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James Cameron's Terminator Script Lawsuit & Controversy Explained

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The Terminator is arguably James Cameron's best idea ever, but another great writer found it too close to his own work for comfort, and filed suit. It's safe to say that Cameron knows how to write a hit movie. He's done it many times, sometimes with a partner and sometimes not. There's actually quite a bit of competition for Cameron's greatest creation, but from a standpoint of lasting relevance in pop culture, the Terminator mythos and world probably takes the cake.

Granted, it's been a while since a Terminator project truly succeeded on all fronts. Yet, it's no coincidence that most of those failures had no creative involvement from Cameron. It seems no one will ever be as skilled at translating the Terminator from page to screen as its creator, which admittedly makes a lot of sense. Cameron sometimes gets flack for being standoffish personally, but as a writer/director, there are few as reliably known for such a high level of quality in their output.

As great an idea as The Terminator unquestionably was though, almost everything has been done in some form, and few ideas are 100 percent original. That's a natural byproduct of humans creating art for many centuries. Unfortunately, Cameron ran into this problem, at least according to legendary science fiction author Harlan Ellison.

James Cameron's Terminator Lawsuit & Controversy Explained

Following the release of The Terminator, the film found a fan in Harlan Ellison, a quite prolific and award-winning author and screenwriter. Unfortunately for James Cameron, Ellison, despite his enjoyment of the film, also readily noticed its similarities to the plot of his 1964 Outer Limits episode "Soldier," which Ellison has based on his own short story. "Soldier" saw two opposing soldiers sent backward in time, one good and one evil. Ellison filed suit against Cameron and Terminator distributor Orion Pictures. Some sources also claim Ellison believed The Terminator to be similar to his other Outer Limits episode "Demon with a Glass Hand," but the author himself has denied that.

Cameron found Ellison's accusations of Terminator ripping him off to be baseless and opportunistic, and he wanted to fight the suit. Unfortunately, Orion didn't, deciding to settle things with Ellison out of court. They told Cameron that if he fought Ellison and lost, he'd be responsible for any monetary judgment. Not yet being a superstar director at that point, Cameron couldn't afford to take that chance, and begrudgingly allowed the settlement to happened. Orion paid Ellison some cash, and put an acknowledgement to the author on future prints of The Terminator. Cameron is said to have always resented being made to give in to Ellison, but the matter is long since over.
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