James Francis Cameron CC (born August 16, 1954) is a Canadian director, producer and screenwriter famous for the Terminator franchise, Aliens and the blockbusters Titanic (1997) and Avatar, eh? He also has a reputation for being a tyrant on the set of his films, earning him the nickname "Iron Jim", but one certainly can't argue with the results considering how spectacular and well-made they often turn out to be. He's also known for being much kinder when not filming.
His first exposure to filmmaking came while he attended the California State University in Fullerton, from where he'd frequently visit the film archive of UCLA. After dropping out, he took a variety of jobs and wrote in his spare time while learning about filmmaking from reading books and theses at the USC library. Inspired by a viewing of Star Wars in 1977, he decided to enter the film industry. He began as a miniature model maker with Roger Corman's studio, and later ended up as special effects director on John Carpenter's Escape from New York. He was hired to do special effects for Piranha Part Two: The Spawning in 1981, but ended up in the director's seat after the first director abandoned the project. After arriving at the studio, he discovered that the movie was under-financed and that a majority of the crew were Italians who couldn't speak English.
During the predictably torturous filming of Piranha Part Two, Cameron had a nightmare about a chrome-plated torso crawling out of a fire. Based on this, he wrote the script for The Terminator, lifting story material from Harlan Ellison's The Outer Limits (1963) stories "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier." When no production company wanted to let him direct, Cameron and his then-wife Gale Anne Hurd (a producer who also got her start with Corman) persuaded Orion Pictures to distribute the film, with financial backing by Hemdale Film Corporation. A relatively low-budget film at $6.5 million, The Terminator became a success, grossing a total of $78 million worldwide while gathering positive reviews and providing a Breakthrough Hit for the creator and a breakout role for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular murderous cyborg. Meanwhile, Ellison noticed the plagiarism and successfully sued for some money and an acknowledgment in the film's credits. Meanwhile Cameron was involved in writing a draft for Rambo: First Blood Part II, which was heavily modified for the film.
Cameron next worked on a sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien, a film he was a big fan of. While filming in England, he repeatedly clashed with the crew, who considered him a poor substitute for Scott, especially over their practice of taking regular breaks that slowed down production and their taunting of his wife's role as producer. This caused initial cinematographer Dick Bush to be fired after about a month over Creative Differences, to be replaced by Adrian Biddle. The dispute culminated in a walkout after Cameron fired a cameraman due to a clash over lighting the xenomorph nest note ; Cameron's wife managed to persuade the crew to return to work. These repeated disruptions forced the crew to work at a breakneck pace to finish the film before its release date, and composer James Horner was forced to write the score without seeing the completed film and record it in an outdated studio in about four days. Due to the lack of time, Horner was forced to reuse some motifs from previous scores, and Cameron had to hack it in editing to match the film without any input because Horner was busy elsewhere.
In spite of the troubled production and Executive Meddling which resulted in the removal of some footage for the theatrical edition * , Aliens went on to become another huge success, receiving universal critical acclaim (being constantly referred to as an Even Better Sequel), a cover and article dedicated to it in Time Magazine and a total profit of $131 million worldwide. Aliens also holds the distinction of being the first science fiction movie to gather seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver, and even picking up Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Sound Effects Editing, in a period when science fiction movies were largely ignored and not taken seriously by the Academy.
His next project was The Abyss, the story of an oil-rig crew that discovers otherwordly creatures. It was considered to be one of the most expensive films of its time, and required cutting-edge effects technology and filming at depths of up to 12 m. Despite the production running overbudget, it recouped its investment. This time, critical reaction was lukewarm compared to his previous highly acclaimed films. This was largely attributed to more Executive Meddling and the removal of various scenes that made the film's plot difficult to follow, but Cameron has since revealed that he cut those scenes himself over the objections of the 20th Century Fox chiefs because he felt the special effects weren't up to par. Cameron subsequently re-inserted the deleted scenes in the 1993 special edition release of the movie after he felt that technology progressed sufficiently for them to be properly realised, a move that made the film more coherent and has generally improved audiences' and critics' opinion of the film in retrospect.
After The Abyss, a long dispute over the rights to The Terminator was solved when they were bought by Carolco. Production began on a sequel, called Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The sequel was even more expensive than The Abyss, with a budget of $100 million and innovative use of CGI and special effects to create the liquid metal T-1000 model. It was universally acclaimed and broke box office records, earning a total of $519 million worldwide and four Academy Awards (Best Visual Effects and Sound Effects Editing again, plus Best Makeup and Sound).
