The Terminator franchise is widely considered one of the most iconic film collections in Hollywood history. Beginning with The Terminator all the way back in 1984, the franchise has gone on to spawn four sequels, a short-lived but acclaimed TV series and countless graphic novels. Moreover, at least two of the films are acclaimed masterpieces that commonly feature on a number of "Greatest Films" lists.
But when you bring Terminator up in conversation, you usually find yourself embroiled in the inevitable debate over which film is actually the best of the franchise. Although, the real debate is only ever really between two of the films, it is always interesting to see what everyone thinks of each individual film.
Thus, with that in mind, let's take a look at the franchise's five film offerings and see if we can find out which one is truly the best Terminator of them all.
5. Terminator Salvation (2009)
The fourth installment in the Terminator franchise saw the inevitable finally take place — the war. Judgment Day had been and gone and the earth was in the grip of Skynet's control. It's up to John Connor and the Resistance to take the machines down, and stop the reign of terror.
Christian Bale fills the shoes of Connor and does quite a good job. He has all the passion and intensity you would expect from a future world leader, desperate to save humanity from the brink of extinction. This is highlighted when he is face with Marcus's (Sam Worthington) highly unusual, but compelling situation. But undoubtedly, one of the real highlights of the film was Anton Yelchin's fine performance as Kyle Reese. He played the role to perfection, having the young character look up to Bale's John Connor with the same kind of passion that Michael Biehn possessed when Reese described Connor in the original.
#TerminatorSalvation is by no means a bad movie. With stunning visuals and great action sequences, along with new Terminator inventions, it adds a great deal to the franchise. But unfortunately, there is one thing that it lacks — the Terminator. While we do see an impressive CGI rendering of Arnold Schwarzenegger, his absence hurts the film. Furthermore, the fact that the war actually happened feels like a letdown, especially as the premise of the whole franchise was based on the importance of stopping Judgment Day from happening. While we can blame T3 for initiating this, the post apocalyptic setting risks making the rest of the franchise seem redundant.
4. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
I love #Terminator3. I genuinely have no problem stating that I love this movie. But unfortunately, it should never have happened. After James Cameron's first two films, Judgment Day was averted and the world should have carried on as normal. But 12 years later, somebody decided to resurrect the Terminator franchise. And what we got was another damn good, action-packed and all-round entertaining adventure.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was again perfect as the heroic Terminator, re-programmed to protect John Connor and Katherine Brewster. Though, he lacked the warmth of his character in the previous movie, he was a lot more quick-witted, providing most of the film's comic relief. Both Nick Stahl and Claire Danes were highly underrated and did great jobs in their roles. In fact, I would have liked to have seen Stahl return for a sequel (taking nothing away from Bale or Jason Clarke). The T-X was a great villain — Kristanna Loken was incredibly convincing, and it was refreshing to see a female Big Bad.
At its core, the film is a less awe-inspiring rehash of Terminator 2. But just because it doesn't reach those impossible heights, that doesn't mean it's not a damn good film. The action sequences are stunning and the visual effects are perhaps at their very best here — T3 has the most convincing future war sequence of them all. As a fan of the franchise, I was more than entertained by T3 and up until 2015, I would have called this one the most underrated Terminator film.
3. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
Without a doubt, #TerminatorGenisys is definitely the most underrated film of the franchise. And it really bugs me that I'm saying that only two years after its release. The negative feedback this film has garnered from critics who just don't want any more Terminator films is ridiculous.
Genisys completely resets the Judgment Day timeline created by the previous two films by travelling back in time — right back to the beginning of the franchise. While most of the continuity from T3/T4 is intact at the beginning (the film begins with Judgment Day and the end of the war), in an attempt to distance itself from the those films, Kate Connor and her child are mysteriously absent. It reboots the franchise by setting up a fresh new arc that takes the story in new directions, but it does so in a way that pays homage to the original Terminator films.
After Salvation, it is refreshing to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his most famous role as the Terminator. This time as Sarah Connor's protector (or as he is more affectionately known, "Pops"), and the iconic actor proves that age is just a number, commanding the screen like he did over thirty years prior. Speaking of Sarah, Emilia Clarke does a fantastic job as the mother of the future. She emulates the badass version of the heroine from T2 while at the same time retaining the emotional delicacy of the Connor we saw in T1 — she even looks like Linda Hamilton.
