The Terminator franchise is one of cinema’s greatest action franchises of all time. It basically launched the career of a little actor known as Arnold Schwarzenegger and it’s given us some of the most incredible, unforgettable one-liners in action movie history. So, with the newest installment, Terminator: Dark Fate hitting theaters this weekend, we here at Def Pen decided it was the perfect time to take a look at the series as a whole. Unfortunately, it reminded us that there have been more bad Terminator films than there have been good ones but, hopefully, Dark Fate will at least bring us back to an even split.
Either way, here’s Def Pen’s Definitive Ranking of the Terminator Franchise, so far (listed worst to best):
6. Terminator: Genisys – 2015
Ugh. I hate that the only Terminator film with Emilia Clarke is in the bottom spot but there’s just no way around it. Genisys is a confusing mess of a film that very nearly bombed the entire franchise. Sure, it has some interesting concepts like how John Connor was secretly a T-3000 robot. But, when the film’s big twist is ruined in both the trailers and the final poster, which you likely saw as you walked into the theater (if you even saw this one in theaters), it loses all dramatic impact. On top of a messy, botched twist, the writing and heavy-handed attempt at a universe-spawning reboot is way too obvious and lazy here. You deserved better, Emilia.
5. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – 2003
Alright, so this spot was particularly difficult to choose. But, Rise of the Machines ultimately takes the cake over Salvation. Thanks to a confusing, jarring tone that doesn’t fit with the first two films and the lazy writing that dropped Sarah Connor from the film entirely, it barely does enough to live up to the Terminator name. But, at least it’s kind of fun if you turn your brain off. And I suppose seeing Arnold return to the role that made him famous was worth the ticket back in 2003.
4. Terminator: Salvation – 2009
Like I said above, it was really difficult to rank either Salvation or Rise of the Machines over the other. In a perfect world, I’d just call it a tie of apathy and move on with my life. But, ultimately one had to get placed over the other. And for Salvation, the only thing really holding it back is its PG-13 rating. The film dropped during that run in Hollywood during the mid-2000s when, it seemed like that rule was: if it could be watered down to avoid an R rating, then it would. And this movie suffers for it. It’s decidedly darker tone and gritty depiction of John Connor’s fight against the machines was compelling. But, the lower rating and watered-down violence felt disingenuous to the rest of the franchise.
3. Terminator: Dark Fate – 2019
Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t bad by any means but, it’s definitely the worst of the good Terminator films. Its more uninteresting and unentertaining parts are stretched too thin and when the action finally comes it’s mostly short-lived. Though the final half-hour or so of CGI action does start to live up to the original films. Newcomers Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes both perform admirably in their roles, Davis in particular. But, without the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Dark Fate would likely be much further down on this list. Schwarzenegger also saves the film once he finally arrives but, ultimately, it simply retreads and recycles too much from previous entries in the franchise to stand on its own.
2. The Terminator – 1984
Here it is, the first truly good Terminator film on the list. The first Terminator film is about as good as 80s action movies get. A killer robot from the future is hunting the eventual mother of the human resistance leader against the machines. It’s not really that much worse than the second film honestly, but the hamfisted love story and rudimentary effects work have it landing here rather than in the top spot. It goes without saying though, if James Cameron hadn’t turned in such an impressive first installment, this list wouldn’t even exist.
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – 1991
Alright, here we are, the most obvious number one ranking yet. What is there to say about T2 that hasn’t already been said. It takes the first film’s plot and spins it so that Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is now the protector instead of the aggressor, giving us a lot more heart and depth than the first film had, especially when it comes to Schwarzenegger. Hamilton turns it up a level here and becomes a badass in her own right alongside the Terminator. And Edward Furlong turns in a surprisingly endearing performance for someone so young. Also, for my money, the T-1000 is still the most terrifying movie villain ever put to screen. He’s not overly conniving or malicious but he is single-minded and determined to a fault.
You can catch Terminator: Dark Fate in theaters right now.