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).
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...
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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