How Was Terminator Genisys Developed?

Last Updated on January 6, 2022 by Lil Ginge

The film Terminator Genisys is the fifth film in the Terminator franchise. But how did this film originally come to be and how did it change in its early days?

Initially, Terminator Genisys was supposed to be a sequel to Terminator Salvation, the fourth installment in the film franchise. In fact, it was supposed to be the second in a trilogy of films starting with Salvation.

In the end, Terminator Genisys became sort of a reboot, not exactly a remake, not the start of a new trilogy, and ultimately kind of its own thing. Here is the story of how the movie developed.

The Early Development of Terminator Genisys

Originally, a fifth Terminator film and sequel to Terminator Salvation was going to be directed by McG, the director of Terminator Salvation. But when The Halcyon Company went bankrupt, that plan was essentially terminated. Perhaps it’s just as well. Critics loathed Salvation, as it sits with a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences didn’t like it either – the audience score is a lowly 53%. That’s definitely a spilled popcorn.

The rights to continue the Terminator franchise with at least two more films were eventually auctioned off. Both Lionsgate and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures competed for the rights to the sci-fi franchise, with Ellison’s Annapurna winning out in the end. The deal is rumored to have exceeded $20 million for the rights and was finalized on December 4, 2012

Ellison, daughter of Oracle’s famed billionaire Larry Ellison, brought her brother David and his production company Skydance Productions in on the deal as well. David, a longtime lover of science fiction movies and The Terminator, decided to co-produce the new film with his sister. While Megan’s resume was chock full of artier fare like The Master and Zero Dark Thirty, David brought along his penchant for and experience with big-budget popcorn blockbusters like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Star Trek Into Darkness.

The Ellisons consulted with Terminator creator James Cameron, who especially guided them as to the T-800 character that would potentially be played once again by series star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Things with Terminator 5 were moving forward. But the film still needed to fill key positions like its director and screenwriters.

Finding Screenwriters and a Director for Terminator 5

Initially, director Justin Lin was set to direct Terminator 5. But he had scheduling conflicts with another film, Fast & Furious 6, and departed the Terminator project to continue working on that film. This left a gaping hole in the director’s chair.

Meanwhile, the producers approached a pair of screenwriters in Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Avatar) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry), to write Terminator Genisys. Kalogridis and Lussier turned down the project three times – fearing they would let down the fans or even James Cameron – before James Cameron himself was eventually able to persuade the duo to take on the project. 

Meanwhile, the producers looked to replace Lin in the director’s chair and considered prominent names like Rian Johnson, Denis Villeneuve, and Ange Lee. They also approached director Alan Taylor, known for work on television shows like Game of Thrones as well as the film Thor: The Dark World.

At the time, Taylor was dating storyboard artist Jane Wu. Wu was not a fan of the project and tried to convince her beau to turn it down. She felt the Terminator project was not personal enough for Taylor, nor would it be a project he loved. But Taylor grew interested in working with Schwarzenegger after meeting with and being quite impressed by the legendary actor. 

This helped Taylor, a huge fan of the first two films, realize that he wanted to build on the legacy of The Terminator franchise. Despite what he considered flaws in the script, he thought he could fix them and make it work. Eventually, Alan Taylor took the job in September 2013 and the film’s director and screenwriters were set.

Production Changes for Terminator Genisys

In June 2013, studio mammoth Paramount Pictures became a financier and the distribution partner of the film for Skydance and Annapurna. With these combined forces now in play, Paramount and the Ellisons announced a release date for Terminator Genisys of June 26, 2015.

Skydance’s Dana Goldberg and Paul Schwake became executive producers of the movie, which was now considered to be a reboot rather than a sequel to the previous four installments of the franchise. 

However, a big change came in January 2014 when Megan Ellison announced that Annapurna was no longer credited for the film and would no longer be a part of the financing. Essentially, Annapurna dropped out altogether, although Megan Ellison would retain credit for the film as an executive producer. Now funding was left to Paramount and Skydance.

