With an estimated net worth somewhere around $670 to $700 million (at least), James Cameron is one of Hollywood’s most wealthy directors. He’s also one of the most talented.
His films like "The Terminator," "Aliens," "Avatar" and "Titanic" have grossed billions and were instant classics. "Avatar" alone is the highest-grossing film of all time, which broke Cameron’s own record set by "Titanic." That’s right — he broke his own record, but that’s not even the most interesting thing about him.
He’s a legendary director, sure. But he’s also the man who helped secretly develop a way to get to the bottom of the deepest ocean, a somewhat dangerous director, a pretty dang good artist and a "high-tech" Luddite.
Want to learn more about the 62-year-old’s lifestyle and eccentricities? Take a look at these 11 facts you probably didn’t know about James Cameron.
He’s Been Where No Man Has Gone Before
In 2012, Cameron set a Guinness World Record for reaching the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point of the ocean. Over the course of two hours and 37 minutes, Cameron traveled, alone, to a depth of 35,756 feet (6.77 miles) before reaching the trench’s floor.
The submarine he used, the Deepsea Challenger, had been secretly developed by the National Geographic Society, Cameron, and Rolex. Cameron spent about $10 million of his money on the craft, and it probably cost much more than that to produce and send on its voyage. Development included a new type of syntactic foam (which shrank about 2.5 inches under the 16,000 lbs of pressure during the voyage), 180 different systems, and 1,500 custom circuit boards.
He’s One of the Most Successful Director of All Time
“Avatar” and “Titanic” have grossed almost $5 billion worldwide; until “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” released in 2015, Cameron’s two movies had been the only films to break the $2 billion mark (SWTFA has grossed $2.068 billion so far, still a 100 million behind Titanic and $700 million behind Avatar). He personally earned at least $350 million for directing “Avatar.”
In total, his films have brought in about $6.14 billion, ranking him at No. 3 on the list of worldwide highest-grossing directors. The No. 1 spot goes to Stephen Spielberg ($9.25 billion) followed by Peter Jackson ($6.139 billion) at No. 2. But with four more “Avatar” movies in the works, he could easily leapfrog to the first place not too long from now.
He Always Takes Home a Souvenir
When the final clapboard sounds, Cameron likes to take a prop home to his office in Santa Monica. He has the cyborg hand from “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” a deep sea helmet from “The Abyss,” and the ship’s wheel from “Titanic,” according to Today. For a souvenir from “Avatar,” it’s a bit too big for the office. Cameron said he was taking an AMP—a 14-foot-tall cybernetic exosuit—and placing it in his front yard.
“I’m serious — I'm putting it right on the front lawn,'' Cameron told Today. ''It'll send a message to the neighbors. 'Don't f--- with us.'''
You’ll Be Able to Buy and Play With Him
As a toy. Collectible figurine and toy company NECA recently announced they were going to produce an action figure of Cameron wearing military fatigues and space marine gear familiar to the “Alien” franchise. According to Entertainment Weekly, the toy will be 7 inches tall, have 25 points of articulation, and comes with a pulse rifle, tracking device, view finder, and a shoulder patch designed after Cameron’s real-life film production company, Lightstorm.
He Sold the Rights to 'The Terminator' for $1
Back in the 80s, Cameron was an unknown director with the only credit of “Piranha II: The Spawning”—a low-buck schlockfest bomb which he was fired from—and no one wanted to let him direct “The Terminator.” In order to have the film made, which was his own original idea, he sold it to a producer for $1, according to Business Insider. So far the franchise has made $1.4 billion, so it’s no surprise Cameron thinks of the deal as one of his biggest regrets.
They'll Be Back!
But there’s good news: the director will get his baby back in 2019 when its 35 years old thanks to copyright reversion laws. And he—and Arnold Schwarzenegger!—will be back! The director and the Governator recently announced they’ll be working together on the next “Terminator” installment, according to io9.
The Idea for 'The Terminator' Came to Him in a Fever Dream
When Cameron had been fired from “Piranha II,” he had been living in a small Italian hotel. And he was broke. In order to eat, he stole dinner rolls from room service trays. He was also wracked with fever, and one night had a dream of a “chrome skeleton, emerging out of a fire,” cut in half and crawling towards a woman, he told The New Yorker.
