At first, The Terminator was all a dream.
James Cameron had exactly one feature film credit to his name when he came up with the idea for The Terminator: Piranha II: The Spawning. While sick with fever, Cameron had a dream about a skeletal metal death machine emerging from a fire, as though it had been covered in human flesh. A cybernetic organism, one might say…
Hollywood counted out James Cameron.
It’s a story as dependable as the various loops in time travel franchises: people doubt James Cameron. People are wrong. Dead wrong. Plenty of folks turned him down and even after the film was made, the film’s backers were less than pleased. In the decades since the movie’s release, Cameron has been outspoken about the lack of support he felt from studio executives. The doubts didn’t stop there. While it was in production, a lot of ink was spilled about the impending disaster that was his wildly expensive disaster movie period piece romance, Titanic. And there were a lot of doubts about another of his big budget films, a 3D epic with blue skinned aliens.
Lance Henriksen was almost The Terminator.
After The Terminator was turned down by a bunch of shortsighted Hollywood types who clearly couldn’t see into the future, James Cameron brought his police chief from Piranha II: The Spawning to a pitch meeting in costume. Lance Henriksen reportedly accompanied the director with gold foil covering his teeth and fake wounds on his head, which helped seal the deal. Cameron ultimately decided against making Henriksen the title character, opting to cast him as another cop, instead. Cameron did eventually cast him as a futuristic machine man, Bishop, in Aliens.
The Studio Wanted O.J. Simpson as the T-800.
Orion Pictures chief Mike Medavoy insisted Cameron find a major star to play the T-800. His suggestion? O.J. Simpson. In a 30-year anniversary oral history of The Terminator, Cameron told EW that both he and producer/cowriter Gale Anne Hurd were against the idea. A decade before the double homicide and the trial of the century, Cameron felt that OJ Simpson was simply too likable to play The Terminator. “This was when everybody loved him, and ironically that was part of the problem,” Cameron said. “He was this likable, goofy, kind of innocent guy.”