The initial planning for T2 3-D: Battle Across Time began in the early 1990s. It was originally developed for Universal Studios Florida, with producers pushing for a second installation in Universal Studios Hollywood during development. The original attraction cost a total of $60 million. With a total run time of 12 minutes, the film alone cost $24 million, making it one of the most expensive films per minute in the world. The attraction opened in the Hollywood area of Universal Studios Florida on April 27, 1996, to very positive reviews. Additional venues were later announced for Universal Studios Hollywood and the upcoming Universal Studios Japan theme park.
Construction for the Hollywood venue forced the closure of Fievel's Playland and An American Tail Theatre, which were built atop a parking structure. The attraction opened on the Upper Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood on May 6, 1999. In the year of the attraction's opening, attendance at Universal Studios Hollywood remained steady at 5.1 million; however, other parks in the region saw declines in revenue, such as Disneyland which experienced a 5% drop. The Terminator stage was subsequently used for the annual Halloween Horror Nights event, with The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute being shown in 2009.
At Universal Studios Japan, the attraction was added as one of the debut attractions in the New York section of the park. It opened to the public on March 31, 2001. California-based firm Technifex provided special effects and show equipment for the attraction.
In late 2012, Universal Studios Hollywood announced that their version would close on December 31, 2012. It was later announced Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem would replace the attraction. On September 7, 2017, Universal Studios Florida announced their version will close on October 8, 2017.
The queue features dozens of television monitors that show a series of video segments (which are being presented on the "Cyberdyne Information Network," or C.I.N.) about the latest innovations and products of Cyberdyne Systems. The video also includes several special musical segments, including two songs from the film; "Bad to the Bone" and "Guitars, Cadillacs", as well as a "live" video feed from Costa Rica of a performance of the song La Bamba. Mixed into the video cycle are live images of the waiting audience (in the manner of a closed-circuit security system) and two brief comical sketches of "customers" running afoul of Cyberdyne security – either being electrocuted by a security device or being arrested by security staff. Just before entering the pre-show auditorium, guests pass an unmanned kiosk where they pick up a pair of "safety visors" (3D glasses) for use during the main show.
The pre-show is hosted in the "Miles Bennett Dyson Memorial Auditorium" by Kimberley Duncan and other Cyberdyne Systems Directors of Community Relations and Media Control. Here, the audience stands and views a promotional video about Cyberdyne's numerous technological innovations, which includes several references to the Terminator universe. The pre-show was updated in 2015 to include video footage that is more about the future, as the previous preshow was very outdated and showed a "future" where almost all of the futuristic technologies already existed in current day 2015. However, footage from the old pre-show, like the parts with John and Sarah Connor interrupting the presentation to warn the guests, remain.
Guests are ushered from the pre-show auditorium into a large theater that seats 700 where they are to see a demonstration of Cyberdyne's newest creation, robotic soldiers called T-70 Terminators. Once guests are seated, they are told to put on their "safety visors" to watch a demonstration of the Terminators in action. However, John and Sarah arrive and disrupt the proceedings, followed by a T-1000 Terminator from the future (its appearance as the helicopter pilot), whom they engage with automatic-weapons. Kimberley Duncan is killed by the T-1000 while attempting to stop it. A second Terminator, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, bursts through the movie screen "time portal" on his signature Harley-Davidson motorcycle – via actual actor/stunt double riding into auditorium – to rescue John. He takes John back through the portal and into the future war between humans and machines, with the T-1000 in pursuit. After defeating it, John and the Terminator make their way across the war ravaged landscape as they head towards Skynet. Along the way, they are chased by a Flying Hunter-Killer, four mini Hunter-Killers, and a Terminator endoskeleton.
The duo successfully penetrate and descend with the audience into the Skynet core, where they battle the "T-1000000", a giant liquid-metal spider-like construct similar to a very large T-1000. The Terminator finally sends John back to the present while he stays behind to blow up Skynet and the T-1000000. Water is squirted from the ceiling onto the riders. The show ends with the ground-shaking destruction of Skynet, leaving Sarah and John alone in the present time once again. During the explosion, the seats of the auditorium lurch with a sudden drop, giving guests a final scare. Sarah finishes the show by saying that she feels that she owes her life to the Terminator for saving John's life. During this narration, a terminator endoskeleton's face fills the screen, which morphs into Schwarzenegger's face before the film fades to black, during which John and Sarah mysteriously disappear.
The initial planning for T2 3-D: Battle Across Time began in the early 1990s. Jay Stein, Universal Parks & Resorts' Chairman and CEO at the time, asked Gary Goddard and his team at Landmark Entertainment to develop a stunt show based around the Terminator franchise. Goodard sought permission from MCA Planning and Development (later Universal Creative) to morph this concept into a theater-based presentation featuring a 3-D film, live action and pyrotechnics. After a year-and-a-half of development, MCA Planning and Development and Landmark Entertainment approached James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment for ultimate approval. Although Cameron was originally against the idea of Universal taking his Terminator franchise and converting it into a ride, he found the storyboards and the whole concept to be "great", so the project was green-lit.
A full-scale mock-up duplicating the dimensions of the planned Florida venue was created in an airplane hangar at the Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valley. The set consists of a stage surrounded by a triptych of adjoined silver screens. Each of these three screens measured 23 by 50 feet (7.0 by 15.2 m). A total of six Iwerks projectors were used to run the 3-D, 70mm film simultaneously at 30 frames per second. Several elements of T2 3-D: Battle Across Time have been patented by Universal, including the seat drop effect, the blending of live action and film, the trio of projection screens, and the simulated assault weapons.
The film was shot at the abandoned Eagle Mountain iron ore mine, just north of Desert Center in California. The cast and crew from the first two Terminator films returned for the shoot, including Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Robert Patrick as T-1000, and Edward Furlong as John Connor. To achieve the 3-D effect on a 70mm projected film, a two-camera rig weighing 450 pounds (200 kg) was used.
As a sequel to the 1991 film, T2 3-D: Battle Across Time introduced two new Terminator characters. The first is the Cyberdyne's latest invention, the T-1000000. It is a large spider-like version of the T-1000 that defends Skynet's CPU from attack. Like the T-1000, it is made of mimetic polyalloy, allowing it to form its legs into stabbing weapons. The only known T-1000000 was destroyed when Skynet's core was destroyed.
The demonstration featured as the premise for the film involves several large practical effects robots called T-70s, designed as mechanical soldiers, with large miniguns on their arms. They are the earliest terminator models shown to have a humanoid form with arms and legs, and are a direct predecessor to Schwarzenegger's T-800. The T-70s stand 8 feet (2.4 m) tall and line the walls of the arena.