The greatest sci-fi sequel of all time came out 30 years ago this week.
Released on July 3, 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day turned James Cameron’s low-budget breakout hit of 1984 into a franchise as relentless as the cyborg that gives the movie its name.
Let’s recap — Set in Los Angeles in 1995, T2 sees superintelligence system Skynet send a new Terminator (the T-1000) back in time from 2029 to kill Sarah Connor's son John to prevent him from mounting a resistance against the killer AI. Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger, T-800 from the 1984 original, whom John sends back in time to protect the child version of himself. The two Terminators battle it out over a thrilling 137 (!!!) minutes.
Three decades later, Terminator 2’s message of hope against a rogue artificial intelligence and its army of machines is more relevant than ever.
As Schwarzenegger told The Ringer in a definitive oral history published this week: “We are in charge. We don’t have to take this shit that’s coming our way. We can go and create a future, the one that we want, which is a good future without those machines. We just have to fight for it.”
As timeless as the sequel may be, the story behind it is even better. To commemorate the T2’s 30th birthday, Inverse combed through hours of podcasts and making-of interviews to unearth 30 fascinating nuggets about one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made.
30. Edward Furlong, who plays John Connor in his first screen role, nearly didn't get the part. When he acted in a test scene with Linda Hamilton, who played his mother, he says that he got bashful and “almost got written off the list.” At the insistence of the casting director Mali Finn, Furlong worked with an acting coach, came back, and managed to get the role despite still feeling nervous.
29. Furlong turned out to be incredibly well suited to the part of a rebellious kid living with foster parents because, he said in a 2020 podcast interview, he had run away from home and was living with his aunt and uncle.
28. In a junket at the time, James Cameron said that in his original treatment for The Terminator, he described a liquid metal robot from the future that could disguise itself as objects like sidewalks and vending machines — a major characteristic of the T-1000, Terminator 2's villain. He abandoned this idea because, in the 1980s, he had no idea how it would be achieved technically but also because he knew that John Carpenter was making The Thing, and he was worried his idea might be too similar.
27. Schwarzenegger returned to reprise his role, but in Terminator 2, he becomes a hero, a robot with something approaching a conscience. Co-writer William Wisher told the Script Apart podcast that in the build-up to the original Terminator, the studio had wanted Arnold to play Kyle Reese, The Terminator's protagonist. When Schwarzenegger met Cameron, he told him that he didn't want to be the hero. He wanted to be the bad guy. This was fortunate for the director, who saw him as a villain anyway.
26. Schwarzenegger told Cameron that he would like to play both Terminators, but the director thought that this would be too gimmicky. He also pointed out that it would involve spending even longer in makeup than for playing one role.
25. Cameron told The Ringer recently that for the role of the T-1000 (which went to Robert Patrick in the end), he had considered Billy Idol originally. Still, that idea became untenable after Idol broke his leg and fractured his forearm in a motorbike accident.
24. Schwarzenegger claims he sat for five hours a day for 43 days to have the various elements of facial prosthetics applied by makeup artists. The artists say he would arrive at about 3 p.m., they would apply the effects until 8:30 p.m., he would film till around 6 a.m., and then they would spend an hour taking it all off again.
23. To help create a digital skin for Robert Patrick, the Industrial Light and Magic team had him walk around in his pants with a two-inch-by-two-inch grid painted on him while two cameras filmed him:
22. T2 is infamous for its pioneering special effects, and there are around 47 computer-generated shots in the film. The Industrial Light and Magic team estimates that eight weeks would have gone into creating it for every five seconds a computer-generated shot lasted.
21. The first scene of Terminator 2, in which the nuclear apocalypse is depicted, costs more than the entire first film.
20. For that opening scene, Los Angeles had to be destroyed in model form. The team building the models found that cornflakes, crackers, and shredded wheat were the perfect size for various elements of these structures, including broken masonry.
19. On Patrick's first day, he filmed a scene in which, after killing the dog of John Connor's foster parents, the T-1000 looks through John's room and takes in a great deal of information. The scene was deleted.
