Harlan Ellison and Those Age Old Terminator Plagiarism Claims

By: TheTerminatorFans.com On June 29th, 2018

Harlan Ellison’s passing at the age of 84 brings a certain level of sadness to TheTerminatorFans.com, we witnessed his name many times in the credits to our favourite and darkest, most brutal Rated R Terminator movie; The Terminator (1984) but what was the acknowledgement all about? Any hardcore Terminator fan who has taken an interest in this subject has done their own investigations but now Ellison has passed we wanted to take a look at what happened and look at the facts and the information is not clear about what exactly happened…

Harlan Ellison Terminator

The Terminator (1984) – Acknowledgments to the works of Harlan Ellison

Harlan was an American Science Fiction writer who wrote many stories that started in post-apocalyptic version of our own world (pre-dating The Terminator 1984) with moral lessons about where humanity is heading, his writing was also quite visceral as he didn’t believe in toning down violence…

“Violence is painful; it’s full of blood, it hurts people. it kills people and I think when you lie about it- when you pretty it up, you lead people to believe that it is possible to go around shooting each other, punching each other and stabbing each other with impunity and my stories are intended to have a very pronounced emotional effect on people and so, on occasion, in a story when it demands that,- yes, I get very candid. Very realistic.”

James Cameron has had numerous lawsuits/claims put against him for plagiarism throughout his career but Harlan Ellison was only one of the people to win with an out of court agreement/settlement (not a lawsuit). This certainly, on the surface, looks like an admittance of guilt of some form surely…

Terminator Plagiarism from the perspective of Harlan Ellison:

The settlement story was only ever really told from the perspective of Harlan Ellison himself- this was stipulated by the settlement deal that James Cameron and other parties connected to The Terminator would not be able to comment or talk about what happened, referred to by Cameron as a “Bum deal”.
Harlan states that he received a lump sum of money with another additional sum to be paid later and that all future publications of The Terminator on home release and broadcasts on TV would feature acknowledgements to the works of Harlan Ellison. Harlan Ellison also claimed that if James Cameron had approached him and said he wanted to do his own take on Harlan’s ideas; that Harlan would have allowed Cameron to do it for free had he just thanked him in the end credits eg. thanks to coca cola for refreshments or what not.

Terminator 2 T-1000 Art Mask

io9 reported:

The way Ellison tells it, he began hearing rumblings during the production of Terminator that it was sounding a bit like his Outer Limits episode “Soldier,” which Ellison had adapted from his 1957 story “Soldier From Tomorrow.” Ellison claims that his requests to read the script were denied and that he wasn’t invited to the critics screenings. When he managed to sneak into one of the screenings, he felt that the first few minutes of Terminator were identical to “Soldier.”

If true, another aspect of Ellison’s claim is more compelling. He says that he was contacted by a friend at Starlog, who said that the magazine was receiving pressure from Cameron’s representatives to excise a quote from an interview Cameron gave Starlog. According to Ellison, in the original transcript of the interview, Cameron says that he got the idea for Terminator from a handful of Outer Limits episodes. Ellison also claims that another acquaintance reported to him that he’d heard Cameron boast that he’d “ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories” in the writing of Terminator. (Many people have noted that, in addition to “Soldier,” “Demon with a Glass Hand,” another Ellison Outer Limits episode, bears certain similarities to Terminator.)

Result: It doesn’t appear that Ellison ever filed a complaint; he says that the studio was eager to settle the case out of court. He puts the monetary settlement in the vicinity of $65,000 and now the Terminator credits include an acknowledgement of thank you to Harlan Ellison.

Harlan Ellison was a rebel and, unlike James Cameron, he never actually stopped being one; known to be difficult and launch many lawsuits in his lifetime over his works but Ellison was also a defender of writers, the people who are most used by Hollywood- the non payment for ideas and the “take-take” climate of Hollywood. His defence of writers was simple and reflects that also of artists, he said never work for free or give ideas away for free and to the establishment his code was also simple… Never steal.
Can we really argue with Harlan’s views? No, they are modest and reflect an ideal world and an ideal Hollywood but we know that isn’t the case.

Cameron’s statements:

In “The Futurist: The Life and Times of James Cameron” Jim referred to Ellison’s suit as a “nuisance suit” and called Ellison a “parasite who can kiss my ass.”

The Terminator (1984) and The Outer Limits:

When the world talks about Harlan Ellison and Terminator; two episodes of The Outer Limits are quoted that Harlan wrote- Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier. As far as people knew these episodes were cited in the settlement.

