Over the past decade, we’ve seen many series go on and on, sometimes to their benefit (like Star Wars) and sometimes not so much (Final Destination still hasn’t recovered from its fifth instalment). With that phenomenon in mind, will there be a time when action fans are finally ready for The Terminator to call it quits? Or is it possible for the Terminator movie franchise to be saved?
I don’t know about you, but I still freak out just a little whenever I see “You’re terminated.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
Is The Terminator Movie Franchise Finally Dead?
The Terminator franchise is dead. Maybe. Probably. Possibly.
While the Terminator series of films was quite successful initially, over the years the newer movies received less than favourable reviews.
Starting from the original movie, simply titled The Terminator (which was released in 1984), the franchise was the product of the creative imagination of writer/director James Cameron and established Arnold Schwarzenegger as a huge star.
It was followed by a bigger budget sequel, titled Terminator: The Judgement Day, which pushed the envelope even further, mostly due to its groundbreaking VFX. In fact, the introduction of the T-1000 revolutionised the film industry.
But after the recent films, including Terminator: Dark Fate (aka Terminator 6), it seems like the franchise is finally dead. Or is it?
Where Things Went Wrong For The Terminator
Fans were content with the story of Judgement Day and considered it an epic finale to the franchise’s storyline. However, studios got a bit greedy and made another film, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, this time without the involvement of James Cameron and it was not very well-received by either critics or the general public.
After the third film, the studio tried soft rebooting the franchise with a movie called Terminator: Salvation, which starred The Dark Knight star Christian Bale as John Connor. It was the first Terminator movie that was set in the post-apocalyptic future, and the first to not feature Arnold as his iconic character.
Salvation bombed drastically and was hated by critics.
“I didn’t think it was bad. I didn’t think it was embarrassing. I don’t think he let the franchise down in some huge way, but I did feel some sort of unease that it didn’t go beyond,” James Cameron opened up about his feelings towards the movie during an interview.
And it seems Terminator: Salvation created many problems for the franchise moving forward. Although it was not intended as a reboot, it convoluted the franchise’s timeline.
But it was only the beginning of many problems for the franchise.
The two sequels that followed, Terminator Genisys (2015) and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), brought back Arnold as the T-800 — but it was sadly both forgettable and lazy.
Again, Terminator: Dark Fate, which brought back James Cameron as a writer, confused fans further as it was intended as a direct sequel to the original James Cameron movies (The Terminator and T2: Judgement Day) and not the other films in the franchise. Directed by Tim Miller, Dark Fate may be slightly better than the previous two films, but it still felt generic and did not introduce anything new to the franchise.
Is There Hope for the Current Terminator Movie Franchise?
Yes and no. The Terminator franchise feels like it has overstayed its welcome. However, there is a way to redeem this franchise once more by starting things over… again.
Terminator: Salvation was a step in the right direction but was poorly executed. It should’ve been a complete reboot rather than a time jump storyline. The studio kept making Terminator movies revolving around Arnold while neglecting the wider potential of the franchise.
They could have gone in the direction of films like Joker and Logan, meaning they should have made a movie solely about the origins of T-800 or T-1000 with a new actor.
Arnold has lost his touch with the audience, which is proven by the failure of the last two movies. It is time that the studio cast someone new, especially if they plan to reboot the franchise once more.
Of course, all of this seems highly doubtful, especially due to the poor performance of Dark Fate at the box office. It is highly unlikely that we will get to see another Terminator movie for another 5 or 10 years. Even if the studio wants to reboot the franchise, they should simply drop the old storyline and start from the ground up again.
The Terminator Movie Franchise Ranked
In 1984, no one could have predicted that a run-of-the-mill action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger would become one of the most iconic sci-fi classics of all time (spawning alternate timelines, video games, a TV show, comics and a number of franchise films). Though the franchise has had its up and downs over the years, Terminator has kept most of its cultural influence intact for over three decades now.
In this list, we are going to rank every Terminator movie ever released, from worst to best. With or without Arnold, the story of machines taking over the world has fueled six great action flicks — each with a different idea of what the end of the world would look like.
6. Terminator Genisys (2015)
At the bottom of the list, we have 2015’s Terminator Genisys (directed by Alan Taylor). Conceived as a soft reboot of the series, the movie proved to be both a commercial and critical failure which (coupled with The Halcyon Company’s bankruptcy) led to the rebooted timeline being cancelled before it could even get started.
