Julien Neaves – Editor
The release this month of Terminator: Dark Fate marked a long-awaited return of James Cameron, the director and writer of the first two Terminator films, to the franchise. For the new film he sat in the producer’s chair and left directing duties to Deadpool helmer Tim Miller. Dark Fate also saw the return of franchise star Linda Hamilton after almost three decades.
But did the new film finally return the franchise to its golden years? With a mushroom-cloud sized SPOILER ALERT here is my ranking of All 7 Terminator Franchise Entries:
#7 Terminator Salvation
From the very first movie we had glimpses of the post-apocalyptic future and the gritty war between the human resistance and the robotic drones of the AI Skynet. But what about an entire movie set in that time period? Sounds like a great concept, no? Well we got that in the fourth film, Terminator: Salvation, but it was far, far from great. First off, there was barely any Terminators or terminating, cheap-looking CGI Arnold notwithstanding. Secondly the action was meh. Thirdly the story was bland. Fourthly the characters were paper thin.
Christian Bale plays John Connor but is relegated to a side role in favour of Sam Worthington’s meh secret cyborg Marcus Wright. I say secret but it was spoiled in the trailer. Salvation could have been an epic sci fi war film but was more a big budget Syfy movie of the week. Sadly the film is only famous for Bale’s off-screen blow out of a lighting guy.
#6 Terminator Genisys
This franchise reboot gets a lot of hate but it is a watchable, moderately entertaining film. Sure the story tries to do too much with its parallel timelines and time jumping, and Skynet as a literal killer app is kinda stupid. And Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke (future soldier Kyle Reese and mother of the future Sarah Connor respectively) do lack the charisma and chemistry of Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton in the first film. Actually a blank sheet and a paper clip would probably have more chemistry than these two.
But Arnie is back and his Pops Terminator is fun and features in some cool action scenes. J.K. Simmons also energises proceedings as Detective O’Brien though he could have used more screen time. And Jason Clarke’s Terminator John Connor is downright scary. Too bad they spoiled that twist in the trailer as well. What is it with Terminator movies and spoilerific trailers. Just stop it. Terminate it even. Geez!
#5 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
This was the first entry when people began to realise the idea well had started to run dry for the franchise. And I am sure it was no coincidence that this was also the first entry sans Cameron. Anywho let us time travel back to the T3 writer’s room for a minute:
Producer: So we already had a Terminator try to kill Sarah Connor before she became pregnant with John and then we had a Terminator try to kill John as a teenager. What do we do next? We need ideas people!
Writer 1: Why don’t we have a Terminator try to kill him as…wait for it…an adult?
Writer 2: Yes! And throw in his future wife and lieutenants for good measure!
Writer 1: And this time we will have a sexy female Terminator!
Writer 2: With big gazongas! Like huge!
Writer 1: Ohh yeah!
Producer: All I have to say is…Box..Office…gold!
And now back to the present. Actually Kristanna Loken’s indomitable TX was one of the better parts of the film which felt mostly like a rehash of the previous two. Arnie is back again (he always comes back) and is cool too, but he lacks chemistry with Nick Stahl’s John Connor who is a serviceable if somewhat unlikable character. Claire Danes’ Kate Brewster, though, was as annoying as a stone in your shoe. The ending with the nuclear bombs falling was pretty awesome though.
#4 Terminator: Dark Fate
Before I caught this film in the cinema I heard it received some mixed reviews. I was hoping against hope that those critics were player hating but yeah, they were right. Now I will give Dark Fate credit from trying a few new things. Killing John Connor in the beginning was a bold move, though the de-aging worked way better with Hamilton and Edward Furlong than Arnie. Seriously, he looked like a PS2 character. And I liked that Skynet was gone and we were facing the new AI threat Legion. And the idea of an enhanced human was a refreshing change. And (what’s with all the “ands” man) the thrilling, bloody action was entertaining throughout.
