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Terminator Movie Rights Explained (& What Could Happen After Dark Fate)

The Terminator is in the middle of a movie rights shift as the franchise prepares for the release of Terminator: Dark Fate. The Terminator franchise was created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, with the first film releasing in 1984 and becoming a big box office hit, helping launch Cameron’s career as a filmmaker. The Terminator is now considered one of the greatest films of all time and in 2008 was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Terminator’s story has since expanded to other media, such as TV (with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), video games, novels, collectible card games, and more. In film, it has spawned five sequels: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, Terminator Genisys, and the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate. The sequels, especially the last two, didn’t have the same positive reception the first two films had, something that is expected to change with Terminator: Dark Fate, which follows the example of recent films like David Gordon Green’s Halloween and serves as a direct sequel to Terminator 2, with the rest of the sequels occurring in “alternate timelines”.

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Related: The Terminator Movie Viewing Order

The purpose of Terminator: Dark Fate would be to continue with the franchise through a new trilogy, but these plans came across with a big obstacle as the rights are about to go back to Gale Anne Hurd. Rights and who owns them in the entertainment industry can be messy and tricky, and Terminator, along with other properties from the 1980s, are about to go back to its creators – if they don’t reach a deal with the studios, that is. Here’s what’s happening with the Terminator rights and how this could affect the future of the franchise.

The Terminator Rights Moved Around A Lot

James Cameron came up with the concept for The Terminator after having a dream about a metallic torso holding kitchen knives and dragging itself from an explosion. He developed this idea as a slasher film, but after some rewrites and the help of screenwriter Bill Wisher, The Terminator as viewers know it came to be. However, Cameron was still an unknown director at the time, having Piranha II: The Spawning as his only directing credit, so studios were skeptical about him and his story about robots and time-travel. Cameron ended up selling the rights to the film for $1 to producer Gale Anne Hurd, under the promise that he would direct the film. Hurd suggested edits to the script and got a screenwriting credit, and Cameron got to direct his project.

The Terminator was distributed by Orion Pictures, but the rights have been bouncing around ever since. TriStar had them for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and later jumped to Warner Bros. for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation. Cameron has been quite open about his regret on selling the rights (and at such a low price), even saying that if he had a time machine and could send a short message to his past self, it would be “don’t sell”. Although selling the rights allowed him to make the film, it has certainly brought more problems than benefits, and had he not sold them, it would have been difficult to get a studio to back and distribute the film, but it wouldn’t have been impossible.

Skydance Currently Owns The Terminator Rights

Terminator Genisys

The rights to Terminator were auctioned in 2011, and after a bidding war that included studios like Lionsgate and Sony, Megan Ellison from Annapurna Pictures acquired them for $20 million. Ellison later sold them to her brother, Skydance Media’s CEO David Ellison, and that’s where they’re currently at. Skydance’s first Terminator film was Terminator Genisys in 2015, which was intended to be the first of a new trilogy, but it wasn’t well received by critics. And even though it became the second highest-grossing entry in the franchise, it failed to break even, and so a sequel couldn’t be greenlit.

Skydance had to rethink their plans before their time was up and they lost the rights, and in 2017 it was announced that their second film, Terminator: Dark Fate, would be a direct sequel to Terminator 2, thus rebooting the series. Terminator: Dark Fate brought James Cameron back to the franchise as producer – this in hopes that he could help create a better film than Genisys. That same year, Cameron said he was working with Ellison to set up a new Terminator trilogy as he would be getting the rights back soon, but those plans were momentarily blocked as Cameron is not the only one getting the rights back in the near future.

Related: Who Is Carl? Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator: Dark Fate Character Explained

What Happens To The Terminator Rights After Dark Fate

A feature in the U.S. copyright law allows authors to get the rights back from studios once 35 years have passed after original publication. According to THR, Gale Anne Hurd has “moved to terminate a copyright grant made 35 years ago”, meaning that Skydance could lose the rights to Terminator starting in November 2020, thus not being able to make more films unless they come to an agreement with both Hurd and Cameron, as it would be a 50-50 split on the Terminator rights. Given that Cameron is already working with the studio to bring more Terminator films after Dark Fate with this change in mind, there shouldn’t be a problem with him, as recently assured by Skydance, who released a statement saying they have “a deal in place with Jim Cameron” and control the rights “for the foreseeable future”. Hurd hasn’t commented on that yet, but Skydance’s statement sounds like they have also reached an agreement with her.

Unless the deal falls through, Skydance and Cameron can continue with their plans for a new Terminator trilogy if Terminator: Dark Fate performs as good as expected (and needed). The terms of the deal are unknown, but as the studio isn’t working against the copyright clock anymore, they should be able to work on each film with more time than they had with Genisys and Dark Fate, hopefully reviving the franchise.

Next: Terminator: Dark Fate Cast & Character Guide

Key Release Dates
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019
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