The Terminator franchise is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. And it absolutely will not stop. Except actually it might, because the latest one managed to lose money.
But though the series may have descended into that big vat of molten steel in the sky, we still have 6 Terminator films to console us. So which of them is the shiny T1000 and which is John's whiny little motorbike? Here's all the Terminator films ranked as I see it:
6) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Last and by all means least, we have T3. Maybe this film had no chance considering what it had to follow but nonetheless, this is just a bad Terminator movie.
Right from the off it sets itself up for laughs, throwing away the serious, dramatic tone that made the first two movies so compelling. After donning star-shaped shades, Arnie's new Terminator smiles and then finds keys under a car's visor, in what seem like callbacks to the previous film (John Connor taught Arnie to do both those things in the director's cut of T2). But then he proceeds to tell us that he's a completely different Terminator? So I'm confused from the off.
In an effort to make as much bank as possible, the certificate here has been watered down to a limp 12 rating (T2 was a 15 and T1 an 18), which means you can forget seeing Arnie cut out his eyeball, or in fact anything particularly gory or scary at all. The film feels neutered when measured next to its predecessors.
And beginning a trend for the series, the timeline seems to work like this: "Don't think too much 'cos everything's kind of changed and the characters mostly look and seem different now, but just go with it."
There's some pretty spectacular set pieces and special effects to look at though I guess. And the world blows up at the end. So there's that.
5) Terminator Genisys
Genysis actually makes a promising start, sending us back for a nostalgia hit from the first movie; but quickly branches off in a different, less interesting direction. Daenerys Targaryen takes her turn at playing the mother of the future (after Cersei Lannister had a go in the largely forgotten TV series), but she's Sarah Connor in name only, let's be honest. Arnie does however make good on his many promises to 'be back' for this one, and the franchise has its first go at explaining why the Terminator (or 'Pops' as Sarah calls it) is looking older.
By this point the time travel fatigue is real, with so many futures having been averted and pasts changed that it's virtually impossible to really get a handle on exactly what's happening (or happened, or will happen) within the timeline of the franchise. One thing's for sure though, this movie tells us that the events of T2 now never happened, so I guess we never need to watch that one again.
My main beef with Genisys though (and you may think this is a little unfair), is that much of the movie builds towards the reveal that John Connor is -gasp- actually a machine; but for some inexplicable reason they gave that big twist away in all of the trailers. Hell, they even gave it away in the cinema posters, just in case you avoided the trailers. I know that's not the movie's fault, but it rendered a big portion of the movie pointless the first time I saw it. Hollywood -seriously- you need to stop doing this. But now I've got that out of my system, I'll admit this is a reasonably good sci-fi movie, it's just waaaay short of the series' best.
4) Terminator: Dark Fate
Tim Miller's Dark Fate chalks off everything after T2 and has another go at being a worthy sequel to Cameron's movies, which at this point was probably the only way to go. Following the Force Awakens template of just serving up a retread of all the audience's favourite parts of the franchise so far, it's an exercise in style over substance. But at least we have the real Sarah Connor back and kicking ass with Arnie again. It's a fun watch, but also kinda hollow. I know this is a time travel franchise, but you definitely feel you've been here before many times over.
The part-liquid-part-skeleton Termie is cool, while at the same time being an obvious mash-up of the T800 and the T1000. Grace is cool, but also kinda like Marcus from Salvation. The good guys again need to protect a (new, and pretty forgettable) saviour from a time travelling robot, because as we have learned multiple times: Judgement Day is inevitable but mankind's victory over the machines is not for some reason.
I do quite like the whole 'The Terminator is a father figure called Carl' thing though. I figure if the Terminator from T2 could learn and change so much from being with John for just a few days, then what effect could something similar have over decades? It's an interesting thought, and really the only new idea this movie brings to the table.
