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James Francis Cameron (born August 16, 1954) is a
hugely successful three-time Academy Award winning director noted
for his action/science fiction films, which are often extremely
successful financially. Thematically, James Cameron's films generally
explore the relationship between man and technology. Cameron directed
the film Titanic, which went on to become the top-grossing film
of all time, with a worldwide gross of over US$1.8 billion, as well
as creator of The Terminator franchise.
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James Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, to Phillip,
an electrical engineer, and Shirley Cameron, an artist. He grew
up in Chippawa, Ontario, and in 1971 his family moved to Brea, California.
There he studied physics at Cal State-Fullerton, but his passion
for filmmaking would draw him to the film archive of UCLA at every
He started in the film industry as a screenwriter, then moved into
art direction and effects for films such as Battle Beyond the Stars
and Escape from New York. Working with producer Roger Corman, Cameron
landed his first directorial job in 1981 for the film Piranha II:
The Spawning, shot at Grand Cayman Island for the underwater diving
sequences, and in Rome, Italy for most of the interior scenes. He
was originally hired as the special effects director (and his hand
in story-writing can be suspected under the H. A. Milton pseudonym
on the original script), and took over the direction when the original
During his stay in Rome, he had a nightmare about a machine emerging
from the fire, which had been sent from the future to kill him. While
recovering, Cameron conceived the idea for The Terminator. He finally
completed a screenplay, and decided to sell it so that he could direct
the movie. However, the production companies he contacted, while expressing
interest in the project, were unwilling to let a first-time director
make the movie. Finally, Cameron found a company called Hemdale Pictures,
which was willing to let him direct. His soon-to-be-then-wife, Gale
Anne Hurd, who had started her own production company, Pacific Western
Productions, had previously worked with Cameron in Roger Corman's
company and agreed to buy Cameron's screenplay for one dollar, on
the condition that Cameron direct the film. Hurd was signed on as
producer, and Cameron finally got his first break as director. Orion
Pictures would distribute the film.
Initially, for the role of the Terminator, Cameron wanted someone
who wasn't exceptionally muscular, and who could fit into a normal
crowd. Lance Henriksen, who had starred in Piranha II: The Spawning,
was considered for the titular role, but when Arnold Schwarzenegger
auditioned for the role, Cameron decided that he should play the
cyborg villain; Henriksen got the smaller part of LAPD detective
Hal Vukovich. In addition, Linda Hamilton first appeared in this
film in her iconic role of Sarah Connor, and later married Cameron.
The Terminator was a box office hit, breaking expectations by Orion
Pictures executives that the film would be regarded as no more than
a sci-fi film ,and only last a week in theaters. The film was low-budget
($6.5 million), but it earned over $38 million domestically.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
During the early 1980s, Cameron wrote three screenplays simultaneously:
The Terminator, Aliens, and the first draft of Rambo: First Blood
Part II. While Cameron would continue with The Terminator and with
Aliens, Sylvester Stallone eventually took over the script of Rambo:
First Blood Part II, creating a final draft which differed radically
from Cameron's initial version.
Cameron next began the sequel to Alien, the 1979 film by Ridley
Scott. Cameron would name the sequel, Aliens, and would again cast
Sigourney Weaver, in the iconic role of Ellen Ripley (the sole survivor
from the first film). Aliens became a box office success, and Sigourney
Weaver received a nomination for Best Actress during the 1986 Academy
Awards. Following the phenomenal hit of the film, Cameron now had
more freedom to make whatever project he wanted.
Cameron's next project stemmed from an idea that had come up during
a high school biology class. The story of oil-rig workers who discover
otherworldly underwater creatures became the basis of Cameron's
screenplay for The Abyss, which cast Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth
Mastrantonio. Made on a budget of about $41 million U.S., it was
considered to be one of the most expensive films of its time, and
required cutting-edge effects technology. Because much of the film
takes place underwater and the technology wasn't advanced enough
to digitally create an underwater environment, Cameron chose to
shoot much of the movie "reel-for-real," at depths of
up to 40 feet. For creation of the sets, an unfinished nuclear power
plant was converted, and two huge tanks were utilized. The main
tank was filled with 7.5 million gallons of water, and the second
2.5 million gallons. There, the cast and crew would reside for much
of the shooting.
