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Which Director Sold the Rights to His First Major Film for $1?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Back in the early 1980s, long before he was associated with achievements like Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron was a novice filmmaker with only one directing credit to his name: Piranha II: The Spawning (1982). As you might have guessed, that movie was neither a blockbuster nor a critical darling (it currently has a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

But the young Cameron had a vision for a film that he believed could one day become a critical and commercial success. The inspiration for the sci-fi classic The Terminator had apparently come to him in a dream, leading to an original script that he showed to producer Gale Ann Hurd, his partner at the time (and later wife). It soon became apparent that, although various studios thought Cameron was onto something with the screenplay, no one trusted him to sit in the director’s chair. Though he received numerous offers for the script, he turned them down as he was still determined to direct.

Cameron eventually got his wish, but it came with a massive tradeoff. Under the condition that he would get to direct, he sold the film’s script to Hurd for a mere $1. However, although Cameron had lost the rights to The Terminator and must have been incredibly frustrated to essentially watch from the sidelines without having any say in the future of the franchise, the film's success undoubtedly jumpstarted his career.

Following the success of The Terminator, Cameron would also write and direct Aliens, The Abyss, and the immensely popular Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Today, he is one of the world’s most famous and commercially successful directors, having helmed three of the top four highest-grossing films of all time (Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water, and Titanic). He has also won three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing), all for Titanic..

"Come with me if you want to live..."

  • In the decades following The Terminator’s production, Cameron has expressed regret over losing the rights to the film. Those rights would ultimately change hands numerous time, with the franchise eventually encompassing six films, a TV show, numerous games, and countless merchandise tie-ins.

  • Cameron told the British Film Institute that one of the iconic images from The Terminator (“a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire”) came to him during a dream while he was sick with a fever while staying in Rome in 1981.

  • Cameron was a producer for the most recent Terminator film, 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, which is a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Under North American copyright law, he regained partial rights to the franchise in 2019.

  • In 2023, Cameron announced that he was working on the script for a potential seventh Terminator film, which he says would explore the new world of artificial intelligence, though the film has not been officially greenlit.

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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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