William Edward Sanders

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a 1991 American science fiction action film, marked a significant moment in cinematic history. Directed by James Cameron, who co-wrote the script alongside William Wisher, the movie starred a notable ensemble cast including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, and Edward Furlong. This film served as the sequel to the iconic The Terminator (1984) and represented the second installment in the Terminator franchise.

The storyline revolves around the malevolent artificial intelligence known as Skynet, which dispatches a highly advanced Terminator—a formidable killing machine—back in time to the year 1995. Its mission: to assassinate the future leader of the human resistance, John Connor, while he is just a child. In response, the resistance sends back a reprogrammed Terminator of lesser sophistication, tasked with protecting Connor and preserving the future of humanity.

Terminator 2’s journey to the big screen was a testament to determination and perseverance. While the original Terminator had catapulted Schwarzenegger’s and Cameron’s careers to new heights, the production of a sequel faced significant challenges. Animosity between the director and the star, coupled with issues surrounding the film’s rights held by Hemdale Film Corporation, led to a prolonged stall in sequel development. However, in 1990, Schwarzenegger and Cameron managed to convince Carolco Pictures to acquire the rights from producer Gale Anne Hurd and Hemdale, which was grappling with financial woes.

With a release date set for the following year, Cameron and Wisher were left with a mere seven weeks to craft the script. Principal photography commenced between October 1990 and March 1991, with the bulk of shooting occurring in and around Los Angeles. The film boasted a substantial budget, estimated at $94–102 million, making it the most expensive production of its time. The advanced visual effects, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), including the groundbreaking use of a computer-generated main character in a blockbuster film, contributed to a schedule overrun. In fact, theatrical prints were only delivered to theaters the night before the film’s eagerly anticipated release on July 3, 1991.

Terminator 2 achieved phenomenal success at the box office, amassing a staggering $519–520.9 million in global earnings. It emerged as the highest-grossing film of 1991 worldwide and ranked as the third-highest-grossing film of its era. Critics lauded the film for its pioneering visual effects, thrilling action sequences, and standout performances from the cast. In particular, Robert Patrick’s portrayal of the T-1000 was celebrated as one of cinema’s great antagonists. However, the film also drew criticism for its level of violence.

Terminator 2 received numerous awards and recognitions, including Saturn, BAFTA, and Academy awards. The film’s impact extended beyond the big screen, spawning an array of merchandise, from video games to comic books, novels, and even a live-action attraction titled T2-3D: Battle Across Time.

Widely regarded as one of the finest science fiction and action films ever created, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is often deemed equal to or even superior to its predecessor, The Terminator. It played a pivotal role in advancing the use of visual effects in filmmaking, ushering in a new era where computer-generated imagery gained prominence over practical effects. Although Cameron initially intended it to be the conclusion of the franchise, the film paved the way for a series of sequels and adaptations, further expanding the Terminator universe.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Directed

Written

Produced

Cinematography

Music

Distributed

Watch Time

Country

Language

Budget

Box office

 James Cameron

James Cameron & William Wisher

James Cameron

Adam Greenberg

Brad Fiedel

Tri-Star Pictures

137 minutes

United States

English

$94–102 Million

$519–520.9 Million

Production


  • Carolco Pictures
  • Pacific Western Productions
  • Lightstorm Entertainment
  • Le Studio Canal+

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Summary

In the year 2029, Earth finds itself torn apart by a devastating conflict between the malevolent artificial intelligence Skynet and the resilient human resistance. Skynet, determined to alter the course of history, dispatches the T-1000—a cutting-edge, prototype Terminator constructed from virtually indestructible liquid metal—back in time with a mission to eliminate the resistance’s leader, John Connor, during his childhood. To safeguard John, the human resistance sends back a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator, an earlier model with a metal endoskeleton concealed beneath synthetic flesh.

In 1995, Los Angeles, John’s mother Sarah is confined to Pescadero State Hospital due to her violent attempts to avert “Judgment Day,” the prophesied event set for August 29, 1997, when Skynet will gain self-awareness. In response to its creators’ efforts to deactivate it, Skynet plans to incite a devastating nuclear holocaust. John, residing with foster parents, believes Sarah to be delusional and resents her relentless preparation for his future role. The T-1000 locates John at a shopping mall, prompting the T-800 to intervene, coming to John’s rescue and facilitating his escape. John tries to contact his foster parents, only to discover that the T-1000 has already taken their lives. Recognizing that the T-800 adheres to his directives, John instructs it not to harm people and commands it to save Sarah from the T-1000.

Together, the T-800 and John intercept Sarah during an escape attempt. However, Sarah flees in terror because the T-800 bears a striking resemblance to the Terminator sent to terminate her in 1984. John and the T-800 eventually convince her to join them, and they elude the relentless pursuit of the T-1000. Despite her initial distrust of the T-800, Sarah gradually begins to see it as a friend and a father figure to John. Over time, she observes it learning human behaviors, catchphrases, and even hand signs, and encourages it to become more human-like.

