Terminator Films Ranked

With Terminator: Dark Fate being released over the last few weeks in the UK/Ireland and over the week across the water in the United States, I’ve gone back and revisited other instalments in the franchise. So below I’ve ranked the films in order of least favourite to the one I enjoyed the most.


6. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

A cybernetic warrior from a post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to protect a 25-year old drifter and his future wife from a most advanced robotic assassin and to ensure they both survive a nuclear attack.

The twelve year gap between T2: Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines wasn’t kind on the third instalment, primarily due to the development hell it went through from bidding rights to recasting during filming (Sophia Bush was originally playing the role of Kate Brewster, but her performance and appearance was deemed too young for the character). With Jonathan Mostow in the directors chair this time round, we get an older John Connor trying to live off-the-grid as much as possible to the point that not even Skynet can track him, a new Terminator model (the T-X) set to take out John Connor and other humans that will become key members of the human Resistance in the future, including his old classmate from High School Kate Brewster, which once again sees Arnold Schwarzenegger return as the T-101 sent back to protect John and Kate. A big deal was made about Terminator 3 at the time in regards to its budget as was the most expensive film at the time (roughly over the $180m mark) and looking back its easy to see why with the scale of destruction and special effects on display during the action sequences. While the first two Terminator films were ground-breaking, particularly the second film in terms of the special effects, Terminator 3 for the most part holds up on that front in how it mixes practical with special effects, though some of it looks even more cheesy now as it did then (anytime the T-X twists its head or other ‘body’ parts). The key chase sequence is one of the best parts of the film in terms of how its executed, in terms of mixing practical/special effects and the ending is arguably one of the best in the franchise. However, the film overall just lacks the overall spark of the James Cameron instalments, in its direction, its attempts at humour and the performances of the main cast. Nick Stahl is a talented actor (his performances in Sin City and Carnivàle showcase this better), but for me he doesn’t didn’t fit in the role of John Connor for me. There was a interesting idea in telling the story of him trying to reject his fate of becoming the future leader of mankind but it’s not remotely explored as much as it should. Claire Danes at least gets to show range as Kate Brewster and upon rewatching this film, she gives the best performance out of the ensemble. Another performance that didn’t work for me was Kristanna Loken’s as the T-X, primarily because despite all the upgrades of being a superior machine to Arnie’s T-101, I oddly didn’t feel that the T-X was as credible a threat as the rest of the Terminators in the franchise. Maybe that’s down to the direction and the rating of the film not being pushed (was Rated R at the time yet it feels pretty R-lite). There is some questionable choices that make less sense now as they did then (the T-X breast enhancements, ‘Talk to the hand’), but despite some decent action pieces and a solid ending, it’s a largely bland film.


5. Terminator Genisys (2015)

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 Genisys places us in 2029 where the leader of the Resistance, John Connor, launches a final offensive against Skynet having one group tackle their main defence grid and another lead by him and Kyle Reese to destroy Skynet’s fail safe weapon, a time machine hidden at a remote storage facility. Realising that they’re too late and that Skynet has sent back a T-800 to the year 1984 to kill his mother Sarah Connor, Reese volunteers and goes back in time to protect her and ensure that John lives on. A certain moment however causes a time alerting event, placing Kyle Reese back in 1984 but not in a timeline that we know. Genisys, rubbish title be damned, was an attempt to reboot the franchise completely whilst paying homage to the original films. The problem however is just how dull and weakly written the characters feel here, as well as the script. Emilia Clarke has the difficult task of taking over a role that Linda Hamilton had turned into an iconic heroine and whilst she seems better suited to the role as the film progresses, she’s still no Linda Hamilton. I wasn’t a particular fan of how Kyle Reese’s characteristics from the original (the hard as nails soldier, suffering from PTSD) were abandoned for a blank, bewildered character, so Jai Courtney doesn’t really have much to work with either. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still the best performer from the film for me, though he spends more time giving exposition of time travel than getting involved in action scenes but he’s still the heart and soul of this film, as they explore the idea of the T-800 (or ‘Pops’ here) having protected Sarah over the years as a literal father figure. In terms of turning John Connor into the villain is an intriguing idea, execution leaves alot to be desired. Most importantly, there doesn’t feel like there’s any dread or risk to the characters we’re following in the hopes that they can’t escape the clutches of a Terminator as we don’t feel like they’re under any threat, especially when you get rid of Byung-Hun Lee’s T-1000 so quickly. Still though, I was entertained more by this than Rise of the Machines.


4. Terminator Salvation (2009)

In 2018, a mysterious new weapon in the war against the machines, half-human and half-machine, comes to John Connor on the eve of a resistance attack on Skynet. But whose side is he on, and can he be trusted?

Following the conclusion of Rise of the Machines, we finally get a film set in the post-apocalyptic world of where Skynet and the Resistance are at war, with John Connor a part of it, but not yet the leader we’ve been told he’ll become. Meanwhile, an inmate (Marcus Wright) on death row in 2003 signs over his body for medical research following his execution….only to wake up in 2018 in a world long forgotten from what he once knew. Not going to lie, I’ve pretty much forgotten anything about this film bar some casting choices and, obviously, everyone is all aware of it being more famously known for the leaked audio of Christian Bale not mincing his words with the director of photography onset during a scene. Upon rewatching Salvation, I appreciate what they were attempting to do here. Truly the only way forward was to showcase the post-apocalyptic landscape and the war between the Resistance/Skynet and for the most part I enjoyed the set pieces here, particularly when a group of humans, Marcus, Kyle Reese and Star, come under attack at a gas station, and also showcase other types of machines in the sky and under water, which has some nice touches. The introduction of Marcus Wright as a character is one that I enjoyed, a man transformed into a cyborg without realising was a nice twist to the mythology of what we knew and I think Sam Worthington’s performance is fine (bar the ‘Nooo’ screams here and there). As a performer, Christian Bale fits the mould of what you’d expect leader of the Resistance to act like as John Connor but he’s pretty under-utilised here as is Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor. Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese is some nice casting and I liked him in the role. Granted the film might feel dull and lifeless due to the colour palette, but I like that they attempted something new.


3. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.

More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgement Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator, a Rev-9, travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace, an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. What had me intrigued about this film, was not only James Cameron returning to the franchise, was that they brought Linda Hamilton back to reprise the role of Sarah Connor. Nearly thirty years on since she was last on the big screen, I’m amazed at how much this franchise missed her absence. We’re reminded in the opening, using old footage from T2, how much she’s been the emotional anchor and heroine to root for in the first two instalments, and that essence hasn’t been captured since. She fits effortlessly back into the character and provides some tough love moments for Dani Ramos, who reminds her instantly of herself and everything she’s had to deal with ever since she was initially hunted by the Terminators. Mackenzie Davis provides a solid performance as Grace, a super-enhanced soldier sent back from the future to protect Dani and while we get grief glimpses to her backstory and how she came to be what she is, you’re still left wanting more. Gabriel Luna gets to provide some charm along with his menacing demeanour as the terminator here. Granted the films opening five minutes will be make or break for the viewer watching, as Dark Fate closes the book on Cameron’s films and begins anew.


2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her teenage son, John Connor, from a more advanced and powerful cyborg.

The one where James Cameron flipped the script and had Arnold Schwarzenegger return this time to be the protector of John Connor from a much deadlier Terminator in Robert Patrick’s T-1000. Set ten years after the events of the original, John is now a young boy living with his foster parents as Sarah is held in a mental hospital. The T-1000 arrives back from the future to terminate John Connor whilst a T-800 is also sent back through time to protect John. James Cameron does a terrific job in upping the ante here from the action sequences here to expanding the story from the original as we see Sarah Connor’s transformation from the first film being hunted by the Terminator to being a complete badass here played brilliantly once again by Linda Hamilton who commands your attention whenever she is onscreen, as does Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role he’ll often be remembered for as the T-800, protecting the young John Connor and obeying literally his every word coming from a young Edward Furlong, who gives a really good performance here amongst his elders. Robert Patrick is absolutely chillingly creepy as the T-1000, a Terminator here that can shapeshift into other people it comes into contact with as well as sharp pointy objects. To this day the special effects haven’t aged a day, in particular the effects used for the T-1000 and the editing is smoothly done in working with the action sequences especially. The debate when it comes down to this and the original film is more often than not which is the best? We’ve heard all arguments and solid cases for both, but while this is easily one of the best sequels ever made, my vote still goes for the original.


1 . The Terminator (1984)

A seemingly indestructible robot is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a young waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against sentient machines, while a human soldier from the same war is sent to protect her at all costs.

In the year 2029, an artificial intelligence defence network known as Skynet sends back a machine known as a Terminator back in time to 1984 to find and kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Also being sent back from the future to 1984 is a human named Kyle Reese, a member of the resistance in 2029 that is led by John Connor. it is up to Reese to find and protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator as it plans to kill John Connor’s mother before he is born as a last-ditch effort to avert the formation of the Resistance. It’s a chase film told in possibly the greatest grand scale of sci-fi cinema as not only do we have the protagonist being hunted by the antagonist, the latter happens to be a virtually unstoppable killing machine and the fate of the human race is in the balance as time travel and violence collide with man versus machine in this James Cameron classic. Villainous machines were nothing new when The Terminator came out, but it increased the fear of technology becoming so advanced under human hands that what if they evolve and eventually overtake their creators? Especially when it came in the violent wrecking machine form of Arnold Schwarzenegger whose career sky rocketed and hasn’t looked back since in that role that cemented him as a big Hollywood star and cemented the The Terminator as an iconic figure in cinema. It also cemented James Cameron as a great visionary director, with a keen eye for the action and special effects that would solidify his career in the process. . I always preferred the original to Judgement Day in not just how it works in a small scale comparison, but also how we get to actually see how the future is like from Kyle Reese’s point of view, which literally looks like hell on Earth as the Resistance are at an endless war with the machines. The performances for this tale are strong, including the previously stated Arnie, Michael Biehn is just a bagful of charisma as Sarah’s knight in shining armour from the future Reese, breaking down her fate whilst protecting her from the Terminator and Linda Hamilton is perfectly cast in her arc from vulnerable damsel in distress to heroic survivalist who accepts her fate and won’t give in to the Terminator without a fight and still on the countless viewings of the film you still buy into the chemistry between Hamilton and Biehn. The effects still hold up pretty well besides a few bits here and there in the third act but overall it’s a fantastic sci-fi horror film.


So what is your favourite film in the Terminator franchise? Be sure to select your favourite in the poll below.