If you bring back actor Linda Hamilton, insert the super hot director of Deadpool, Tim Miller, and even entice original-creator and mega-producer James Cameron to create your new Terminator movie and no one shows up to see it… then you’ve just terminated the franchise.
I take no great joy in announcing that. But there’s no debate here. The Terminator franchise is dead.
Terminator: Dark Fate opened at $29 million in North America, which was disappointing, but even the $38 million they originally forecast was dismal.
Overseas, Dark Fate did better with the help of China and South Korea leading to a $123.6 million worldwide. That’s not terrible, but the film has a $185,000,00 budget. Typically, they say with theater takes, and advertising costs, that a film needs to make 2 to 3 times the budget to make a profit. It’s going to be a long shot to make that happen.
Frankly, the moviegoing audience has spoken.
So what happened?
There are several factors at work here. I’ve seen the movie and it’s easily the best movie in the franchise since 1991’s Terminator: Judgement Day. Yes, that’s part of the problem, and I’ll address that in a moment.
They had everything lined up here. They had the original players that made the franchise famous and some crackerjack casting, both in front of and behind the lens.
Besides Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, which should bring in the graying crowd they also gave us some new blood in Mckenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, both excellent additions.
They also put a great director in charge, Tim Miller. He delivered a tight quality action film with plenty of thrills.
Finally, they brought James Cameron to the franchise who helped with both writing and producing duties.
They threw everything into this movie.
The Dead Zone
Early November is a dead time to release movies. It’s after the Halloween season and right before the holiday season. The studio must have felt that releasing it now would prevent it from encountering too much competition.
While it won the opening week, who would have thought that Joker would be such stiff competition? Joker took another $13.5 million off the table domestically. And even Maleficent has shown some legs.
This weekend will have the debut of Midway, Doctor Sleep, Last Christmas, and Playing with Fire. That’s going to decimate what’s left of Dark Fate’s run.
This Dead Zone should have allowed Terminator to breathe, but it’s being choked-out by surprising competitors instead.
Nearly three decades of dogs
Terminator: Dark Fate is the first movie since Judgement Day that gave us a movie that felt like it was truly part of the franchise.
After Judgement Day, which was a certified blockbuster and all-time classic movie, it was followed 12 years later in 2003 by Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The movie recast the major players, gave us a lackluster plot and villain, and felt more like a television movie than a blockbuster follow-up.
Undaunted, we were given Terminator Salvation in 2009, which was set after Skynet took over. While it did feature Christian Bale, the writing was poor, and director McG turned the franchise into a cartoon.
And more recently we were given Terminator Genisys (2015), which sought to do a soft reboot with, again, an almost entirely new cast, reinserted into the mythos of the previous films. Clearly that didn’t work either.
The cumulative effect of rotating casts, lackluster execution, and mundane ideas has numbed the audience for this franchise. We’ve been burned too many times.
While I enjoyed Terminator: Dark Fate and even appreciated much of the elements that I’m going to point out, the identity politics in this film unquestionably turned off some of the Terminator audience.
Things like having the main cast of mostly women (again, that’s something I enjoyed, and their characters were all excellent), placing the characters south of the US border and having them travel with immigrants sneaking into the country, and the swerve near the end that will challenge some people’s perceptions of roles for women, are all very much present in this film.
One last time I’m going to point out that none of this was egregious, or forced, or even out of line with the franchise. But, if you’re going to present a lead-fueled action movie, and you want to court the old-school franchise fans (who are over 40 and mostly male) you have to know that those elements are going to rub some people the wrong way.
It was a gamble to skew towards a younger generation that might appreciate those elements more, and it didn’t pay off.
The Terminator story itself
It’s also possible that the initial idea was good enough for one tight science fiction film, and that by expanding and completing the story with Judgement Day that was where it should have ended.
Subsequent films have tried to dial things back, change the parameters, or retcon the affair entirely, and none of that has worked.
Terminator: Dark Fate does the same thing that Star Wars: The Force Awakens did, which is, invite the old gang back and reset everything so a younger gang can join the fun and we can get another trilogy. The problem with that is we’re operating in the same territory that we’ve explored previously.
We’ve been here before.
We’ve done that.
The reset, or the soft reboot, is wearing thin on audiences.
Judgement Day on the Terminator franchise
I think it’s a shame that we didn’t get something like Terminator: Dark Fate in the early 2000s instead of Terminator 3. Instead, we got a string of increasingly lame movies that existed because the studio thought they could make a quick buck. They burned through the excitement and goodwill from fans long long ago.
Look no further than other Fox properties like Alien and Predator to see how to kill a quality film franchise with multiple iterations of cheap uninspired dreck, and overinvolvement from studio executives who don’t understand the appeal of their own movies.
Add to that a stronger than expected roster of competition, a play for identity politics that turned off some potential viewers, and a simple story that has been flogged one too many times, and you’ll see why Dark Fate is likely to be the last Terminator film you’ll see in a long time.
And that’s a shame, because Dark Fate is a good film, that unfortunately has no audience.