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Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron Fought Over Iconic "Terminator" Line

"I'll be back" almost didn't happen.

Thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger's delivery, the simple line "I'll be back" from The Terminator is one of the most iconic quotes in movie history. But it almost didn't happen. Not only was the line not written that way in the original script, but Schwarzenegger thought that it should be said differently—and his director was not pleased.

In the new Netflix docuseries Arnold, which covers Schwarzenegger's life as a bodybuilder, actor, and politician, Schwarzenegger and Terminator director and co-writer James Cameron are interviewed about filming the 1984 movie and the argument they got into over those three soon-to-be famous words.

Read on to see what Cameron and Schwarzenegger each thought the line should be, and how they landed on "I'll be back."

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The line wasn't supposed to be important.

As reported by Insider, in Arnold, Cameron explains that the moment the Terminator says "I'll be back" wasn't supposed to be all that important or memorable.

"Sometime in the middle of the shoot, we're doing this police station scene," the director shares. "The line is 'I'll come back.' It wasn't meant to be, like, a big moment at all. It was literally meant to be, on its face, 'No problem, I'll come back.' For some reason, Arnold didn't say, 'I'll come back.' I said, 'Well, just say, 'I'll be back.' Keep it simple.'"

Schwarzenegger thought his character wouldn't speak that way.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Arnold"

In The Terminator, Schwarzenegger plays the title character, a cyborg who is sent back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of a son who will one day save humanity from artificial intelligence. With that in mind, the actor thought his character should sound more robotic.

"I said, 'Jim, to me, it sounds funny when I say, "I'll be back,'" Schwarzenegger explains in the documentary. "It sounds much more machine-like if I would say, 'I will be back.'"

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Cameron wouldn't give in.

James Cameron in "Arnold"

Schwarzenegger recalls getting into it with Cameron, who snapped back, "'Are you the writer?' And I said, 'No.' And he says, 'Well, don't tell me how to [expletive] write.'"

Schwarzenegger says Cameron's response to hearing him say the line in its final form was, "Oh my god. I got goosebumps. It's fantastic."

He recognizes now that the director made the right call.

"He was absolute right. It became the most quoted movie line, I think, in the history of motion pictures," the 75-year-old star says. "So, this just shows to you who was right and who was wrong."

Schwarzenegger shared another reason for not liking the line.


In a 2012 interview with Good Morning America, Schwarzenegger was asked about the Terminator quote and said that he had another issue with the line: He found it hard to pronounce.

"I could not pronounce really well this 'I'll.' So I kept saying to Jim Cameron, 'Maybe I should just say 'I will be back.' I said it sounds more like a machine." Schwarzenegger added that he thought it "sounds really weird when I say it with my German accent."

As in the more recent account, Schwarzenegger said Cameron told him, "I don't tell you how to act. Don't tell me how to write."

In the end, the former governor of California said Cameron suggested they shoot the line 10 different ways and see what worked. Schwarzenegger quickly realized how "powerful" the line was when fans immediately began coming up to him and requesting he say it.

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The quote is very famous.


"I'll be back" is arguably more famous than the movie it comes from. There have been six Terminator movies in total and all of them include the line in some form. Schwarzenegger has also quoted the line in some of his other films, including Twins and The Expendables 2. "I'll be back" even has its own Wikipedia page separate from the movie.

The American Film Institute rated the line number 37 on its list of "100 Years… 100 Movies Quotes" in 2005. It's featured alongside famous phrases like "Here's looking at you, kid" from Casablanca and "May the force be with you" from Star Wars.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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