Genisys follows Kyle Reese again as he finds a timeline that has been drastically changed by Skynet. In this universe, Sarah Connor has been raised by a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator that shows clear signs of ageing. Unfortunately for fans, not even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the franchise could save Genisys. Two sequels were planned for the movie even before its release, but they were quickly canned due to Genisys’ poor box-office performance.
As a series reboot, Genisys introduced some new faces to the Terminator franchise. Emilia Clarke, fresh off Game of Thrones, played a younger version of Sarah Connor; meanwhile, Kyle Reese was played by Australian actor Jai Courtney. The role of John Connor, Sarah’s son and leader of the human resistance, went to Jason Clarke. In this timeline, he was turned into a new series of Terminator designed for human infiltration.
Curiously, this is the first film in the franchise where Arnold Schwarzenegger was not credited as the “Terminator;” but he is listed as the “Guardian” instead.
Genesys also stars Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, and Courtney B. Vance.
5. Terminator Salvation (2009)
For a franchise that follows pretty much the same formula in each film, 2009’s Terminator Salvation took the series into some seriously uncharted territory. For starters, this is the only movie in the series that takes place in the machine-controlled future, featuring some more advanced Terminator designs and a desperate tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic setting.
The plot follows a new half-machine half-human hybrid who joins the resistance against the machines. However, in a world where machines have decimated the human population and sentenced them to a life of misery and survival, it will take more than good intentions for the humans to trust their new so-called ally in the battle against Skynet.
Salvation is the only film in the franchise that does not include Arnold Schwarzenegger in its cast. Instead, a new group of protagonists, led by Christian Bale, face off against an army of CGI Terminators and an assortment of killing machines. Salvation might have not been a critical success, but it certainly dared to do something different with the Terminator IP.
This was the first attempt at rebooting the franchise: Salvation would have been the first chapter in a new “future” Terminator trilogy. As we know, that trilogy never came to be.
Terminator Salvation (which also spawned a video game and comic books) also starred Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Jadagrace, Common, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jane Alexander, Michael Ironside and Ivan G’Vera.
4. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
The most recent entry in the long-running series, Terminator: Dark Fate was yet another attempt at rebooting the franchise and launching a new trilogy, this time reuniting some of the original actors from the first Terminator film. Finally, after years of anticipation, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger would be reunited in a Terminator flick — but was Dark Fate any good?
Even though the film was marketed as a reunion between Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, the plot revolves around a new set of protagonists, including Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes. Davis plays a mechanically-enhanced super-soldier with abilities comparable to that of a Terminator, while Reyes is this timeline’s version of John Connor.
Speaking of John Connor, Dark Fate split the Terminator fanbase due to its decision of killing off Connor right at the beginning of the film. As shocking as the moment was, it was ultimately pointless, seeing as the movie’s main villain isn’t Skynet anymore. Dark Fate tried to be its own thing and somewhat distance itself from the rest of the Terminator franchise, but what it did was prove, maybe once and for all, that the series has already run its course.
Tim Miller’s film also stars Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta, Tom Hopper, Alicia Borrachero, Enrique Arce, and Fraser James.
3. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
After a 12-year hiatus, Terminator was back and ready to face the new millennium, and what we got was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Certainly one of the most divisive entries in the series, Rise of the Machines has Arnold Schwarzenegger, still in his prime, playing a similar role to the one he portrayed in the previous Terminator film — that is, a reprogrammed T-800 sent back in time to save John Connor from Skynet’s uprising.
Rise of the Machines centres around John Connor, who now lives as a nomad after his mother’s passing. Even though the human vs. machine war of 1997 was averted, it seems like Skynet might still have an ace up its sleeve, as it sends another Terminator after Connor and his allies.
The T-X is, so far, the only female-looking Terminator that has appeared in a Terminator film. Rise of the Machines oozes with early 2000s nostalgia, and its less serious tone marks a stark contrast with the two previous films. While it might not have been all that fans were expecting to see for a movie that was supposed to end the epic Terminator trilogy, it definitely can’t be said that Rise of the Machines didn’t end with a bang.
Jonathan Mostow’s T3 also stars Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes, Earl Boen, Moira Sinise, and M.C. Gainey.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Widely regarded as one of the best action movies ever made (and the best sequels of all time), Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a relentlessly intense movie that will have you on the edge of your seat all throughout its two-hour runtime. Directed by James Cameron, Judgment Day helped establish much of the Terminator DNA that the rest of the movies in the franchise would seek to emulate.