Largely unoriginal though it may be, I think Dark Fate works much better as a sequel to the first two movies than the woeful T3. It might not blow my socks off, but it's faithful to the serious tone of the originals, and crucially, the 15 certificte is back after three 12-rated movies. So what we get is a watchable Terminator movie with some decent violence and the most important original cast members back together. Because of these things, Dark Fate is the 3rd chapter in my Terminator head-canon, with T3 having been deleted from my memory banks entirely. The others I consider to be spin offs.
3) Terminator Salvation
A spin off though it may be, I'm a sucker for a post apocalyptic movie, so I really dig the setting for Salvation. There's an array of awesome Skynet killing machines on display here too, with some quality visual effects. I particularly like that we get to see the older Terminators which Kyle Reese described in the original movie, rubber skin and all. It would've been interesting to see where they went with the planned Salvation sequels, because for me there's more good here than bad.
Having said that, I'm not the biggest Christian Bale fan (although he was the bomb in Reign of Fire, yo) and he's really acting his face off in this one. It's virtually impossible to imagine that this is the same John Connor from T2, but then there was a different JC since then, so I guess this is John 3.0? (Also, I never noticed the saviour's initials were JC before. Huh.)
It's unfortunate that the least interesting character here is not only supposed to be humanity's saviour, but he's also the big name star of the film, so he obviously gets a good chunk of screen time. We don't really find out what makes John so crucial to our victory over the machines, we're just told ad inifinitum that he is. I'd much rather the story focussed on Sam Worthington's character, but hey-ho, I can still put this film on and just enjoy the ride.
Sadly, McG's effort was far from being the salvation of the series. It didn't perform as the studio had hoped, so any further installments were canned and they got back on the phone to Arnie again.
2) The Terminator
As is often the case with a multi-movie franchise, the first instalment is a classic. This is pretty much a straight-up horror movie with a cool sci-fi edge, with the relentless T800 stalking (the then pretty helpless) Sarah Connor. Arnie's iconic performance as the emotionless killing machine from the future sells the movie, this film really confirmed him as a Hollywood mega-star. It's dark and gory and bleak; and the tension ramps up throughout the movie, leading to the famous showdown in which we see Sarah terminate the Terminator.
It should be said that time has not been kind to that third act, as the final scenes with the T800 endoskeleton rising from the flames to chase down our heroes now look like something from a Sinbad film. This does take away from the dramatic climax of the movie a little when you watch it today. It's probably sacrilege to say it but this is one of the few films that could maybe benefit from a George Lucas-style makeover. Give me some quality T800 effects at the end and I'll be right back to the cinema to experience it again.
But stop-motion wobbliness aside, The Terminator is a seminal movie which was always gonna be really hard to top. Then James Cameron said "hold my beer"...
1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Duh-duh, duh, duh-duh. I'm sure you're shocked to find that the best Terminator film tops this list.
T2 isn't just the best instalment by a country mile, it's one of the greatest blockbuster movies ever made. Jim Cameron knows how to make a big film, doesn't he? Here he takes everything that was cool about his original film and concentrates it into a thrill-ride action flick that has real stakes. Rather than trying to rewrite what had happened before like the subsequent Termie movies do, this one builds on the lore, with the events of the original playing into what transpires here. Which makes for an extremely satisfying sequel.
Sarah Connor's transformation into a warrior prepping for the apocalypse is almost unreal. Where she was the damsel in distress, she's now the action hero, standing head and shoulders above a cast of other awesome characters. Arnie's T800 gets some interesting development, this time playing the protector rather than the menace to great effect. T2 also brings great new ideas to the table, not least the mindbendingly cool liquid metal T1000 which pushed the boundaries of what was possible on screen and blew audiences minds, mine included.
The only thing 'wrong' here is the problem T2 presents in terms of its sequels. Because this is such a wholly satisfying conclusion to the story, nothing more was actually needed. There is no fate but what we make ourselves. This why there's never been a truly great sequel: You can't continue the story without devaluing the importance of this chapter. But it's testament to how good the first two are that they still tried four times over to pull it off. Who knows, maybe in a few years they'll try again. If so, I'll definitely watch it.