Why Did The Terminator Struggle In Theaters?

Despite being one of the hottest screenplays floating around Hollywood, Orion was worried about spending money to advertise the film.

Original artwork for The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron had done it. He'd defied the odds.


After being fired from his first directing job (for reasons apparently outside of his control in the first place), he'd rebounded with a fresh new story, and successfully recruited the right people to pull it off. Or so he thought.


The final piece of any film is its marketing. In times when newspaper ads and television commercials translated to ticket sales, it was an especially important part.


But Orion Pictures was a small studio, and in a world where many films don't ever make back their money, recouping was enough.


The Terminator opened in the United States in November 1984, and won the box office, but quickly began to fade.


James and producer Gale Anne Hurd lobbied Orion to keep the ad campaigns coming, but Orion was nervous it wouldn't pay off.


The story is featured in Episode 5 of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON — the award-winning "biopic podcast" series, starring 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.


As a result, The Terminator would fail to make the cultural impact we all now know. Instead, that would come several years later — as the film made its way onto television and home video rentals.


Orion executive Mike Medavoy said the decision not to market the film ended up costing the studio a chance to ever work with James again — not to mention the sensation the film would become years later, leading up to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.


You can hear more about the rise of James Cameron in BLOCKBUSTER, free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other platforms.


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