Sarah initially plans to escape to Mexico with John, but a haunting vision of Judgment Day prompts her to contemplate the murder of Miles Dyson, a Cyberdyne engineer responsible for a groundbreaking microprocessor essential to Skynet’s creation. She attacks Dyson in his home but ultimately cannot bring herself to kill him. When John arrives, he reconciles with his mother, and Dyson, upon learning of the grave implications of his work, opts to help them. Dyson discloses that his research is rooted in the reverse engineering of the CPU and severed arm of the 1984 Terminator. Believing that his work must be destroyed, Dyson assists Sarah, John, and the T-800 in infiltrating Cyberdyne, retrieving the CPU and arm, and rigging explosives to obliterate the lab. A police assault on the building ensues, resulting in Dyson’s fatal shooting, but he manages to detonate the explosives before his demise.

The T-1000 relentlessly pursues the surviving trio, ultimately cornering them in a steel mill. In a dramatic climax, Sarah and John separate to evade the T-1000, which temporarily deactivates the T-800 by destroying its power source. The T-1000 takes on Sarah’s appearance in an attempt to lure out John. However, Sarah intervenes, and with the reactivated T-800’s assistance, they manage to push the T-1000 into a vat of molten steel, where it disintegrates. The T-800 emphasizes that it must also be destroyed to prevent its technology from becoming the foundation for Skynet. Despite John’s emotional protests, the T-800 persuades him that its termination is necessary to secure their future. As Sarah extends her hand in a sign of respect and gratitude, the T-800 is lowered into the vat, giving John a thumbs-up gesture as it is incinerated.

The film concludes with Sarah driving down a highway with John, expressing renewed hope for an uncertain future. She ponders whether, just as the T-800 learned the value of life, humanity too can find its way to a brighter path. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Actors / Cast

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator
  • Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
  • Edward Furlong as John Connor
  • Robert Patrick as T-1000
  • Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman
  • Jenette Goldstein and Xander Berkeley as John’s foster parents
  • Cástulo Guerra as Sarah’s friend Enrique Salceda
  • S. Epatha Merkerson and DeVaughn Nixon as Dyson’s wife Tarissa and son Danny
  • Danny Cooksey as John’s friend Tim
  • Robert Winley
  • Ron Young
  • Pete Schrum
  • Dean Norris as the SWAT team leader
  • Michael Edwards portrays the John Connor
  • Michael Biehn reprises

Development

The Terminator had taken the film industry by surprise, raking in $78.4 million while operating on a modest $6.4 million budget. This unexpected success solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as a leading actor and propelled James Cameron into the mainstream directorial spotlight. Schwarzenegger, intrigued by the prospect of a sequel, expressed his enthusiasm early on, stating, “I always felt we should continue the story… I told that right after we finished the first film.” In contrast, Cameron considered the original film a self-contained narrative and was initially less eager to explore a sequel.

Discussions regarding a sequel remained on hold until 1989. Several factors contributed to this delay, including Cameron’s commitments to other projects like Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989). Moreover, a dispute with the rights holder, Hemdale Film Corporation, complicated matters. The disagreement stemmed from Hemdale co-founder John Daly’s attempt to alter The Terminator’s ending against Cameron’s wishes, nearly resulting in a physical altercation. The creation of a sequel was contingent upon Hemdale’s approval since Cameron had relinquished 50% of his rights to the company to secure funding for The Terminator. Furthermore, he had sold half of the remaining stake to his ex-wife Gale Anne Hurd, who served as the producer and co-writer of the first film, for a symbolic $1 after their divorce in 1989. By 1990, Cameron, Schwarzenegger, Hurd, and special-effects artist Stan Winston had all filed lawsuits against Hemdale for unpaid profits from The Terminator.

Schwarzenegger, cognizant of Hemdale’s financial struggles, successfully convinced Carolco Pictures to acquire the rights to The Terminator. He had previously collaborated with Carolco, an independent film studio, on the high-budget science fiction film Total Recall (1990). Acquiring the film rights was no small feat, with owner Mario Kassar describing it as one of the most challenging deals in Carolco’s history. He reluctantly accepted a $10 million offer to purchase Hemdale’s share, believing it was an exorbitant sum concocted to dissuade him. Additionally, Kassar disbursed $5 million to Hurd for her share. Once various incidental costs were factored in, the total acquisition cost ballooned to $17 million.

Kassar informed Cameron that, in order to recoup his investment, the film would proceed with or without his involvement. He offered Cameron $6 million to participate in the project and write the script. The sequel would entail a collaborative effort among multiple production studios: Carolco, Le Studio Canal+, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, and Hurd’s Pacific Western Productions. The studio had an existing U.S. distribution agreement with TriStar Pictures, which stipulated that the film must be ready for release by Memorial Day on May 27, 1991.