Another interesting factoid: while the movie was being passed around Hollywood, O.J. Simpson had been considered for the role as the terminator. Now that is a timeline we’re glad never happened.
He Drew, and Later Sold, the Famous 'French Girl' Portrait in 'Titanic'
“Draw me like one of your French girls.” It’s one of the most memorable lines from “Titanic,” leading to one of the movie’s most memorable scenes: Rose Calvert (Kate Winslet) wearing nothing but that heart-shaped necklace while Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) sketches her. But did you know Cameron sketched it himself?
According to The Telegraph, Cameron, who apparently has some figure-drawing chops, created the drawing and even added the initials of Jack Dawson with a dateline of April 14 1912, a day before the Titanic sunk.
In 2011 the portrait went up for auction and sold for $16,000. Kate Winslet is reportedly not a big fan of the sketch, saying it makes her “very uncomfortable” when fans try to get her to sign a photo of the nude rendition.
He Forced Some Actors to Method Act — by Almost Drowning Them
Cameron is not known for his kindness on set.
Much of Cameron’s 1989 film “The Abyss” takes place underwater. One scene had actor Ed Harris taking a long underwater swim of over forty feet, without any source of oxygen. According to “The Futurist: The Life and Times of James Cameron” by Rebecca Keegan, safety crew, or ‘angels,’ had to stay far enough away to not get caught on camera, so when Harris made the “out of air” gesture, it took a while for them to get over there with O2 tanks. It left Harris and the other actors exhausted, but there were no incidents—not until another scene where Harris had to hold his breath in a water-logged helmet.
When Harris gestured for help, it didn’t come because his personal angel had been caught up on ropes. Another angel swam over, popped open his faceplate and put a regulator in his mouth—only it was upside down, so Harris took in a gulps of water and later said he thought he was going to die. During a press circuit, he likened his experience on set of “The Abyss” to a Vietnam soldier. His co-star, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, reportedly said "‘The Abyss’ was a lot of things. Fun to make was not one of them."
So the lesson here is not to work with James Cameron if the project requires going underwater. There’s probably a reason why he took the Deepsea Challenger alone.
The Helicopter Chase Scene in 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' Was Insanely Dangerous
There’s a scene in “T2” where the T-1000 mans (machines?) a helicopter, flies dangerously close to a highway and flies underneath an overpass while chasing a van. The scene was reportedly so dangerous that the cameraman flat-out refused to film it, so Cameron grabbed the camera and did it himself, according to io9. Special effects for the entire movie totaled $51 million.
He Has a Nature Preserve Named After Him
If you’ve seen “Avatar,” it’s no surprise to learn that Cameron is a conservationist. In 2014, he sold a sizable 703 acres in Malibu to the California Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for $12 million. Cameron had initially listed it on the market for $25 million in 2007, but with no takers, he chose to sell it at the bargain rate for preservation. It’s now called the Cameron Nature Preserve.
He Has a Luxurious Getaway in New Zealand and Wants You to Visit
In 2012, Cameron paid an estimated $16 million for 2,500 acres of farmland in New Zealand. And he wants you to visit—well, not his own home, but New Zealand in general. The director doubled-down a year later, purchasing a 25-acre walnut farm for an undisclosed sum.
Since buying and building there, the director has worked with New Zealand’s tourism board to promote tourism and travel to the especially scenic country – after all, it’s where Peter Jackson filmed “The Lord of the Rings.”
He Hates Twitter
While Cameron is well-known for his science fiction, he considers himself a “high-tech luddite,” according to an interview with the director by USA Today. What’s that mean? Apparently, he had one of the first car cellular phones back in 1983 and originally liked the idea of social technology. Now? Not so much.
“I don't want to share every single thing I do. I look around the airport, and every single person is oblivious to the world around them. They don't live in the moment,” he told USA Today. When asked about Twitter, he remarked: "I hate it. I hate everyone else's tweets, too. They're boring. What can you say in 140 characters? I can't even clear my throat in 140 characters." However, the 62-year-old filmmaker admits to owning and using an iPad, but only because he finds it useful on set.
At least we know he won’t be the one programming Skynet.