The Terminator's Encino Man Cameo Was Given The OK By Arnold Schwarzenegger Himself

1992's "Encino Man" is, as the trailer puts it, about "a caveman who just stepped into the 20th Century." Luckily for him, two slackers from Encino, California are the ones to guide the Cro-Magnon dude through the ways of teenage living. It's always fun to imagine the pitch meeting for these oddball movies, but I can't imagine how "Encino Man" was sold to Disney. The director, Les Mayfield, hadn't made a feature film before, there were no major stars onboard, the plot sounded like something no one asked for, and if you're going to try to capitalize on the popularity of '90s California surfer/stoner culture, Encino seems like one of the least recognizably Californian locales you could choose. This is probably why every other country in which it was released renamed it "California Man."

But, for whatever reason, the movie was not only a box office success, it has gained a kind of cult status. Much of that is likely down to the quintessential '90s-ness of the whole thing. On top of the valley slang, makeover sequence, a surprisingly expensive ice cube, and the fact it starred MTV VJ Pauly Shore as a stoner literally named "Stoney," there were numerous references to the culture of the time throughout. One of which took the form of a sort-of cameo from The Terminator himself which almost didn't make the cut.

'I'll be back'

"Encino Man" provided a breakout role for star Brendan Fraser. Melted from a block of ice after 2 million years and plunged into '90s Los Angeles, his character at one point inadvertently turns on a TV only to be confronted by the famous "I'll be back" scene from the original 1984 "Terminator." It was a timely reference, as "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" had debuted the year prior. And a relevant one, too considering the "Terminator" films focus on cyborgs transported from their timeline to an unfamiliar setting — much like Fraser's caveman. But the reference only barely made the cut

Thanks to Inverse's oral history of "Encino Man," we actually do know how the movie got greenlit. Writer George Zaloom and Mayfield met with their former agent Dan Halsted who had become senior VP of production at Disney's Hollywood Pictures. Halsted pitched their idea to then-Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave the project the go-ahead.

Katzenberg would later prove useful again. After Zaloom was told to take the "Terminator" scene out of the script, "like five times," he persisted until he and Mayfield sat in a production meeting with the Disney Chairman. According to Zaloom, upon hearing that, "the [Arnold] Schwarzenegger people won't give us the rights to use "Terminator.'" Katzenberg said, "We're keeping that."

As Mayfield remembers it, the Chairman then immediately spoke to Schwarzenegger's agent, telling him: "I'll come over and mow his yard if he lets us use the clip!" Within seconds, Zaloom witnessed Katzenberg speaking directly to the "Terminator" star:

"He's like, 'Hey, man, how's it going? Look, we're doing this 'Encino Man.' We really want — OK, love it, thanks. You're the best! OK, bye!' He's like, 'That stays in." I was like, 'I love Hollywood! I love Jeffrey Katzenberg!'"

Hasta la vista, baby

With the scene from "The Terminator" locked in, Brendan Fraser's caveman was free to reuse Arnie's iconic line later in the movie, when upon leaving a drug store he turns to the proprietors and tells them he'll "be back." It's an amusing moment that's reminiscent of Schwarzenegger's Terminator being taught slang — "Hasta la vista, baby" — by Edward Furlong's John Connor in "Terminator 2." Pauly Shore repeats the line in the mid-credits sequence.

Unfortunately, "Encino Man" would not be back after his movie debut. Critics panned the caveman comedy, despite making a healthy $40 million at the box office on a $7 million budget. And aside from an ill-conceived TV movie, "Encino Woman" in 1996, that would pretty much be the end of the road for George Zaloom and Les Mayfield's offbeat idea.

But the film's legacy endures as one of the most '90s movies ever made and is fondly recalled by Fraser himself, who told GQ how it fit his talent for playing, "naif characters. The babe in the woods, the fish out of water, the new guy. New in town and just trying to fit in." That mirrored his own life, having moved around as a child with his family, living in the US, Canada, and Europe at various points, and developing a knack for fitting in.

With his recent resurgence, propelled by his affecting performance in Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale", Fraser has once again reminded us of his significant talent. As he went on to tell GQ, "I think you have to believe in everything you're doing, because if you don't, your audience won't. It keeps you honest." Whatever else you think about "Encino Man," there's no denying Fraser's commitment in the part, which if nothing else is interesting for giving us a glimpse of the future star's talent.