With photos and story details of the upcoming Terminator reboot coming to light, we wanted to take a look back at the original film and examine how and why it still holds up after all these years. Like a lot of movies that became cultural touchstones and phenomenons, The Terminator was under-estimated, dismissed by Orion Pictures as a low budget drive-in film that would come and go in a week. Yet The Terminator became a major sleeper that connected with audiences in a big way. It was the top movie at the box office for six weeks, but beyond its commercial success it also made Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, and Stan Winston superstars in their respective professions.
At a screening celebrating The Terminator’s third decade, Cameron said the movie is still remembered because “I think it’s just a lean, mean thriller that works.” But there’s clearly more to it that than. In celebrating The Terminator, we spoke to John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan of Legacy Effects, who both broke into the big leagues by working with Stan Winston, and who helped build the indestructible killer, and the seemingly indestructible franchise, from the ground up.
It was thanks to the kindness of make-up master Dick Smith that Stan Winston got The Terminator gig. Smith, who many considered the greatest living make-up artist, was well-known for the magic he did for The Godfather, The Exorcist, and Amadeus, just to name a few, but his career was winding down, and The Terminator was clearly going to be a big job.
Cameron wanted Smith, but Smith kept telling the young director that Stan Winston was the man for the job. Winston had been steadily working for years, he did a lot of TV and low budget B-movies, and had already won two Emmys, but The Terminator would prove to be the big breakthrough that made him one of the most in demand creature builders in the business. (Cameron and Winston would also form a strong personal and professional bond that would continue until Winston passed away in 2008.)