The Abyss opened on August 9, 1989 and held the number-one slot
at the box office for two weeks. It ultimately earned $85.2 million
domestically, $46 million in foreign markets and a mostly lukewarm
response from critics. Cameron would later release a special edition
version of the film in spring of 1993, restoring deleted scenes,
including the film's climax as it had been originally conceived.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards; Best Visual Effects,
Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. It won
for Best Visual Effects. After the release of The Abyss, Cameron
founded his own production company called Lightstorm Entertainment,
which produced all of his subsequent films.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
After the success of The Terminator, there had always been talks
about a sequel to continue the story of Sarah Connor and her struggle
against machines from the future. Although Cameron had come up with
a core idea for the sequel, and Schwarzenegger expressed interest
in continuing the story, there were still problems regarding who
had the rights to the story, as well as the logistics of the special
effects needed to make the sequel. Finally, in mid-1990, Mario Kassar
of Carolco Pictures secured the rights to the sequel, allowing Cameron
to greenlight production of the film, now called Terminator 2: Judgment
For the film, Linda Hamilton reprised her iconic role of Sarah
Connor. In addition, Arnold Schwarzenegger also returned in his
role as The Terminator, called the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101,
but this time as a protector. Unlike the Model 101, who is made
of a metal endoskeleton, the new villain of the sequel, called the
T-1000, was a more advanced Terminator made of liquid metal, and
with polymorphic abilities. The T-1000 would also be much less bulky
than the Model 101. For the role, Cameron cast Robert Patrick, who
was a sharp contrast to Schwarzenegger. Cameron explained, "I
wanted someone who was extremely fast and agile. If the T-800 is
a human Panzer tank, then the T-1000 is a Porsche."
Cameron had originally wanted to incorporate this advanced-model
Terminator into the first film, but unfortunately the special effects
at the time were not advanced enough. The ground-breaking effects
used in The Abyss to digitally realize the water tentacle convinced
Cameron that his liquid metal villain was now possible.
TriStar Pictures would distribute the film under a locked release
date that was only about half a year away from when shooting would
begin. The movie, which was co-written by Cameron and his longtime
friend, William Wisher, Jr., had to go from screenplay to finished
film in just that amount of time. Like Cameron's previous film,
it was one of the most expensive films of its era, with a budget
of about $100 million. The biggest challenge of the movie was the
special effects used in creating the T-1000. Nevertheless, the film
was finished on time, and released to theaters on July 3, 1991.
Terminator 2, or T2, as it was abbreviated, broke box-office records
(including the opening weekend record for an R-rated film), earning
over $200 million domestically, and over $300 million overseas,
and became the highest-grossing film of that year. It won four Academy
Awards: Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects, and Best Visual
Before the release of T2, Schwarzenegger came to Cameron with the
idea of making a remake of the French comedy titled La Totale. Titled
True Lies, with filming begun after T2's release, the story revolves
around a secret-agent spy who leads a double life as a married man,
whose wife believes he is a computer salesman. Schwarzenegger would
be cast as the secret spy, named Harry Tasker, whose mission in
the movie is to investigate and stop a plan by Arab terrorists to
use nuclear weapons against the United States. Jamie Lee Curtis
would play Schwarzenegger's onscreen wife, with Tom Arnold cast
as the secret agent's sidekick.
Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment signed on with Twentieth Century
Fox for production of True Lies. Made on a budget of $115 million
and released in 1994, the film earned $146 million in North America,
and $232 million abroad.
Cameron expressed interest in the famous sinking of the ship Titanic.
He decided to script and film his next project based on this event.
The picture revolved around a fictional romance story between two
young lovers from different social classes who meet onboard the
ship's maiden, and final, voyage. Before production began, he took
dives to the bottom of the Atlantic and shot actual footage of the
ship underwater, which he would insert into the final film.
For the film Titanic, Cameron cast Leonardo di Caprio, Kate Winslet,
and Billy Zane. Cameron's budget for the film reached about $200
million, becoming the most expensive movie ever made. Before its
release, the film was widely ridiculed for its expense and protracted
Released to theaters on December 19, 1997, Titanic opened with
$28 million on its first weekend. The film's grosses escalated in
the next several weeks. Titanic was one of very few modern movies
to gross more in its second weekend than its first. Its gross increased
from $28.6 million to $35.4 million from week 1 to week 2, an increase
of 23.8%, unheard-of for a wide release, and a testament to the
appeal of the movie. This was especially noteworthy, considering
that the film's running time of more than three hours limited the
number of showings each theater could schedule. It held the #1 spot
on the box-office charts for months, eventually grossing a total
of over $600 million domestically and more than $1.2 billion outside
North America. Titanic became the highest grossing film of all time.
(Adjusting for inflation, the film brought in the fifth-highest
domestic (U.S. only) gross of all time.) The CG visuals surrounding
the sinking and destruction of the ship were considered spectacular.
During the 1998 Academy Awards, the film won a record-tying 11 Oscars.
Among them were Best Picture and Best Director.
Cameron had initially next planned to do a film of the comic book
character Spider-Man, a project developed by Menahem Golan of Cannon
Films. Disputes arose focusing on Golan's role in the Carolco project.
