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Terminator was literally inspired by James Cameron’s nightmares

1984's The Terminator was inspired by a nightmare James Cameron had, in which he saw a chrome skeleton emerging from nuclear fires

The Terminator James Cameron

The early ’80s were a time when the threat of nuclear war still lingered from the cold war. The CND and their “Ban the Bomb” campaign was everywhere and some of these fears were born out by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. And it was in this atmosphere that James Cameron had a nightmare that would inspire one of his most famous and successful characters – The Terminator.

Speaking to the BFI in 2021, Cameron describes the nightmare that inspired the first Terminator movie; “The Terminator came from a dream that I had while I was sick with a fever in a cheap pensione in Rome in 1981. It was the image of a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire. When I woke up, I began sketching on the hotel stationery.”

He continues; “The first sketch I did showed a metal skeleton cut in half at the waist, crawling over a tile floor, using a large kitchen knife to pull itself forward while reaching out with the other hand. In a second drawing, the character is threatening a crawling woman. Minus the kitchen knife, these images became the finale of The Terminator almost exactly.”

Cameron says that; “It (the threat of nuclear war) seemed very possible, even likely, given enough time. I felt that the world went about its business under this Damoclean threat as if it didn’t exist, and that everyone walking the streets around me was delusional.”

Cameron only had Piranha II: The Spawning to his name when he made The Terminator in 1984. He would of course go onto to make Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, Titanic and a sequel which many consider better than the first – Terminator 2. Cameron has not made a movie since Avatar in 2009, but is about to come back with a vengeance. He has a series of back-to-back sequels planned, starting with Avatar 2 which will be released in December 2022.

If you’re a fan of dystopic futures – and who isn’t? – check out our guide to the best science fiction movies.