The Terminator franchise ranked
Across multiple directors, across multiple leading actors, across multiple decades, across multiple platforms, one thing has remained constant: The Terminator’s determination to, well, terminate. From the mid-1980s to today, the Terminator franchise has prevailed. Whether that’s credited to the Terminator’s resilience or the studio’s insistence on continuing this franchise until its bitter end, we can always count on a Terminator project perpetually on the horizon.
The newest one, a feature film serving as both a continuation of the original story and a third attempt at rebooting the franchise in ten years, arrives in 2019. Linda Hamilton and James Cameron, the original Sarah Connor and the original creator, return to the franchise for the first time since 1991, both having left the series after the first and second films. The goal is to erase Terminator Genisys, the failed attempt at rebooting the franchise in 2015, from the canon, as well as serve as a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day. We’ll see how it ends up turning out, but for now, let’s consider the best and worst of the Terminator franchise so far.
While some consider the sequel to be an example of a follow-up besting its predecessor, the clear winner of the Terminator franchise is the very first film audiences were given. Everything here is so original and so fresh and so thrilling, there’s just no beating it for as long as the Terminator franchise exists. Each subsequent sequel is like a fatal blow to the cyborg’s armor, slowing it down and making it weaker with every new entry. The first film really is as good as it gets.
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Terminator 2: Judgement Day
A direct sequel to the first film, Judgement Day sees the relentlessly evil Terminator from the first film do a complete 180 as he becomes a friendly and borderline quirky companion to a young John Connor and Sarah Connor. They’re being hunted by a much more advanced cyborg this time around, which is where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator comes in handy. It’s an exciting and worthy sequel, and certainly one for the ages.
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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
A television series that follows the events of Terminator 2, The Sarah Connor Chronicles was painfully short-lived. Lasting only two seasons and 31 episodes, the show was filled with plenty of excitement as Sarah and John tried to stay hidden despite an ever-evolving Skynet — the evil computer network behind the corrupt Terminators. It does a well enough job keeping things interesting, but it was ultimately canceled before it really got a chance to bridge the gap between the second film and the third.
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This 2015 reboot was almost universally panned when it was released, but it’s honestly not as bad as some of the other Terminator films in the series. It’s a valiant effort, managing to hold onto Schwarzenegger’s Terminator while also bending the timeline of the original trilogy to erase the events of Terminator Salvation. The stunts and action set pieces are notably bonkers, the acting falls pretty flat, and the movie slowly turns into a rehash of Judgement Day as it progresses, but it’s as good as a campy movie like this can get. At least they tried to start a new series, unlike the third and fourth films.
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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
A late-in-the-game followup to Terminator 2, arriving 12 years after the events of the previous film, Rise of the Machines sees John Connor and his future wife fighting off a new Terminator while being protected by their loyal Terminator all while trying to avoid the apocalypse from happening. It’s a pointless, risk-free, hollow exercise. It’s a fine action film, but a pretty bad Terminator movie.
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This first attempt at a reboot released six years after Rise of the Machines but with little connection to it. Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018 and follows John Connor and a new half-human, half-robot hybrid as the attempt to carry out an attack on Skynet. Like Rise of the Machines, the movie serves no purpose other than to squeeze some more money out of a franchise that was already running on fumes.
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