But sadly the film retreads A LOT of what was done in the first three films including that we had a soldier sent from the future to protect the saviour of the human race. And while Hamilton brings her A-game she has to drag along two shallow performances from Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes. It was cool seeing Schwarzenegger again and the human-esque “Carl” was okay, a lot of the magic is gone.
Gabriel Luna delivers a chilling performance as the Rev-9 terminator but his abilities were an amalgamation of the T-1000 and TX with some Venom-esque black ooze thrown in for good measure. And the effects were solid but lacked some of the weight of the T-1000 effects from almost three decades ago.
I also have to take off points for the timing of the humour being off and for the fact that the film lacks any real heart. For an exceptional Terminator movie you have to have heart. The first film had the romance between Reese and Sarah, and the second film had both the mother-son relationship between Sarah and John and the pseudo-father-son relationship between John and T-800. Dark Fate skirts at an emotional core but never goes any deeper than the surface. So yeah, I didn’t care when Grace died or when Arnie sacrificed himself and died AGAIN. Dark Fate may be the best franchise film since T2 but sadly it could have been much better.
#3 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
So some of you dear readers may have been wondering why this list is seven entries when there have only been six movies. Well this is your answer people: the amazing Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) television series.
If you never heard about it (which is sadly the case for many) this series aired on Fox from 2008-2009 and tells the story of Sarah and John after the events of Terminator 2. They meet a mysterious female Terminator named Cameron (a post-Firefly Summer Glau), battle Terminators and try to stop Skynet.
Glau’s Cameron is a wonderfully stoic character and a pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headey is magnificent as strong, protective Sarah Connor. And she is a 10 times better Sarah Connor than her Thrones alum Emilia Clarke. Just had to put that in there.
Returning to TSCC Thomas Dekker is decent as John Connor but is somewhat overshadowed by Glau and Headey. The series delves deep both into the mother/son relationship and the post-apocalyptic future. It also explores complex and thought-provoking themes. And the action is fantastic! Sadly, like Firefly, Fox pulled the plug early and TSCC ended after a Season 2 cliffhanger. Even so this sleeper series is a must watch for any fan of the franchise or just good sci fi television in general.
#2 The Terminator
The early 80s was such a sweet time for action sci fi. We had the mind-blowing Aliens in 1986 and two years earlier the action gem The Terminator. This is where it all started folks. The post-apocalyptic future, the time-traveling cyborg and the very first “I’ll be back.” Arnold is in top form as the unstoppable killing machine, Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese is a valiant and courageous future solider, and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah is sweet and vulnerable, but with an inner strength.
The darkest entry in the franchise, it features some brutal Terminator murders and a bleak tone. The action is thrilling especially the police station assault and the final battle. It is iconic in every way and entertaining throughout while addressing deeper themes of fate, hope and humanity. Cameron would have to come really good to top this one.
#1 Terminator 2: Judgment Day
And Cameron improved on the original in every way with this seminal work of sci fi perfection. If you have not seen T2 you have not lived! Oh my goodness. What is there not to love about this movie? Arnold kicks so much backside and takes so many names as the reprogrammed Terminator. His surrogate father/son relationship with John (Edward Furlong) is funny, tender and touching. Hamilton’s now buff, highly-trained and slightly unhinged Sarah Connor is one of fiercest female characters ever put to film. And Robert Patrick’s liquid metal T-1000 is terrifying and an unprecedented work of special effects wizardry.
Pick a scene. Any scene. The rescue of John from the mall and the truck/motorcycle chase? The rescue of Sarah from the mental institution? Sarah trying to kill Miles Dyson? The assault on Cyberdyne? The T-800 firing the gattling gun at the police? The epic final battle? The T-800’s final sacrifice? It is all 12 Flavours of Awesome Sauce! T2 is easily one of the best sci fi action films of all time and one of the greatest all time action films of any genre.
So if you enjoyed this list how about a share? It will be greatly appreciated. For my ranking of all the Alien franchise movies you can click here. Hasta la vista baby!