A-List | Ranking The Terminator Films

A-List | Ranking The Terminator Films

Like the time-traveling paradoxical timelines of throughout the Terminator franchise, these films return with every sequel post-Judgement day with a new gimmick hoping to make the entire storyline a huge success once again.

This time it is Terminator: Dark Fate with the visionary behind it all, James Cameron, returning in a producer role. This is first true involvement he will have in the franchise since Judgement Day.

How will it turn out?  We won’t know until this Friday, but here’s a taste:

How will Dark Fate against the rest of the franchise? Will this A-List be like every other Terminator ranking and have Judgement Day at the top? Will you be back? Let’s find out…

Terminator: Genisys

More than likely at the bottom of most franchise fan’s lists, Terminator: Genisys is a film that was supposed to usher in a new era of Terminator.

With a rebooted timeline, the refresh featured a diverse cast of actors (e.g., J.K. Simmons, Courtney B. Vance, Jason Clarke, and a girl who would be queen in Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor) and returning veteran Arnold Schwarzenegger, Genisys sought to do what X-Men: Days of Future Past did for that franchise.

Essentially, wipe the slate clean and tell a fresh story. Unfortunately, it achieved neither of those things.

Even with the stamp of approval from Cameron, Genisys was a convoluted mess of a film. There was a plot that didn’t make a lick of sense woven in scenes with only dull and glossy action. Schwarzenegger proved that he was still up to the task of playing the Terminator, but even with the twist on the mythology, the movie still felt like a retread of the past.

(It doesn’t take much to wonder why Cameron went a different direction with his newest sequel.)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Maybe a low placement, Terminator 3 isn’t a bad movie, just a dull one. Terminator 3 attempts to push the story into a new direction after Judgement Day closed the story off. T3 is probably the most successful storyline out of all the sequels because the ending sets up great possibilities to come.

Regretfully, the road getting there is a rather forgettable one. 

Terminator 3 might be geared to get the audience looking toward new horizons but it ends up forcing that audience to look behind and feel far too much like a retread of Terminator 2. The movie was missing kinetic action sequences or heart that made the movie special. There were moments but I always got the sense that Schwarzenegger didn’t want to be there. His performance was flat.

Not bad. It’s watchable but a bit forgettable.

Terminator: Salvation

Terminator: Salvation is similar to Terminator 3. It isn’t “bad” but the screenplay didn’t get the full treatment it deserved. Although it may more infamous than famous for some leaked audio of Christian Bale’s explicit rant, Salvation does have a lot going it.

The bleak Fallout style landscapes and big-budget spectacle utilizes a healthy amount of practicality and visuals to create a world both tangible and refreshing for the series. The only movie in the series to avoid the time-traveling plot lines of other films, Salvation is the direction that the series probably should have gone.

The war against the machines in the future is what Terminator 3 was building toward. Salvation has a few memorable moments of action. If only the script and characters could measure up to the film’s visual aesthetic. Oh well, at least we got that awesome trailer set to Nine Inch Nails’ music.

The Terminator

Yes, now you know this is going to be a list that leads with Terminator 2. Yet, that isn’t  disregarding the first Terminator, which is a fantastic, lower-budget sci-fi thriller.

James Cameron, coming from the world of B-movie filmmaking, working with legendary filmmaker Roger Corman on Piranha 2: The Spawning, knew how to work on a budget borrowing the framework of a slasher film, owing a debt to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

The film is loaded with eye-popping visuals and unrelenting action and memorable action set pieces. The special effects team, led by Stan Winston, creates incredible prosthetic effects and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 plays to his strengths. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn are terrific leads as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese.

Don’t skip this to go straight to Terminator 2, The Terminator is James Cameron’s announcement to the world of his talent.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Yes, Terminator 2 is the best Terminator movie.

This is such a widely shared opinion. Oddly, I don’t think the movie doesn’t get a lot of the credit it deserves. It’s an easy thing to call the movie great, but what makes it so great? James Cameron returned to the franchise with a familiar story that plays against and with expectations. The storyline twists and turns, which makes this less like a rehash of the first Terminator but more like a full realization of the concept.

The film, in regards to the story and where the characters are in their lives, sets us on a new journey. Sarah Connor has transformed as Linda Hamilton returns for this sequel and absolutely crushes this role. Arnold Schwarzenegger is wonderful playing against type and turning in a strangely heartfelt performance.

Working with a massive budget, Cameron lets his imagination fly with massive action sequences that never lose sight of character nor entertainment. There is always a worry with a director getting a big budget, will they lose the creativity that working on a small budget demands? Cameron doesn’t let it become a hindrance and instead thrives in it, pushing visual and special effects forward with a story that truly works.

What’s Your Ranking?  Agree with this List?  Where do you see Terminator: Dark Fate falling?  

Sound off in the comment section. 


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I'm a film fan that hailed from the spooky rural area of Vermont before getting my film degree in Chicago. I love reading, watching film, and writing in nearly all capacities. Currently working towards my MFA in Creative Writing. I enjoy discussion so let's have some!
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