Soldier (1964):

Soldier starts with a battle scenario not at all dissimilar to James Cameron’s future war scenes in the Terminator movies.

Soldier Opening Narration:

“Night comes too soon on the battlefield. For some men it comes permanently; their eyes never open to the light of day. But for this man, fighting this war, there is never total darkness. The spidery beams of light in the sky are the descendants of the modern laser beam — heat rays that sear through tungsten steel and flesh as though they were cheesecloth. And this soldier must go against those weapons. His name is Qarlo, and he is a footsoldier, the ultimate infantryman. Trained from birth by the State, he has never known love, or closeness, or warmth. He is geared for only one purpose: to kill the Enemy. And the Enemy waits for him…”

Soldier closing Narration

“From the darkest of all pits, the soul of Man, come the darkest questions: Did the soldier finally come to care for those he protected? Or was it just his instinct to kill? Questions from the dark pit. But no answers. For answers lie in the future. Is it a future in which men are machines, born to kill, or is there time for us? Time. All the time in the world… but is that enough?”

Demon with a Glass Hand (1964):

Even though cited as part of the initial settlement Demon with a Glass Hand was denied by Harlan himself from plagarism claims in 2001 which is stated on his own website

“‘Terminator’ was not stolen from ‘Demon with a Glass Hand,’ it was a ripoff of my OTHER Outer Limits script, ‘Soldier.'”

Demon with a Glass Hand Opening Narration:

“Through all the legends of ancient peoples—Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Semetic—runs the saga of the Eternal Man, the one who never dies, called by various names in various times, but historically known as Gilgamesh, the one who has never tasted death… the hero who strides through the centuries…”

Demon with a Glass Hand Closing Narration:

“Like the Eternal Man of Babylonian legend, like Gilgamesh, one thousand plus two hundred years stretches before Trent. Without love. Without friendship. Alone; neither man nor machine, Waiting. Waiting for the day he will be called to free the humans who gave him mobility. Movement, but not life.”

If you watch the two episodes of The Outer Limits the comparisons to Terminator are hard to deny, from time travel, war torn future battles and even the last hope of humanity as the characteristics of the key character. Even visual reminders and comparisons occur. Can it really all be just a coincidence?

I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream – AM is SkyNet?

We find it quite amazing that the 70s Harlan Ellison novel I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream is not mentioned more in reference to SkyNet or settlement claims…


Harlan Ellison:

“The background of the story is that the third world war starts and the three major powers; China, Russia and America find that the war is so complex they can not handle it with just people trying to program it; so they build giant computers to handle all of the tactics.”

Wikipedia states:

“The story takes place 109 years after the complete destruction of human civilization. The Cold War had escalated into a world war, fought mainly between China, Russia, and the United States. As the war progressed, the three warring nations each created a super-computer (with artificial intelligence) capable of running the war more efficiently than humans.

The machines are each referred to as “AM”, which originally stood for “Allied Mastercomputer”, and then was later called “Adaptive Manipulator”. Finally, “AM” stands for “Aggressive Menace”. One day, one of the three computers becomes self-aware, and promptly absorbs the other two, thus taking control of the entire war. It carries out campaigns of mass genocide, killing off all but four men and one woman.

The survivors live together underground in an endless complex, the only habitable place left. The master computer harbors an immeasurable hatred for the group and spends every available moment torturing them. AM has not only managed to keep the humans from taking their own lives, but has made them virtually immortal.”

Terminator 2 3D Favorite Scene UK LFCC

Even if you did want to shrug off comparisons to The Terminator (1984) with the outer limits then what about Terminator 2: Judgment day also containing elements of Harlan’s work? AM (Allied Mastercomputer) could be compared directly to SkyNet not only that but also a huge connection to Terminator 2: Judgment Day…

The Terminator: In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Sarah Connor: Skynet fights back.

The Terminator: Yes. It launches its missiles against the targets in Russia.

John Connor: Why attack Russia? Aren’t they our friends now?

The Terminator: Because Skynet knows that the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.

In James Cameron’s defence; he was a child that grew up with a huge appetite for science fiction growing up absorbing the genre at a geometric rate. Music, film, stories have mostly executed the same content over and over. Songs sound the same, films feel like other movies and even though it gets worse and worse as time goes on- just look at Hollywood today.

James Cameron gave us Terminator and we remain thankful for the fact that he is the one that delivered something visual, visceral and intriguing. There is no denying that stark similarities to Harlan’s work course through Terminator but Terminator is what we love.

