The Terminator is a 1984 American science fiction action thriller film directed by James Cameron. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, a cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose unborn son will one day save mankind from extinction by a hostile artificial intelligence in a post-apocalyptic future. Michael Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a soldier sent back in time to protect Sarah. The screenplay is credited to Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, while co-writer William Wisher Jr. received a credit for additional dialogue.
Cameron devised the premise of the film from a fever dream he experienced during the release of his first film, Piranha II: The Spawning (1982), in Rome, and developed the concept in collaboration with Wisher. He sold the rights to the project to fellow New World Pictures alumna Hurd on the condition that she would produce the film only if he were to direct it; Hurd eventually secured a distribution deal with Orion Pictures, while executive producers John Daly and Derek Gibson of Hemdale Film Corporation were instrumental in setting up the film’s financing and production. Originally approached by Orion for the role of Reese, Schwarzenegger agreed to play the title character after befriending Cameron. Filming, which took place mostly at night on location in Los Angeles, was delayed because of Schwarzenegger’s commitments to Conan the Destroyer (1984), during which Cameron found time to work on the scripts for Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Aliens (1986). The film’s special effects, which included miniatures and stop-motion animation, were created by a team of artists led by Stan Winston and Gene Warren Jr.
Defying low pre-release expectations, The Terminator topped the United States box office for two weeks, eventually grossing $78.3 million against a modest $6.4 million budget. It is credited with launching Cameron’s film career and solidifying Schwarzenegger’s status as a leading man. The film’s success led to a franchise consisting of several sequels, a television series, comic books, novels and video games. In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.