The Terminator franchise is not a happy film series. It is about unstoppable AI robots stomping on humanity. This is why we like the movies—they cater to our masochistic desire to see society annihilated in grim fashion, with the added benefit of cool CGI and time-travel shenanigans. (It also doesn’t hurt that the two best installments—the original two—were directed by Ladies Love Cool James Cameron at the height of his powers.) Even the most arguably optimistic ending of any of them—Terminator 2's open-road soliloquy about the promise of a future without nuclear annihilation—is really just a cautious, “maybe we won’t all die in hellfire!” glass-is-half-full scenario. These are not feel-good films, is the general bullet point here.
This was apparently almost not the case. Terminator producer and co-writer Gale Ann Hurd recently accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at Screamfest, and as /Film reports, a Q&A revealed the original film received studio pressure to change the ending in order to provide a happier conclusion for Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor. “We got notes to end the film before the end of the film,” Hurd told the audience. “Not even have The Terminator rise out as the endoskeleton, but just end with Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor hugging.” In other words, no iconic special effect, no emotional core to the final arc...none of the things that pushed it from very good to classic. True, stories of half-wit studio executives trying to change crucial elements of now-legendary movies are practically obligatory, but this one still feels especially tone-deaf, something more akin to “Does Old Yeller have to die?”-level idiocy.
Hurd stressed that some behind-the-scenes support helped her (and Cameron) stay true to their vision. “I mean, your first movie and you’re telling people, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ It’s not an easy thing to do...There are also more unsung heroes which is that one of our strongest supporters was the head of the completion bond company, Film Finances here in Los Angeles,” Hurd added. “The late Lindsley Parsons Sr. knew what The Terminator was going to be. Roger [Corman] knew what The Terminator was going to be and not a lot of people did. You absolutely need people to believe in you.” Left unsaid is whether anyone knew what Terminator Salvation was going to be, and if so, whether they would have sent a plucky studio executive backwards through time to stop its development.