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Terminator 7 - Will It Ever Happen?

So far, the "Terminator" franchise has been as indestructible as the murderous robots that just keeping coming after Sarah Connor and her son John. But after the disappointing performance of "Terminator: Dark Fate" in 2019, it looks like Paramount Pictures has vanquished the cybernetic threat once and for all, only without the happy ending of future sequels. Is there room for another chapter in the "Terminator" story amidst all the time travel and alternate timelines? The future is currently not set.

The last three "Terminator" films have all attempted to push the franchise in new directions and explore the timeline with more depth. 2009's "Terminator Salvation" starred a fiery Christian Bale as a warrior John Connor, taking the fight to the machines in the aftermath of the apocalypse. But plans for a trilogy were completely scrapped when the production company went bankrupt — which turned 2015's "Terminator Genisys" into a newly minted franchise reboot.

However, ambition clearly got the best of "Terminator" for a second time. What was meant to be a trilogy and a TV series that would tie into the new timeline set up by "Genisys" soon died when the movie's $440.6 million worldwide box office earnings weren't enough to warrant future films running with that idea. "Terminator: Dark Fate" followed, but not even James Cameron's return (as producer) could get the next proposed trilogy off the ground. So will a seventh "Terminator" installment ever happen? Believe it or not, the chances are slightly higher than you'd think.

The trouble with Terminator: Dark Fate

When "Terminator: Dark Fate" reared its (ugly) head in 2019, it actually had a lot going for it. One of the biggest selling points was the return of Sarah Connor herself, the incomparable Linda Hamilton, as she reunited with Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 on-screen for the first time since "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." With the film led by the brilliant Mackenzie Davis as brutal human-machine hybrid Grace, all the ingredients were there for "Dark Fate" to succeed.

The direct sequel to "T2" ignored all the films from the last 20 years, forging a new path involving a completely different robotic threat to humanity called Legion. Same threat, different name. But by the time the credits rolled, "Dark Fate" had backed itself into a strange corner after killing off both Grace and Schwarzenegger's domesticated T-800 (not to mention John Connor himself). Davis was meant to return in future sequels as Grace, but it would be a new version of the character raised by both Sarah Connor and future resistance leader Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes).

During Davis' 2020 appearance on the "Happy Sad Confused" podcast, she revealed how her robot-killing hybrid machine was originally set to return in the planned sequels. "It was gonna be a sort of timeline thing, where there'd be another timeline that you'd explore. Like, there's no resurrection, but she came from the future, so..." Davis said, trailing off. All these reboots are enough to make Doc Brown's head hurt. So. Many. Timelines.

Previous installments didn't live up to the originals

Unfortunately for the franchise, "Dark Fate" wasn't the only recent "Terminator" installment to do poorly. A decade prior, the "Terminator" saga was going strong. With a potential blockbuster trilogy spawning out of the 2009 film "Terminator Salvation" and the television series "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on the air, it seemed as if fans of the franchise were set to get plenty of future "Terminator" content. Unfortunately, "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" was canceled after its second season, and despite the planned "Salvation" sequels, The Halcyon Company (who owned the rights to the franchise) was forced to sell the franchise rights after a series of financial troubles.

This eventually lead to Skydance and Paramount teaming up to produce the "Terminator Genisys" reboot, which recast Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese (now played by Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney), sparking a new timeline with hopes of another trilogy (and some more TV projects too). Unfortunately, "Genisys" wasn't well received, being compared unfavorably to Marvel Studios movies rather than a fresh "Terminator" installment, and all planned sequels were soon canceled.

Strangely, franchise co-creator James Cameron praised "Genisys" ahead of the film's release, calling the film the beginning of a franchise renaissance. Well, in a way it was, just maybe not the way Cameron had originally hoped. Following the disappointment that was "Genisys," Cameron returned as a co-writer and producer for "Dark Fate," though even his presence couldn't save the movie from becoming a disaster.

James Cameron admits that Dark Fate was a mistake

Despite previously praising both "Terminator Genisys" and "Terminator: Dark Fate" as being the true "third 'Terminator' movie," producer James Cameron has since spoken out against the latter installment. "I think, I'm actually reasonably happy with the film," Cameron told Deadline prior to the release of "Avatar: The Way of Water." "I think the problem, and I'm going to wear this one, is that I refused to do it without Arnold [Schwarzenegger]."

