Even in a decade filled with countless iconic blockbusters, The Terminator stood out when it was released in 1984. Its meticulously thought-out world in combination with its cutting-edge visual effects was immediately arresting, and it introduced the world to the artistry of James Cameron. The Terminator script is lean and mean: it chugs along at a break-neck speed as the Terminator slaughters his way through Los Angeles. It’s a science-fiction tour de force, well-deserving of dissection.
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The Terminator Script PDF Download
Click to view and download the entire The Terminator script PDF below.
WHO WROTE The Terminator SCRIPT?
Written by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
TERMINATOR 1 PLOT SUMMARY
Here is the story structure for The Terminator 1984 script:
Two time-traveling entities have shown up in 1984 Los Angeles. Both are extreme bad boys, and both are hunting a waitress named Sarah Connor. Connor is down-on-her-luck and seemingly an unlikely target.
Sarah sees on TV that women also named Sarah Connor are being killed. She’s freaked out.
Plot Point One
The Terminator arrives at Sarah’s apartment and kills her best friend, thinking she’s Sarah. Sarah calls the apartment, and the Terminator hears her voicemail, which reveals where she’s hiding.
Kyle Reese, the other time-traveler, saves Sarah from certain death at the hands of the Terminator. He drags her along with him through the streets of Los Angeles, giving only vague explanations of what’s going on.
Reese finally explains to Sarah that the fate of the human race depends on her survival: she will end up mothering the leader of the human resistance in a future war with robots.
Plot Point Two
After running from Mr. Terminator, Sarah and Reese set up shop at a motel. Sarah inadvertently gives their address to the Terminator, who impersonates her mother over the phone.
The Terminator shows up at their doorstep, and they’re back on the run once more. During a high speed chase, Reese is shot and in critical condition.
Reese and Sarah battle the now-skinned Terminator in a factory. The robot finally kills Reese, and Sarah, in turn, finally kills the robot.
Sarah drives through Mexico, leaving a voice recording for her son (with whom she’s now pregnant). A kid says a storm is coming. Sarah agrees.
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What is Terminator about?
The Terminator’s vivid action
First and foremost, The Terminator is an action movie, containing a multitude of gripping set pieces.
Action is one of the hardest things to do as a screenwriter, as it mainly relies on stage direction, which needs to be brief but also clear. It can be difficult to get readers to picture what the final product will look like, whereas with dialogue, there’s less left to the imagination.
His prose for set pieces is explicit and directs the reader’s attention to where it needs to be.
Let’s look at one of the earlier action sequences in The Terminator script on the page, which we imported into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software. Click the image to read the entire scene.
The first thing you might notice about this scene on the page is that there are specific camera directions. That’s because this is a shooting script. When writing a screenplay, it’s best to avoid any mention of the camera or types of camera movements. But if you know you’re going to be directing (as Cameron did), it’s okay to break this rule – this is for you, after all.
The second aspect that stands out is just how detailed this sequence is. Cameron and Hurd pack as much visceral imagery as they can into each line: explosions of splinters, flung milk, blurring walls, punching bullets. All of this creates an incredibly kinetic scene. It’s chaotic but also crystal clear.
Note, too, how Cameron and Hurd describe Ginger’s death:
“Her expression is agony and reeling, nauseating terror.
And incomprehension: Why am I suddenly dying?
Her eyes roll, showing the whites, like a horse tethered in a burning stable.”
Ginger is a relatively minor character in The Terminator, but Cameron and Hurd’s description of her demise shows a gravity that many action films lack. Each death in Terminator is grim and heavy. A simile like the one used here — “showing the whites, like a horse tethered in a burning stable” —indicates just how graphic the filmmaker intends for the film to be.
And, true to form, the scene is graphic. Take a look at how it turned out (starting at about 1:40):
The tone, pace, and style of the scene all reflect what Cameron and Hurd’s writing indicated. Note that the two didn’t explicitly say Ginger’s death would be shot in slow-motion, they simply wrote in slow-motion, each detail spelled out on a new line.
Because of this elaborate planning in the writing, the scene works swimmingly. It’s built up to with a great use of cross-cutting (the Terminator beating the snot out of Matt as Ginger unassumingly dances to her music) and Ginger’s climactic death delivers on the tension.
The Terminator 1 Quotes
The Terminator character introductions
Because The Terminator has to cover so much ground so quickly, the introduction of its main characters have to be impactful. We need to understand who they are fast so that we understand why they’re doing what they’re doing in the next action sequence.
The most iconic character introduction is that of the most iconic character: the Terminator.
His first impression is striking to say the least. Lightning crackles around a completely nude Arnold Schwarzenegger who appears in a sort of Thinker’s crouch. Interest is piqued.
The Terminator’s first interaction with humans is thrilling and instructive. Let’s take a look at how it appears on the page:
Here, we learn that the Terminator probably isn’t human with a fun bit of repetitious dialogue that almost plays as comedy. Then, we see what the Terminator is capable of.
Again, Cameron’s knack for lengthy stage direction is on full display, and, again, it’s necessary. This graphic violence doesn’t just tell the audience that the Terminator is super powerful, it also sets the tone of the film.
This isn’t going to be some romp among the daisies (a shocking twist for a film entitled The Terminator) – the action will be vicious and unrelenting.
This scene is especially effective when shown in combination with Reese and Sarah’s introductions. Reese appears not cool and collected and in an intimidating crouch, but rather in the fetal position, wild-eyed and immediately on the run from cops.
Sarah is introduced as simply a normal young woman, on her way to a dead-end job. The disparity in introduction sets up the uphill battle that the rest of the film will portray.
It can’t be overstated how crucial The Arnold is in enforcing all of these elements. His hulking stature, angular face, and flat line reads all work to the advantage of the story.
Take a look at how his persona perfectly compliments the script’s intent:
It’s these kinds of robotic line reads mixed with the pared-down dialogue from Cameron and Hurd that result in some of the most famous lines in the film (and pop culture generally). A few more Terminator 1 quotes:
- “I’ll be back.” - The Terminator
- “Fuck you, asshole.” - The Terminator
- “Come with me if you want to live.” - Kyle Reese
- “You’re terminated, fucker.” - Sarah Connor
Terminator 1 Ending
Terminator 1 characters arcs
One of the most satisfying aspects of The Terminator is watching Sarah Connor’s character arc unfold.
At first, she is a relatively straight-forward damsel-in-distress. Kyle Reese leads her from location to location, instructing her on what to do and what not to, repeatedly coming to her rescue.
This may seem a bit unfortunately clichéd at first, but then we have the following scene:
It’s an illuminating back-and-forth, one which highlights what we’ve seen so far in the film. Sarah doesn’t seem like a hardened “mother of the future,” and here, she acknowledges it.
The “angry” parenthetical is a key addition. Instead of being scared of the responsibility, she’s simply mad at it. Mad, it seems, at the futility of it all – a sort of Really? I’m the best we’ve got?
Reese’s monologue is anything but comforting. John’s message to her is essentially, “Stay alive so I can be alive.” The monologue pitches her as a John-vessel and not much else.
It’s Reese’s addendum, which he adds himself, that is what Sarah needs to hear: “Good field-dressing.”
She’s no warrior just yet, but she’s learning.
Her full transformation doesn’t happen, fittingly, until the climax. At first, it seems like Reese has dealt the fatal blow to the Terminator, but its top half keeps chugging. Sarah is left to deal with it herself, no Reese to protect her now. She destroys the Terminator, and, as a result, proves her worthiness as the “mother of the future.”
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The Terminator screenplay provided the blueprint for one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises of all time. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Knight, and Training Day in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.