Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger has starred in five theatrical Terminator movies and is known worldwide as THE TERMINATOR, he has only actually ever played ‘The Terminator’ killing machine once; in the original 1984 movie.
Schwarzenegger of course played the very first villain of the Terminator franchise – the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 T-800 infiltration unit, AKA The Terminator – a role which went on to become synonymous with the celebrity and his brand.
The T-800 unit was part man, part machine, and was sent back in time by the malevolent A.I. SkyNet, to assassinate Sarah Connor, the would be mother of John Connor; the man who was fated to lead the human resistance to victory in the war against the machines. This retroactive abortion is a means to end for SkyNet to win the war once and for all.
Despite the T-800’s dark beginnings, subsequent sequels have portrayed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Terminator’ characters as reprogrammed, as heroes, taking on a child friendly protector role – a machine that doesn’t kill humans. We see Arnold’s cybernetic assassin repurposed for less mature audiences, exchanging bodycounts and bloodshed for seemingly unstoppable and sanitized, bullet-absorbing villains. Without a doubt this is a compromise which was also made due to the series becoming a tentpole franchise. CGI liquid metal splashes and nano-bot ripples from punches are far more acceptable with the MPAA in the ratings classification to get that PG-13 rated movie.
More money for the studios, right?
Some fans could argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger did portray The Terminator in 2009’s Terminator Salvation and also in 2015’s Terminator Genisys, but these roles were actually portrayed by body doubles and CGI.
In Terminator Salvation he was the throwinator (PG-13 antics to avoid bloodshed once again), and in Terminator Genisys ‘The Terminator’ didn’t even get the chance to harm the punks, as it did in the original movie, before being destroyed by Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s aged protector T-800) and Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).
Terminator Genisys literally erased any kills ‘The Terminator’ ever previously achieved in the franchise, that is, if you accept it as the real Terminator 3…
Another digitally de-aged Terminator managed the unthinkable and terminated John Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate, but actually… no, this was a body double again, with another digital Arnold face. Much in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger digitally killed Nick Stahl’s John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines the video game – it doesn’t really count as Arnold Schwarzenegger portraying The Terminator and actually killing anyone on screen.
Understandably Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cement himself as the hero of the Terminator franchise, and it has always felt like blowing people away in movies wasn’t the image he wanted to align himself with due to his interest in politics. Even though Arnold is not the Governor of California anymore, he is still politically active in his day to day life, and, in the same way he seemingly wouldn’t voice the Terminator character in Mortal Kombat; it’s likely the same reason as to why he won’t be blasting away human targets in the Terminator movies for the foreseeable future. That is, unless Arnold and Hollywood do a u-turn…
Even though the script for Terminator 2: Judgment Day clearly refers to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 as ‘Terminator’, Robert Patrick is more deserving of the title of ‘The Terminator’ for the second movie, and Arnold is definitely ‘The Protector’, ‘Uncle Bob’, Pops, and, *cringe* ‘Carl’ the drapery salesman. So, with five Terminator movies under his belt, Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the protector / hero trope for four of those movies and only played The Terminator once.
The character has become increasingly neutered over the course of the last few outings, and for all those fans that wanted to see ‘The Terminator’ again… well, perhaps it will only be an option with a different actor in the future and if / when the franchise has new owners – owners with a different vision for the series; a vision which involves actual Terminators, instead of aiming for that much vaunted younger audience.