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Terminator: Dark Fate Star Admits What We Suspected All Along

The Terminator franchise exists on a unique plane of existence: too formulaic to live, but possessing too much brand recognition to die. The series has spawned four film entries and a TV show since the turn of the century, each of which has generally been met (to varying degrees) with a collective, resigned sigh and a widespread sense that, like tax season or medical screenings after 40, they signified that things were going according to plan, if unpleasantly.

2019 looked to be the year that would buck the trend. After several lackluster entries that failed to dazzle the franchise's long-suffering fandom, it looked like the pieces were all lining up to provide a Terminator movie worthy of the series' first two entries. With James Cameron helping to pen the story, Deadpool's Tim Miller in the director's chair, and Linda Hamilton returning to the role of Sarah Connor for the first time since 1991, Terminator: Dark Fate had all the makings of a brand new day for killer cyborgs. As an added bonus, it even ignored Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys. That's exactly the kind of retconning that this killer robot story needed, and it looked to be coming at a time when interest in sci-fi film and '80s revivals was at its peak.

And then? Radio silence. The film tiptoed onto the scene without much fanfare. According to Box Office Mojo, Dark Fate pulled in $261 million on a $185 million budget, with just $62 million coming from U.S. ticket sales. It wasn't that the movie was bad — Rotten Tomatoes has it ranked as the most critically acclaimed big screen entry in the series since Judgment Day. So what killed the quasi-reboot's odds of succeeding?

In a recent interview on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Dark Fate star Mackenzie Davis gave her two cents, offering a celebrity voice to what fans of the iconic franchise have suspected for a while: When it comes to Terminator stories, everyone's just sort of worn out.

Mackenzie Davis thinks fans are tired of Terminator

"As far as the box office and stuff, it's Terminator 6, nobody saw the last three, I get it, it's okay," Davis said of Dark Fate on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. "I don't think that means what we made was bad, but I understand that the audience's appetite has been exhausted."

It's a solid point — if Star Wars has taught us anything in the last few years, it's that franchise fatigue is real, and unlike the Terminator pictures, those movies didn't feature a main character who was played by six different actors across five films. Terminator unfortunately bares all the hallmarks of a franchise experiencing major fan fatigue. As Davis pointed out in her interview, it's hard to win fans back (let alone lure in new ones) to a franchise after three let-downs in a row. 

Most fans will forgive a single misstep, but very few will keep coming back to the well for years and years if the water keeps coming up poisoned. Dark Fate could have been the best Terminator movie ever made — according to some fans and critics, it was — it still had to contend with the legacy of its predecessors, and many fans who skipped one of the last three flicks after getting burned probably (mistakenly) thought they couldn't see Dark Fate without the context of the earlier films in the franchise.

Sexism may have also played a role

There's a bleaker explanation for why Dark Fate underperformed at the box office: sexism. Sexism often tends to be the elephant in the room with underperforming female-led action movies. 

Dark Fate features a main cast made up entirely of female performers, a point which internet trolls clung to with a skeletal metal grip. Davis doesn't subscribe to that thesis, however. "How much you attribute that to there being three women in the lead, I don't know," she said. "I never really wanted to engage with that stuff because I can't control it. I am a woman and I really liked the part and I felt proud of what I did so I couldn't be like, 'No one's seeing it because they're sexist.' It seemed like an easier answer for me to be like, 'Alright, six is too much, now we know.'"

Life post-Dark Fate

There's some good news and some bad news to consider post-Dark Fate

The good news: Davis' career is doing fine. This year, the Halt and Catch Fire actress has appeared as Diana Hastings in Jon Stewart's Irresistible, the political comedy also starring Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, Rose Byrne as Faith Brewster, Chris Cooper as Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (the father of Davis' character), and more. Recently, Davis starred opposite Kristen Stewart in the Hulu smash hit Happiest Season, a Christmastime flick centered around a queer couple who haven't yet reached the same level of comfort with their respective sexualities.

The bad news: Since the release of Dark Fate, there's been no word on when, if ever, the Terminator will be back. Although it seems Paramount may be ready to take its killer robot series out to the scrap yard, fans should maintain hope. Blockbuster franchises in Hollywood are harder to kill than the T-1000; Terminator may see new life yet, though it will likely be down the road.