While Jai Courtney is serviceable as Kyle Reese, I feel that Anton Yelchin from Salvation would have been a much better choice, given that he did such a great job before, and even looked more like Michael Biehn. Moreover, while Jason Clarke does a great job as John Connor, I thought he came across a little too non-John even before he became non-John.
The effects, music and action sequences in the film are outstanding, as always — particularly the 1984 sequences, which feature the flawless CGI recreation of young Arnie. The relationship between "Pops" and Sarah returns a warmth to the franchise, that has been absent since T2.
While there are times that the convoluted time travel-heavy script can make your brain hurt, and if you're looking for an entertaining linear sequel then Terminator 3 may be more suited to you. However, there may never be another Terminator film to reach the impossible heights of the first two, but Terminator: Genisys is the closest we may get, and it did a darn great job trying. I fully agree with James Cameron who claimed that it was the sequel that the first two deserve.
2. The Terminator (1984)
Revolutionary. Entertaining. Terrfiying. Amazing. The Terminator came way before it's time and it did so with a mere $6 million budget. The film was not expected to be a critical or commercial success, but it went on to become one of the most celebrated and well-respected films of all time. It launched the career of James Cameron (who now holds the record for the two highest-grossing films of all-time) and Arnold Schwarzenegger — who went from strength to strength and became a household name after this.
Over the years, Schwarzenegger's ability to perform a serious role without going 'over the top' has always been a subject of criticism. Although, he recently silenced those critics with his amazing performance in Maggie, there are few of his performances that can compete with this outing. And I implore any Arnold critics to find anyone who could have played this role better than he did — because they would be unsuccessful. Arnie is downright terrifying throughout the entire film and the eerie "dun dun dun dun" beat that plays throughout echoes any first time viewer's heartbeat. His eyes are chilling throughout and that relentless drive to kill Sarah Connor never dies.
While Sarah Connor may not yet be the action heroine we know she's destined to become, Linda Hamilton is still as brilliant here. She portrays the role beautifully with the innocence of the scared young woman but ignites the fire in Sarah Connor that only burns brighter in the sequel. Michael Biehn is also magnificent as her protector Kyle Reese. Like the Terminator's drive to murder, Reese's drive to protect never falters.
Unlike the rest of the films, #TheTerminator follows a linear plot and, with the exceptions of the Terminator and Reese's arrivals, steers clear of the confusing time travel-centric plots (don't worry, that comes later). No matter how many times you watch this this film, you can always be guaranteed 90 minutes of pure entertainment. No matter who you're talking to, most Terminator fans will almost always place this masterpiece in the Top 2 when ranking the films, and it is a well-deserved honor for an incredible film.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
While the original Terminator was a thriller with a linear plot and a low budget. #Terminator2: Judgment Day was the exact opposite: an action-packed, explosive blockbuster. Perhaps it shouldn't have worked, but by God, it did.
The twist here is Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator is actually the hero of this film, programmed to protect John Connor instead of terminate. And the remotely friendly looking T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is the bad guy. Linda Hamilton's transformation from innocent waitress to hardened protector solidifies Sarah Connor as the badass heroine that she is known as. Edward Furlong's performance as the young John Connor was brilliant (I must admit, Furlong's portrayal is still my personal favourite) and his relationship with the Terminator adds a whole new emotional depth to the film that was completely absent from its predecessor.
Despite being such a different type of film, Terminator 2 is undoubtedly the greatest sequel of all time. It brought the epic franchise in the new directions, and is single-handedly responsible for the global success of the entire franchise. It happens to be one of the top 200 highest grossing films of all time (3rd at it's time of release), the most financially successful film in the series and is fondly remembered as one of the best films of the 90s.
Explosive action, amazing storytelling, awesome visuals and an emotional ending that would have even the hardest fan shedding a tear, T2 is not only my favourite Terminator film but it is also my favourite film of all time. 26 years later, it still stands alone on the top of the mountain, and few films can compare to the sheer spectacle of Terminator 2. And with that in mind, I can't wait to revisit it all over again when it's re-released in 3D.
With a highly anticipated sixth film on the way, it will be interesting to see how the ranking of Terminator films will change when it eventually arrives. But with James Cameron's involvement and Arnold Schwarzenegger's return, we have to believe that we may have a solid contender for the top two.
But until that moment, the first two films will proudly reign as the greatest Terminator films of all time. While the franchise is renowned for producing highly entertaining blockbusters, it was Terminator 2 that did it better than all the rest. And that is just one of the many reasons why it will remain the greatest Terminator film of all time.
Which Terminator film is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!