August 1991 Harley stunt in Terminator 2 stuns an impressionable UK audience
ew Hollywood bike stunts are as memorable as the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy jump in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The bike not only drops 30 feet off an LA overpass into a dry waterway but also somehow survives. With a budget of $51m for stunts and effects alone there was no shortage of resource, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. MCN finds out just how hard it can be to capture such an impressive shot.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s main movie stuntman. Inducted into the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Tech blogger, motorcyclist and a lifelong fan of the Terminator franchise.
Peter Kent “I went to Los Angeles in 1984 not knowing a soul and managed to get an interview with director James Cameron when he started Terminator. I never dreamed it would lead to 15 years of working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on over 14 films. We had an excellent time, always playing pranks on each other, always joking. It was like a good old boys club with a lot of hard knocks... and some pretty serious bodybuilding workouts I have to tell you. I think I can say I’m the only man in existence who can say they’ve worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger daily for 15 years.”
Ben Howe “I think for anyone growing up in the 80s and 90s the Terminator films were just absolutely iconic – they were easily the best movies that Arnie made in his prime. And if you weren’t old enough to see them in the cinema, everyone had an older brother who had Judgement Day on VHS. There was even a T2 Gameboy game, which I remember playing constantly. For my generation the whole thing was a classic from the moment it came out.”
Kent “I remember reading the script when James Cameron first presented it to me. He asked for my opinion and I came back to him and asked: ‘What kind of motorcycle are we going to use?’ ‘Harley’, he said. I thought he was joking. Anyway I went out and purchased five 1992 Harley Fat Boys with our driver. Two of them were quickly modified with new exhausts and carbs, and were rejetted with the valves reground and resprung to give it a little faster take off and quicker response. Otherwise they would’ve been too sluggish for our purposes. I took one and had it for about a month and a half just to practise riding before the movie even begun filming.”
Howe “It’s embarrassing to say, but I think seeing Terminator on a Harley Fat Boy was a big part of what got me into bikes. If you’re a young and impressionable kid and you see this awesome looking bloke in a leather jacket on a bike with Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood playing... what a father figure.”
Kent “Not long afterwards, our locations guy came back with photos of the canal where the jump was to take place. We realised right away it was impossible to jump a bike that distance (30 feet) without destroying the family jewels, and the Harley. So, two one-and-a-half ton cranes were set up at either end of the job site with a cable strung overhead. The bike was actually on a traveller that slid in the crane cable running parallel to the ground. So, as the bike jumped off the ledge, the crane lowered me to the ground, which is why when you watch the shot it is actually in slow motion.”
Howe “The first time I saw that stunt it blew my mind. I think it actually adds to it that it’s in slow motion, especially when those sparks fly up on impact. If you’re into bikes in any way it’s the absolutely highlight of the movie.”
Kent “All of the crane and cables and everything else were taken out digitally later. You’ll also notice my face in that shot. I am the first ever stuntman to wear a latex mask to emulate my actor. We did seven takes of jumping the bike off and even though it was lowered by crane it still hit pretty hard. The landing was hard enough to break off the brake assembly and footpeg so that I couldn’t stop the bike in time and had to drop it, almost running over James Cameron, who was operating the camera. He snatched the camera on its sticks and turned like a toreador. I just missed him.”
Howe “Watching that scene still makes me feel tense. I even love the contrast between the sound effects. You’ve got this throbbing V-twin Harley soundtrack mixed with the Honda XR dirt bike (a four-stroke) that they’ve dubbed over to sound like a two-stroke.”