James Cameron conjured up the concept of The Terminator from the depths of a fever dream suffered whilst staying in an Italian pensione and working on the final cut of Piranha II. The director visualized a knife wielding metal skeleton dragging its legless torso inexorably closer to its victim. That image scorched itself into the creator’s fertile imagination and took hold, setting in motion the beginnings of the Terminator franchise. The result was The Terminator (1984); a darkly bloody b-movie slasher which took inspiration from movie legends like John Carpenter with Halloween, and ‘The Pope of pop cinema’ Mr. Roger Corman.
Now, after nearly four decades of life, The Terminator franchise has racked up a fair few installments, including sequels, prequels and reboots – though, currently, there are exactly six Terminator movies in the series.
Terminator Movies In Order Of Theatrical Release
- The Terminator (1984)
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
- Terminator Salvation (2009)
- Terminator Genisys (2015)
- Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
The Terminator (1984)
The movie that started it all. Created, written and directed by James Cameron with co-writer Gale Anne Hurd, the first Terminator movie would go on to make Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name with his portrayal of T-800 CSM-101 AKA The Terminator.
The Terminator also managed to do something that most Hollywood studios envied and sought to replicate – not only was the movie a critical and financial success in of itself, but it also went on to spawn a very successful sequel…
The 1984 movie centers around a cyborg assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent from the future by a malevolent A.I. named SkyNet, on a mission to terminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a young woman whose unborn child will one day lead the human resistance to win a war against the machines. A soldier from the future called Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is the only thing standing in the way of the unstoppable killing machine called The Terminator.
“In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created ‘THE TERMINATOR’.“
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (also known as T2) was an award winning box office smash. The second installment in the series truly defined Terminator as a tentpole franchise.
While the first two Terminator movies were written and directed by James Cameron, the future entries would not be. Before regaining his Unites States copyright back in time for Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), Mr. Cameron had always insisted that he had told the story that he wanted to tell with the first two Terminator movies.
Terminator 2 continues the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son; John Connor (Edward Furlong) 11 years after the events of 1984’s The Terminator.
The movie is set in 1995 and SkyNet has sent a deadly new prototype Terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) to terminate John Connor as a child. However, after winning the war in the future, John Connor has sent a lone warrior back in time to protect himself; a reprogrammed T-800 unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It’s just a matter of which Terminator will reach him first.
“3 billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They only lived to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines.”
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
The series continued after T2 without James Cameron as writer / director with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Even without the involvement of James Cameron, the movie was still highly anticipated by fans who had been waiting a long time for more Terminator movies to close out the loop.
Jonathan Mostow‘s Terminator 3 acts as a continuation to Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s story and we reconnect with John Connor (Nick Stahl) as an adult. A newer and even more advanced Terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken) has been sent back in time by SkyNet to kill integral members of the human resistance including John Connor. A T-850 Terminator unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has also been sent back in time to protect John Connor and Katherine Brewster (Claire Danes) – a woman from John’s past who also shares a future connection to John and the war against the machines.
“More than ten years after the last Terminator failed its objective to kill John Connor, the future leader of the Resistance exists in a state of limbo, living off the grid to reduce the threat of attack but SkyNet does not believe in failure, sending a new model back to end the fight for freedom before it has even begun.“
Terminator Salvation (2009)
A prequel / reboot followed T3 and was set in the Terminator future war. This, the fourth movie in the series, was titled Terminator Salvation, and was also a continuation of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, albeit with a few tweaks to story and cast.
Director ‘McG‘ finally took the Terminator franchise into the highly anticipated Future War setting, and began to detail the war between man and machine – the story set out to explore John Connor’s rise to power within the Resistance.
John Connor (Christian Bale) is aware that SkyNet is planning to create a new Terminator Unit, and is harvesting human DNA to create an infiltration unit, a T-800 (featuring the likeness of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger). On encountering a half man and half machine hybrid called Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is soon captured by SkyNet. John Connor is forced to trust his potential enemy in an uncertain future which has not unfolded in the way foretold by his mother, Sarah Connor. Can John Connor trust this machine to help save Kyle Reese, ensure the future and destroy SkyNet?
“Picture a world devastated by apocalyptic terror, it’s 2018 and our hero John Connor is the man destined to lead a band of rebels against SkyNet and the seemingly indestructible army of Terminators.“
Terminator Genisys (2015)
A standalone reboot / reimagining that retconned the entire franchise; Terminator Genisys was released in 2015.
While the previous entries retained some form of canon storytelling and continuity, Terminator Genisys wiped the slate clean and reset the franchise back to the opening scenes of The Terminator (1984), thus erasing the story and events which followed the first movie in the process – yes, that’s T2, T3 and T4.
Terminator Genisys’ director Alan Taylor takes the franchise in a completely new direction, in tone and in story.
In 1974 a T-1000 was sent back to terminate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) as a child but was saved by a T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) and raised / parented by the machine. By the time Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) comes back in time to protect her against ‘The Terminator’ she doesn’t really need saving. John Connor has also been infected by SkyNet with nano technology.
In a riff against expectations Terminator Genisys flips the entire franchise on its head.
“When John Connor, leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline.“
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Terminator: Dark Fate attempted to replace Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines as a true successor and sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The movie was highly anticipated due to return of James Cameron into the fold as a producer and writer (for the first time since 1991), with Linda Hamilton also returning to the role of Sarah Connor – which was her first real involvement with the franchise since 1991 (bar a voice cameo in 2009’s Terminator Salvation).
Also like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; the movie deals with the idea of the inevitable, and the unavoidable consequences to the choices made in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which, alter the future, the war and the outcome.
Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate ignores the previous 3 Terminator movies which came before it, opting to continue the story on from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
We reconnect with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who spends her days hunting Terminators, eating potato chips and drinking a lot. She knows when and how to find Terminators when she receives co-ordinates from an unknown source. Meanwhile, after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the future has changed and a new artificial intelligence rules the future and it has a new target, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). A deadly Terminator called a REV-9 (Gabriel Luna) that can split in two has been sent back in time to terminate Dani before she will become ‘The Commander’ in the future war. A hybrid super soldier by the name of Grace Harper (Mackenzie Davis) has been sent back in time to protect Dani.
Sarah Connor, Dani Ramos and Grace Harper will also encounter an old face along the way, a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from another future, which has lived in society for many years. Will the machine’s learned humanity be helpful in overthrowing the enemy and saving a new future?
“Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.“
Is Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time a movie… ? It was shown in a Theater!
A wildcard answer could also be that there are seven Terminator movies, if the Terminator 2: Judgment Day theme park attraction (and short movie) T2-3D: Battle Across Time was included in this list. The 3D short was technically shown in a theater setting and was at one point cited by James Cameron as:
“… a stepping stone to, to a third theatrical production.”James Cameron
There are only two Terminator movies!
Though, some hardcore Terminator Fans may have an entirely different answer, due to the discrepancies in continuity and the canonical cherry-picking which has taken place over the decades by various owners and studios…
“There are only two Terminator movies!”The opinion of a good chunk of the Terminator fanbase
The ‘two movies’ pertains to the original two Terminator movies as directed by James Cameron. Some fans simply do not accept any of the other entries as canon, even Terminator: Dark Fate, which was not only produced by James Cameron but also included him as writer.
Although there are six theatrical outings, the answer to the question of ‘how many Terminator movies are there?‘ may change depending on who you ask. All the Terminator movies have their fans but in terms of canon continuity and cohesion; other franchises have fared better than the Terminator franchise. However, fans are still supportive of the franchise and would like to see a seventh Terminator movie at some point in the future.
How many Terminator movies are there to you? Leave a comment.