Terminator: Salvation cut a huge twist that would have fundamentally altered the original Terminator’s unstoppable villain, Schwarzenegger’s T-800.
The major twist cut from Terminator: Salvation could have changed the tone of 1984’s original The Terminator by altering the character of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original T-800. Much of what made The Terminator’s original villain so scary was his emotionless effect. Schwarzenegger helped shape the Terminator‘s terrifyingly uncaring persona in an early meeting with the movie’s director James Cameron.
Schwarzenegger noted that, as a machine, it made sense for the T-800 to take no joy in his violent mission. Schwarzenegger’s take on the character was that an unthinking, unfeeling robotic assassin would be scarier than a sadistically villainous one since its inhumanity made the villain impossible to reason with. Cameron agreed, and thus the T-800 became the passionless villain viewers know and love, only for Terminator: Salvation’s canceled twist to cast doubt on this characterization.
In earlier drafts of the sequel’s script, Terminator: Salvation’s hero Marcus is revealed to be a robot unbeknownst to himself. Terminator: Salvation’s missing twist is one the franchise still needs to revisit, as it casts doubt on everything that viewers thought they knew about Skynet’s creations. While Schwarzenegger famously opted to play the T-800 as a cold, unfeeling automaton with no agency or emotion, just a deadly mission, Terminator: Salvation’s cut revelation proves that robots could be thinking, feeling sentient beings in the series. This was something hinted at in Terminator 2: Judgment Day by John, Sarah, and the T-800’s bond, but its confirmation in Terminator: Salvation would have meant that Schwarzenegger’s original T-800 could be aware of his actions and a particularly vicious, cold-blooded assassin, as opposed to a machine with no say in its programming.
There is a certain sense of tragedy to the original Terminator’s T-800, which cannot change its function and therefore exists only to kill. This same element of the character makes the T-800 such an effective villain, and its immense strength alone is much less scary than the character’s built-in inability to give up. As a result, the implication garnered from Terminator: Salvation’s missing twist—that the T-800 could potentially know what it is doing and being actively choosing to hunt down Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor—completely changes the villain’s motivations.
This twist could make the original T-800 scarier or more conventional and predictable, depending on each viewer’s take on evil. Making the villain a robot subverts slasher movies cliches by explaining why the T-800 will not stop no matter what. Still, making the robot a sentient, conscious being means that the killer actively chooses to hunt humans and not merely follow his programming. For some Terminator fans, Terminator: Salvation’s missing twist may have ruined Schwarzenegger’s iconic villain, but for anyone just as afraid of a sadistic, relentless robot as a cold, unthinking one, the T-800’s threat level remains pretty untouchable.
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Cathal Gunning has been writing about movies and TV online since 2020. His obsessions include The Simpsons, Stephen King, the Scream series, and the horror genre in general. He has spent more time thinking about Stranger Things than the writers of Stranger Things, and he has never seen a Star War.