Terminator Salvation, or T4, arrived in theaters during May of 2009, just as its tie-in toy line by Playmates Toys had found its way into toy stores. The preceding 2003 sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, did not have a toy line; all of its collectible miniatures (e.g., intricate busts and figures) were aimed at an older demographic, which was in line with T3's R rating. The 2008 TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which only lasted for two seasons, didn't feature any collectible miniatures for any demographic at all. So what made T4 different?
In order to understand the T4 toy line, one needs to understand a recurring theme throughout the Terminator franchise: studio closures. The Terminator was produced by the Hemdale Film Corporation, which closed in 1995. T2 was produced by Carolco Pictures, which filed for bankruptcy in 1995. T3 was produced by C2 Pictures, which went defunct in 2008. T4 was produced by the Halcyon Company, and the sequel was intended by Halcyon to be first movie in a new trilogy of films that take place during the post-nuclear conflict with Skynet. The T4 toy line by Playmates Toys was presumably designed to build excitement over the sequel by exploiting the sequel's lenient PG-13 rating, which made the film more accessible to pre-teen moviegoers than the previous three Terminator films.
For a sequel from a franchise that largely consists of R-rated movies and already had an unsuccessful toy line, T4 received very impressive treatment from Playmates. The toys were largely faithful to the characters, machines and vehicles that were seen in the movie. In particular, four types of Skynet robots--the Aerial-HK, the Harvester, the Moto-Terminator, and the T-1 Tank--were included in the toy line. The action figures featured characters from both the human resistance and Skynet's Terminator army, and they were available in three sizes: 3 and 3/4-inch scale, 6-inch scale, and 10-inch scale.
Playmates didn't stop at just T4 action figures. It also produced T4 merchandise that that kids could wear, such as a T-600 mask with light-up eyes and sound effects; a T-600 arm with spring-loaded fist; and adhesive battle damage scars so kids could look like a Skynet infiltrator unit with exposed endoskeleton parts.
Looking back, I realize why Halcyon supported the production of T4 toys. If kids could get excited about T4 through the toys, then they presumably could be expected to support T4 and the two sequels in Halcyon's planned trilogy. Unfortunately, the biggest error that Halcyon made in this assumption was that T4 wasn't a movie for kids at all. Even with a PG-13 rating, the advertising surrounding T4 was aimed at older audiences and the movie's somber, fatalistic tone wasn't the kind of stuff that appeals to kids. With such poor planning, the T4 toy line disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived.
Among the more peculiar aspects of Playmates' T4 toy line were the John Connor action figures. Christian Bale played Connor in T4, but it seems that Playmates did not secure the rights to Bale's likeness in time for the production of the toys. Thus, the face of the 3 and 3/4-inch Connor figure is concealed by sunglasses and a bandana, while the 6-inch Connor figure has an indistinct face, goggles and a combat helmet.
I also never understood why Playmates was willing to produce three different sizes of action figures for a toy line that didn't have a committed consumer base. Most of the action figure-related toys--namely, the vehicles and robots--were scaled for the 3 and 3/4-inch figures; thus, even if a child was completely enthralled with T4 and wanted to build a collection of T4 toys, there was no incentive to buy the 6 and 10-inch figures.
Playmates wasn't the only company that produced T4 toys. Bladez Toyz, a British company that specializes in remote control (RC) products, was given the license to produce a few RC toys based on the sequel. The Bladez T4 toys were marketed as being able to engage in aerial dog fights, that the toys could 'shoot' at each other through infrared signals.
Since many of Skynet's killer machines in each of the movies could easily have been re-scaled and released as RC toys, the Bladez toys should have been a major opportunity for Terminator fans. However, of the three toys that were produced, only one--the Aerial-HK--looked like something from T4. The second toy, which was marketed as the "Ultimate Resistance Combat Helicopter", looked indistinguishable from any other military RC helicopter toy. The third RC T4 toy defies explanation:
This "Heli Combat" toy, isn't based on anything in T4--it's just a Terminator skull with helicopter parts. There were other flying machines in T4 that could've been made into RC helicopter toys (such as the Aerostat and the HK Transport) but for whatever reason Bladez decided to do this instead. Nevertheless, it's a shame that the Terminator skull is skinless; otherwise, we could have had a flying, disembodied Arnold Schwarzenegger head as an RC toy.
Even though the T4 toy line shared the same fate as the T2 toy line, that hasn't kept other toy companies from trying to sell Terminator toys to kids. The latest examples were from a Lego competitor named Best Lock, which released a few Terminator kits in late 2012. The kits were mostly based on Skynet's HK units and each come with Terminator endoskeleton minifigs. From what I've heard, these kits did not sell well. Even though the Best Lock kits are simple enough for children, not enough children are interested enough in the Terminator franchise to buy them; in contrast, adult Terminator fans are more likely to design and build their own Terminator replicas by using bricks and parts from Lego, not Best Lock.
Halcyon went bankrupt since T4 and the Terminator franchise is currently in the hands of its fifth owner, Skydance Productions. Whether Skydance will push a toy line tie-in for the upcoming Terminator: Genesis (a.k.a. T5) remains to be seen, but I think that it's extremely likely. T5 is supposed to be the beginning of a new trilogy, just like T4, so it's probable that Skydance will regard kids as a target demographic for new Terminator fans and thus license the production of toys to pique their curiosity. To paraphrase John Connor, the future of a franchise is not set and there are no toys but those we make to hype the sequels.