20 Years Ago: Terminator 2: Judgment Day Exploded Into Theaters

He came back. On July 3, 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day arrived in theaters as naked as Arnold Schwarzenegger after time travel and came away with the then-biggest five-day opening in box office history. The James Cameron-directed film earned $54 million over its first five days of release, $3 million more than Tim Burton's Batman grabbed in its first five days back in 1989. Said an anonymous theater owner to the New York Times at the time, "At virtually all our locations, we were selling out well in advance of showings, and the word-of-mouth buzz out there is just phenomenal." Indeed it was: Terminator 2 went on to gross $204.8 million domestically, and over $500 million worldwide. All of which is to say: Happy anniversary to a cultural touchstone!

With its massive set pieces and groundbreaking special effects, Judgment Day looks more like the blockbusters of today than anything that was in theaters twenty years ago. (To wit, the next four films at the box office during the opening weekend of T2: Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, City Slickers, Problem Child 2.) Cameron spent anywhere from $85 to $102 on the Terminator sequel, which was another then-record -- one Cameron and the franchise would top in later years with Titanic and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, respectively -- and the cost was worth it: in addition to the tremendous box office, T2 won four Oscars, including one for Best Visual Effects.

I can remember seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a packed Manhasset, NY theater during opening weekend -- the same theater I had previously seen Naked Gun 2 1/2, for what it's worth -- and the film was an action revelation. Linda Hamilton's guns! Edward Furlong! Arnold! Robert Patrick's terrifying T-1000! "I need a vacation"! It was all there, and all great. T2 was like The Godfather Part II of summer entertainment; the sequel that improved on the excellent original in ways previously thought impossible.

In honor of T2 -- and to celebrate Fourth of July -- remember Judgment Day below. Hasta la vista, baby.


  • As Steven Santos asked in a PressPlay video essay last week, "Is James Cameron Cyberdyne, building the technology that will be used against humanity? In the 20 years since 'Terminator 2,' our movie theaters have become inundated with one soulless CGI spectacle after one another. Filmmakers have looked to what was groundbreaking in Cameron’s 1991 film and responded with a weightless cinema in which larger percentages of any shot are given over to computers and, ultimately, lack dramatic consequence; it becomes more difficult to believe in something once you realize it was created by hardware and software."

  • DanoFive0 says:

    I went to see it. It was a great fun movie. Not like 90% of the trash out now!
    We need more movies like this one.

  • Davon Smith says:

    This is great memories what I used to feel forever. They are the best people in Hollywood worked together and had a blast.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    It takes me six hours to watch this at home because I keep re-watching all the best scenes. I must play "Bad to the Bone" twelve times before I can move on. Stan Winston's creature effects are what hold the limited CG together. Robert Patrick from this movie along with Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" strongly influenced the character of "Fritz" which I played on "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer". I have already told the story about sneaking into every showing for two days straight. Huge movie in my life!

  • Richy says:

    "Judgment Day looks more like the blockbusters of today than anything that was in theaters twenty years ago" Errr no it doesn't. The stunts are believable, except on a much grander scale. The physics look real (even though Mythbusters might be able to debunk them). Look at the action film of today ... stunts that defy the laws of physics (even the stretched laws of physics) and that look so ridiculous that they have to CGI them.

  • casting couch says:

    I remember seeing T2 about six times at the theater back in 1991. It had things that hadn't been seen before (the CGI) and giant-sized, exciting action sequences. The marketing for the movie was second only to Batman at the time (literally). I grabbed everything I could at the time about the movie.
    It's less impressive to me now; the novelty has worn off and the film's flaws and cheesy moments stand out more with dozens of repeated viewings. And I still reckon the original Terminator is the far better movie (T2 being virtually a remake).
    That ad-libbed "I need a vacation line" really needs to go, too.

  • The Cantankerist says:

    Yup. Agree totally on T1 being a far better movie. For starters, it doesn't have Edward Furlong, Sarah Connor's journey is much better, it doesn't have Arnie breaking character for cheap laughs, Michael Biehn brings it, the time travel bits make sense, and it's not made with merchandising opportunities and a wide demo in mind. Sure, it betrays lower-budget origins, but hell, give me that with a decent script a hundred times over. I came out of T2 bitterly disappointed.
    That said, one of the funniest experiences I've ever had in a cinema was rewatching T2 as part of a 24-hour sci-fi marathon. As Sarah Connor set the laser-sight on Miles Dyson, the entire cinema started barracking for her to shoot him and, when she chose not to, the contempt was loud, hearty and unrestrained.