After the events of the first Terminator, Sarah Connor is now a tough survivalist who currently finds herself locked in a mental hospital. Her son, John, soon finds himself pursued by a new Terminator composed of liquid metal (the T-1000), and the only one who can help him is Arnie’s T-800.
From car chases to extreme shootouts, Judgment Day is an incredible movie — a flick that transcends the limitations of the franchise’s science fiction roots. You can watch Judgment Day without ever seeing any other Terminator film and still be amazed by how awesome this movie is, which might be the reason why this film holds the highest score for any Terminator film on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Surprisingly, the liquid metal T-1000 special effects still hold up today too.
T2 also stars Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Jenette Goldstein.
1. The Terminator (1984)
When it comes to franchises like this one, you simply can’t beat the classics. It’s a tough call between the first movie and Judgment Day, but we had to give the number one spot on our list to the original The Terminator, if only because it spawned everything that made the franchise so good in the first place.
The movie tells the origin story of Sarah Connor: a Los Angeles waitress who is pursued by a murderous robot from the future.
The Terminator would quickly become a massive box-office and critical success, not to mention a cultural landmark of the eighties. It cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as one of the most valued action stars of the decade and also included the James Cameron trademark of having an interesting female character in the lead. An absolute must-watch if you’re into sci-fi, horror, or action films.
The Terminator stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton, and Brian Thompson.
Of course, the above list doesn’t include the Terminator TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which stars Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, Thomas Dekker as John Connor, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones, Brian Austin Green, Garret Dillahunt and Shirley Manson).
How To Fix The Terminator Movie Franchise
When it comes to iconic 80s franchises, there are very few of them that so perfectly encapsulate the unbridled action and bombastic set pieces of the decade like The Terminator. Ironically, as fabulously 80s as the series might sound, most fans would argue that the best entry in the series came out in 1991, marking a clear “before and after” moment for how action flicks would be made in the grunge decade.
There’s just so much you can do with the plot of The Terminator before audiences begin experiencing a serious case of déjà vu. The story of a killer robot (or killer robots) from the future that relentlessly chases its target in the past can only get you so far — after all, it’s already been two and a half decades in the real world since Skynet was supposed to take over the world.
More recent Terminator films have to overcome the limitations of the original’s timeline, and that means making some controversial changes to the series’ mythology. Unfortunately, it seems like whoever is in charge of the franchise has also lost interest in the original Terminator’s world, as the films have been getting progressively more contrived with each new entry.
In a series that’s not lauded precisely for its intricacy, seeing concepts like “alternate timelines” and complex time travel shenanigans almost sounds like a betrayal of the franchise’s essence.
Time travel was only a part of the first movie’s plot — an integral one, that’s for sure, but it could be easily argued that the time-travelling was just there as an explanation as to why there’s an impossible advanced killing machine pursuing a waitress all over Los Angeles.
If the franchise hopes to have another shot at cultural relevancy — especially with a generation that was raised on Marvel films — perhaps it might need to go back to the straightforwardness that made it so accessible in the first place. After all, we’ve seen a resurgence of the classic style of 80’s no-nonsense action flicks with movies like the super-popular John Wick.
What Terminator: Dark Fate — the latest entry in the series — fails to recapture is the sense of unstoppable efficiency that the best Terminator movies represent. Sure, the visual spectacle is there, and it’s arguably better than it was in 1984, but the spirit of the franchise is nowhere to be found in the newer entries.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in 1991, being writer-director James Cameron’s best attempt at redirecting the momentum of the original film and turning it into a franchise. Curiously, both Terminator and Aliens share the same issues, and both are franchises that have been helmed by Cameron. Demystifying the T-800 was the first step in the wrong direction for the franchise, just as the Alien movie franchise (and the Predator movie franchise) seems intent on making the Xenomorph into just another horror-themed alien creature.
A great Terminator film is one that focuses on the ever-present threat of a sophisticated killing machine. The emotionless efficiency of the Terminator is so scary to us because it works in a completely different way than any human ever could. To fix the franchise, the producers would have to rethink what is it that fans want to see in a Terminator movie: is it nostalgia? Strong, independent female characters? Or is it just a killer robot that’s hellbent on bringing forth the end of humanity?
As of the writing of this article, there are no official plans to move the Terminator movie franchise any further, and perhaps that might be for the best. It might take some time before the public is ready for a new Terminator film — let’s just hope that Skynet hasn’t taken over the world by then.
Plus, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Governor of California, is now 74 years old. Let him enjoy a break from the titular character. Hasta la vista, Arnie.