Story of the Scene: 'The Terminator' (1984)

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The Independent Culture

Famous movie lines are often a hair's breadth away from staggering banality. In The Terminator, the James Cameron sci-fi movie that made a star out of him and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the line "I'll be back" is a case in point.

Cameron has said that his inspiration for The Terminator lay in a single image that arrived in his mind one day, a vision of a metal skeleton walking from a blazing inferno. This scene comes late in the movie, and from this point the rest of the movie is backwards-engineered.

Earlier, Schwarzenegger, who plays a cyborg sent back in time to assassinate Linda Hamilton, has tracked her to a police station where she is being questioned. He approaches the desk sergeant, who barely looks up as the Terminator addresses him. In one great shot, the Terminator looks up, scanning the station ceiling and the structure of the booth in which the sergeant sits, leans forward with particular menace, and intones, "I'll be back." And back he comes.

Lance Henriksen was Cameron's original choice as the cyborg killing machine but Cameron wanted someone ordinary- looking; Big Arnie made the role his own. "I'll be back" became his trademark.

What was it in the original script? "I'll come back." Not so different, perhaps, but slightly more polite. "I'll be back" has a menace that would have been quite absent if the scripted version was used.

Cameron later revealed that police officers constantly tell him that the "I'll be back" scene is their favourite of all his movies – something that puzzles him, considering that virtually the entire station is mown down by the Terminator.

Roger Clarke