How Producer Gale Anne Hurd Saved 'The Terminator' From A Happy Ending

It's rare for major studio blockbusters to have downer endings. The Terminator films sort of require it. They are about a nuclear apocalypse in which machines overpower humanity. The best victory afforded humans in those films is that the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, lives to defeat Skynet. Only Terminator 2: Judgment Day ends with the hope of averting the war, and subsequent sequels assured that the war rages on.

Back in 1984, there was no franchise to support The Terminator. The first film ends with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) surviving after Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) sacrificed himself fighting the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), but not before helping her conceive John Connor. Producer and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd recalled the development execs who wanted the original film to have a happier ending.

"We got notes to end the film before the end of the film," Hurd said at a Screamfest Q&A before the presentation of her Lifetime Achievement Award. "Not even have The Terminator rise out as the endoskeleton, but just end with Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor hugging."

As a first time writer/producer, having just graduated from Roger Corman's studio, Hurd had to be bold to fight for her vision with co-writer and director James Cameron. "I mean, your first movie and you're telling people, 'No, you're wrong.' It's not an easy thing to do," she said.

Fortunately, Hurd and Cameron were not alone in their vision for The Terminator. Thanks to some behind the scenes support, the ending of The Terminator remained appropriately bleak.

"There are also more unsung heroes which is that one of our strongest supporters was the head of the completion bond company, Film Finances here in Los Angeles," Hurd said. "The late Lindsley Parsons Sr. knew what The Terminator was going to be. Roger [Corman] knew what The Terminator was going to be and not a lot of people did. You absolutely need people to believe in you. You also need people to tell you when you're screwing up that you can listen to. Lindsley was all of that. Roger has always been all of that, but we could have bowed to the pressure. Or, we could have been wrong and not listened to the things that made the film better. Luckily we had each other's backs."

Had Cameron and Hurd been forced to saddle The Terminator with a happy ending, and it had still become a hit, perhaps Biehn could have starred in sequels. But then we would have never seen the iconic metal endoskeleton with Stan Winston's landmark designs and stop motion animation. We'll take the tragic ending.

Now there is a sixth Terminator film on the way, some 35 years later. At the time, The Terminator was just another big idea looking for someone to say yes.

"We can spend all night talking about the 99 rejections, and we kept persevering until the 100th time we pitched it, somebody said yes," Hurd said.