Overall we respect Harlan Ellison and if his great stories and imagination somehow inspired James Cameron directly or indirectly to give us Terminator, then we don’t see any problem; the movie acknowledges Harlan, James Cameron got super computer famous and it spawned a franchise (and aside from those core founding aspects that Harlan had done before) James Cameron’s work as an individual is still present. It could never be a case of any outright 100% plagiarism.

James Cameron was not allowed to talk about this as part of the deal/settlement.

James Cameron:

“For legal reasons I’m not suppose [sic] to comment on that (the addition of acknowledgement credits) but it was a real bum deal, I had nothing to do with it and I disagree with it.”

Now that Harlan has passed James Cameron can possibly come forward with his version of events if he now wishes to do so.

Categories: Artificial IntelligenceDirectorsFan ReportsHemdaleJames CameronMoviesOrionReportsRobotsScience & TechnologyScience FictionTerminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)The Terminator (1984)Time TravelWriters


*DISCLAIMER: Purchasing items using our Amazon links may provide us with a small referral fee.
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates

Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Vincent Michel
Vincent Michel
3 years ago

RIP to Harlan Elisson but I do not understand the fact that it’s plagiarism or copy paste .. I think James Cameron it may be just inspired by some element and idea of ​​Elisson as the smart computer and the war of future but it does not make a pure copier! Basic science fiction is based on science as its name suggests and science is based on man and war and its evolution as well as militarily. To go to war for it is not worth it even if he can not do anything anymore … RIP

William O. Nájera
William O. Nájera
3 years ago

Aside from the bleak aspect of the future and the time traveling theme, Terminator has its own personality and charisma. Frankly, “Soldier” really bores me. No doubt Harlan Ellison was a respectful writer, but I think the lawsuit was weak and Orion made a coward desition giving him the ending credits. After the first ten minutes, “The Terminator” has nothing to do with Harlan’s work at all. I hope James Cameron has the freedom to speak about the subject now. Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison.

3 years ago

Some people clearly don’t understand how artistic plagiarism works. If you don’t think Soldier was ripped off, go back and watch it again. Not only are the intro and time travel elements similar, but pay particular attention to the scenes of Qarlo being interrogated by the police. The scenes of Kyle Reese being interrogated by the police and other dialogue is obviously a straight rip. Also, they knew Harlan had them red-handed otherwise they would have let him see the shooting script beforehand when he asked and they also wouldn’t have settled so quickly and easily. The Terminator is still… Read more »

Steve Davidson
3 years ago

I’m sorry, but while I really like The Terminator film, I am of the opinion that HE should have held out for more – like, the entire proceeds from the whole franchise. As stated at the beginning of this piece, Cameron has been subjected to a lot of law suits, including other claims of plagiarism (Titantic, Avatar) and it is clear to me that the man never had an original creative thought in his head – everything is derivative and inspired by/stolen from someone else’s creative work, an attitude and approach that is not uncommon to Hollywood at all, and… Read more »

Chris Tate
Chris Tate
3 years ago

Bear in mind that there is actual video of Cameron talking about the Outer Limits episodes while he was making the first Terminator movie. Also, while I will agree that Cameron can tell a good story, the ones that everyone loves usually have a basis from something else: Terminator-from HE’s Outer Limits, True Lies-from a French film that he actually acknowledged, Avatar-the best version of Dances with Wolves with blue people ever.

Another IP victim of J. Cameron
Another IP victim of J. Cameron
2 years ago

I think James Cameron is one of those fellows that is good at weaving other people’s ideas into a re-visioned product – and he likes to do so by taking credit where credit is elsewhere due. He does not come up with the raw ideas himself, that is not his strong suit – but that’s okay – the problem is that he does not wish to share (or ask permission for) the intellectual properties he borrows. It is his M.O. – it is the way he operates. If he would just be real with himself and with everyone else he… Read more »

1 year ago

I’m always amazed by this controversy. When I saw Terminator in the theater back in 1984, my thought on leaving was that the movie was Soldier, with a little bit of Demon with a Glass Hand. There really isn’t any more to say I guess. The two Ellison episodes of OL were among the best, and always worth catching on late night tv. I think anyone who was familiar with them and then saw Terminator in 1984 had that reaction

7 months ago

I’ve seen the interview. It was just Cameron being smug as usual. That’s what he got sued for and right fully so. Also Aliens is just Them! from 1954.