Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator 2: Judgment Day
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James Cameron reveals his original Terminator 2 showdown idea: Arnold vs. Arnold

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Jul 1, 2021, 12:01 PM EDT

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of the best action films of all time, one of the biggest blockbusters of the 1990s, and one of the best sequels ever made. Naturally, this means the people who made the iconic film happen are taking a little bit of time to look back not just at what they achieved, but at what might have been. For director and co-writer James Cameron, that means a little exploration of some of his original ideas for the sequel, including a showdown that pitted Arnold Schwarzenegger against... Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a far-reaching new oral history of the making of T2 over at The Ringer, Cameron explained that the sequel came about not because he'd dreamed up a great follow-up idea, but because the rights-holder of The Terminator, Carolco, came to him and asked if he'd be interested in a second film. Cameron and his co-writer, William Wisher, were then left to sketch out ideas for the project.

Almost from the beginning, Cameron had certain key elements of the finished film in place, including the idea the the human resistance would send a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong) from Skynet. Originally, though, that protector wasn't going to meet the deadly liquid metal T-1000, at least not at first. Instead, it would have been T-800 vs. T-800 in a showdown of two Terminators with very different programming.

"I basically had two competing ideas," Cameron explained. "One was Skynet sends a Terminator, another Arnold Terminator, to take out John, and the resistance sends one that’s been reprogrammed, that would’ve been Arnold, too. So Arnold would become a dark hero character, obviously."

Wisher, though, was against the idea from the start.

"Having Arnold fight another Arnold is just boring," the co-writer said. "Boring, boring, boring."

As it turned out, though, the Arnold vs. Arnold showdown was actually only the first part of Cameron's sequel conflict idea, setting up the notion of a more advanced Terminator showing up later in the film. Eventually, he just ditched the dueling T-800 plot and cut straight to the T-1000 arriving in 1995 to face Schwarzenegger's reprogrammed T-800.

"When I first conceived the story idea, it was in two parts. In the first part, Skynet sent a cyborg with a metal endoskeleton and the good guys sent the protector. The protector crushes him under a truck or throws him through some big gear structure or machine," Cameron explained. "And then, up in the future, they realize the ripples of time are progressing toward them. They still haven’t won the battle.

"[Skynet would] think long and hard about pulling the trigger on sending the experimental, one-off super weapon that they’ve created, that even they’re terrified to use. I didn’t call it the T-1000 — it was just a liquid metal robot. And so now the thing that’s coming at you is much, much scarier than that other metal endoskeleton guy with his skin hanging off. I took that guy out of the story, but then I thought, 'Let’s bring that guy back. Let’s make him the adversary.' I merged the two ideas. Instead of Arnold versus Arnold, it was Arnold versus the scary liquid metal weapon."

So, thanks to a little judicious editing on Cameron and Wisher's parts, T2 got the plot we know and love now, but the idea of Arnold fighting himself didn't exactly go away. Terminator Genisys would use a version of that idea to revisit the original Terminator opening in 2015, with somewhat mixed results. By scrapping the idea in any form and just going ahead with the new Skynet weapon (courtesy of then-cutting edge CGI), Cameron and Wisher gave us a leaner, meaner sequel that still reigns as one of the best ever made.

For more on the making of T2, from Edward Furlong's casting to Linda Hamilton's incredible transformation, head over to The Ringer.