Filming

The originally planned three-month pre-production phase had to be significantly compressed to meet the demanding release schedule, leaving James Cameron with insufficient time to thoroughly prepare every aspect before the start of filming. Over the course of a week, he dedicated several hours each day to choreographing vehicle scenes using toy cars and trucks, filming the results, and providing the footage to storyboard artists. With no time for proper practical effects testing before filming commenced, the crew had to improvise if certain effects failed to work as intended.

Principal photography kicked off on October 8–9, 1990, with a budget of $60 million. Filming was organized out of sequence to prioritize sequences that relied heavily on extensive visual effects. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, this posed a challenge, as he needed to convey subtle signs of the T-800’s developing humanity without a clear sense of continuity for each scene. Cinematographer Adam Greenberg, who had also worked on The Terminator, considered the broader scope of the sequel to be a formidable undertaking. In contrast to the original film, where he could easily relay instructions to his crew, he had to coordinate their efforts across an expansive area using one of the 187 walkie-talkies provided.

The production was grueling, partly due to Cameron’s reputation for having a short temper and an uncompromising, “dictatorial” approach. The crew even had T-shirts made bearing the slogan “You can’t scare me—I work for Jim Cameron.” Schwarzenegger characterized Cameron as a supportive yet “demanding taskmaster” who possessed an “uncompromising fanaticism for physical and visual detail.” Despite this, by the 101st day of filming, both Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton had grown frustrated with the high number of retakes Cameron demanded, with a whole five days dedicated solely to close-up shots of Hamilton in the Dyson home. To maintain the production schedule, Cameron decided to work through the Christmas holidays and convinced Schwarzenegger to forgo a visit to American troops in Saudi Arabia alongside U.S. President George H. W. Bush to film his scenes.

The production was scattered across various locations in and around Los Angeles. The now-demolished Corral bar in Sylmar served as the setting for the T-800’s encounter with a group of bikers. Location manager Jim Morris selected Corral because of its raised layout, which allowed the scene to unfold on multiple levels. Remarkably, the location also gained notoriety for a very different incident, as the 1991 police beating of Rodney King took place at the same site just a week after the filming of the biker bar scenes. On one occasion, an unsuspecting woman wandered onto the set while filming was in progress. When she inquired of Schwarzenegger, who was clad in nothing but a pair of shorts, what was happening, he humorously responded, “It’s male-stripper night.” Despite executives’ suggestions to cut the scene to save money, Cameron and Schwarzenegger stood their ground.

Scenes like the T-1000’s arrival in 1995, and John hacking an ATM at a Van Nuys bank, were also filmed at various locations in Los Angeles. John’s foster parents’ residence was deliberately chosen in the Canoga Park neighborhood for its unassuming appearance. The confrontations between the Terminators occurred at the Santa Monica Place mall, with exterior shots taken at Northridge Fashion Center to minimize traffic. In a subsequent scene, Robert Patrick’s training enabled him to outrun John on a dirt bike, leading to an increase in the bike’s maximum speed. The T-1000 continued its pursuit using a truck in a scene filmed at the Bull Creek spillway. Other locations included the Lake View Terrace hospital, standing in for Pescadero State Hospital, and the Petersen Automotive Museum used for its garage. Linda Hamilton, in a 2012 interview, mentioned she had suffered permanent partial hearing loss due to her failure to wear earplugs during the hospital elevator scene, where the T-800 fires a gun, as well as shell shock resulting from months of exposure to violence, loud noises, and gunfire. Elysian Park served as the setting for Sarah’s apocalyptic dream, while the scenes at the Dyson home were filmed on a private property in Malibu. The Cyberdyne Building’s destruction was filmed at an abandoned office in San Jose that was slated for demolition. To enhance the sense of authenticity, real members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT division were featured in the scene, although Cameron took creative liberties to make their tactics more visually engaging. In an impromptu decision during Morton’s death scene, Cameron chose to shatter nearby glass to gauge its visual impact.

The final highway chase sequence was filmed along the Terminal Island Freeway near Long Beach, where a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) stretch was closed to traffic every night for two weeks. Scenes set in the future war of 2029 were filmed in the rubble-strewn landscape of an abandoned steel mill in Oxnard, California. This location, covering a half-square mile (1.3 km²

Film Series

  • The Terminator 1984
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 2003
  • Terminator Salvation 2009 
  • Terminator Genisys 2015
  • Terminator: Dark Fate 2019

Special effects and design

Terminator 2 allocated a significant portion of its budget, approximately $15 to $17 million, to special effects, which encompassed the entire 10-month production schedule. This included $5 million designated for the creation of the T-1000 character alone and an additional $1 million for the extensive stunt work, which, at the time, was one of the most substantial stunt budgets ever allocated for a film. The intricate world of visual effects for Terminator 2 was managed by four primary companies. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), under the supervision of Dennis Muren, took charge of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects. The creation of prosthetics and animatronics, crucial for bringing the T-1000 to life, was entrusted to Stan Winston Studio. Miniatures and optical effects were developed by Fantasy II Film Effects, while the nuclear explosion effect was the work of 4-Ward Productions. Additional effects were provided by Pacific Data Images and Video Image. The extensive use of CGI meant that it had to be used judiciously, appearing in approximately 42 to 43 shots in conjunction with 50 to 60 practical effects.

