Why James Cameron’s Original Terminator Cut Its Darkest Scene

James Cameron’s earliest draft of 1984’s The Terminator featured a dark, gruesome scene that was cut because it didn’t have much to do with the movie’s titular villain. There were a lot of scenes cut from director James Cameron’s ambitious first draft of The Terminator. In many instances, the iconic sci-fi helmer’s vision was too ambitious for his meager budget, resulting in stunning imagery ending up on the cutting room floor when the logistics of staging certain sequences proved impossible.

However, not all of The Terminator’s cut scenes were trimmed due to the movie’s budget. For example, the fate of Kyle Reese’s fellow time traveler Sumner, which was originally the grossest death featured in The Terminator’s script, was likely cut because the scene didn’t have any connection to the rest of the movie’s action. This meant The Terminator lost its darkest moment, although the sci-fi horror may have well have been better off without the tonally jarring scene.

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The Terminator’s first draft originally featured a pair of time travelers, Kyle Reese and his unseen companion, Sumner. However, Sumner died a brutal death in the movie's first draft when he got caught in a fire escape while teleporting into 1984. Like Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s darkest scene, this moment was cut from the finished movie. While the gruesome demise did draw attention to a sci-fi trope that few movies have addressed (namely, what happens when time travelers don’t account for structural changes when teleporting), the gory fate had nothing to do with the T-850 himself, meaning it was most likely cut due to being superfluous and potentially unintentionally funny as a result.

Even in the original script for The Terminator, the particulars of Sumner’s fate were never depicted onscreen. While a director such as Paul Verhoeven might have treated viewers to the sight of Sumner skewered by his teleportation failure, Cameron opted to limit the moment to a line wherein Reese cryptically says that Sumner “didn’t make it.” However, even this didn’t make it into the finished movie. James Cameron's sci-fi horror was evidently gory enough without implying that Sumner suffered a horrific offscreen fate, resulting in the character being excised entirely.

Since Sumner’s fate had little impact on the narrative of The Terminator, it is not unreasonable to suggest that cutting the death was the right decision. After all, characters teleport throughout the rest of the Terminator franchise without ever encountering the logistical hiccup that shredded Sumner, meaning his death could easily have become an odd plot hole if included in The Terminator. Not only that, but The Terminator’s outsized success as a sci-fi horror was owed in large part to the movie’s relentless pace and its intense terror. Stopping the story to explain that a minor character melded himself into a fire escape offscreen might have been a dark, horrifying death, but it could also have derailed The Terminator’s momentum and left viewers confused about its relevance.

More: Terminator 1 Almost Included The T-1000 - Why It Didn't Happen

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