The Terminator saga that began with James Cameron's nightmares during a fever has had a remarkable way of permeating pop culture for over 30 years. The first Terminator (1984) blazed out of the gate with something few people had seen before: A stripped down relentless chase film on the surface with intense science fiction themes of dangerously advancing technology, choosing one's fate, and female empowerment underneath. It was an auspicious start for Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the biggest movie star of the 80s and 90s.
The second Terminator film: T2 (1991) upped the ante in every conceivable way with a then record $100million budget and special effects that were completely groundbeaking at the time. The summer of 1991 was dominated by T2 and I remember lines snaking outside the movie theater for tickets. That R-rated film grossed >500million worldwide (at a time when the US box office accounted for typically >90% of ticket sales) and was a hit on every level. There was talk for a while about Cameron helming T3 (which many people still hold a candle for)...but it just didn't happen with Titanic being his next film and the dream slipped away. Then came T3: Rise of the Machines directed by Johnathan Mostow in 2003. I was a college student then and I remember the teaser trailer showing liquid metal rising with the iconic Brad Fiedel score swelling in the background and I got chills...I never expected another Terminator and I was so excited.
As is often the case, history gets re-written and good films get the short stick later. T3 opened to >40m weekend (#1) and had overwhelmingly positive reviews (RT score was close to 70%) and ended up grossing ~154m in the US (still a great deal for 2003 and an R-rated film) and about $433m worldwide. It's budget was also near $200m, so it wasn't quite the hit that T2 was and it didn't permeate pop culture nor endure like it's predecessor. However, it was a perfectly serviceable action film with IMO 3 major flaws: 1) The comedy was overdone; "She'll be back" and the Elton John glasses were embarrassing, 2) John Connor was miscast, and 3) the ending while bold was a bit flat and essentially contradicted everything James Cameron set up in T1-T2 that we choose our fate and are not slaves to it. After that, the usual custody/rights battles combined with Arnold Schwarzenegger's ascent to the governorship, and the Terminator franchise goes dormant again until 2009. For the record, I liked T3 and still pop in the Blu Ray once every few months and Mostow is severely underrated in terms of what he accomplished for that film.
2009: This is when I would argue that the Terminator franchise really took a nose-dive. So out of no where McG (I'm sure he's a great guy, but I will never forgive him for stain he put on this franchise) pulls a rabbit out of a hat and announces the next Terminator: Salvation. My interest was piqued once again, but what really got me going was the announcement that Christian Bale (the hottest actor at the time after the Dark Knight) was going to play John Connor. My god, what more does a Terminator fan need? Then the trailers came out and they were 180 degrees opposite to T3: absolutely no humor and very gritty a la Christopher Nolan's Batman. I anticipated every bit of news about the film and probably re-watched the two trailers plus extended clip about 50x, really looking forward to a Terminator "renaissance"--we'll get to that later lol.
Anticipation is a dangerous thing because more often than not, we end up disappointed. That was the case with Terminator Salvation. Midnight show: The audience was full and after the opening credits (which were a nice call back to the T1 credits) there was a painful scene with Sam Worthington and a very sick looking Helena Bonham Carter and it was downhill from there. Bale was constantly yelling at people, Skynet did super bone-headed things like hold Kyle Reese as a captive rather than just killing him destroying man kind's future, an "Arnold" terminator that throws John Connor around instead of snapping his neck, Skynet acting all sassy as Helena Bonham Carter, and then finally a heart transplant in the desert?? You gotta be kidding me..As a doctor, I find that ridiculous. John Connor would have been dead in 2 minutes with a steel rod through his chest from pericardial tamponade. Somehow because of the goodwill for the franchise this crap film still made $125m stateside (but was the first Terminator film after T2 that didn't open to #1 at the box office) and ~$370m worldwide. If you want a really funny, spot on review of this film read Harry Knowle's critique: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/41140. After this travesty, rights battles ensued again and the franchise goes dormant until 2015.
At this point, despite being a diehard Terminator fan, I essentially thought this was it. McG talked about a trilogy and luckily that never happened. Finally, Megan Ellison and Annapurna pictures came out of nowhere and rescued this franchise that had slipped from greatness to a barely breathing corpse. The funny thing though is no matter how bad TS was, people still like Terminator as an idea and it still had cultural relevence.
I say that Terminator still mattered even before Terminator Genisys because when Genisys was announced I have never seen so much up front negativism from both critics and pissed off fanboys regarding pretty much any other property. Indefinite crap Transformers films get made (I think there are 4 more on the docket) and people are less bothered by this.
With Arnold returning and a good production team behind Terminator Genisys (Skydance), a decent director (Alan Taylor) and Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, I had really high hopes for Terminator Genisys. This enthusiasm was dampened by the horrific EW photo shoots, casting of Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, but then surged again with James Cameron's endorsement.
When the movie finally released to savage critical reviews (RT of 26%), I figured this was the end once more. But then I saw it and really enjoyed it. The audience in my theater also seemed to like it as well by their reaction to Schwarzenegger's humor and the action. So as I tried to reconcile my reaction with those of the majority of critics, I discovered that the film had a CinemaScore of B+ and IMDB at the time of 7 indicating a pretty good disconnect between audiences and critics.