After Terminator 2, Cameron started pursuing projects in different genres compared to the science fiction/action films he did previously. His first such project was True Lies, a remake of the French comedy La Totale which had been suggested by Schwarzenegger. Much like The Abyss, the film was a blockbuster success but once again drew a lukewarm critical reaction. During this time he also came up with the story and co-wrote the script for a then near future Cyberpunk thriller called Strange Days, which his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow directed. This film was very well received critically (Roger Ebert even gave it four out of four stars), but was a box office bomb.
The director's next major project was a movie based on the sinking of the Titanic, a subject he had been interested in for a long time. Thanks to his obsessive attention to detail, the production ran massively overbudget and overschedule. Eventually released in December 1997, Titanic became the film with the largest box office gross in history, and the first film ever to bring in more than $1 billion in ticket gross. The movie also won Cameron his first Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture, along with multiple other Oscars. However, this movie is the polarizing entry in Cameron's body of work, polarizing fans severely, which gets worse if one is a fan of the Terminator films and Aliens. The result is a real Broken Base, largely between the Old Guard Versus New Blood of fandom - fans of his previous sci-fi action movies on the one hand, and the younger, more female audience he attracted that wasn't familiar with his previous works on the othernote . The film became practically a punchline for its melodramatic, sentimentalism and excessive focus on the romantic aspect of the story, only useful as a target for parodies and jokes, but was resurrected when it was reissued in 3-D for the actual ship's centennial in 2012.
Cameron did not make a movie for twelve years after Titanic. Instead, he created the TV series Dark Angel, filmed various undersea documentaries and produced the 2002 adaptation of Solaris. He returned to film in 2009 with the science fiction epic Avatar, which has surpassed Titanic by becoming the first film to earn over $2 billion at the box office. Despite some controversy over the film's political stance, not to mention a plot that is fairly easy to predict (and a Broken Base over whether that is a good thing or not), he is currently working on sequels for Avatar, in addition to messing around with, of all things, asteroid mining. He has also broken the record for traveling down to the lowest altitude on Earth.
Cameron's films have certain common traits, such as: a Production Posse consisting of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and Stan Winston note ; the threat of nuclear war; the interaction between humanity and technology; shiny glowy aliens; strong female characters; and titles starting with either A or T. He is also infamous for his temper and dictatorial filming style (the crew on some of his movies wore t-shirts reading "You can't scare me, I work for Jim Cameron"), along with his tendency to go way over-budget and over-schedule during production though, by all accounts, he's mellowed a bit with age.
Cameron is one of the most financially successful directors of all time.
- As mentioned, Titanic was the first film in history to gross over $1 billion at the box office. Since then, 50 others have crossed this line.
- Titanic is the only original film to accomplish this; all the others are sequels or parts of pre-existing franchises.
- With Avatar, he became the first director in history to have two films each make a billion dollars. Since then, he has been joined in this exclusive club by Christopher Nolan note , Peter Jackson note , Michael Bay note , Joss Whedon note , James Wan note , and The Russo Brothers note .
- Cameron and Wan are the only directors to achieve this feat with two films that are unrelated to each other.
- Including Titanic's Updated Re-release, he is one of only two directors to release two films that each made $2 billion. He remained the only such director in history until The Russo Brothers released Avengers: Endgame.
- And, with Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron is the first, and currently only, director in the "three films with $2 billion" club.
Fun Fact: Cameron is also indirectly tied to the Predator franchise. When the production crew's first attempt to create the creature effect failed spectacularly, they asked Stan Winston to design the alien. The two were flying to Japan, and Cameron looked over Winston's shoulder as he was doing some preliminary design sketches and said, "You know, Stan, I've always wanted to see something with mandibles." Winston then incorporated the mandibles into the Predator.
- Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)
- The Terminator (1984)
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
- Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) (producer, co-writer)
- Aliens (1986)
- The Abyss (1989)
- True Lies (1994)
- Strange Days (1995) (producer, co-writer)
- Titanic (1997)
- Ghosts of the Abyss (2003): documentary featuring Cameron and his team diving to the wreck of the RMS Titanic
- Avatar (2009)
- Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
- Avatar 3 (2024)
- Avatar 4 (2026)
- Avatar 5 (2028)
- Alita: Battle Angel (2019) (producer, co-writer)
Tropes About Him or that He Often Uses:
- Action Girl: Appear in pretty much every Cameron movie, including arguably the two most iconic live-action movie examples of the trope in Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. Though they don't always use violence, Cameron's female leads always are (or ultimately become) very strong and proactive. To quote Moviebob:(Cameron) made his name in the 1980s making high-budget action films that were really about mommy issues.
- Auteur License: He got his with The Terminator. It has yet to be revoked, seeing as how he makes rather a habit of revolutionizing filmmaking and grinding box-office records into the dust with every new film he makes.
- Probably the only director considered to have a lifetime license, since two of his movies, Avatar and Titanic, became the Top-Grossing Movies Of All Time when they were released.
