Arnold Schwarzenegger. Robots. Time travel. The Terminator franchise contains some of the most enjoyable action-packed moments of any film franchise. But not every Terminator film is created equally. Some have been described as falling among the greatest sequels of all time while others are so forgettable, you might wish they didn’t exist in the first place.
Regardless of how some of the films have been received, there’s no denying the Terminator movies’ cultural impact. It turns out that Schwarzenegger wasn’t kidding when he said he’d “be back” starting in 1984⏤he’s the only actor to have appeared in all six Terminator films (in some form) and has become the primary thread tying them all together. Whether or not there will be more films in the series remains to be seen, but the ones that have been released so far have certainly carved out a unique place in the cinematic landscape.
Here’s our ranking of the Terminator films from worst to best.
6. Terminator Salvation
Despite having a great cast including Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, and Bryce Dallas Howard, Terminator Salvation is easily the worst film in the franchise. While managing to be both a sequel to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and a prequel to The Terminator, the film was a choppy mess that did not make the battle against Skynet very interesting.
Christian Bale plays John Connor, who after Judgement Day needs to set the events of the first movie in motion. Sam Worthington plays Marcus, who later turns out to be half-Terminator. That plot point is as dumb as it sounds. Plus the movie didn’t have anywhere near as much Schwarzenegger in it as the others in the franchise since he was busy serving as the Governor of California at the time. His replacement was a weird CGI amalgamation of his face, another big reason why Terminator Salvation sits at the bottom of this list.
5. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Out of the numbered sequels, this one is the worst. What puts Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ahead of Terminator Salvation is that it had Schwarzenegger in the film whereas Salvation did not (not really, anyway). Also, the T-X was pretty awesome and the action wasn’t half bad, but the film overall was boring and the ending quite trashy, which is why it ranks so low on our list.
Sure, it had good moments, but overall it was forgettable. Nick Stahl wasn’t great as John Connor, giving quite a mopey performance. Claire Daines was fine but didn’t really add anything to her role. The T-101 blasting out of a mausoleum was a great scene, but this trilogy ending with the arrival of Judgment Day causes this film to be our number five.
4. Terminator Genisys
The film that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger back into the franchise after a 12-year absence, Terminator Genisys was set to reboot the franchise. Emilia Clarke played Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney played Kyle Reese. One of the main reasons this movie is not higher up on the list is because it chose to make the protagonist of the series, John Connor ⏤ played by Jason Clarke in this film ⏤ a Terminator.
Sarah Connor and the T-800, who was sent to protect her as a child and is referred to as “Pops” in the film, have a great relationship and it makes their scenes quite fun to watch. The story is mostly just that: fun. The duo lives through time, taking out Terminators as they appear. But the plot with Genisys and the modified sentient version of Skynet just isn’t great, causing this film to be number four.
3. Terminator: Dark Fate
Terminator: Dark Fate is a decent entry in the franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger came back to reunite with Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, with the film serving as a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The plot is actually somewhat interesting, albeit predictable. Choosing to revolve the story around new characters ⏤ played by Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes ⏤ was a better move than if filmmakers had centered it around Sarah Connor again. It was a nice setup for a new beginning, but something tells me they aren’t going to get the chance to continue this particular storyline.
The main drawback in the film is that they retconned the other movies by killing John Connor at the beginning, rendering Terminator 2: Judgment Day moot. Overall, it had a good story and engaging characters combined with some great moments, bringing the film in at number three.
2. The Terminator
The one that started it all, The Terminator introduced the world to the T-800, as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sarah Connor was played by Linda Hamilton and Kyle Reese was played by Michael Biehn. The plot was simple and engaging: a killer robot is sent back in time by artificial intelligence and attempts to murder the mother of the future resistance. Almost presented as a horror film, the entire movie was a chase, with the ending setting up one of the best sequels of all time.
The film is also more of a romantic story than any of the other films, but that isn’t a negative. Everything in the movie works and most of it still holds up today, which is why it gets the number two spot.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2: Judgement Day has received many different accolades over the years. It’s one of the best action movies of all time, one of the best sequels of all time, and on this list, the best Terminator movie ever made. It has it all: the chase elements of the first film plus the awesome action sequences that make the sequels great. But its story is what sets it apart from all the other sequels. Having Schwarzenegger come back as a good Terminator was a stroke of genius and his buddy cop/father-son relationship with John Connor was an absolute masterstroke. Nobody can watch this movie and not have fun.
Linda Hamilton comes back to play a grittier Sarah Connor, one of the most badass women in all of cinema. Her breakout scene from the mental hospital is epic, and the T-1000 played by Robert Patrick ⏤ the Terminator who is made out of liquid metal ⏤ is one of the best villains in movie history. The thing is unstoppable and unkillable and thus an absolute joy to watch on screen. The movie also has the best soundtrack in the entire franchise. All of this is why Terminator 2 takes our top spot.
There you have it, all the Terminator movies ranked. The T-800 can go into the molten with a thumbs-up knowing it was done justice. Hasta la vista, baby!