Can Viacom and Paramount Travel Back in Time and Rescue the 'Terminator' Franchise?

Terminator Genesis hits theaters in July 2015. Will the movie re-energize the property, or crush its incredible potential?

Jul 1, 2014 at 7:12AM



The Terminator series stands as one of the most beloved properties in science fiction. More precisely, Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are broadly esteemed as pinnacles of the genre. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation have their fans, but are frequently cited as blights on the broader property. Salvation is seen as a massive misfire. The movie was initially planned as the beginning of a new trilogy. But a dismal critical response, commercial underperformance, and a host of legal issues crushed those plans.

Now, Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) and Paramount will once again travel backwards on the temporal path, this time with the hopes of saving the Terminator franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger will reprise his role as the most recognizable of Skynet's death-dealing machines, and James Cameron is said to be helping with the film's script. Will 2015's Terminator Genesis return the series to its glory and deliver box office magic? 

The incredible highs of the Terminator property
Even using unadjusted figures, Terminator 2 stands as the most commercially successful film in the series. Despite releasing at a time when foreign film markets were still in a comparatively nascent stage, the movie grossed approximately $517 million globally. It's easy to see why.

The 1991 film pioneered the use of high-end CGI models and effects, and it established a new technical standard. The movie's visuals hold up to this day, and its bleak but briskly paced narrative and incisive, highly quotable script make it one of the most brilliantly executed action films in history. Terminator 2 is the definition of an event movie, and, in addition to its incredible box-office draw, it also generated untold millions from theme park rides, video games, and a massive spectrum of merchandise.

Genesis aims to alter Terminator's fate
23 years after its crowning achievement, the Terminator series has yet to revisit the neighborhood of its incredible highs. While converting combined foreign totals to U.S. dollars decades after release opens the door for inaccuracy, performing such calculations for a rough estimate would yield a box office total of approximately $900 million. Domestic figures updated for ticket inflation would put the film's stateside total at approximately $387 million, highly impressive for an R-rated film. Terminator 3 would have totaled just below $200 million with modern domestic ticket prices, while Terminator Salvation totals only $133 million despite its PG-13 rating. Genesis is an attempt to reclaim the series' once incredible box office draw.

As Arnold's Terminator once so eloquently asked, "Sarah Connor?"
Terminator: Genesis sees Emilia Clarke take on the role of Sarah Connor, a character immortalized by Linda Hamilton in the series' first two films. Clarke has built a fan following thanks to her role on Game of Thrones, but her performances and resume give reason to doubt whether she's a good fit to lead a new action trilogy in a weakened franchise. Perhaps even more problematic, Arnold's last couple films have bombed stateside, with Escape Plan and The Last Stand bringing in approximately $25 million and $12 million, respectively.



Can James Cameron right the Terminator ship?
While James Cameron is credited as a scriptwriter on Terminator: Genesis, it's important to point out that he's mostly filling in background mythology and steering the film toward the canon established by previous films. The filmmaker has a Midas-like reputation -- sans most of the negative connotations -- so it's easy to see why his name is being bandied about in connection with the film. Still, expecting Cameron to steer the project to the successes of Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar would be a mistake.

Will the principle team behind Genesis be back?
Hollywood is loath to let a potentially viable franchise lie fallow, and for obvious reasons. Regardless, Paramount and Viacom must be very careful with Genesis. Another disappointing film and abandoned trilogy could do serious damage to the broader property.

Despite the fact that the film will undoubtedly deliver big-budget effects and robot-battling action, it's already facing an uphill battle. Schwarzenegger's box-office draw looks seriously compromised after a series of underperformers, and Terminator 3 already played up the novelty of his character's return to a less than great effect. Looking years into the future, it's not unreasonable to think that Viacom and Paramount -- or whoever might hold the film rights at that time -- will have to send a new production team back to undo the course established by Terminator Genesis.

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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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