The complete screenplay of The Terminator with script notes.
The Terminator is, in my opinion, James Cameron's best work as a writer and as a director. A complex and imaginative time-travelling science fiction film, it remains one of the best futuristic thrillers ever made, on a par with Blade Runner. The script here is very long, because the version is actually a shooting script, filled with camera directions and the detail necessary to make the finished film but it's also long for another reason: James Cameron is famously verbose in his descriptions and outlines. There's an important message here. If you're the man who's going to take the entire story from first idea to finished film you don't have to stick to the industry conventions, after all the script has to support your production method, nobody else's.
The finished film is a remarkable achievement. In tone, structure, plot and character it is utterly gripping and has led to some of the most memorable moments in all of cinema, not to mention spawning imitators and sequels in abundance. For the screenplay, however, the thing to focus on is strictly the tight storytelling structure. This is a very narrative story and holds together because the premise is so perfectly established and controlled. Every moment feels plausible and despte the complexities of the technology the viewer is always fully aware of why an event is happening and what's at stake.
Terminator, however, gives us one more lesson. Cameron is famous in writing circles for something generally known as the James Cameron Treatment. A treatment is a short description of the key events of the film, usually spanning a few pages. James Cameron is known for writing treatments that are longer, much longer, almost the length of a screenplay and breaking down every scene and action, filled with dialogue and character. In Cameron's working method a treatment is almost like a novella of the film.
We are very lucky to be able to present on this site a copy of the James Cameron treatment for Terminator, so please do take the opportunity to read it alongside the shooting script, a rare opportunity to see the creative process evolve.
The Terminator is also the subject of an act breakdown on this site. If that's the thing you need then check it out here: