Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation.

All Terminator Movies Ranked Worst to Best

More powerful than a T-800’s punch to the face, the Terminator films have left a seismic impact on the film industry and pop culture. Of course, with that level of popularity, fans have a lot of opinions about how good each installment is, so let’s talk about how they rank, from “meh” to “mind-blowing.”

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6. Terminator Genisys (2015)

Emilia Clarke Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator Genisys' (Paramount Pictures)
(Paramount Pictures)

Terminator Genisys attempted to breathe new life into the Terminator franchise, but alas, it’s often considered the rusty, malfunctioning cog in the machine. Despite its flashy effects and a game Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his iconic role as the T-800, one of the film’s major transgressions was its attempt to rewrite the Terminator timeline. 

The convoluted plot left viewers scratching their heads in confusion, trying to make sense of alternate timelines, multiple versions of beloved characters, and plot holes bigger than the time vortex itself. Adding to the dismay, Terminator Genisys also suffered from a lack of memorable new characters and failed to capture the intensity and grittiness of its predecessors. 

5. Terminator Salvation (2009)

Sam Worthington in 'Terminator Salvation'
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Though it aimed to revitalize the post-apocalyptic setting of the Terminator series, Terminator Salvation usually shines dimly as the runner-up in the race for the worst installment. The film’s biggest issue? It promised us a full-scale war between humanity and the machines, yet it delivered a skirmish.

Despite a post-Batman Christian Bale growling his way through the role of John Connor and Sam Worthington trying his best as a mysterious cyborg, Terminator Salvation felt more like a detour on the way to the epic showdown we’d been teased with for years. While the action was decent, and the special effects were par for the course, the film lacked the thematic depth and emotional resonance that had made the earlier Terminator films classics. 

4. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate
(Paramount Pictures)

Despite its best efforts—the return of Linda Hamilton and the promise of a new future for the Terminator series—Terminator: Dark Fate ended up as the bronze medalist in the race for the least impressive installment. The film did have its moments. Linda Hamilton’s comeback as the tough-as-nails Sarah Connor was a welcome sight for sore eyes, and the action sequences were undeniably thrilling. 

Plus, it tried to address some of the narrative missteps of previous sequels by retconning them out of existence—a brave move, but not one without its complications. The new Terminator, played by Gabriel Luna, was menacing enough, but it lacked the iconic presence of the T-800. While it might not be the worst Terminator film, Dark Fate couldn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the original two movies.

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

Terminator 3- Rise of the Machines (2003) directed by Jonathan Mostow
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines often finds itself in the awkward position of being the third-best Terminator film, kind of like the third wheel at a cyborg family reunion. While it may not reach the dizzying heights of the first two cinematic gems, it pulls off a few slick moves that set it apart from some of the franchise’s later missteps. One of its strong suits is the undeniable charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who slips back into the role of the T-800 with his signature deadpan humor and unstoppable coolness. 

The film also delivers some high-octane action sequences and special effects that were impressive for their time. Who can forget that epic showdown with the massive construction crane? Rise of the Machines also gave us a worthy successor to Sarah Connor in the form of Claire Danes’ character, Kate Brewster. While it may not have the revolutionary impact of its predecessors, Terminator 3 keeps the franchise’s heart ticking and provides enough thrilling moments to make it a solid entry. 

2. The Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'The Terminator' 1984
(Orion Pictures)

1984’s The Terminator is like that vintage muscle car you stumble upon in a garage—timeless, awe-inspiring, and a true classic. While it may not hold the coveted title of the absolute best in the Terminator franchise, it’s undoubtedly the runner-up that paved the way for greatness. James Cameron’s low-budget masterpiece delivered a perfect mix of science fiction and horror, introducing us to the iconic Terminator, played perfectly by Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

His robotic monotone and relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor gave us the chills we never knew we craved. The film’s gritty, dystopian future and time-travel plot were revolutionary for their time, sparking a wave of imitations. Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor also deserves a nod as she transformed from a damsel in distress into a formidable warrior, setting the stage for her evolution in Terminator 2.

The only reason The Terminator takes a silver medal in the franchise race is that its own sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, raised the bar to stratospheric levels. 

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 stands atop the Terminator franchise like a gleaming, time-traveling beacon of cinematic greatness. If the original Terminator was a blockbuster appetizer, this film was the main course, dessert, and a round of applause all rolled into one.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return as the Terminator, this time playing the good guy, solidified his status as an action movie legend. The introduction of the shape-shifting, liquid-metal T-1000 brought jaw-dropping visual effects to the forefront, setting a new standard for the industry.

But it’s not just the groundbreaking visuals and relentless action that make Judgment Day the Terminator franchise’s undisputed champion. It’s the beating heart beneath the metallic exoskeleton. The film delves into complex themes of humanity, fate, and sacrifice while delivering unforgettable characters like Sarah Connor and John Connor. When it comes to improving a plot and a franchise, Terminator 2 is head and shoulders above the competition. 

(featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.