It’s a classic sci-fi series that keeps stumbling along despite repeated missteps and fumbled reboots. It’s the Terminator movies from worst to best:
6. Terminator Dark Fate
Expectations were high with the returns of Linda Hamilton and James Cameron but Dark Fate was an insulting disappointment from beginning to end.
From a pointless slow-motion execution of young John Connor to the ridiculous notion of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 having a wife, Dark Fate loses the plot early and never recovers. Ultimately it descends into a formulaic action movie that retreads the save turf as the original two movies, just nowhere near as well.
Add that to a new 2-in-1 terminator that seemed to have studied gymnastics and some woke re-casting to score feminist brownie points and you’ve got a recipe for crap, which is exactly what is served up here.
The human element captured so well in the first two movies just seems forced in Dark Fate and Linda Hamilton’s return unfortunately seems pointless as Sarah Connor contributes virtually nothing to the story.
Dark Fate suffers from the same lack of new ideas as a few other movies in the series, a problem not even a dash of nostalgia and the return of two of the foundations of the original films success could overcome.
5. Terminator Genysis
When a movie gives away its big twist in the trailer you know there’s problems.
Basically a reboot of the original 1984 movie, Genysis tries to one-up its predecessor in various ways but just ends up a confused, senseless mess. There are some half-decent new idea here but overall we’re given a revision of franchise history that nobody wanted.
Worst of all, Genysis is just forgettable. Nothing special or memorable happens, it’s just an action movie by the numbers that even Schwarzenegger’s return couldn’t save. The fact his monotone machine is still the best part of this movie speaks volumes about the rest of the cast’s performances and how weak the character development of the writing is.
It also pointlessly muddied the timelines of previous movies, ending up drowning in the same confusion it created. There were so many directions the fifth instalment could have taken that made much more sense rather than this rebooted mess.
4. Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
Unlucky to miss out on third spot, Rise Of The Machines is actually a pretty decent movie. It lacks some of the humanity of previous films and follows the exact same formula of its predecessors being set in the present day with one hunter and one protector, but still delivers some impressive action sequences and an unexpected twist ending.
Kristanna Loken’s casting as a female terminator was great news for feminists and teenage boys alike and her performance is satisfyingly robotic and menacing.
Clare Danes also shines as a new character thrust into the world of terminators while Nick Stahl’s John Connor is good aside from having a bit too much “woe is me”.
The standard Hollywood ending where the good guys win is thrown out here as we realise our heroes cannot stop judgment day after all and are left helpless in a bunker while Skynet starts launching nukes, destined to fight the war against the machines. It’s a refreshingly bleak ending that opened the door for a sequel that never eventuated. Instead of watching Skynet take over the world we fast-forwarded to Salvation where humanity had already been overthrown.
3. Terminator Salvation
With Salvation we finally got what we wanted to see: the future war against Skynet.
Unfortunately we also got a John Connor in Christian Bale who didn’t seem interested in being there but Sam Worthington’s antihero terminator hybrid was a stroke of genius.
Salvation was a tantalising taste of what the future war could have been but it seemed to be setting up a sequel rather than trying to be a great movie in its own right.
That said, it offered spectacular action, some interesting new characters and a refreshing new direction for the franchise, one that showed enough promise to deserve a direct sequel.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
This was a tough call as either of the first two movies could quite easily hold the top spot.
It took 8 years for James Cameron to deliver a sequel to the 1984 original but when it arrived, it arrived with a bang. Big budget action sequences were combined with groundbreaking CGI and practical effects that still look better than some movies made in the past few years.
The return of Schwarzenegger’s terminator came with a twist as he was now the protector of young John Connor, himself being hunted by a prototype T-1000 shape-shifting terminator portrayed iconically by Robert Patrick.
T2 still retained a lot of the strong character-driven elements of the original while delving deeper into humanity’s impact on itself. None of this slows down the action and the first sequel spends its enormous budget to perfection.
1. The Terminator
The original and still the best despite a strong argument to the contrary by T2.
Ignore the low budget early 80’s special effects and instead be drawn into a clever sci-fi story that delivers tense action and genuine, believable characters.
Sure the premise is a bit out there but if you can believe in a future where time travel exists then the idea of a AI sending robots back to kill the mother of the man who will save humanity then you’re in for a hell of a ride.
In 90 minutes we see Sarah Connor develop from a weak and confused waitress into the foundation of the warrior she will become. We witness the selfless sacrifice of Kyle Reece, a man who travelled into the past with no hope of ever returning to his own present.
And of course we are introduced into Schwarzenegger’s iconic titular character who moves with a mechanical menace that is lost in subsequent movies.
His relentless and brutal pursuit of Sarah Connor drives this dark and violent movie. The Terminator embraces its R rating in displaying the merciless violence of a literal killing machine seeking to complete its mission with horror-movie tension.
Sure some of the effects have dated (largely due to the low budget the movie received) but The Terminator more than makes up for it with strong characters, almost non-stop action and a powerful message about the dangers of AI that resonates even more today than it did in 1984.
The Terminator is a classic in every sense and while T2 might have upped the action and special effects, no other movie in the franchise has managed to capture the relentless brutality of the title character or the inevitable self-destruction of humanity as well as the original.