It very much underperformed in the US with a take of $89m but hit a great surge worldwide with a China take of $114m (likely closer to $124m given various reports of B.O rigging to promote national films); All said and done the true total is close to $450m. Making $114-124m in China is no small feat especially considering it was released >2 months after it was in the rest of the world, so a good chunk of that take was removed by piracy. By comparison, Minions which stomped the US and the rest of the world only made ~$60m in China; so one can't simply write off Terminator's good performance in that territory by saying the Chinese will watch anything Hollywood puts out. So we have a critically loathed film with I'd say mixed-positive audience reaction as a whole and the 2nd highest take of a Terminator film ever.
A THR article citing anonymous sources stated the franchise was on "indefinite hold" and that went viral making everyone think the franchise was dead. A lot of critics and some moviegoers cheered..As a fan, I was clearly upset because there was some good performances and ideas in Terminator Genisys that could be really well built upon
Then like a Hail Mary, Dana Goldberg of Skydance came out amidst the negativity, and stated that Terminator is NOT on hold but is getting a "re-adjustment." That's about the best news that Terminator fans can get right now. Skydance is promising to critically evaluate the good/bad of Terminator Genisys so that T6 or whatever it is ultimately called can hopefully be the movie most people want.
Where do we go from here? After the Terminator history lesson above (super long-winded I know, lol), here's what I think as a fan and I'd like to think a critic what can be improved:
1) Major script shakeup/re-write: I appreciated what the Terminator writers tried to do instead of just making another chase picture, but it got way too convoluted for the casual terminator fan, let alone the average moviegoer with not much experience with the franchise. Time travel doesn't have to be this convoluted with alternate dimensions and timelines. It can be straightforward but thought-provoking. Terminator has always been rooted in industrial horror: We haven't gotten that in T3-T5. Let's get more foreboding, dread combined with excitement; It doesn't have to be dour like T4 and bland, but shouldn't be too campy like T3 and parts of T5. An R rating is double edged sword: less people can watch it, but those that do may appreciate it more and word of mouth could improve. As of now, I would push hard for that R rating as that's one of the most common complaints I've heard--That Terminator has become too glossy and Marvel like in nature.
2) Cast/Director Mix up: Even though it ended up grossing a very respectable amount worldwide, I don't think Alan Taylor would return after the critical beating he took on this one. I have a list of "dream directors" that I would love to see take a crack at Terminator: Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Rian Johnson, Collin Trevorrow, Justin Lin, James Wan, Kathryn Bigelow, Russo Brothers, of course (James Cameron), but it remains to be seen who will take the reigns. I hope its not a generic action director (a la Louis Leterrier) who would McG the movie again. I really do hope Arnold Schwarzenegger can be convinced to return and I think the casting of Emilia Clarke and JK Simmons was just fine. A good friend clued me in to the idea of Rachel McAdams as Sarah Connor and I think that could be pretty neat. Major error IMO was casting Jai Clarke as Kyle Reese. Not every actor can play every part and he doesn't fit both physically and emotively for the role. I've said this before but Dan Stevens (the Guest) would make a perfect Kyle Reese and Skydance: Set up a meeting with that guy! And cast more international actors so that the film continues to maintain its worldwide appeal. Mark Hughes wrote a great article on Forbes that espouses this idea: If the fate of humanity is at stake, why confine the setting to just California? We also need more recognizable American actors (for the home audience). As much as I love JK Simmons, Emilia Clarke, and Jason Clarke, no one goes to see a movie because of them. Let's get some old favorites like Kevin Costner, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis etc. that could bring back some credit as well as potential current stars like Vin Diesel, The Rock, Ryan Gosling (who also could make a phenomenal Kyle Reese). A lower budgeted T6 has a lot of appeal but stripping it too low and without recognizable names like the film Predators would be a mistake. Terminator since T1 has always been big and part of that needs to stay.
3) Marketing: Major screwup during this movie with awful EW shoots and reveal of massive spoilers in the 2nd trailer. Look how great the Spectre #2 trailer looks and it gives away <10% of the plot. Can you imagine the John Connor reveal if you didn't know about it before hand? It could have been a great WTF moment. T6 has to be marketed as a serious (but entertaining) continuity of a mythic saga. How about a legit interview with the film makers down the line addressing the major problems of Terminator Genisys and what they intend to do to fix them? I think people who felt burned by this movie (truth be told they shouldn't be too sour as it was a pretty good flick overall) should have their concerns explicitly addressed.
I think clearly that the world still is invested in the Terminator franchise based on both the very healthy worldwide box office and the negative vitriol from various critics/fans about where the movie went wrong. If Terminator didn't matter, no one would be this worked up and it wouldn't still be discussed several months after release. There are 100's of articles debating whether the franchise will or will not "be back"; The idea of man vs. machine is still very much alive and poignant in 2015. So hopefully Skydance will address the concerns regarding Terminator Genisys and give us the movie we all want. I for, one, will be first in line!
Would love to hear any other thoughts on where this franchise should go next. Cheers.