The decision to realize the T-1000 character with CGI was a bold move, especially considering the nascent stage of CGI technology at the time. The lack of a backup plan meant that if the CGI did not meet expectations or could not be seamlessly integrated with Winston’s practical effects, the filmmakers would face a significant challenge. The process of creating the T-1000 relied on an array of practical appliances, visual illusions, and filming techniques in addition to CGI. It was a highly complex and costly endeavor. The computer systems required for animating and rendering the T-1000 CGI alone carried a hefty price tag. Furthermore, rendering just 15 seconds of footage demanded up to ten days of intensive work. The ILM team employed up to 35 specialists to handle the five minutes of screen time involving the T-1000’s effects. The result was a groundbreaking achievement in the realm of visual effects, setting new standards for the industry.

Box Office

Terminator 2: Judgment Day made its debut in the United States and Canada on July 3, perfectly timed for the Independence Day weekend. It shattered records by achieving the highest-grossing Wednesday opening, amassing an impressive $11.8 million. Over the weekend, the film generated $31.8 million across 2,274 theaters, averaging a remarkable $13,969 per theater. Consequently, it secured the top spot at the box office for the weekend, leaving behind competitors like The Naked Gun 2½ ($11.6 million) in its second weekend and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($10.3 million) in its fourth.

During the extended five-day holiday weekend, spanning from Wednesday to Sunday, Terminator 2 raked in an impressive $52.3 million, only trailing behind Batman’s $57 million in 1989. This performance set a new record for the highest five-day opening total and established records for an R-rated film and an Independence Day weekend. The film appealed to a diverse audience, with an even distribution among adults, teenagers, and children. A notable 25% to 30% of viewers were women, though some reports suggested the number could be higher. The film benefited from repeat viewings, particularly by younger audiences. One theater chain executive marveled at the extraordinary demand, stating, “… nothing since Batman has created the frenzy for tickets we saw this weekend with Terminator. At virtually all our locations, we are selling out … the word-of-mouth buzz out there is just phenomenal.”

In its second weekend, Terminator 2 retained its dominance, pulling in $20.7 million, outperforming the debuts of One Hundred and One Dalmatians ($10.3 million) and Boyz n the Hood ($10 million). The trend continued into the third weekend, where the film grossed $14.9 million, surpassing the releases of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey ($10.2 million) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians ($7.8 million).

Even in its fifth weekend, Terminator 2: Judgment Day only dropped to the second position with a gross of $8.6 million, second to the debut of the comedy Hot Shots! ($10.8 million). Remarkably, it maintained its presence in the top five highest-grossing films for twelve consecutive weeks and stayed in the top ten for fifteen weeks. Ultimately, it spent about twenty-six weeks in theaters across 2,495 cinemas and accumulated a remarkable $204.8 million. This made it the highest-grossing film of the year, surpassing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($165 million), Beauty and the Beast ($145 million), and The Silence of the Lambs ($130 million). Additionally, it secured the thirteenth-highest-grossing film of its era, only trailing Back to the Future (1985), and became the highest-grossing R-rated film. The Los Angeles Times estimated that after accounting for theater and distributor shares, Carolco’s earnings would surpass twenty percent of the film’s cost.

Internationally, Terminator 2: Judgment Day set numerous box office records. In the United Kingdom, it achieved a record-breaking three-day opening weekend with $4.4 million (and a one-week record of $7.8 million), ultimately grossing at least $30 million. France witnessed a remarkable opening week, grossing a record $9.5 million (the largest opening since Rocky IV) and $16 million in two weeks. In Germany, it garnered a record $8 million within five days, and in Australia, it boasted a record Australian opening weekend of $1.9 million. Thailand was also swept up in its success, with the film becoming the highest-grossing Western film ever with $1.2 million. Moreover, the film performed admirably in Brazil and garnered a substantial $51 million in Japan.

Overall, Terminator 2 grossed around $312.1 million internationally, making it the first film to surpass $300 million outside the U.S. and Canada. The global total for Terminator 2: Judgment Day is estimated to be between $519 million and $520.9 million, earning the distinction of the highest-grossing film of the year and securing the third-highest-grossing film of all time, following 1977’s Star Wars ($530 million) and 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ($619 million).

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