Linda Hamilton, Terminator

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Exciting news out of Hollywood confirms that Linda Hamilton will be reprising her role as Sarah Connor in the next Terminator feature film.  Additionally, James Cameron is returning to the franchise for the first time since the worldwide juggernaut, Terminator 2 was released in 1991.  The Terminator series has languished since the departure of these two Hollywood icons, with Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys underwhelming at the box office.  The return of Hamilton and Cameron (along with, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger) likely means that the next Terminator film will be a blockbuster.

James Cameron’s One Dollar Sale

In the early 1980s, James Cameron was not the household name that he is today.  He was a relatively unknown filmmaker with little in the way of bargaining power against the studios.  So when he came up with the Terminator idea, Cameron basically had one option -sell the screenplay to a studio at market rate and walk away.  Well that was not something that James Cameron wanted to do.  So in order to remain involved with the Terminator project, he sold the rights to producer Gale Hurd for one dollar, with the promise that if the film gets made, Cameron himself would be allowed to direct it.

The rest is history.  The first Terminator, released in 1984 was wildly successful.  Terminator 2 was a worldwide hit.  Between the first and second film, the rights to the franchise was up in the air, as there was much litigation and lawsuits filed.  Eventually the rights to Terminator landed with Carolco Pictures, which enabled James Cameron to return for Terminator 2. After completing this film, Cameron did not return for any subsequent Terminator movies.

Linda Hamilton Turns Down Terminator 3

Linda Hamilton was invited to reprise her role as Sarah Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but she turned down the offer.  She felt that her character’s story had been told, and that Sarah Connor was really an afterthought in Terminator 3.  Her departure (along with that of James Cameron) began a downward slide for the Terminator franchise.

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Over the years, the rights to Terminator changed hands as much as the supporting cast changed between films.  After the success of Terminator 2, Carolco had a lot of money, which they subsequently lost in other film projects before going out of business.  The rights to Terminator were then sold to C2, which released Terminator 3, before C2 itself sold the rights in 2007 to Halcyon, which released Terminator Salvation.  In 2009, Halcyon filed for bankruptcy, resulting in Pacificor owning the rights to the franchise.  Pacificor, being a hedge fund and not a film studio, then turned around and sold the rights to Annapurna Films, which produced Terminator Genisys in conjunction with Skydance Productions.

James Cameron Gets It Back

So despite the Terminator franchise changing ownership many times over the years, and millions of dollars being exchanged, it all returns to James Cameron in 2019.  There is a little-known part of US copyright law that is called “reversion”.   What reversion does is return all rights of a copyright to the creator after 35 years.

When James Cameron created Terminator in 1984, he was the original copyright holder (granted as a result of him being the creator).   Copyright, being a creation of Congress, recognizes that new authors, creators and producers often have little bargaining power, which was certainly the case with James Cameron when he sold Terminator for one dollar.  To remedy this imbalance, Congress has mandated that if a creator sells the copyright to a work, the copyright will eventually revert back to the original creator.  This is precisely the mechanism that will return the Terminator franchise back to James Cameron in 2019, which is 35 years after 1984.  With Cameron once again holding the copyright to Terminator, he has a lot of incentive to return for the next film.

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