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Nine Months of Waiting: Why Everything Was Riding on James Cameron’s “The Terminator”

James Cameron was told he could direct Aliens — if The Terminator was a success.

James Cameron registered his treatment for The Terminator with the Writers Guild of America in July 1982.

James Cameron had written and successfully pitched The Terminator to financiers, and found his lead in a soon-to-be iconic action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that's then the bad news came.

"They're exercising a clause in his contract," producer Gale Anne Hurd told James in Episode 4 of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON.

"They" was the team behind Conan The Barbarian, which had worked in a clause that if they wanted to film another Conan movie, Arnold couldn't take any other job that interfered with their schedule.

That meant nine months of waiting. Instead of summer 1983, James' first complete film wouldn't begin until early 1984 — an eternity for an ambitious director ready to launch his career.

The award-winning "biopic podcast" series stars The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand, from filmmaker and journalist Matt Schrader.

BLOCKBUSTER is free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and all other platforms. BLOCKBUSTER is winner of Adweek's Creative Podcast of the Year, and earned two Webby Honorees and NYF Radio Awards, including for Best Podcast Miniseries.

James was determined to make the most of this time, however. He began to work on a writing gig for a sequel to Sylvester Stallone's Rambo — and more importantly, he wanted to start thinking about what came next, after The Terminator.

Despite the film being on hold, the script was still circulating in some Hollywood circles. Many felt the concept was brilliant, but had been uneasy about an essentially first-time director being given so much money.

Two producers at Brandywine Productions, Walter Hill and David Giler, asked James to come in to discuss some possible collaborations, sensing James might have some success on his first film. They discussed doing a futuristic version of Spartacus set in outer space, but it wasn't a great fit. That's when the idea for an Aliens sequel came up.

"Let me take a stab at it," James said in Episode 4, offering to write a screenplay.

James returned with a story that impressed the producers so much — they offered him a chance to direct the film, on one condition: that The Terminator be a critical success.

So when the time came to finally begin filming, James quickly found he had two films on the line.

That story is featured in BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON, free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other platforms.

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