Despite the incredible success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron was unwilling to return for another outing – deciding instead to focus on making the next biggest movie ever made, Titanic. But Warner Bros. wanted another movie and Arnold Schwarzenegger would only return if Cameron was directing. In the end, Cameron flat out turned down the role, but told Schwarzenegger to do it, asking for “no less than $30 million”. For Cameron, he wouldn’t return as the story he wanted to tell had been told. What other story could you tell?
By this point in time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was coming to an end of his acting career and he was looking to follow the footsteps of former WWF wrestler and Predator co-star Jesse Ventura and jump to politics by running for Governor of California. Schwarzenegger’s star was showing signs of waning with his action efforts Eraser, End of Days, The 6th Day and Collateral Damage failing to light up the box office and his comedy outings in Junior and Jingle All the Way were as inspired as the titles themselves. Apparently, the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger being pregnant was not the box office boffo some thought it would be. His only true action hit in the 1990s outside of Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the utterly brilliant James Bond inspired True Lies, directed by James Cameron. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was to be Schwarzenegger’s last hurrah – returning to the role that made him a star back in 1984.
In Cameron’s place was Jonathan Mostow, who by this point only had one real credit to his name – the mis-judged and wholly inaccurate World War II drama U-571. Still, he was a director that impressed Schwarzenegger as one of the caveats to his $29.25 million contract was that he had final say on who would direct the film, a list that also contained Ridley Scott and John McTiernan. In fact so convoluted was Schwarzenegger’s contract (that stated he could choose his personal crew as well as get 20% of all gross), that the budget of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had grown to $187 million – the most expensive independently-produced movie ever made.
Also not returning for a third outing was Linda Hamilton, who turned down the chance to reprise her role as Sarah Connor, and was swiftly written out of the script saying her character died of Leukaemia in 1997. Edward Furlong, who played John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was also set to return, but problems with drug abuse meant that he was replaced with Nick Stahl, who joined the project a few weeks before principal photography began. In the end, it was only Schwarzenegger and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman) who remained from the previous two movies.
One big question going into the movie however was the timeframe. In the first two movies, it was stated that Judgement Day would occur on August 29th, 1997. By the time production began on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it was 2002. The solution?
Terminator: “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.”
How dramatically convenient.
The plot revolves around a new Terminator, the T-X, being sent back in time to wipe out Connor’s generals because they cannot locate him in the past due to him going into hiding. This new T-X is a more advanced machine and not only has a liquid-metal exterior like the T-1000, but also has in-built weaponry and the ability to control other machines – and made to look like a woman. The resistance however send back another modified Terminator to protect the T-X’s target, John Connor’s future wife Kate Brewster, as well as John himself.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is often looked at as the black sheep of the Terminator franchise. Not only was it a massive step down from the brilliance of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but there were several plot and logic mis-steps that raise more questions than answers. Terminator 2: Judgment Day offered up its own set of conundrums (if they stopped Judgement Day, then Kyle Reese wouldn’t have been sent back – thus removing the existence of John Connor) but Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines hosts several new ones. If Skynet couldn’t locate John Connor in 2004, then why not send a Terminator back to a time where they could find him? If the T-X is the most powerful and brilliant machine they have, why didn’t they send that one back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor? If this Terminator knew that Judgement Day was inevitable, why didn’t the Terminator from Terminator 2: Judgment Day make them think they could stop it?
The Terminator posited a simple idea – time is a straight line and it cannot be altered. The only reason Cyberdyne Systems began work on Skynet was because they discovered the remains of the Terminator from 1984 and John Connor would not have been born unless Kyle Reese went back in time. Terminator 2: Judgment Day goes back on this and claims that time can be altered, which then poses the questions raised above. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines however suggests that future and past timelines are running concurrently like in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Aside from all that, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is just a bland and boring movie. Not only does the movie rely on idiotic comedy (the Terminator in wacky sunglasses, “talk to the hand”, the T-X inflating her boobs etc.), but it’s a movie we’ve already seen before, only not done as well with an ageing Schwarzenegger who looks unconvincing in his role. Skynet sends back a Terminator, the resistance sends back someone to help, they fight, the good guys win. The cast do nothing to raise the quality of action and the casting of Kristinna Loken as the T-X (who beat out Vin Diesel, Shaquille O’Neal, Famke Janssen and WWF wrestler Chyna) feels like it was done solely to get a shot of her naked, rather than one for creative, story-driven reasons.
The box office numbers also reflect the impact the movie had on the general public at the time, opening to just $44 million and grossing $433 million worldwide (around $544 adjusted for inflation). That’s nearly $100 million less than Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and half a billion less when adjusted for inflation. The critical backlash was not as bad, but it wasn’t overly positive either (though more positive than critics of the video game tie-in were). While it was fun to see Schwarzenegger take on the role once again, nostalgia can only carry it so far – and it wore very thin in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.