18. There are conflicting takes on whether or not Schwarzenegger changed the shape of his body for the sequel. If you believe William Wisher, Schwarzenegger lost around 40 pounds for the role, but in an interview in 1991, the man himself says that he has consistently weighed around 215 pounds for a long time. And he should know.
17. The Corral Bar, the biker bar in which Schwarzenegger famously says, “I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle,” is now a library called the Lake View Terrace Library, according to a video made by Paramount in 2019.
16. Wisher suggested to Cameron that when the camera pans up on Schwarzenegger after putting on the biker's clothes, “Bad to the Bone” should begin playing. Cameron decided against this. Wisher checked in on the edit a year or so later, and Cameron wanted to show him an idea he had had: he had put “Bad to the Bone” in exactly the place that Wisher had suggested. Wisher told him that was his idea. Cameron couldn't remember this. “Let him think he just thought of it,” Wisher said.
15. To play the T-1000, Patrick told Empire’s podcast that he decided with Cameron that he wouldn't blink, and that when he ran, he would breathe through his nose, not his mouth. A menacing look to be sure.
14. A movie bloopers compilation for the film points out that if the T-1000 had inhabited the body of an LAPD cop and failed to return the stolen police car, his colleagues would have organized some search for him. Killjoys.
13. When the T-1000 is shot, and his metal body appears to burst open, the effect is achieved without CGI: a spring-loaded mylar prop in the shape of a flower would pop open, operated by remote control.
12. When the T-1000 impersonates a security guard in the psychiatric institution that Sarah Connor is in, there is no digital trickery when we see two security guards simultaneously. The security guard is played by identical twin brothers Don Stanton and Dan Stanton.
11. Ridiculously, this is also true of Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor — she has an identical twin named Leslie, who plays Connor when the T-1000 is impersonating her.
10. A 2015 piece in Wired reveals that when the T-1000 passes through the metal bars of a gate in the psychiatric institution, the sound effect was that of dog food coming out of a can.
9. In the climactic scene set in a steel mill, the actors found it difficult to imagine that they were boiling. Despite the huge amounts of molten steel supposedly there, the temperature in the building was actually a mere 42°F (5°C).
8. To simulate the effect of molten steel, the team used a mixture of oil, powdered sugar, and water.
7. When the T-1000 freezes in liquid nitrogen and is blown apart by the T-800, the effects team struggled to create the illusion that the blobs were autonomously rejoining to form a whole robot. They tried putting the mercury blobs on a table on which they had created a dipped center. This proved difficult, so they sprayed some adhesive on the table – when the mercury met this, it stopped in its tracks, creating the desired effect.
6. For the scene where the T-1000 bashes in the T-800's head with a steel girder, Stan Winston's character team had made a flexible puppet head out of rubber. When Cameron saw the puppet being pummelled, he said it looked too fake. The team's only alternative was one of the radio-controlled robotic heads they had used to replace Schwarzenegger elsewhere in the film. After they offered up one of these, Cameron tested it out — by repeatedly smashing the girder into it and destroying it.
5. For the T-800's death, Wisher told Script Apart that he wanted the robot to say he was scared and immediately jump to his death in the molten steel. Cameron overruled this, choosing for the character to ask Sarah Connor to lower him down.
4. As the T-800 disappears into the boiling-hot liquid, the last thing the audience sees of the character is a thumbs-up — a callback to when John teaches him this gesture. Although this was a touch that choked up audiences, neither Hamilton nor Tim Miller (who directed 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate) liked it, thinking it was overly sentimental.
3. In an interview promoting the film in 1991, Cameron said, “Home Alone [released six months earlier] is gonna be forgotten 20 years from now; it will be a momentary hiccup because it doesn't have that kind of staying power.”
2. After Peter Jackson watched Terminator 2, he said that he would need to start using the same technology as Cameron; otherwise, he would get “left behind” as a director.
1. When Cameron re-released Terminator 2 in 2017, he corrected a continuity error in the scene in which the T-1000 drives a tow truck off the bridge and lands behind John Connor. (In the original, the impact forces the windscreen to come off, only to mysteriously reattach itself moments later.) He also added a digital Schwarzenegger head into the scenes where it is obvious that the actor's stunt double was involved.