James Cameron swears it was an original idea. Harlan Ellison begged to differ, and was awarded a screen credit (and one assumes, some cash) for challenging said statement. It turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a superstar and reset the tone for actions movies for decades to come. Yet few who saw the original Terminator thought it would be a sleeper hit. Cameron, working with a tiny budget and a mostly no-name cast, had to be overly inventive in his story of a killer from the future chasing down the mother of the man who would lead the human resistance against the machines in a future war fraught with death and destruction. The results hit audiences desperate for something both intelligent and energetic. The sequel was even more satisfying, utilizing amazing special effects that, once again, rewrote the sci-fi filmmaking rule book.
But then time passed, and studio suits grew antsy for more fanboy cash. They cooked up a warmed over version of the second film, hired a then flagging Ah-nold to return to his signature role, and went all girlie on the potential murder machine. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had its moments, but with its shockingly similarly storyline (a 20-something John Connor is chased by an advanced cyborg, only to be protected by another Schwarzenegger-bot) and downbeat ending, everyone could see the corner the series was staring into. Now, with the less than successful returns for the fourth installment, it seems like nothing can successfully bring the Terminator back to Cameron era, excellence.