Arnold Schwarzenegger played the villainous T-800 in 1984's The Terminator, with his defeat at the hands of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor still one of the most satisfying moments in cinematic history. However, when the trailers for Terminator 2: Judgement Day started dropping a few years later, it was made clear that the returning cyborg was now on the side of the angels.
It was a pretty big spoiler to put in the marketing campaign, and fans have wondered for years why filmmaker James Cameron didn't save the reveal for when they sat down in theaters to watch it.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power co-showrunner Patrick McKay recently posed that question to the Avatar: The Way of Water helmer as part of an Empire Q&A. Cameron was quick to confirm that he never intended the T-800's heroic role in the follow-up to be a secret.
"All of us have had our battles with the Suits, but the case you mention was not a battle. The Carolco guys, Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna, were good partners with me on T2, and I led the charge on marketing, including showing Arnold as the good guy," he recalls. "It wasn’t a Sixth Sense kind of twist that’s revealed only at the end of the film."
"He's revealed as the Protector at the end of Act One. And I always feel you lead with your strongest story element in selling a movie."
For Cameron, the goal was to get the audience intrigued by the idea that the once-evil cyborg had somehow become a hero.
"I believed our potential audience would be more attracted to seeing how the most badass killing machine could become a hero than they would be to just another kill-fest in the same vein as the first film," the director says. "Sequels have to strike a delicate balance between honoring the most loved elements from the first film, but also promising to really shake things up and turn them upside down. Our marketing campaign for T2 was exactly that promise, and it worked."
It did indeed, and as well as being a critical and commercial hit at the time, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is widely considered one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.
Do you think this "twist" is one that should have been saved for theaters?