The epic is a classic Hollywood genre that has been with motion pictures since the very genesis, and it has only gotten more advanced with the growth of digital filmmaking. Few other directors have embraced the genre’s progressions more than James Cameron.
Cameron has been thrilling audiences since the 1980s with big-budget productions, star-studded casts, and innovative filmmaking techniques. His films have broken numerous records and he continues to be a dominating presence on the silver screen. His filmography spans across many historical time periods and alien worlds, yet they are always marked by his special touch.
10 Piranha II: The Spawning (6%)
It is hit or miss when it comes to a director’s first film, they either set an immediate precedent of craftsmanship or are mere stepping stones on the road to success. For James Cameron, the case was the latter as his debut film was a sequel to a corny B-movie about killer piranhas attacking swimmers.
Certainly an attempt to ride to the coattails of the blockbuster movie Jaws, Piranha II: The Spawning was handed over to Cameron to direct due to his experience as a special effects artist for Roger Corman. The movie was marred by a bumpy production and editing process and the final product is less than noteworthy, but some fans of the “so-bad-it’s good” genre may enjoy it.
9 True Lies (71%)
James Cameron’s penchant for mixing genres is illustrated in True Lies, the 1994 action comedy romance spy thriller. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis as a married couple thrown into madness thanks to the former’s covert job as a secret agent for the United States.
Things get hairy when a terrorist group enters the picture and the agent’s cover and family life risk great jeopardy. It’s a typical Schwarzenegger romp with explosions and cheesy one-liners, but it’s still better than its licensed video game.
8 Ghosts Of The Abyss (80%)
Documentaries are a different ballgame when it comes to filmmaking, but Cameron seems capable of trying his hand at anything. He returns to the Titanic in this underwater documentary, exploring the infamous sea disaster that captured people’s hearts through his own fictional narrative in the 1997 classic film of the same name.
This time around, Cameron actually dives into the water to get an up-close and personal look at the remains of the ghostly ship. With the help of remote-controlled vehicles and some CGI magic, this IMAX film takes spectators into another world deep below the ocean.
7 Avatar (82%)
Some movies are award winners, some movies are cult-classics, and some movies make buckets and buckets of money beyond most folk’s wildest dreams. Avatar does well in all three categories, but especially in the money department considering it is still the second highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
Nevertheless, this impressive CGI-laden movie flies audiences to an alien world filled with strange creatures and plants in a futuristic retelling of the Pocahontas story. Fans are still waiting on the alleged sequels with high excitement.
6 Aliens Of The Deep (84%)
James Cameron just can’t stay out of the water. Once more in Aliens of the Deep, the famed director made his way down to the depths of the ocean. This time, Cameron sought to explore various ecosystems as well as the bizarre alien-like creatures living far beneath the waves.
In this IMAX documentary, Cameron delves into the equipment necessary to reach such great depths while looking at the strange life forms that dwell below and hypothesizing whether life on other planets might have similarities.
5 Titanic (89%)
One of the most enduring and successful romance films of all time has ingrained itself into pop culture since it first hit the big screen in 1997. Using scale models and CGI, Cameron changed the filmmaking world forever by appealing to the masses with amazing special effects and historical storytelling.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet embodied their roles as forbidden lovers doomed by class differences and a pesky iceberg in performances that shot them both to superstardom.
4 The Abyss (89%)
James Cameron’s interest in ocean exploration takes form in yet another film of his, this time through the lens of the science-fiction genre. Following a group of deep-sea drillers who become embroiled in an international conspiracy, The Abyss utilizes state of the art technology (for the late 1980s) and innovative filmmaking to take audiences underwater and into a world of mystery and exploration.
While some of the stop motion animation and effects might seem lackluster by today’s standards, the film is an important milestone for Cameron’s filmmaking techniques.
3 Terminator 2: Judgement Day (93%)
When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object in the world of film, the resulting story is always electrifying. Terminator 2 suffers no sophomore slump as Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to his titular role, this time to protect Sarah Conner and her son from the relentless liquid metal T-1000 sent from the future to kill the eventual leader of a resistance against Skynet.
Merging thrilling chase sequences with intense fight scenes and plenty of awesome special effects, this blockbuster hit is a critical staple of the Terminator franchise and of Cameron’s diverse film career.
2 Aliens (97%)
James Cameron isn’t known as a major franchise director, but he changed the face of science-fiction films forever when he took on the sequel of the first Alien film. Ripley returns in Aliens, going back to the moon she first encountered the alien creatures on to investigate a human colony that has gone radio silent.
Introducing iconic dialogue and the essential space marines, James Cameron greatly expands upon the universe from the first film through more action and more aliens. The film was a massive success when it first hit theaters and it continues to be an iconic ’80s film worth re-watching again and again.
1 The Terminator (100%)
Getting a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes is no easy feat, only a handful of movies have done on a large scale. But, James Cameron sits among those select few with the film generally considered to be his first “true” directed movie. Inspired by popular slasher films, Cameron crafted an iconic series through a genius combination of science-fiction, horror, action, and suspense.
A cyborg killing machine sent back in time to kill the mother of the world’s unborn hero sounds ridiculous even by today’s standards, but everything comes together in a perfect equilibrium of fun and anxiety-inducing tension. Filled with classic characters, one-liners, and brilliant production craftsmanship, Cameron established himself as a directing heavy-weight with this low-budget ’80s hit. Not only did it catapult him to stardom, but it established Arnold Schwarzenegger as an icon for decades to come. It is so quintessential that the Library of Congress has preserved it in the Nation Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”