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Did You Know That Terminator Salvation Has Two Alternate Endings We'll (Probably) Never Get to See?
Even director McG admits he "didn’t quite stick the landing" with Terminator Salvation.
When your movie gains a legacy because a principal cast member lost his cool on set rather than the buzz around the project itself, it's never a great sign. Such is the curious case of 2009's Terminator Salvation (airing on SYFY this week), the fourth entry in the humans versus machines saga that featured Christian Bale's infamous on-set tirade, some ambitious ideas for the franchise and the end of one off-shoot narrative thread before a few reboots of the James Cameron-birthed franchise would follow it down the line.
In a very smart deviation from the first three movies, though, Salvation moved the action from the past to the post-apocalyptic future in which Skynet rules over humanity with a Hyperalloy fist, constantly on the hunt for its two greatest threats: resistance leader John Connor (Bale) and his soon-to-be-time-traveling father, Kyle Reese (the late Anton Yelchin).
Exploring the two alternate endings of Terminator Salvation
While the movie did manage to make nearly $200 million in profit at the worldwide box office, netting $371 million against a rather pricey budget of $200 million, critics weren't blown away at the time. Salvation currently holds a 33 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being that the film couldn't quite match the emotional resonance of the first two installments (an issue that has admittedly plagued every post-T2 sequel in the series).
"We got so close to nailing that thing right," director McG said during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2022. "We brought in Jonah Nolan [for an uncredited rewrite of the script]. We had Christian Bale. And we tried to honor the Terminator faithful and James Cameron himself. I got a lot right in that movie but didn’t quite stick the landing."
In that same conversation, the filmmaker alluded to an alternate "dark ending" that was shot, but never released to the public, although he preferred it to what we got in the final product. For more details on that, we must turn to a chat McG had with Gizmodo around Salvation's theatrical release back in May 2009, where he revealed that the bleak conclusion involved John Connor dying and the android known as Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) killing everyone else — including Kyle Reese and John's pregnant wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard). "Imagine that's the ending," he said. "I would hope the oxygen would just go right out. You'd be like, 'They can't do that. That's the biggest bummer I've ever seen in my life.'"
Another unused ending was a little more optimistic, with John dying, Marcus taking on the man's likeness, and quietly becoming the new leader of the human resistance against Skynet. "It's essentially a secret to everybody, except the inner circle, that John Connor is now a robot, is now a Terminator," co-screenwriter Michael Ferris told Gizmodo. "We're going for some irony there."
As it stands, however, Terminator Salvation closes out its final act with Marcus making the noble decision to donate his super-powered heart to an ailing John Connor. "Technically, we pushed some things forward," McG told THR. "You can’t have a better actor than Christian Bale. And Sam did what he needed to do, and [we had] Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard. We tried to stack the deck. I tried, Terminator faithful, I tried."
Terminator Salvation airs on SYFY tonight at 11:02 p.m. EST and tomorrow (Tuesday, January 9) at 7:15 p.m. EST. Click here for complete scheduling information!