When it comes to memorable characters, few stay in your mind more than Arnold Schwarzenegger as the robotic time travelling killer from The Terminator movies. However, it turns out that some of his pop culture icon status is due to a happy accident.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron, the director of the 1984 science fiction movie The Terminator, revealed that one of Schwarzenegger’s one-liners was actually improvised on set. In the action movie, Schwarzenegger plays the role of a robotic assassin who has been sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor – the mother of the human’s rebellion leader in the future. In one scene, the robot killer goes to a police station and is denied entry, causing him to say the words, “I’ll be back.”
Since then, “I’ll be back” has become an iconic catchphrase and tied to the character. But it was also this very line that was actually never in the script when filming began in the ’80s.
“That’s a funny thing because, in the script, it actually read, ‘I’ll come back’,” Cameron said. “And there was something about the way Arnold said it with his then quite thick Austrian accent that didn’t sound quite right. So I just said, ‘we will just switch it to I’ll be back.'”
“And he said, ‘Really?’ and I said, ‘Yep’. And we just kind of made it up in the moment then, of course it became quite iconic. But here is the interesting thing about that line: you are watching the movie for the first time, you have no idea what is going to happen next, and yet it still got a laugh,” he continued.
“Somehow, people had gotten already how this guy was this bulldozer. You just get this innate sense of this guy as this juggernaut,” Cameron adds. “And when he says ‘I’ll be back’, it is going to be bad. So people laughed before they even knew! They laughed before they even knew what a Terminator movie was.”
Either way, we are happy that the line got changed and that the striking catchphrase became an important part of Hollywood history. Fans can catch Cameron’s next film, Avatar 2, on December 16, 2022. Check out our guide to the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies for more from the filmmaking icon.