Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate

The Complete Guide to the ‘Terminator’ Franchise

We can all agree (or disagree) that the Terminator franchise is Hollywood’s ever-evolving ode to the dangers of letting your AI babysitter get too clever for its circuits. These films didn’t just appear in the cinematic landscape; they crash-landed, leaving a sizeable imprint and a sea of molten metal in their wake. James Cameron, with The Terminator in 1984, essentially told the world: “Hold my beer, I’m about to redefine science fiction.” And redefine he did. The amalgamation of a stoic Austrian bodybuilder, relentless killer robots, and a soundtrack with more beats than a tech store’s headphone display became the stuff of legend.

Recommended Videos

For starters, let’s talk pop culture. If you’ve ever slyly said “I’ll be back” when leaving a room, give a silent nod to the Terminator. These movies not only introduced groundbreaking special effects—remember liquid metal?—but they wove themselves into the very fabric of everyday conversation. The series has left an indelible mark, from catchy one-liners to the oft-pondered philosophical musings on fate versus free will. Within the industry, the films sparked a CGI arms race. Before the T-1000 was morphing into police officers and floor tiles, who would’ve thought it possible? But post-Terminator, there was a perceptible shift. 

Suddenly, every summer blockbuster aimed to outdo, outshine, and out-terminate the other in visual spectacle. In all its time-traveling, paradox-loving glory, the saga made studios realize that audiences loved to be simultaneously thrilled and puzzled. Yet, the series’ most profound legacy is its prescient cautionary tale. In an age where your refrigerator can X (formerly Tweet) and your watch can measure your heartbeat, the Terminator series is a cheeky reminder from Hollywood: “Remember, don’t let your tech get too uppity. Or else.” So, in case you forgot about all of this, here are the Terminator movies listed for you to view and refresh your memory. 

1. The Terminator (1984) 

Arnold as the Terminator
(Orion pictures)

James Cameron shocked an unprepared audience with a cinematic enigma cloaked in a cybernetic mystery in 1984. The Terminator shared a story of a seemingly indestructible Austrian-accented android traveling back in time with a singular mission to obliterate Sarah Connor, the unsuspecting mother-to-be of humanity’s future savior. No prenatal yoga or baby showers for Ms. Connor—just a relentless game of cat and mouse with a monosyllabic, leather-clad assassin. 

With a budget that would barely cover the modern starlet’s latte expenses, The Terminator dominated the box office in the United States for two weeks, launching Cameron’s film career and cementing Schwarzenegger’s image as a leading man. The film also redefined sci-fi and gave rise to iconic one-liners. 

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

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

In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as if realizing that sending back one machine was simply too stingy, the future treated us to a suaver, liquid metal model: the T-1000. This sleek assassin made turning into a sharp object look as casual as changing a hairstyle. Meanwhile, our old cybernetic friend, once the harbinger of doom, now moonlights as a protector to young John Connor—complete with handy catchphrases and a brief stint as a biker. 

Cameron’s magnum opus is a roller-coaster of chases, explosions, and molten metal. The film deftly shifts gears between heart-pounding action and poignant moments, proving that even a machine can learn the value of human life. And just remember: the next time you’re upset about your malfunctioning computer—be thankful it’s not plotting to send a liquid assassin after you. 

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

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

Who can forget 2003, when flip phones were all the rage and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines landed on our big-headed screens? Directed by Jonathan Mostow, this installment introduced us to the T-X – because clearly, what the Terminator series was missing was a robot with a more fashionable flair and a knack for multitasking. 

Meanwhile, John Connor, no longer the sulky teen but a brooding adult, finds himself again in the firing line, leading him to wonder whether or not fate can be changed (or whether or not a sadistic screenwriter is having a good laugh at his expense). This chapter adds another layer to the age-old man vs machine narrative, suggesting that perhaps we humans are our own worst enemies. 

4. Terminator Salvation (2009) 

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

2009 rolled around, and Terminator Salvation, directed by the curiously named McG, decided it was about time to swap those cozy ’80s and ’90s settings for a grittier, post-apocalyptic playground. Farewell to the days of chasing a single Connor; hello to saving what remains of humankind. Christian Bale dons the weighty mantle of John Connor, a man teetering between legend and reality, often sounding like he gargled gravel for breakfast. 

And let’s not forget Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright, who’s having a serious identity crisis—and who could blame him? It’s hard enough to remember where you left your keys, let alone whether you’re a man or a machine. With explosive action sequences that make earlier Terminator outings seem like casual strolls in the park, Salvation catapults us into a world where Terminators aren’t just coming—they’ve arrived. 

5. Terminator Genisys (2015)

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

In 2015, the Terminator franchise decided to indulge in some temporal tomfoolery with Terminator Genisys, directed by Alan Taylor. It’s like someone took the plot threads of the previous films, threw them into a blender, and hit “puree.” Emilia Clarke steps into the battle-hardened shoes of Sarah Connor, sans dragons but with an ever-watchful Terminator by her side, whom she affectionately dubs “Pops.” Arnold Schwarzenegger returns, proving that while he might be older, he’s still got the CPU for the job. 

The film takes us on a wild ride through alternate realities and humorous references to the originals while introducing a whole new liquid problem in the form of the T-3000. With twists that might give you a slight case of chronological whiplash, Genisys underscores the franchise’s enduring message: no matter how convoluted the timeline, there’s always room for a cyborg with a catchphrase. 

6. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate
(Paramount Pictures)

Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Tim Miller but sprinkled with James Cameron’s magic dust (read: he’s back as a producer), essentially tells the other sequels to kindly move aside, as it claims the esteemed title of the true heir to Judgment Day. Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor with all her glorious grit, showcasing that time hasn’t withered her spirit but perhaps enhanced her sarcasm. Arnold is back too; this time, he’s been domesticated, dabbling in draperies and family life. Who knew Terminators had an eye for interior design? 

We also meet Grace, a cybernetically enhanced soldier who is more machine than human and has a stamina bar that would make most video game characters jealous. The new enemy is the Rev-9, a Terminator that can split itself in two. The high-octane chases and time travel talk in Dark Fate are interspersed with wry references to the past and a knowing wink to the future, reminding us that fate is a tough cookie. 

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Faith Katunga
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.