A screenplay dating back to 1989 exists with Cameron's name appended
to it, indicating he worked with a series of writers on the project
(John Brancato, Barry [sic: Barney] Cohen, Joseph Goldmari [sic:
"Joseph Goldman" is Menahem Golan's pen name) and Ted
Newsom), but the script was identical to one presented to Columbia
Pictures by Golan in 1988, where the project had been in development.
Subsequently, Cameron presented a 45-page Spider-Man screen story
to Carolco, which bore substantive similarities to a number of earlier
screenplay drafts, particularly one written by Ethan Wiley (writer
of the film House and writer/director of House 2). When Carolco
went into bankruptcy, the "Cameron material" (i.e., both
the multi-author screenplay and the later treatment credited solely
to Cameron) was acquired by MGM. MGM in turn sold them to Columbia
Pictures in exchange for Columbia dropping their plans to do an
alternative James Bond series based on the Kevin McClory Bond material.
Columbia hired David Koepp to adapt Cameron's treatment into a screenplay,
and Koepp's first draft is taken often word-for-word from Cameron's
story, though it was heavily rewritten by Koepp himself, Scott Rosenberg,
Alvin Sargent (husband of producer Laura Ziskin), and (allegedly)
Ivan Raimi, brother of director Sam Raimi. Columbia preferred to
credit David Koepp solely, and none of the various scripts were
ever examined by the Writers Guild of America to determine proper
credits. Cameron objected, as did a number of the other writers,
but Columbia and the WGA prevailed. The Columbia screenplay was
credited solely to Koepp.
Cameron instead moved on to television, and created the story of
a new superheroine, which was influenced by cyberpunk, current superhero
genres, and third-wave feminism:
After the Sarah Connors and Ellen Ripleys of the eighties, the
nineties weren't so kind to the superwoman format Xena Warrior
Princess excepted. But it's a new millennium now, and while Charlie's
Angels and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are kicking up a storm
on movie screens, it's been down to James Cameron to bring empowered
female warriors back to television screens. And tellingly, Cameron
has done it by mixing the sober feminism of his Terminator and Aliens
characters with the sexed-up Girl Power of a Britney Spears concert.
The result is Dark Angel.
Co-produced with Charles H. Eglee, Dark Angel starred Jessica Alba
as Max Guevera/X5-452, a genetically enhanced transgenic super-soldier
created by the super-secretive MANTICORE organization. It also starred
Michael Weatherly as Logan Cale, and noted actor John Savage (of
The Deer Hunter) as Colonel Donald Michael Lydecker. While a success
in its first season, low ratings in the second led to its cancellation.
Cameron himself directed the series finale, a two-hour episode wrapping
up many of the series' loose ends.
Cameron received the Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction and
Fantasy Writers of America in 1991 but, being primarily thought
of as a genre filmmaker, he did not receive any major mainstream
filmmaking awards prior to Titanic. With Titanic, Cameron received
the Academy Awards for Best Editing (shared with Conrad Buff IV
and Richard A. Harris), Best Picture (shared with John Landau),
and Best Director.
In recognition of his contributions to underwater filming and remote
vehicle technology, the University of Southampton awarded Cameron
the honorary degree of Doctor of the University. Cameron received
his degree in person at the graduation ceremony in July, 2004.
Recurring cast members
Cameron often casts certain actors more than once in his films. Cameron
has mostly worked with Bill Paxton in The Terminator, Aliens, True
Lies, Titanic as Brock Lovett and as himself in Ghosts of the Abyss.
Michael Biehn was also in The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and a
deleted scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Lance Henriksen appeared
in Piranha II: The Spawning, The Terminator, Aliens as Bishop and
recently narrated Expedition: Bismarck.
Also, Jenette Goldstein appeared in Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment
Day and Titanic. In addition to starring in the Terminator films,
Arnold Schwarzenegger also starred in True Lies. In February 2007
Sigourney Weaver was cast for Cameron's upcoming film Avatar after
having worked with him on Aliens as lead actor.
TBA The Dive
TBA Battle Angel - Sci-Fi / 3-D
2009 (tentative) Avatar - Sci-Fi / 3-D
2005 Aliens of the Deep - Documentary / 3-D
2003 Ghosts of the Abyss - Documentary / 3-D
2002 Expedition: Bismarck - Documentary
20002002 Dark Angel - Television drama
1997 Titanic - Disaster / Drama / Romance
1994 True Lies - Action
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day - Sci-Fi / Action
1989 The Abyss - Sci-Fi
1986 Aliens - Sci-Fi / Action
1984 The Terminator - Sci-Fi / Action
1981 Piranha II: The Spawning - Horror
1978 Xenogenesis - Sci-Fi with Randall Frakes (co-director)
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