All James Cameron Movies, Full List

Flying fish, aliens, time-traveling robots, and romance —James Cameron has done it all

by Tom Cunliffe
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With two of the highest-grossing films in his resume and his enormous influence on cinema, it’s challenging to find someone who hasn’t seen a James Cameron film. From the gorgeous and technologically impressive Avatar to timeless classics such as Titanic and The Terminator, and even some of his lesser-known flicks, this list contains all movies James Cameron has directed, written, or produced since the beginning of his remarkable career.

Xenogenesis (1978) — Director, Writer, Producer

Xenogenesis

What do you get when you cross a truck driver that had just watched Star Wars for the first time and a $20,000 investment from a group of local dentists looking for a tax write-off? The answer is Xenogenesis, James Cameron’s debut into the filmmaking world. Xenogenesis was a short sci-fi movie shot almost entirely in Cameron’s living room with his good friend, William Wisher, who later co-wrote Terminator 2 with Cameron.

Xenogenesis is twelve minutes long and centers around a woman, Laurie (Margaret Umbel), and a cybernetically enhanced man, Raj (Wisher)’s encounter with a robot cleaner aboard their sentient starship. Elements of Xenogenesis can be noticed in Cameron’s later works, such as Ripley’s use of the Power Loader in Aliens against the Xenomorph Queen in Aliens, emulating Laurie’s duel with Xenogenesis’ antagonist. The movie can be watched in full on YouTube.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) — Product Design and Art Direction

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Despite the group of dentists’ discontent with Xenogenesis, Cameron’s first movie caught the eye of the head of New World Pictures, Roger Corman. Commonly dubbed the “Pope of Pop Cinema,” Cormon trailblazed the paths of many legendary directors such as Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, and Cameron himself.

Cameron was initially hired as a model maker for New World but eventually became the head of product design and art direction for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a space opera directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, after the original art director was fired. Battle Beyond the Stars was highly praised for its special effects, especially considering the movie’s $2 million budget, which set the catalyst for Cameron’s entertainment career.

Piranha II: The Spawning (1982) — Director, Writer

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Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), a low-budget comedy horror movie inspired by Jaws, was a financial success. Still, New World Pictures was disinterested in a sequel, selling the rights to the film’s original producers, who set up Chako Film Company to produce Piranha II: The Spawning (1982). Cameron was hired initially as the special effects director for the movie after his work on Battle Beyond the Stars but was promoted to Director before shooting began, marking Cameron’s debut as a feature film director.

Despite being a sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning had no narrative link to the original and, instead, served as a standalone story, which involved the violent antics of flying piranhas. From a crew that only spoke Italian to Cameron being disallowed from viewing footage during its editing process, Pirahna II‘s production was so chaotic that Cameron disregards it as being his first feature-length film.

The Terminator (1984) — Director, Writer

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Born from a dream Cameron had during the release of Piranha II, The Terminator (1984) solidified both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as entertainment industry legends at only the cost of a single US dollar. Cameron sold the rights to The Terminator to Gale Anne Hurd, Roger Corman’s former assistant at New World Pictures, for one dollar, under the proviso that Cameron would direct the movie if she produced it. Together, Cameron and Hurd contacted their associates at Orion Pictures to distribute the film.

The Terminator revolves around a cyborg assassin (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) sent into the past by the malevolent artificial intelligence Skynet to terminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of Earth’s future savior.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) — Writer

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Due to Arnlord Schwarzengger’s commitments with Conan the Destroyer (1984), Cameron had time to focus on other projects. One is Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), which he co-wrote with Sylvester Stallone. Set three years after First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II follows Rambo’s conquest to free prisoners of war in Vietnam. Stallone had the most influence over the movie’s final script, with Cameron’s initial draft serving as its narrative building blocks.

Aliens (1986) — Director, Writer

Aliens

James Cameron wrote the film treatment for Aliens (1986), a sequel to Ripley Scott’s Alien (1979), during the production of The Terminator and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Fox was impressed by the treatment but was reluctant to let Cameron direct because his only credit was Pirahna II. They soon offered Cameron the job following the success of The Terminator. Despite a rough production process involving Cameron quitting partway through due to budget constraints, Aliens is considered one of the best sequels of all time by critics and fans worldwide.

The Abyss (1989) — Director, Writer

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The Abyss (1989) is a science fiction movie about the discovery of a mysterious lifeform dwelling underwater when searching for a sunken American submarine in the Caribbean. The film is inspired by a story written by Cameron in high school and In The Abyss, a short story penned by H. G. Wells in 1897. The Abyss won The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1989.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) — Director, Writer, Producer

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is to thank for the existence of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Advocating for a sequel directly after completing the first film, Schwarzenegger convinced Carolco Pictures (responsible for Total Recall) to purchase the rights to The Terminator from Hemdale Film Corporation, as Cameron refused to work with Hemdale following significant creative differences and unpaid profits from the first film.

As mentioned previously, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was co-written with William Wisher, who co-wrote and starred in Xenogenesis. The movie was the highest-grossing film of 1991 and produced numerous sequels and spin-offs, despite Cameron’s intent for Terminator 2 to conclude the story.

True Lies (1991) — Director, Writer, Producer

True-Lies

True Lies (1991) was a spy comedy film based on the french title La Totale! (1991). Once again starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, True Lies follows the exploits of secret agent Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger), who discovers his wife, Helen (Jaime Lee Curtis), is cheating on him due to the lack of adventure in their lives. Tasker attempts to improve his relationship with Helen while simultaneously trying to prevent terrorists from smuggling nuclear weapons into the United States.

