12 Fun Facts About ‘The Terminator’

Arnold Schwarzenegger, The TerminatorOrion Pictures via Everett Collection

It’s been 30 years since The Terminator first hit movie screens. Not anticipated to do very much, the movie became a surprise hit, turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into a bankable star and launching the careers of director James Cameron and the original Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton.

In the years since 1984, there have been multiple sequels and television projects that have built upon the lore of the time traveling cyborgs, but how much do you know about the one that started it all? Here are some fun facts about a modest movie that turned into one of the most influential hits of the last 30 years.

1. Cameron has said that he got the inspiration for a killer cyborg from a dream that he had while he was in Italy to promote his directorial debut, the justifiably forgotten Piranhas II: The Spawning. Just the same, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison sued the production claiming that the script plagiarized his work.

2. Franco Columbu appears briefly in the film in the sequence set in the future. Columbu is a former bodybuilder and one of Schwarzenegger’s best friends. Besides The Terminator, Columbu appeared with Arnold in the documentary Pumping Iron, which first brought Schwarzenegger national attention, as well as Conan the Barbarian and The Running Man.

3. Schwarzenegger didn’t want to say his iconic line “I’ll be back.” He was self-conscious about the way that he pronounced “I’ll” with his Austrian accent and tried to convince Cameron that a futuristic cyborg wouldn’t say something like that. Cameron, thankfully, refused to change it.

4. The “I’ll be back” line represented three of the 58 total words that Schwarzenegger says in the film.

5. In a Sylvester Stallone/Rocky move, Cameron sold the script for the movie for exactly one dollar. The measly amount was agreed upon with the stipulation that he be allowed to direct. (Hey, what would you have done if your main claim to fame was Piranhas II?)

6. The studio originally wanted to cast O.J. Simpson in the role of the Terminator, but the director successfully argued that no one would buy the former football star as a killer.

7. In one of the early pitch meetings to get financing for the film, Cameron brought along his actor buddy Lance Henriksen dressed as the Terminator for effect. The character actor ended up playing Detective Hal Vukovich in the movie.

8. Schwarzenegger was originally considered for the role of Kyle Reese, the soldier sent back from the future to protect Connor. That role eventually went to Michael Biehn, an idea that Cameron reportedly hated. While he was taking the forced meeting with the former bodybuilder, the director made the actor stop talking so that he could sketch a picture of him with the new idea of making him the Terminator.  

9. Bill Paxton had a small role in The Terminator as a blue-haired, switchblade-wielding punk who makes the mistake of messing with the time-traveling (and naked) Schwarzenegger. The actor earned a bigger role appearing with both Henricksen and Biehn in Cameron’s follow-up project, the 1986 blockbuster Aliens.

10. The motorcycle that the Terminator rides to chase Sarah and Kyle is a used Honda CB750, utilized for no other reason other than it’s what the production could afford. In the sequel, Schwarzenegger upgraded to a significantly cooler new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy.

11. Production had to be delayed so that Schwarzenegger could finish filming Conan. What did Cameron do while he waited? He helped Stallone complete the script for Rambo: First Blood Part II.

12. The movie had a budget of $6.4 million, not a particularly large amount even in 1984. It went on to gross just under $40 million at the box office in the U.S. and just short of $80 million worldwide, surpassing the expectations of everyone involved. Things wouldn’t be so low-budget on the sequel. Seven years later, Terminator 2: Judgement Day had a budget of right around $100 million and grossed over $500 million worldwide.