The ‘Terminator’ Franchise: Music To My Metal Ears

When someone asks you to name a famous movie franchise, what comes to mind first?

Maybe it is Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, The Avengers, or anything scored by John Williams? There’s so many options for you to choose from, but another, I think more “hardcore” film fans will choose, is The Terminator.

For 35 years, the Terminator franchise has been praised by audiences everywhere. Many directors have been lucky to take on the famous franchise including: Creator James Cameron, Hancock Executive Producer Jonathan Mostow, Charlie’s Angels helmer McG, Emmy winner Alan Taylor, and Deadpool‘s Tim Miller. Despite highs and lows seen in box office results and critics, the franchise has endured.

Of course, with every director, there’s a composer not too far behind.

Before the release of Terminator: Dark Fate, let’s review the careers of all the composers for the Terminator movies.


Brad Fiedel

He’s the original. The man who started it all. His scores for the first two Terminator films have defined the franchise’s sound for decades. Born in 1952, Brad Fiedel began his career as a keyboardist for the duo Hall & Oates. Later, he scored some low budget movies and a porn parody of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. You may recognized some of his other movies such as Fright Night, Eyes of Fire, and James Cameron’s True Lies.

Yet, by far, Fiedel’s biggest claim to fame are those first two Terminator movies. For the original, his use of synthesizers (a staple of ’80s scores) gave the movie its own anxious and unique sound. However, it’s the Judgement Day version of the main theme that most fans and audiences remember.

Fiedel’s Terminator scores were critically-acclaimed but, sadly, despite rumors, he is not returning to the franchise any time soon. Even so, he left a hell of a legacy behind.

Marco Beltrami

Being the first composer to follow a legend is never easy. Yet, it doesn’t hurt to find someone equally as talented. Born in 1966, Marco Beltrami has become one of the most prolific and versatile composers in the industry. He gained wide attention for scoring Wes Craven’s horror classic, Scream, and its three sequels.

Beltrami also composed the critically-acclaimed scores for Soul Surfer, I, Robot, A Quiet Place, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Hurt Locker (the latter two received Oscar nominations). Superhero fans also hear his work in Blade II, Hellboy, Jonah Hex, The Wolverine, Fantastic Four, and Logan.

Beltrami’s approach to Terminator: Rise of the Machines focused on more traditional orchestral instruments. His signature fondness for percussion instruments really packs an emotional punch in an otherwise dull picture. His orchestral rendition of Brad Fiedel’s iconic theme is easily my favorite. I’m a sucker for violins and heroic brass.

Danny Elfman

Next, we have arguably the most famous composer in the Terminator franchise, Danny Elfman. It’s not a stretch to say he is one of the most iconic film composers of all time.

Starting his career with his brother Richard’s band, Oingo Boingo, Elfman’s film scoring career skyrocketed to legend status via his frequent collaboration with director Tim Burton, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, Henry Sellick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Mars Attacks! 

These are just a few iconic Elfman and Burton collaborations. Elfman is also known for his comic book and superhero scores, such as the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, Tim Burton’s Batman pictures, all four Men in Black films, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Justice League. Arguably, Elfman’s most iconic work is the theme song for The Simpsons.

Terminator: Salvation Director McG stated in interviews that he looked at Gustavo Santaolalla, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Hans Zimmer, and even Brad Fiedel himself to score Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines before Elfman came on board.

The most interesting part of Danny Elfman’s score is how he chooses to compose the music for the human characters versus Skynet. Elfman continues Beltrami’s use of percussion instruments, as well as guitars for the human characters. While in original The Terminator fashion, he uses more electronic sounds for the mechanical characters.

This might be a hot take, but Elfman’s score for Salvation might be my favorite of the five, mainly because it appeals more to my film score sensibilities, especially the opening track.

Lorne Balfe

lorne balfe
Source: BBC Radio/Getty Images

And last, but not least, the “Genisys” of Lorne Balfe to the Terminator franchise. The composer of Terminator: Genisys, Balfe got his break doing additional music for Hans Zimmer including two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes.

Balfe has also supplied additional compositions for The Lone Ranger, Rush, and Dunkirk. Don’t be fooled, Lorne Balfe isn’t a Zimmer wannabe. His own scores have included: Penguins of Madagascar, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, The Lego Batman Movie, Mission: Impossible-Fallout, and Gemini Man (replacing fellow Terminator composer Marco Beltrami). He has also scored games in the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and ‘Call of Duty’ franchises.

Originally, Ant-Man and Frozen composer Christophe Beck was hired to score Terminator: Genisys. However, Balfe was named his replacement in 2015. Regardless of your feelings on the film itself, Lorne Balfe’s score is (as of now) the closest thing to a modern version of Brad Fiedel’s scores we have been provided. Balfe took modern scoring techniques and applied them to Genisys, which becomes a perfect blend of retro and modern. Balfe’s rendition of the main theme is simply glorious to say the least.

Junkie XL

junkie-xl-talks-about-his-favourite-soundtracks-of-all-time-16955124347947201977.jpg
Courtesy of Redbull.com

As you can clearly see, The Terminator franchise has had great composers. Each composer brought their own film scoring talents and styles, while the three recent composers also stayed true to Brad Fiedel’s work.

Even though Fiedel will never return to the franchise, I hope fans welcome Junkie XL with open arms as Terminator: Dark Fate reunites him with Director Tim Miller. If you went to see Dark Fate in theaters, you noticed XL brought the same loud and intense sounds that make his scores for Deadpool, Divergent, and Mad Max: Fury Road so fantastic.

Just like Fiedel, Beltrami, Elfman, and Balfe before him, he will leave his mark on the franchise. As long as he doesn’t forget those five iconic notes.

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