Strange Days (1995) — Writer, Producer

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Kathyrn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) is a thriller with a noir-cyberpunk setting. In 1999 Los Angeles, a former LAPD officer, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), uses a device known as a SQUID to record memories and sensations of events, which are then sold on the black market for others to experience. Nero mysteriously receives a disc depicting the rape and murder of a prostitute, which sends him and his bodyguard, Mace (Angela Bassett), down the rabbit hole of police corruption and conspiracy.

James Cameron originally conceived Strange Days in 1986 and further adapted by Bigelow following then-recent events, such as the Rodney King verdict in 1991. Despite Strange Days’ flop at the box office, the movie continues to inspire future cyberpunk-themed media. Braindances from the video game Cyberpunk 2077, for example, are directly inspired by SQUID recordings.

Titanic (1997) — Director, Writer, Producer, Editor

Titanic

With his roles as Director, writer, producer, and editor, James Cameron exercised considerable creative control over Titanic (1997), which certainly paid off. Until Avengers: Endgame (2019) and another Cameron flick, Avatar (2009), Titanic held the record for highest box office earnings. Including its re-releases, Titanic grossed a total of $2.202 billion.

Titanic centers around the fictional romance between the aristocratic Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet) and the impoverished but charming Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) during the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Cameron was described as loud and demanding during Titanic‘s production process, with Kate Winslet going as far as to say she was frightened by him. Many crew members suffered from illness due to spending an extended time in cold water, with many quitting partway through.

Solaris (2002) — Producer

Solaris

Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris (2002) is based on the 1961 Polish science-fiction novel of the same name, written by Stanislaw Lem. Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a clinical psychologist, is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to study the sudden unusual behavior of its crew, which he falls victim to himself.

Solaris received a movie adaptation once before in 1972, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, which Cameron wished to remake. By the time his studio, Lightstorm Entertainment, secured the rights, Cameron was too busy with other titles to direct Solaris instead of opting to serve as a producer. Soderbergh viewed Solaris as a more faithful adaptation of Lem’s novel rather than a remake of Tarkovsky’s 1972 film. Either way, the movie flopped at the box office, earning 30 million dollars back from its $47 million budget. Lem also disliked the movie, criticizing it for its focus on romance, which was not his original intention.

Avatar (2009) — Director, Writer, Producer, Editor

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Image: 20th Century Studios

Avatar (2009) blew audiences away with its incredible visual effects, single-handedly causing a “3D boom” in which many studios attempted to emulate Avatar‘s success with their own 3D movies. With almost 3 billion dollars in box office earnings, Avatar is currently the highest-grossing movie of all time (unadjusted for inflation). The film centers around the conflict between humanity and a tribe of blue alien humanoids known as the Na’vi on the fictional moon of Pandora, which contains a precious mineral unobtainable on Earth, aptly named ‘unobtainium.’ Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled Marine, opts into the Avatar program, which allows him to control an artificially created Na’vi to infiltrate their ranks.

Cameron wrote the original draft of Avatar in 1994, with plans to start production after Titanic. However, he soon realized that the technology at the time wasn’t advanced enough to create his vision. Production for the film began again in 2006, alongside the production of Ubisoft’s Avatar: The Game in 2007, which serves as a prequel.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) — Writer, Producer

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Alita: Battle Angel (2019) was a film Cameron wished to create since 2000, planning to start production after his show, Dark Angel, concluded. Instead, Cameron began to work on Avatar and its sequels, though he constantly mentioned that the film would happen eventually, claiming that a script was in production as far back as 2003. Ultimately, Cameron chose Robert Rodriguez to Direct Alita: Battle Angel after he had been brought on to condense Cameron’s screenplay into a shooting script.

Based on the 1990s manga Battle Angel Alita, Alita: Battle Angel focuses on the titular Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg that awakens with amnesia under the care of scientist and bounty hunter Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) in the 26th-century, 300 years after a worldwide catastrophic event. The movie received average reviews but performed well at the box office and amassed an enthusiastic cult following. Cameron and Rodriquez took a “blood oath” to produce a sequel during Avatar: The Way of Water’s (2022) press tour. Based on Cameron’s current infatuation with Avatar, we can expect that in at least a decade or two.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) — Story Writer, Producer

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After the poor reception of Alan Taylor’s Terminator: Genisys (2015), the plans for Genisys to be the first film in a new trilogy were scrapped. Instead, Cameron was invited by Tim Miller to produce a direct sequel to Terminator 2, which ignored all other Terminator movies since Cameron’s departure from the franchise; Terminator: Dark Fate (2019). The film saw the return of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton as T-800 and Sarah Connor, respectively. Though it didn’t meet its projected earnings, the movie still made a decent profit at the box office. During Avatar: The Way of Water‘s press tour, Cameron stated bringing back the esteemed actors was a mistake in hindsight and that a Terminator reboot was in discussion.

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) — Director, Writer, Producer, Editor

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Image: 20th Century Studios

Thirteen years after its predecessor and twelve years after its announcement, Avatar: The Way of Water was released in the United States on December 16, 2022. After only two weeks, The Way of Water crossed the billion-dollar mark and became the second-highest-grossing film of 2022. Set over a decade after the previous title, the movie follows the journey of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Ney’tiri’s (Zoe Saldaña) family on a journey following the vengeful actions of the RDA. In our review, we praised the movie for its “undeniable, striking, and spectacular” visuals but had minor issues regarding its narrative and dialogue. A third entry in the Avatar franchise is planned for a December 2024 release.

- This article was updated on January 2nd, 2023

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