Terminator’s first draft would have seen John Connor and Kyle Reese reunited in the future, so why was the movie right to cut this moving moment?
Franchise hero John Connor appeared in an early draft of 1984’s The Terminator, so why can’t he be found anywhere in the finished film? Released in 1984, the original The Terminator is a dark, brutal sci-fi action thriller. The movie saw Arnold Schwarzenegger rise to superstardom thanks to his unforgettable villainous turn as the eponymous android assassin.
With Mad Max actor Mel Gibson considered for Terminator, it is fair to say that future-Aliens–helmer James Cameron’s movie was almost very different from the intense, slasher-influenced thrill ride that audiences eventually received in 1984. The movie underwent numerous rounds of rewrites, with Cameron’s original vision being too ambitious for his small budget. Nonetheless, The Terminator proved a huge hit, and many of the excised sequences were ones best left on the cutting room floor.
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For example, a 1982 treatment by James Cameron included an appearance from none other than John Connor during Sarah’s dream wherein the action of the movie jumps forward to the future and the leader saves Reese’s life during the short scene. According to the Terminator fan site Hope of the Future, the scene was never filmed but was scripted, and its action is set in a desolate human outpost during Skynet’s war against humanity. Not unlike the war-stricken future of Terminator: Salvation, the brief, wordless glimpse sees the scattered resistance fighters eke out a hardscrabble existence that is interrupted by an attack from Terminators tossing concussion bombs. Kyle is saved by John Connor, further solidifying the connection between the father and son.
Like a lot of the ambitious missing scenes found in Cameron’s earlier drafts of The Terminator’s script, the scene may have been cut because it was too expensive to shoot or did not fit with the pacing of the finished film. Dyson’s apocalyptic dream sequence and a gorier, more explosive attack on the Gant camp went missing during the journey from script to screen in the case of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and both cuts were due to budgetary concerns. However, The Terminator’s missing John Connor dream sequence may also have been removed due to the fact that dreams infamously slow down story momentum, so the decision to cut John’s role out of the movie may not have been a mistake, judging by later franchise contributions.
It may be no loss that John Connor did not appear in the original Terminator, as the character was instrumental to the failure of 2009’s Terminator: Salvation. Originally intended to be an inventive, picaresque, post-apocalyptic adventure, the script was retooled and converted into a more conventional action-thriller when Christian Bale came aboard to star as John Connor. Terminator: Salvation was met with mixed reviews and disappointing box office results, something that may not have been a problem if the series kept the character’s appearance to a minimum like Cameron’s original movie. Even the smaller role of John Connor in Terminator: Genisys (wherein he is assassinated and imitated by a Terminator) and Terminator: Dark Fate (where he is killed pre-credits) prove that the character seems doomed to be a source of audience dissatisfaction through the Terminator franchise.
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