Harlan Ellison complained of plagiarism over his stories “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” from The Outer Limits being inspiration for James Cameron’s The Terminator. I’ve been playing a lot of the arcade game Robotron: 2084 and it also has a storyline that is very similar to The Terminator. See below:
Ellison might have been one of the first to come up with the idea for robots from the future terminating humans, but there have been multiple projects using this idea. Robotron: 2084 was created by the development studio Vid Kidz for Williams in 1982. Programmed by Eugene Jarvis and Larry Demar. Jarvis also programmed the classic arcade game Defender.
Considering The Terminator didn’t come out until two years later in 1984, the timing of the videogame story seems more likely to have been inspiration for James Cameron than Ellison’s stories on The Outer Limits (“Soldier” first aired September 19, 1964 and “Demon with a Glass Hand” first aired October 17, 1964). Justwatch.com reports as of this writing that seasons 1 and 2 of The Outer Limits original TV series can be watched with ads on the Roku channel. So you could check out these episodes, play a round of Robotron: 2084 on The Internet Archive and compare the storylines to The Terminator.
It should be noted that James Cameron adamantly denies any wrongdoing, claiming it was a “bum deal” according to a quote cited in the Wikipedia entry for Ellison’s story “Demon with a Glass Hand.”
Until recently, I never noticed the storyline for the videogame Robotron: 2084 being similar to what Skynet did in The Terminator. Also, it’s the Kyle Reese like soldier with “super powers” that can battle the robots in the videogame. As for the two Outer Limits episodes, I’ve seen both and do see similarities in those storylines to The Terminator, but it’s possible they are coincidental, not because Cameron enjoyed those episodes and heavily borrowed from them.
Legally it seems that there was agreements with Ellison and he is mentioned in the closing credits of The Terminator. Nothing about Robotron: 2084 is mentioned, but it was enough to make me think with the timing that one might have been more inspirational than the other, simply due to the timing. Not accusing Cameron of anything, of course, but it’s funny that a game I played frequently in the arcades all those years ago and a movie I enjoyed share a similar storyline, even if it is coincidental.
(The word “coin” is included in that word, as in “INSERT COIN” to the videogame — another curious sidenote).