- Canada, Eh?: He was born and grew up in Ontario. However, he famously doesn't live up to the stereotype that Canadians are all mild-mannered and polite, at least not when he's filming.
- Color Wash: Cameron tends to use a strong blue tint when scenes are supposed to be set at night. It allows the scene to be strongly lit so that the audience can see everything, but give the indication of darkness.
- Continuity Nod: The gas station scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day recycles a brand that had previously been referenced in The Abyss.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Many of his films feature one of these as the villain: Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar. Subverted in Terminator 2 when the man who is supposed to create Skynet does a Heel–Face Turn when he's told what his creation will do and helps the heroes destroy his work. Played straight with the Cyberdine executives who stole the Terminator's remains between films, indirectly leading to Sarah being committed.
- Creator Couple: He met both his second note and fourth note wives during his work on the Terminator series, and his fifthnote in Titanic.
- Development Hell:
- Cameron came up with the idea for Avatar in the 90’s, but the technology was not yet availble so he put it on hold. The film was featured in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader under movies that likely would never happen. The sequels he had had planned fall under this as well.
- His Alita: Battle Angel adaptation languished in development hell until production finally began in 2016 and released in 2019, over a decade behind schedule and with directing duties left to Robert Rodriguez.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: He puts his characters through turmoil, but they tend to see the end of it and come out on top - though sometimes, this is at a cost.
- Enforced Method Acting: Even when it gets him punched in the face. By an extremely angry Ed Harris, no less, a man who can occasionally qualify as terrifying just by glaring.
- Epic Movie: Titanic and Avatar.
- Hidden Depths: It is often said that, other than acting, there is no aspect of filmmaking that Cameron could not do himself, and that the only reason he hires people at all is because he can't be in multiple locations at the same time. Perhaps his most notable second string is art; he designed the superb matte paintings for Escape from New York, the spaceships (yes, even the boob one) in Battle Beyond the Stars, the maggot monster in Galaxy of Terror and, most famously, the Alien Queen in Aliens, for which he also designed the now-iconic "W-Y" logo for Weyland-Yutani Corp. Winston admitted that he simply saw Cameron's designs as a blueprint for the Terminator endoskeleton.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Abyss (with a lovely reel of human-orchestrated monstrosities nearly prompting the aliens to wipe out the Earth), Terminator 2 (“It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves”), and Aliens, which features corrupt corporate leaders, and Avatar, in which Earth is reduced to a barren wasteland. He just doesn't like people all that much.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Invoked and cranked up to eleven with one of the trailers for Avatar, which listed every movie he's directed with the exceptions of Piranha II (which he does not like) and The Abyss (which wasn't as successful or highly-regarded as the other movies that he directed).
- Jekyll & Hyde: Allegedly has an evil alter ego named "Mij" who terrorizes his cast and crew, in sharp contrast to the normal "Jim" who is known as much friendlier and kinder.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: Most of the male love interests of Cameron's female leads gladly throw themselves into the fire for the woman they love.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: The Abyss can fall victim to this because it kind of interrupts the reputation-establishing triptych of Terminator-Aliens-T2. True Lies sometimes gets this, what with being sandwiched between T2 and Titanic.
- Pigeonholed Director: All but two of his films are science fiction.
- Prima Donna Director: His perfectionism and Bad Boss tendencies are infamous, and his crew tended to respond with Fun T Shirts like "You can't scare me. I work for James Cameron" and "Jim's a hands-on director. I have the bruises to prove it". Though he's said to have mellowed out considerably in recent years.
- Real Men Eat Meat: Averted. He's a vegan since 2012 who has made a career of directing action films.
- Serial Spouse: He's been married to five different women, though it seems the fifth time was the charm, as he and Suzy Amis have been together since 2000.
- Technology Porn: Every movie of his features this. Except for Piranha 2.
- Theme Naming: All of his films have titles starting with A or T, except for Piranha 2 and the documentary Ghosts of the Abyss.
- Took a Level in Kindness: By all accounts, he mellowed out considerably in the years between Titanic (1997) and Avatar and is a lot less temperamental and even admitted in 2021 that he wishes he'd been more open and less autocratic to those he worked with in past films, citing Ron Howard's positive and encouraging working relationship with his crew as something he hopes to emulate in future projects.
- Troubled Production: Most of them up through Titanic, usually for the standard reasons like budget issues or Executive Meddling, but weirder setbacks have happened as well. For example, two actors almost drowned during the filming of The Abyss, and a large portion of the cast and crew for Titanic was hospitalized after an incident involving PCP-spiked chowder of unknown origin.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Overall, even the Terminator films he has directed, are surprisingly more on the idealistic end of the scale with a sense of magic and wonder portrayed in his films.