Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie

King Of The World: The Films Of James Cameron

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 4, 2012 at 11:35AM

19

James Cameron
James Cameron is, in case it has escaped your attention, the most successful filmmaker in history. The Canadian director hadn't exactly been starved for box-office smashes early in his career, but his last two films, "Titanic" and "Avatar," have hauled in nearly $5 billion between them, and are currently the number one and number two hits of all time. He's also the man behind the "Terminator" franchise, helmed one of the best-liked of the "Alien" series, has become a deep-sea explorer, and, uh, gave the world flying piranhas.

This week sees "Titanic" back on screens in post-converted 3D form, and given that we're still at least two years away from seeing the filmmaker's next work ("Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3" are currently targeted for around 2014/2015), it seemed like a good opportunity to look back on his career and see how he went from a visual effects whiz on "Escape From New York" to the titan he is today. And you can catch "Titanic 3D" in theaters from Friday, April 6th.

Piranha II: The Spawning

"Piranha II: The Spawning" (1981)
When "Piranha 3DD" hits theaters later in the summer, it might be worth noting the name of director John Gulager. After all, the last time someone made the sequel to an exploitation movie about the pint-sized fish killers, they grew up to become James Cameron. And the good news for Gulager is, no matter how bad his film turns out, it's still likely to be better than Cameron's "Piranha II: The Spawning." But then again, it's not fair to blame Cameron for it either. While the film is technically his directorial debut (at the age of only 27), the truth is more complex: Cameron was hired to replace original director Miller Drake on the sequel to Joe Dante's 1978 "Jaws" rip-off, but was fired by producer Ovidio Assontis after two-and-a-half weeks, according to the helmer. Only years later was Cameron able to put together his own edit, which emerged on home video release in some territories, and while his version marks an improvement, you can't polish a turd, and it's a Z-grade monster movie of the worst order. To his credit, Cameron's never pretended it's anything other than the kind, mostly disowning the picture, but it's at least intriguing to see him work with frequent favorite Lance Henriksen for the first time, and to see the slightest hints of the director he would become. But for the most part, we'd rather go swimming with actual flying piranhas than watch this one again. [F]

The Terminator

"The Terminator" (1984)
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Cameron made his full debut with a lean, mean sci-fi thriller that might still, nearly thirty years on, be his greatest achievement. Inspired by a dream he had while in production on "Piranha II" and sold to Cameron's future wife Gale Anne Hurd, then an assistant at Roger Corman's company, for a dollar, the film follows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a seemingly ordinary woman stalked by a seemingly unstoppable cyborg killer (Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his breakout role). Fortunately, she has Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who's been sent back from the same future as the Terminator, to look after her. Made for under $7 million, Cameron uses the special effects (including makeup from the legendary Stan Winston) relatively sparingly, meaning that they still wow when they do arrive, and lets the rest of the film play out as a fat-free, relentless chase picture that shows for the first time that Cameron was going to be one of the all-time great action directors. But there are also hints of the man who would go on to make "Titanic": there can be no doubt that Cameron is a romantic at heart, and the surprisingly tender romance between Connor and Reese gives the film an emotional hook missing in the many rip-offs since. But ultimately, they never stood a chance against the title character, which, partly because it gives the star only eighteen lines of dialogue (most of which are "Sarah Connor"), provided Schwarzenegger with easily his most iconic screen role, and one of the most memorable villains in cinema history, one who would only be watered down across three sequels. [A]

Aliens

"Aliens" (1986)
Ridley Scott's "Alien" was a beloved film, but not a blockbuster hit, and Fox had no real plans for a sequel in the works. Until James Cameron came along, that is; even before filming had begun on "The Terminator," the director, a huge fan of the original, wrangled a meeting with Fox and managed to get hired to write a script, which would see Ripley woken from half-a-century in cryogenic sleep to join a platoon of marines on a search for the missing terraforming colony on LV-426, the planet where the creature that stalked the Nostromo first appeared. After "The Terminator" became a sleeper hit, Cameron was hired, and the film was rushed into production. And despite the hurried schedule, and Cameron's clashing with the British crew (the first in what would become something of a theme), the director came up with one of the few worthy sequels in history. Rather than try to recreate the original, Cameron expanded the scope, and even changed the genre, coming up with a Vietnam-inspired action/horror that was loud and big where Scott's film was quiet and enclosed. It shouldn't have worked, but it absolutely does: Cameron loves and respects the mythos created in the original (something you never felt with subsequent sequels by David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet), expanding the universe in impressive ways while retaining the essence of it. And what could have been macho and obnoxious is given a new twist by retaining Sigourney Weaver as Ripley (something Cameron had to fight the studio for after she demanded a pay hike). The director's feminist credentials were really cemented here: Ripley is a heroine both maternal and entirely badass, and the performance deservedly won her an Oscar nomination, something almost unheard of from the genre. The idea of Cameron directing a "Prometheus" sequel might have been an April Fool's gag, but we can't say we'd be against the idea. [A]

This article is related to: Features, The Essentials, James Cameron, Titanic


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates