The robotic terminator wearing sunglasses while holding a shotgun in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"
(Tri-Star Pictures)

James Cameron’s Blockbusters, Ranked From “Not as Good” to “Great”

And who says there's no money in art?

James Cameron wrote the book—nay, the script on how to make a critical and commercial success. Ranking them is a difficult task.

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He has multiple films on this list of the most money-making films of all time. More than any other director on it! He’s the man that Michael Bay wishes he could be, delivering cinematic glory to the common moviegoer while providing more value for Hollywood studios than the cocaine industry. Aside from being one of the most record-breaking film directors of all time, James Cameron spends his downtime ascending to the heights (or depths) of human achievement, as well.

Ol’ Jimmy Cam Cam has been down deeper in the ocean than anyone else, exploring the Mariana Trench in a multi-million-dollar sub. Remember when he said what we were all thinking during the billion-dollar debacle that was OceanGate? He would know a thing or two about deep sea subs, more than most.

So to celebrate Jim Jam’s cinematic and scientific achievements, here is a list of the best (and worst) James Cameron films of all time.

9. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

A piranha get ready to attack the legs of a woman in "Piranha 2"
(Columbia Pictures/Sony)

Piranaha II: The Spawning flopped like a school of piranha out of water, but ol’ Jimmy can’t take all the blame! It was his very first major film endeavor, and he didn’t exactly have the best material to work with. Piranha II is about … you guessed it, a school of vicious piranhas terrorizing the waters of the Caribbean. While Cameron later learned how to work magic with a movie sequel, he was still stretching his wings with this first attempt. Despite being a critical and commercial failure, Piranha II has since become known as a cult film. Cameron can’t make a “bad” movie, just a “less good” one.

8. True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.
(20th Century Studios)

True Lies stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as an international super spy, working as a computer salesman as a cover. His mission? To track down nuclear missiles in the hands of an Islamic terrorist while simultaneously trying to save his failing marriage. While the film was a hit for the time, it has aged poorly in retrospect. True Lies’ portrayal of its Middle Eastern characters is rooted in Gulf War-era xenophobia, and provided a problematic portrayal of Arab and Muslim people. The film isn’t exactly kind to women, either. Remember when Schwarzenegger’s character makes his wife strip for him … but she doesn’t know it’s her husband? Super creepy.

7. Avatar (2009)

Zoe Saldana's Neytiri wields a dagger while screaming in 'Avatar'
(20th Century Studios)

Credit where credit is due: Avatar is a marvel of CGI technology. It is perhaps the most well polished turd in existence. The film’s thin Pocahontas-esque plot serves as a vehicle for high-budget explosions and nine-foot-tall blue people getting a little too intimate with the natural world. Sticking their weird alien appendages in the local fauna to get them to fight on the side of justice? There must be some other way to convince the wildlife that won’t piss off space-PETA. Watching the movie is like being on a date with a beautiful person who has no personality. We’ll go, but we’re not gonna have the best time.

6. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Kiri swims under water
(20th Century Studios)

If you thought Avatar looked good, Avatar: The Way of Water blows the original out of… the water. Modern CGI technology renders the digital skies, seas, and giant people to be bluer than ever before! It’s a jaw dropping film to look at. Like a really handsome celebrity. But once that celebrity opens their mouth, you can tell that there ain’t a lot going on between their ears. Way of Water is essentially a rehash of the first film… except with even longer CGI set piece montages. If you wanna watch aliens swim around for a full hour and then be fed some semblance of a plot for two more, this is the film for you.

5. The Abyss (1989)

A watery alien peers into the face of a woman in "The Abyss"
(20th Century Studios)

The Abyss didn’t get the love that it deserved when it first came out. It wasn’t so much a critical and commercial failure as it was a critical and commercial “meh.” It made less money than it should have at the box office, but didn’t bomb. Critics weren’t exactly singing its praises, but didn’t rip it to shreds either. Only in later years—with the release of the director’s cut—did audiences come to see The Abyss in all its shimmery, submersible glory. The film is about a group of Navy Seal operatives who dive down to a scuttled nuclear sub to see why the thing malfunctioned in the first place. The reason? Undersea aliens.

4. The Terminator (1984)

The terminator holds a gun with red neon reflected in his sunglasses in "the terminator"
(Orion Pictures)

The Terminator made the magic happen. James Cameron’s sophomore film combined a tight script, thrilling action sequences, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his best role ever to create a sci-fi classic. In the distant future, the last remnants of humanity face off against a world-controlling AI called Skynet. The humans are led by John Connor and are gaining ground against the robots. The solution? Skynet sends a cybernetic assassin known as a “terminator” back into the past to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah. In a lesser director’s hands, the complex plot would have doubtless caused this film to fall flat. But James Cameron isn’t a lesser director, now, is he?

3. Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and Carrie Henn as Newt in Aliens
(20th Century Studios)

The story goes that on the day James Cameron was supposed to pitch the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien to Hollywood studio execs, he walked into the room, wrote “ALIEN” on a whiteboard, and then wrote a “$” at the end of the word: “ALIEN$.” His gamble paid off, and the greenlit Aliens went on to become one of the biggest critical and commercial successes in movie history. Rather than attempt to one-up the horror of Ridley’s masterpiece, Cameron decided to switch genres entirely and make Aliens an action thriller. Aliens centers around the hero of the first film, Ellen Ripley, and a squad of space marines sent to do battle with the xenomorph menace.

2. Titanic (1997)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet hold each other and nearly share a kiss in "Titanic"
(20th Century Studios)

The ocean! Giant mechanical objects! CGI! All of the things that James Cameron loves combine in one of the most spectacular Hollywood romances of all time. Titanic singlehandedly launched the careers of its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and provided audiences with a star-crossed lovers tragedy not seen since Romeo and Juliet. The first half of the film? A romantic early 20th century romp between a plucky young lad of low social standing and a bored rich girl who dreams of something new. The second half? A harrowing look at one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history, culminating in beautiful tragedy.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The robotic terminator wearing sunglasses while holding a shotgun in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"
(Tri-Star Pictures)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not only James Cameron’s best film, but arguably one of the greatest films ever made. It is, in every way, an improvement on its predecessor, and a thrilling combination of action, humor, heart, and (for the time) mind-blowing special effects. The original Schwarzenegger terminator is reprogrammed to become John Connor’s stoic protector, leading the devious AI antagonists to send an upgraded model to finish the job its predecessor couldn’t complete. What can stop the second terminator? A mother’s love and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Like Aliens, Terminator 2 shattered the Hollywood taboo against female action stars, a legacy still in effect to this day.

(featured image: Tri-Star Pictures)

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Image of Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.