RANKED! Every ‘Terminator’ Movie Before ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
The Terminator is a unique franchise. It launched the career of Avatar and Titanic mastermind James Cameron and The Terminator is arguably his best movie, even today. The fascinating original film imagines a future where computers have become self-aware and have learned to oppress human civilization as a result. That is, until a human resistance is led by a man named John Connor. As the tide turns in the war and the robots anticipate their defeat, they opt to send one of their highest-skilled assassins (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to the past to kill John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before he can be born.
Thirty-five years and four more films later, The Terminator has spiraled into a bloated franchise with messy timelines and nearly endless possibilities. Filmmakers and actors have come and gone—only Schwarzenegger himself has shown up in four of the five entries. Now, with the upcoming entry Terminator: Dark Fate, audiences will get two more huge returns to the franchise: Hamilton as the perennial protagonist herself and Cameron in a producer capacity. We can only wonder what the next film will hold, but until then: here are the other five films of the series, ranked for your viewing pleasure.
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5. 'Terminator Salvation' (2009)
Terminator Salvation is generally best known for Christian Bale's expletive-filled tirade aimed at a crew member during production. The necessity of this film is, of course, a big question. It often feels like a generic science fiction war movie with a Terminator sheen slapped on. In fairness to the film, maybe plenty of fans wanted to see the war against the machines that was only seen in small gasps during previous films, but to us, it’s not particularly interesting compared to the stories that came before.
4. 'Terminator: Genysis' (2015)
Terminator Genysis seems to recognize, to some degree, the steep decline in quality of the Terminator franchise post-James Cameron, after it shifted its focus from the Sarah Connor story. It does its best to attempt to recapture the feel of the first two films as well as become its own thing, but it ends up falling flat in both of those goals. At best, it feels like a rehash of things we’ve already seen before. Neither Emilia Clarke or Jai Courtney seem like suitable successors to Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, respectively. In all, it deserves a bit of credit for trying, but is not a very strong piece in any sense.
3. 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' (2003)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was the first to make a crucial error that would plague the franchise so far: it failed to bring back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Without Hamilton's presence, the Terminator films feel rather emotionally flat considering she was the protagonist of the first two films. In all, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a solid film, though not as inspired as its predecessors. Ten years have passed since the events of Terminator 2 and John Connor is now a grown man who does his best to stay off the grid—but Skynet sends an even more powerful T-X Terminator to kill John once and for all.
2. 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is often touted as the most fun film of the Terminator franchise. It remains Sarah Connor’s journey to protect her son John, but with John as a teenager and Schwarzenegger returning as a reprogrammed T-800, it features a dynamic resembling more an ensemble comedy than the original film. Cameron finds interesting ways to deepen the world of Terminator as well as better flesh out themes he played with in his entry to the Alien franchise, Aliens (1986).
1. 'The Terminator' (1984)
Hard as filmmakers may try, it has been incredibly difficult to top Cameron's original film. It is hard to remember that this franchise didn't always exist, and wouldn't exist, if not for this film. The Terminator is elegant and small-scale, telling the relatively simple story of Sarah Connor, an average woman just trying to make a living until she is methodically hunted down by a killer android sent from the future to prevent her from giving birth to a son who will one day lead the human resistance against their robotic oppressors.