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From having his favorite film of all-time banned for traumatizing kids, to being passed over for roles due to his strong accent, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career has not been without its hurdles. However, amidst the disappointments and missed opportunities, the actor has also seen an abundance of serendipitous fortune.
One time the former Mr. Universe really struck gold was when he agreed to reprise his role as the indomitable cyborg assassin, T-800, in the popular science fiction franchise, The Terminator. In one of the most impressive financial feats of his career, only rivaled by his ridiculous $25 million salary in the 1997 flop, Batman and Robin, Schwarzenegger found himself taking home a staggering $15 million for the role, despite having a mere 700 words of dialogue. Here’s how the action superstar managed to secure such a massive paycheck for such limited dialogue.
How Arnold Schwarzenegger Landed The Starring Role In The Terminator Franchise
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been portraying T-800 in The Terminator franchise for decades, having first secured the role in 1983, just a year after his breakthrough in the sword and sorcery epic, Conan the Barbarian. Despite his apparent prowess at embodying the eponymous character, Schwarzenegger all but stumbled into the role.
The now 75-year-old actor was initially angling for the role of human resistance fighter, Kyle Reese. However, after going through the script, Schwarzenegger immediately “got fixated on the Terminator,” and embarked on an intense character study. So intense was the acclaimed action star’s analysis of the character that director James Cameron ended up offering him the role instead.
“He’s a machine. So everything has to be matter-of-fact,” Schwarzenegger recalled telling the director during an October 2019 interview with Men’s Health. “I said there should be no joy, no gratification, no kind of victory lap of any sort. Just the mission, complete. I go through these points. [James Cameron], afterward, says to me, ‘F**k, you analyze it better than the way I have written it. Why don’t you play the Terminator?'”
How Arnold Schwarzenegger Landed A $15 Million Deal For 700 Words Of Dialogue In Terminator 2
What’s even more surprising is that Schwarzenegger initially declined the part, owing to the Terminator’s limited dialogue (27 lines). However, after a bit of persuading, the action star agreed to take the part. For his debut transformation into the Terminator, Schwarzenegger had to make some concession in terms of pay, taking home a measly $75,000 for his performance.
Things would take a rather unexpected turn in the sequel, presumably owing to the success of the first film, which multiplied it’s $6.4 million budget tenfold at the box office, and received widespread critical acclaim. For his second transformation into T-800, Schwarzenegger took home a staggering $15 million, despite only having 700 words of dialogue. To contextualize, the iconic line “Hasta la vista, baby,” earned the now 75-year-old action star an astonishing $85,716.
Luckily, the $15 million paycheck turned out to be money well spent, as the film was an even bigger success than its predecessor, accruing a staggering $519 million at the box office, and going on to become the highest grossing film of 1991.
During his 2019 interview with Men’s Health, Schwarzenegger shared his theory on why the film garnered such a captive audience. “People really admired the character, because he was able to do things they all wanted to do,” he said. “Everyone wants to wipe out a police station when they get mad at the police. We had a test screening. We showed it to 50 cops. They all applauded when I wiped out the police station—because it was not a human being doing it, it was the machine doing it.”
The film also performed rather well on the critical front, with critics practically fawning over Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the villainous cyborg, T-800. “Schwarzenegger’s genius as a movie star is to find roles that build on, rather than undermine, his physical and vocal characteristics,” wrote esteemed film critic Roger Ebert. “Here he becomes the straight man in a human drama – and in a human comedy, too, as the kid tells him to lighten up and stop talking like a computer. “
How Much Was Arnold Schwarzenegger Paid For The Terminator Franchise?
Arnold Schwarzenegger continued to reprise his role in subsequent Terminator iterations, except number four, Terminator Salvation, whose production coincided with his second term as California governor. Apart from solidifying his status as an action legend, the adrenaline-packed franchise also went a long way in jacking up Schwarzenegger’s net worth to its current $450 million.
For the third iteration in the franchise, the now 75-year-old took home an impressive $30 million salary, along with an additional $5 million from the film’s box office proceeds. Though his salaries for the most recent iterations are not known, it can safely be assumed that he pocketed a lot more than the initial $75,000.
Though it turned out to be quite the gold mine, Schwarzenegger is not intent on taking part in future iterations of The Terminator. “The franchise is not done. I’m done,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “I got the message loud and clear that the world wants to move on with a different theme when it comes to The Terminator. Someone has to come up with a great idea. The Terminator was largely responsible for my success, so I always would look at it very fondly. The first three movies were great. Number four [Salvation] I was not in because I was governor. Then five [Genisys] and six [Dark Fate] didn’t close the deal as far as I’m concerned. We knew that ahead of time because they were just not well written.”