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Why Terminator Would Have Ruined Mel Gibson’s Career

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Mad Max star Mel Gibson chose against playing the Terminator, and missing out on the blockbuster part helped the versatile actor avoid being typecast.

Mad Max star Mel Gibson turned down the title role in The Terminator, and the actor’s career trajectory in the years since proves that he was right to do so. Released in 1984, future Aliens director James Cameron’s original Terminator was a gritty, violent sci-fi horror that proved a huge hit at the box office and catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom thanks to his terrifying turn as the titular killer.

Schwarzenegger had seen some success with earlier outings such as Conan the Barbarian, but playing the eponymous near-mute android assassin proved a perfect fit for his imposing physique and off-kilter delivery. Bizarrely, the part had previously been offered to the comparatively diminutive star of Mad Max Mel Gibson, who turned down the role as he couldn’t see himself fitting the film.

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Many fans of the actor know that the Lethal Weapon star turned down the title role of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making franchise, with the story being almost as famous as Mel Gibson’s contentious Mad Max audition. However, what not every fan may realize is that the choice was a canny one for the then-emerging star despite how huge the Terminator series soon became. Then best known for playing the lead role in Mad Max, Gibson had gone from playing the hardly-talkative antihero in the gritty original movie to uttering only 16 lines of dialogue in the sequel The Road Warrior. Another major role where he had only a small handful of lines — this time as a villain — would have ruined Gibson’s chances of transitioning into playing a relatable leading man in action comedies, rom-coms, and dramas.

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Although Schwarzenegger went on to play a diverse range of roles, even his parts as a mild-mannered husband and a schoolteacher relied on audiences recognizing his signature role as the Terminator. After all, that soft-spoken spouse turned out to be a secret spy and the teacher was an undercover cop, something audiences immediately guessed when they saw Schwarzenegger playing a seemingly normal protagonist. Even movies that subverted Arnie’s appeal by having him play genuinely harmless heroes still relied on his imposing screen presence for laughs, whereas avoiding playing the Terminator meant Gibson managed to become a relatable everyman despite making a name for himself in a similarly dark sci-fi franchise.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Gibson balanced action movies with more poignant fare like The Year of Living Dangerously, The River, and his moving directorial debut The Man Without A Face, showcasing a versatility that gave him the clout to create more ambitious personal projects like his later directorial output. After the success of 1979’s original Mad Max and its sequel, the leading man made a conscious decision to star in lighter fare like Forever Young and Bird On A Wire. This made his eventual appearance in family films such as Pocahontas and Chicken Run, as well as the hit rom-com What Women Want, less jarring and unexpected than if the actor was best known as the chilling villain of The Terminator.

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