Study Guide

The Terminator Director

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James Cameron

Today, James Cameron is one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood. He has broken the record for the most expensive movie ever made four separate times, yet production companies continue to hire him, because he knows how to break the box office as well as the bank (source).

Cameron directed the worldwide highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar, and Avatar took the belt from the then-reigning champion Titanic, which held the record for an incredible 12 years. By the by, Cameron also directed Titanic, a project that won him three Oscars—Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture—while taking home a grand total of 11 mini golden men. Clearly, this guy knows how to direct films that resonate with audiences.

But Cameron didn't start at the top. His first film, Piranha II: The Spawning, is a B-rated schlock fest that isn't even his film. Cameron was hired to direct, but the film's producer, Ovidio G. Assonitis, fired him after a week and took over directorial duties. Although Cameron is credited for legal reasons, he wasn't even allowed to see the footage before its release (source).

With The Terminator, things turned around for Cameron, and his Hollywood career really began. On a budget of just $6.4 million, he created a hit that landed number one at the box office in its initial week and ultimately took in $78 million (source). The film didn't win him any Oscars, but it did prove that this guy was capable enough to handle other projects, and he moved on to his next film, Aliens.

Although technically not Cameron's first film, The Terminator starts a thematic through-line in his career. It was his first feature-length science-fiction film, and today, his filmography is chockablock with features in that genre, notably Aliens, The Abyss, and Avatar. The film sports a love story of ill-fated lovers—looking your way, Titanic—while centering on a strong, female protagonist—hello, Aliens. It also explores themes like the human will to survive as well as humans' relationship with machines, both of which would be featured heavily in his later films.

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