8 Milestones in the Evolution of James Cameron

This weekend, James Cameron delivers Sanctum, a rare Cameron produced movie that he didn't direct. But how did Cameron, the director of the two most successful films of all time, get to this point after his disaster of a big-screen debut, Piranha II: The Spawning? You can always trace a direct line through a handful of projects (not necessarily his best projects, mind you) to illustrate what led to a director's current success. And with Cameron, it appears, up to this point, everything that he touches turns into gold (literally, because, you know, his movies make a lot of money).

Xenogenesis (1978)

James Cameron's first credited film. Well, at least it's his first short film. Wikipedia describes the plot as, "A woman and an engineered man are sent in a gigantic sentient starship to search space for a place to start a new life cycle. Raj decides to take a look around the ship. He comes across a gigantic robotic cleaner. Combat ensues." Actually, save for a couple of his films, pretty much every James Cameron film can be summed up as "combat ensues."

Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

I learned the hard way, but James Cameron is not really a fan of the Piranha franchise. Cameron, in his first big time directing credit, clashed with the producer and was fired after only, as he says, "a few days." Still, when looking at Cameron's filmography, Piranha II remains significant as the first troubled project in a career filled with contentious shoots and obsessive perfectionism -- even for a Piranha movie. It's just that in 1981 Cameron was not yet "James Cameron"; he was let go, but his name stayed on the credits.

The Terminator (1984)

Now here's the first movie that Cameron wants to be remembered for directing. He's said he dreamed a few scenes from the first Terminator film while he was filming Piranha II: The Spawning; at least something good came out that shoot for him? Also, for better or worse, Cameron turned a guy who had been a bodybuilder and featured in a couple of Conan the Barbarian movies into an international superstar. After Terminator -- which grossed over $78 million on $6.5 million budget -- Cameron could afford to be choosy. And he was...

Aliens (1986)

James Cameron isn't afraid to take an pre-existing entity of cultural significance and make it absolutely his own. While Ridley Scott's Alien defined sci-fi horror in 1979, Cameron's sequel is more, well, "combat ensues." Regardless, Cameron sculpted an Oscar-nominated performance out of Sigourney Weaver (yes, in 1986 an actor could be nominated for an Oscar while starring in a sci-fi movie) and led Aliens to a $131 million global box-office turnout.

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Comments

  • Jan Shaw says:

    ARTISTdirect has compiled a top ten song list in honor of James Cameron's Sanctum! The list includes Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, Kanye West & Metallica! http://bit.ly/gaSljk

  • James says:

    Glad to see the love for TITANIC. I remember when it came out and every review was a rave. Then suddenly it got popular, and it became cooler to bash it. Yes, some of the dialogue was a bit wooden, but the structure of that script is amazing, breaking so many rules yet working like gangbusters.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    I wonder personally if some of the backlash against Titanic really owes to it being genuinely moving, for it involving you and drawing you out, a fact "you" cover by understanding it as just schmaltz -- as essentially disrespectful to the powerful themes it engages with. I think Cameron knows a lot about love, and a love about freedom, and generously shares both in this picture. I suppose his scripting needs some more work -- though I find some of it really engaging -- and he could disengage for awhile and learn some more respect for nuance, for listening, for not taking delight in seeing the "second man" being shut down. But Titanic mostly shows how much he has to give. Our current critical disregard for this film, I think, shows some of this: we're for the sidelines, cover, and don't want a prompt to confirm our suspicion that while necessary, this may not be the place we should want to be.
    I can't say any of the same for Avatar. I found the love story touching, affecting, beautiful, but it says something about a film when you end up mostly worried that is with the villain, Selfridge, where everything we needed to experience, to know more about -- in this case, sanity, sane objection -- was projected, and here, dispensed with. What he did to the aristocrats in Titanic might look the same, but didn't bother me as much -- he did too much that was right with the impossible pleb and the fallen lady.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    That should read: "knows a lot about love, and a lot about freedom ..." Oops.

  • casting couch says:

    The original Terminator (even though I saw T2 at least half a dozen times in 1991, it hasn't dated that well really) and the theatrical version of Aliens will always be his best movies in my humble opinion.

  • Joh says:

    You gotta explain to me how James Cameron could have technically based his 1978's first short movie on a books trilogy that was first published in 1987...
    Anticipated Plagiarism Telekinesis?

  • Kevin says:

    So...just list his major movies and call them milestones?

  • Nicole says:

    He's DEvolved since the Terminator.

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