Developing the Screenplay for Terminator Genisys

Ellison and Goldberg began working with the screenwriters on the story concept for Terminator Genisys. One of the main drivers of the film would be bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator after being strangely absent from Terminator Salvation.

However, Arnold Schwarzenegger was now in his late 60s and looked it. How could they write an older Terminator and keep him as a main character in the movie? It was James Cameron himself who had a suggestion: since The Terminator is in part made out of living organic tissue, this tissue would age like a normal human. Aging problem solved!

Two other important concepts for this new screenplay would be the introduction of both multiple timelines within a universe as well as a multiverse containing different universes. This might seem somewhat confusing and you’d be right to think so. Five different whiteboards were needed by the story drafters to figure out how all the universes, timelines, and events would work together.

The new conceit was basically this: Skynet was tired of losing the war to John Connor and the resistance. In order to defeat them once and for all, Skynet decided to co-opt the resistance’s ultimate weapon – John Connor himself, and convert him into a sort of Terminator, the T-5000. This turned John Connor from hero to villain in the newest film.

The first draft of Terminator Genisys was completed in July 2013. It was used to help the producers find a director, ultimately landing on Taylor despite his qualms about the script. The script itself was largely inspired by the first two Terminator films, and mostly ignored and retconned the events of films 3 and 4. However, even some of the events of the first two, such as the Connors attack on Cyberdyne systems, were completely ignored in the latest incarnation. Ultimately, the producers and Taylor came to see Genisys as a new Terminator 1 as opposed to Terminator 5.

Casting Terminator Genisys

The most important part of casting Terminator Genisys, of course, was getting star Arnold Schwarzenegger on board. And on June 13, 2013, Schwarzenegger announced that he would indeed be returning to the Terminator franchise.

When asked why he was coming back to the action sci-fi franchise, Schwarzenegger had this to say:

Well, I always said that I would do another Terminator if the story is great. And I really enjoyed the story when I read it. I think that the people that were involved made me feel like this is going to be a good movie and they’re going to go all out. Instead of let’s just kind of exploit this franchise and live off some of the great ones that were done in the past. They really took it seriously, they really figured out a way to continue on the story and kind of ignoring the last one, basically.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ouch, Terminator Salvation. At any rate, the star of the franchise was now firmly attached to the new film. But who else was set to star in Terminator Genisys?

The main characters that needed to be cast included Sarah Connor, John Connor, and Kyle Reese, all stalwarts of the franchise. For John Connor, Taylor was interested in using either Tom Hardy or Jason Clarke for the role. Clarke was David Ellison’s preference, as he enjoyed Clarke’s performance in Ellison’s sister Megan’s film Zero Dark Thirty. By December 2013, Clarke was in negotiations for the role and soon would go on to officially accept the part.

For Kyle Reese, the studio was considering actors such as Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, and Boyd Holbrook. And by the end of February 2014, Courtney officially won the part. That just left Sarah Connor as to the main parts.

The role of Sarah was narrowed down to actors Brie Larson, Emilia Clarke, and Tatiana Maslany. Both Larson and Clarke had screen-tested for the producers at Annapurna, Skydance, and Paramount.  Paramount preferred Larson, but Taylor wanted Clarke, who he worked with on Game of Thrones. Taylor won out, and Clarke was officially cast as Sarah Connor in December 2013.

Terminator Genisys Begins Production

Principal photography for Terminator Genisys began on April 21, 2014, in New Orleans. It was announced on August 16, 2014, that filming had concluded and the official name of the film was also announced at that time.

The film premiered in North America at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on June 28, 2015. And it was officially released on July 1, 2015. Unfortunately, the film was panned by many critics. However, it did gross over $440 million worldwide, second-best in the franchise and second-best in Schwarzenegger’s career behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Ultimately, the two planned sequels of the new trilogy that was meant to begin with Terminator Genisys as well as a spin-off television show were canceled due to the film’s relatively disappointing box office performance. Instead, the next installment of the franchise would go on to be Terminator: Dark Fate.

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