameron himself as a “science fiction slasher” film, it helped launch Cameron from a model-making B-movie special effects director into a bona fide Hollywood hitter.
However, to even get The Terminator made, Cameron had to call in every favor and sign everything he could away just to get the project off the ground.
“Whatever it took to get the film made, to get my foot in the door. And so I think it was justified. But then I didn’t control the rights.” - James Cameron (via The Ringer)
Obviously, things worked out for Cameron in the end, but it’s an interesting note that such a now-valuable IP was signed away to help fund a $6 million sci-fi indie.
The Abyss Served as a $60 Million Test Run for T2
The Terminator would go on to gross nearly $80 million at the box office, making it one of the biggest breakout films of all time. Schwarzenegger went on to become an A-list star, and Cameron enjoyed his pick of projects next with Aliens and The Abyss.
Credit: 20th Century Studios
And while Aliens also smashed records, The Abyss barely broke even against its $60 million budget. The high-concept underwater sci-fi wowed audiences visually, but something about it didn’t quite connect in the same way as Cameron’s other films.
Still, Cameron’s filmmaking expertise was quite in demand, and truth be told The Abyss would basically end up serving as a “$60 million test run for Terminator 2” as Cameron was able to turn his translucent water visual effects into the inspiration for the metallic shape-shifting T-1000.
James Cameron Was High on Ecstacy When Writing T2
In what should actually come as no surprise to no one, this 30-year oral history appears to be the first admission from a popular Hollywood film director that he recreationally used drugs like ecstasy in the 80s and 90s.
“I remember sitting there once, high on E, writing notes for Terminator, and I was struck by Sting’s song, that 'I hope the Russians love their children too.' And I thought, You know what? The idea of a nuclear war is just so antithetical to life itself. That’s where the kid came from.” - James Cameron (via The Ringer)
The story of T2 underwent many variations as Cameron frantically tried to get it together in time for production. Cameron doesn’t actually elaborate on whether or not ecstasy was done as a creative supplement for his writing process, or he just happened to be high on E when the inspiration hit, but whatever the circumstance his revelation would prove spot-on for the story.
Credit: Sony Pictures
There Was Originally Going to be Two Arnolds
Probably my favorite tidbit sprinkled in this landmark oral retelling of the film’s origins, Cameron also let slip that his original idea was to have T2 feature two Schwarzeneggers (a good Arnold vs. a dark Arnold, if you will) fighting against each other.
“I basically had two competing ideas. One was Skynet sends a terminator, another Arnold terminator, to take out John, and the resistance sends one that’s been reprogrammed, that would’ve been Arnold too. So Arnold would become a dark hero character, obviously.” - James Cameron (via The Ringer)
The idea was ultimately scrapped in part due to the advice of co-writer William Wisher, who recounted that “having Arnold fight another Arnold is just boring,” before adding… “boring, boring, boring.”
Credit: Sony Pictures
Edward Furlong Had Never Acted Before
Despite the film being estimated to be the most expensive movie ever made at the time, one of the lead roles was actually cast in his first role ever. Edward Furlong was discovered by the late casting director Mali Finn seemingly out of the blue.
“I was at a Boys Club in Pasadena. I was just hanging out there. And Mali was there, and she was kind of like looking at me from across the way.” - Edward Furlong (via The Ringer)
As crazy as that sounds, Furlong apparently looked just the part for the role of young John Connor as Cameron didn’t want a kid that looked “overexposed in the wrong context” or one of the “little smiling machines that were being churned out by the advertising industry.”
It was certainly a risk for Cameron and the production to cast an unknown and inexperienced actor to shoulder much of the emotional weight of a film with a huge cast, crew, and budget.
But with some encouragement from Cameron, and an odd-sounding bond with Schwarzenegger where he had the young actor doing push-ups between takes, it ultimately worked out.
Credit: Sony Pictures
Robert Patrick Landed His Role Without Saying a Word
Another fascinating anecdote from the oral history interview came from the casting process of Robert Patrick who played the T-1000.
Patrick was originally selected to audition based on his physique, which obviously stood in stark contrast to Schwarzenegger’s pumped-up body. Where Arnold was big and muscular, the T-1000 was lean and quick.
"'He’s chameleonic. He has to physically touch things to be able to read them.' And so he just did this acting exercise in front of me where he was touching the floor and he was touching the wall and he was in a mental state of being a hunter. I said, 'And it’s emotionless. You only project emotion when you need to.'" - James Cameron (via The Ringer)
Fittingly, while Patrick did of course eventually read for the part too, Cameron admits that he was won over by Patrick’s non-verbal acting abilities.
A huge breakout for the up-and-coming actor, it’s interesting to note that directors aren’t always looking for line-reading machines, but rather for those elements which are more intangible and more fully translate into what you see on the screen.
There Was a Terminator 2 Music Video?
Finally, while I may have just barely been alive when Terminator 2 hit theaters in 1991, I do have vague memories of its release based simply on the sheer amount of marketing put out in support of the film.
T2 was truly one of the first big-budget blockbusters to be released not just as a film, but a full multimedia brand complete with toys, video games, comic books, and the like in tow.
Yet, while I’ve seen T2 maybe 20 or 30 times at this point, this is the first I’m learning of the tag-along Guns N’ Roses music video featuring a T2 Arnold and various clips from the film.
As Cameron puts it, “the machinery at TriStar Sony” got working, and the music video was conceived and shot with Arnold without even talking to Cameron about it.
In Cameron’s defense, he doesn’t seem to be upset about this, rather more impressed with the entire marketing machine which ultimately would go on to help T2 become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time.
Its legacy lives on not just with the franchise releasing new re-hashed sequels of its own like the 2019 film Terminator: Dark Fate, but more broadly in how filmmakers and studios write, direct, and even promote blockbuster movies today.