For years, Sting’s 1985 anti-war song “Russians” was something of an afterthought. Though the haunting meditation on the threat of nuclear war was pertinent at the time of its release, the single stalled at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was soon eclipsed by snappier Sting hits like “We’ll Be Together,” “All This Time,” and “All For Love,” his chart-topping 1993 collaboration with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart.
But “Russians,” which emphasizes the common humanity on both sides of the Cold War divide, made a lasting impression on two legendary filmmakers, inspiring a pair of summer blockbusters released more than 30 years apart and in completely different genres. The first is James Cameron, who found himself listening to the song—the fourth single off Sting’s 1985 solo debut, The Dream of the Blue Turtles—while indulging in some recreational drug use and brainstorming ideas for what would become 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the sequel to his 1984 sci-fi film The Terminator.
“I remember sitting there once, high on E, writing notes for Terminator, and I was struck by Sting’s song, that ‘I hope the Russians love their children too,’ Cameron told The Ringer in 2021, reciting the most famous and affecting line from the song’s chorus. “And I thought, ‘You know what? The idea of a nuclear war is just so antithetical to life itself.’ That’s where the kid came from.”
“The kid” is John Connor, the teen character played by Edward Furlong. For all its blood and guts and explosions, T2 is the story of a young man without a father forging a deep connection with a robot sent from the future to protect him. That robot, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a retooled version of the evil one that killed a whole bunch of people in the original Terminator. “I have always loved The Wizard of Oz,” Cameron said. “[Terminator 2] is about the Tin Man getting his heart.”
“Russians” may also be partly responsible for the 2023 box office smash Oppenheimer, all about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, a.k.a. “the father of the atomic bomb.” The film’s director, Christopher Nolan, heard “Russians”—which contains the phrase “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy”—while growing up in the U.K. and living in fear of nuclear annihilation.
“And then over time that fear recedes, and Oppenheimer stuck with me as a figure, and I learned more about him over the years—including learning this information that he, along with the key scientists at the Manhattan Project, they couldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of starting a chain reaction that would destroy the world,” Nolan said in a recent “Around the Table” discussion with Entertainment Weekly. “And for me, that was the hook.”
So where did Sting get the idea for “Russians” and that gut-punching line about them hopefully loving their kids? It all goes back to a friend he knew at university who figured out how to tune in Soviet television.
“At that time of night we’d only get children’s Russian television, like their Sesame Street,” Sting said in 2010. “I was impressed with the care and attention they gave to their children’s programs. I regret our current enemies haven’t got the same ethics.”