The producer went on to explain that bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800 and director Tim Miller's desire to bring back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor was, in his opinion, the biggest issue. "It was your granddad's 'Terminator' movie," he admitted. "And we didn't see that." Unsurprisingly, Cameron fails to note longtime franchise fans' criticism of the film's new leads, the killing off of Edward Furlong's John Connor, or even the half-hearted attempts by "Dark Fate" to do the same thing that the first two "Terminator" films did over 30 years ago. It wasn't the cast that was the problem, it was the lack of creative vision.

"If I were to do another 'Terminator' film and maybe try to launch that franchise again, which is in discussion, but nothing has been decided, I would make it much more about the AI side of it than bad robots gone crazy," Cameron told the "SmartLess" podcast back in 2021. While that seems like a step in the right direction, it might not be enough.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is officially out

James Cameron isn't the only one to feel that Arnold Schwarzenegger's involvement in the last two "Terminator" movies was a mistake: it seems like the Governator thinks so too. Off the heels of his recent three-part Netflix documentary "Arnold," the former "Terminator" star revealed that he won't be back for another installment. Previously, Schwarzenegger had been involved in every theatrical installment of the franchise with the exception of "Terminator Salvation," since he was serving as the Governor of California at the time, although the flick still used his likeness in the third act.

"The franchise is not done. I'm done," Arnold told The Hollywood Reporter in May 2023. "I got the message loud and clear that the world wants to move on with a different theme when it comes to 'The Terminator.' Someone has to come up with a great idea." The actor went on to elaborate that he loved the first three movies, but that the last two ("Genisys" and "Dark Fate," for those keeping track) weren't well-written. Of course, nobody can blame Arnold for wanting to be involved in a franchise he helped ignite, but you'd think that he might have wanted to voice those concerns years ago.

While it's hard to think about what the future of the "Terminator" franchise could look like without him, both "Terminator Salvation" and the television series "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" told interesting, unique stories sans Schwarzenegger's involvement. Continuing without Arnold may not be ideal, but it's certainly possible.

James Cameron is writing the next sequel

Possibly the most shocking news in the development of a possible seventh "Terminator" movie came from James Cameron himself following his appearance at Dell Technologies World 2023. According to Rod Mercado on Twitter, Cameron let slip that he began writing the next "Terminator" movie months prior, but that he's waiting for new developments on the fast-changing A.I. landscape before he gets too deeply into it. No doubt, the rise in artificial intelligence as of late certainly makes the world of "Terminator" feel a bit more real, and might even make continuing the series a bit more complicated.

Nevertheless, Cameron — who wrote and directed "The Terminator" and its sequel, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," before stepping away from the series — has progressively gotten more involved in the franchise in recent years, first by helping promote 2015's "Terminator Genisys" and then by producing (and contributing to the story of) "Terminator: Dark Fate." Maybe after so many failures and creative differences from the franchise's original intent, Cameron is finally ready to fully take back the reins and restore his creative vision.

But given how long fans waited for a sequel to 2009's "Avatar," it's entirely possible that we could be waiting a whole decade for another "Terminator" movie. Who knows, he may even want to see the next three "Avatar" sequels through first before pursuing another science fiction epic. Either way, Cameron returning as the primary screenwriter sounds like good news, even if his work on the last movie wasn't remotely his best.

Reboot or continuation?

The big question when considering a seventh installment in the convoluted "Terminator" series is whether or not the next movie should be a reboot or a continuation. Now, it's unlikely that whatever sequel James Cameron comes up with will connect to any of the previous entries or their failed trilogies. "Terminator Salvation" connects too much to "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," "Terminator Genisys" built its own revised timeline (with actors uninterested in returning), and "Terminator: Dark Fate" was largely hated by fans. So what could be next?

Because of the nature of the series, alternate timelines are not outside the realm of possibility when it comes to another "Terminator" movie. For years, fans have hoped for a dark and gritty look at the Future War that Cameron teased all those years ago, and now that he's back helming the franchise, maybe it's time to see that war in full view going forward. It would be an easy way to connect the original films to Cameron's new vision, after all, and highlighting Kyle Reese again would be a nice change after so many years of following Sarah.

