Well, cool, I just rewatched the entire run of Terminator movies and realized it will be easier to rank them in order of greatness than I thought. For each movie (I’ll get to the TV show later), the best to worst go in order of first to last created. That made it easy! How often does that happen? Here we go, and YES THERE ARE TERMINATOR SPOILERS through Genisys, but not through Dark Fate:
The Terminator Movies, ranked from best movie to worst:
- The Original movie (1984) — I realize that T2: Judgment Day is most people’s favorite Terminator outing, but for me it lacks the excitement and character building — and pure 80s fun — of the classic first time. Here’s my enthusiastic rewatch review of the classic film where Arnold first promised he’d “be back.”
- T2: Judgment Day (1991) — Although I wasn’t fond of the young John Connor portrayal, this was the movie that made me ugly cry when Sarah was about to shoot Miles Dyson, before backing off when realizing he was a good man. I was glad she couldn’t do it. When Dyson sacrificed himself, I kept on crying. There’s a lot of humor in T2 (some of it a bit silly), and it’s a very exciting sequel. There’s still just nothing like the first thrill ride in 1984. Linda Hamilton and Arnold really sold Judgment Day, but the whole Hasta La Vista attitude and focus on a young John trying to teach an AI to be ‘cute’ was…well… a bit too cute. This wasn’t as thoughtful as the original, and the move of focus from Sarah/Kyle to a juvenile delinquent John was less gripping. I’m not sure why T2 is most people’s favorite, but feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below.
- T3: Rise of the Machines (2003) — I remember thinking this wasn’t as cool as the first two, but I think it was the lack of Linda Hamilton here, back in the early millennium. In my recent watch (all of them in one week, right after another), I now realize a few things: this is the best John Connor portrayal ever (TV show aside), Claire Danes was just lovely in the part, Arnold did a fine job in his three-quel, and the story ended up with an actual Judgment Day. All good stuff, as Golden Man wrote in his Defense of T3. If Hamilton had to bow out, I’m not going to complain about going after John’s best soldiers. My main problem is with the female Terminator. She was…fine. Not awesome, like Robert Patrick in T2. I’d have loved to see some of the sneaky wry moments Patrick imbued his T-1000 with. And he was a LOT scarier. Kristanna Loken as the third Terminator was frankly a bit dull. Sure, it was cool to have a female Terminator, but Summer Glau, in the Terminator TV series, showed that we could have had a lot more. Still, T3 felt like a Terminator film.
- T4: Salvation (2009) — I liked Salvation but it didn’t FEEL like the previous movies. There were nods to the previous films, but the tone was off. I think they should have added a half hour of character development & ensemble moments (like in Aliens, as a perfect example), added some more humor. It would have been just lovely. Another issue: it almost looked like T4 was filmed in black and white, which didn’t work for me. Everything was washed out or too dim. And a lot of great actors amassed for T4 were kind of wasted. For example: why get someone like Michael Ironside if you don’t write him some good lines? No wonder he didn’t even try to make anything of his part. I liked the film, I liked it….it just should have been a lot better. It did pick up with the character Kate from T3, which I appreciated, but most of the character writing felt lazy. One thing that does stand out now was how sad it to see a super young Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. I didn’t realize he was in Salvation. Awwww. 🙁 Yelchin did do a nice job coming across as a young scared-but-resolute soldier who John needed to train up. I could see the producers were going for a Terminator/Aliens/Matrix look, but it really didn’t go beyond moments of homage to better material.
- T5: Genisys (2015) — Well, this one hits the bottom of the Terminator barrel. I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, but I can’t say it was good. I’m not sure it fit within the timeline cannon the others all followed so nicely, Dyson dad and son revisititations aside. And where was Kate, John’s wife? Going back to another timeline to follow Han Solo’s girlfriend was fine (ha! I only understand this reference from my re-watch), and ‘Pops’ was cool and all, but what the writers did with John Connor was inexcusable. Hello, WTF? The John actor didn’t look right, didn’t act the part, and his existence as a Terminator was a kick in the gut to anyone who cared about the franchise. I didn’t enjoy this one at all, although it wasn’t a ‘bad’ movie. It just didn’t sit well and made me a little angry. What were the writers thinking, crapping on the John Connor character? This was a misfire on so many levels, even though Arnold and Co gave it a good shot. Like I said, this wasn’t a bad sci fi film, and it was an okay “alternate timeline” for Sarah Connor, but it was too moody and…well, weird. I really hope the soft reboot of Terminator: Dark Fate returns to the adventurous tone and epic storytelling we saw in T1 and T2.
Bonus extra: The TV Show: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-09) —
The TV show used an alternate timeline, with yet other Sarah and John actors, but was so damn great that it was a joy to watch as a serialized story on TV. Summer Glau made a wonderful Terminator. I wasn’t thrilled with Lena Headley’s Sarah, but everyone else knocked my socks off, and I was very excited to see how the narrative would progress.
Unfortunately, we never got to see that. When it was cancelled, I was sad. Not as sad, mind you, as when Firefly (another Summer Glau show) was cast aside before its time, but still a bit adrift. I wish I’d known where the John Henry/Cromartie story was headed…and what the final trip to the future was about, and where the loyalties of Shirley Manson’s Terminator were leading us…but we’ll never know.
So how to rank the TV show?
Honestly, it had so much potential. I’d rank it after T2, personally, although it really only got exciting in the second season and left us hanging for the third. I’d watch it again, absolutely. At least this time I’d be prepared for the looming permanent hiatus status, and could appreciate what we did get.
Terminator: Dark Fate — Well, howdy ho; I’m excited. I’ll be seeing this one shortly, and understand the story picks up right after T2, creating cannon waste to everything that came after 1991. I’m okay with this, since Sarah, in the timeline from T3 and on, is dead.
And now what?
I won’t hide that I dislike reboots in general (Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica aside), but if Linda Hamilton and Arnold himself are co-signing this new edition, I’m totally on-board. Where it will fit in the overall rankings remains to be seen. Soon, soon…
What is your ranking of the Terminator franchise?
Don’t miss your favorite movie moments because you have to pee or need a snack. Use the RunPee app (Androidor iPhone) when you go to the movies. We have Peetimes for all wide release films every week, including Tenet, Freaky, and Half Brothers , and coming soon Wonder Woman 1984. We have literally thousands of Peetimes -- from classic movies through today's blockbusters. You can also keep up with movie news and reviews on our blog, or by following us on Twitter @RunPee. If there's a new film out there, we've got your bladder covered.
Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)