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James Cameron Needs To Resurrect The Terminator Franchise (& Why The Time Is Ripe For It)

With the highly successful theatrical release of "Avatar: The Way of Water," famed Hollywood director James Cameron has returned to the box office summit that he's climbed so many times before. The sequel to his record-shattering 2009 sci-fi adventure is also his first directorial venture since "Avatar," and Cameron spent many of those interim years preparing for "The Way of Water" and its intended sequels (per Time).

With the ongoing "Avatar" franchise potentially taking Cameron through the rest of the 2020s, he might not have much time left for other projects. However, the director has also expressed interest in returning to the other sci-fi series that first made him a household name: "The Terminator." Cameron co-wrote and directed the first two films in the time-traveling action saga, which were instrumental in establishing him as a blockbuster filmmaker. And given where the franchise has been since the end of "Terminator 2," it could certainly use a shot in the arm.

The plight of the Na'vi and the magical world of Pandora will surely remain Cameron's main focus for some time, but the director hasn't ruled out the possibility of returning for another "Terminator" sequel at some point down the line. In fact, he seems to have some interesting ideas for what such a film could look like. Given all the success he's had with "Avatar" and the modern state of technology, now could be the perfect time for Cameron to return to "The Terminator." Here's why.

The Terminator franchise has been languishing for decades

When "The Terminator" first premiered in movie theaters in 1984, it quickly became a sweeping and surprising success. The film far out-earned its $6.4 million budget, making the most of what spectacle it could afford while maximizing on the appeal of its stars, especially Arnold Schwarzenegger. James Cameron wouldn't release a sequel for seven years, but when "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" finally dropped in 1991, it made an even bigger splash than its predecessor, raking in over $500 million worldwide (per Box Office Mojo). The "Terminator" franchise had become one of the biggest sci-fi names in all of Hollywood, and the future — like the one at the end of "Terminator 2" — looked bright.

Unfortunately, the series has never returned to its original heights. 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," 2009's "Terminator Salvation," and 2015's "Terminator Genisys" — all made without any creative input from Cameron — yielded diminishing returns, with all three landing well below the critical and financial watermarks set by "T2." And while 2019's "Terminator: Dark Fate" was heralded by may as a return to form for the franchise, it delivered the worst box office performance since the original film.

"Dark Fate" also marked Cameron's first involvement with "The Terminator" since directing "Judgment Day." Though he didn't direct, he did come on as a producer and story advisor. It's impossible to say how much of the film's critical success was actually due to his return, but "Terminator" movies certainly seem to be better when Cameron is involved.

James Cameron has ideas for a new Terminator movie

After decades of lackluster "Terminator" sequels, it would be reasonable to assume that James Cameron might not have any interest in returning to direct another entry. However, the director has made recent claims to the contrary, even confirming that there have been ongoing talks about him coming back.

"If I were to do another 'Terminator' film and maybe try to launch that franchise again — it's in discussion, nothing's been decided — I would make it much more about the A.I. side of it than bad robots gone crazy," Cameron said on a December 2022 episode of the "Smartless" podcast. The director explained that he sees real-world A.I. as having "more to do with understanding human consciousness" than simply achieving high computational power, and that he would be interested in exploring that realm of science fiction if he came back to "The Terminator."

The franchise has attempted to give more complexity and development to the Skynet A.I. in later films like "Salvation" and "Genisys," but those attempts haven't exactly gotten high praise. It's also worth noting that Cameron wasn't involved at all with either film, and that his own "Terminator" installments have generally been more focused on the present than the future. But as the mass proliferation of accessible A.I. platforms continues in art, writing, and other realms (via The Wall Street Journal), now seems like the ideal time to take a closer look at Skynet and its real-life parallels.

What a new Terminator movie could look like

Recent developments in A.I. technology have given us a better idea than ever before of what the future of digital intelligence could look like. And as has been the case for the entire history of the genre, those real-world revelations will likely drive the coming years of science fiction. Because the "Terminator" timeline has always centered on an A.I. story, it's a perfect vehicle to explore the topic further. But what would a modern "Terminator" film actually look like under James Cameron's direction?

For most of his recent career, Cameron has been primarily interested in the development of new special effects technology — exemplified by the stunning performance capture that drives "Avatar: The Way of Water." In some cases, entirely new technology was developed to fit the film's needs (via The Verge). Were Cameron to return to "The Terminator," he'd likely bring that same passion for effects-heavy storytelling, which could fit perfectly with a narrative that focuses on Skynet itself.

In a 2022 interview with Deadline, Cameron said that he was "reasonably happy" with how "Terminator: Dark Fate" turned out, but he also admitted some regrets. He fought hard for Arnold Schwarzenegger to be brought back alongside Linda Hamilton, but in retrospect, he believes their combined presence made the film feel like "your granddad's 'Terminator' movie," alienating younger audiences. Given Schwarzenegger's age, that might mean that a new Cameron "Terminator" could have an entirely new cast. And since the series has now dipped its toe into the concept of multiple timelines, there are a lot of options for where and when to set a new story.

How likely is James Cameron to actually return to Terminator?

During his appearance on "Smartless," James Cameron claimed that his returning for another "Terminator" movie was "in discussion." He's offered no concrete details as to what those discussions have looked like, making the whole idea relatively vague. The director might have the desire to return to the franchise that jumpstarted his career, but that doesn't mean that scheduling or studio resources are on his side.

Due to the disappointing returns on recent "Terminator" movies, another sequel might not be the easy greenlight it once was. And since "Dark Fate" also failed to perform at the box office, Cameron's hands aren't entirely clean. Additionally, he's pretty committed to the "Avatar" films for at least the next several years, with sequels as far out as "Avatar 5" already in the early stages of development (per Polygon).

All that is to say that even if Cameron were to return to "The Terminator," it probably wouldn't be for some time. However, given the bumpy road the franchise has trod over the past few decades, that could be for the best. It might be a good idea for now to let the series rest and come back to it down the line with fewer attachments to the past. Given Cameron's apparent fascination with A.I. technology, there's certainly a lot of potential.