Conversely, if Cameron wants to further explore our modern concepts of A.I., then setting the film in the present might make more sense. How could Skynet be born now? That's a question worthy of an answer (even if "Genisys" already provided one). Either way, a reboot is necessary since Linda Hamilton isn't particularly interested in returning as Sarah Connor either. 

Audiences may not actually want a Terminator 7

At this point, "Terminator 7" could happen, but it doesn't seem very likely. After the disappointing box office reception for "Dark Fate," making just $261 million on a $185 million budget, it seems like the franchise's — ahem — fate has been sealed. It's disappointing since James Cameron was intending to write future sequels after producing "Dark Fate," and given the franchise's recent reliance on CGI (another criticism of the 2019 film), it would have been interesting to see if Cameron could have brought it back to its practical-effects roots. (We all remember when we first saw a fake Schwarzenegger head cut out its own eyeball in "The Terminator," right?)

Arguably a bigger question here is whether audiences even want to see a "Terminator 7." Actress Mackenzie Davis thinks that audiences are bored of the franchise, which isn't surprising since the six films have exhausted a number of different methods of continuation — sequels, prequels, hard reboots, and soft reboots. As Davis told NME in 2020, "I really loved ['Dark Fate'] and I'm so proud of what we did, but there wasn't a demand for it [at the box office], and to think that there'd be a demand for a seventh film is quite insane. You should just pay attention to what audiences want."

But with the recent rise of fan-produced "Terminator" media, maybe the issue isn't that fans don't want more "Terminator" stories, they're just holding out for good ones. And there hasn't been one for quite some time.

Do we need another Terminator movie?

Of course, the real question worth asking is whether or not another "Terminator" movie is even worth the time? While we could talk about box office numbers and critical reception forever, the truth is that the "Terminator" story sort of ended itself back in 1991. That's right, after "The Terminator," James Cameron waited seven years to release his epic sequel, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," which has since been considered one of the greatest action movies of our time. No wonder no "Terminator" movie has topped "T2" since its release.

The film's high quality aside, the real reason "Judgment Day" is so hard to live up to is that Cameron's sequel sort of completes the story. Not only do Sarah and John arguably stop Skynet from being born, but Sarah's entire narration is dedicated to the idea that there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. If that's actually true, then the fate the Connors have chosen in "T2" is that they've stopped Judgment Day and thus rewritten the future. In many ways, it's implied that they succeed, despite all the sequels that would have you believe otherwise.

That idea thrives in "Terminator: Dark Fate," which explains that while Skynet was truly defeated, another rogue A.I. took its place. That last part is silly, sure, but the fact that the Connors could actually win is compelling. Maybe, like Skynet, the "Terminator" films have outlived their welcome. Maybe "T2" is the best ending we'll ever get.

Other Terminator projects in development

While it's unclear if or when we'll ever officially get a seventh installment of the "Terminator" story, the greater "Terminator" universe has continued to endure. In 2021, it was announced that Netflix is developing an anime-style "Terminator" series that will take place during the epic Future War seen and alluded to throughout the franchise. Ignoring "Dark Fate" entirely, Netflix's "Terminator" project would likely be set during the same Future War that Kyle Reese came back from in the original "Terminator," and would expand on that dark and apocalyptic world.

At the helm of this project is director Mattson Tomlin (also co-writer of "The Batman Part II"), who gained notoriety from his post-apocalyptic sci-fi feature "Mother/Android" on Hulu, which itself felt like a fresh spin on the "Terminator" idea. Tomlin has taken to social media to post occasional project updates, but there is still no official word on when Netflix will release the series. Nevertheless, new "Terminator" stories are always good news, especially those that embrace the original source material rather than stomp on it.

Alongside the anime, Nightfall Games released the official "Terminator RPG" in 2022, taking its inspiration from Dark Horse Comics' own "Terminator" comic books, and Nacon Studio Milan unveiled its plans for an upcoming "Terminator" survival video game. Set during the Future War with ties to John Connor's resistance, Nacon's game is an original concept. Sadly, little else is known about this "Terminator" game since only a reveal trailer has been released.