The Terminator Ranked – Terminator: Dark Fate
The Terminator almost rivals the X-Men when it comes to having the most inconsistent timeline in a franchise. Today I’m gonna be ranking the six Terminator films as part of my franchise rankography series. So, what is a rankography exactly? Well, it’s my ranking of a filmography, whether that be a director’s output, an actor’s appearances, or even an entire franchise. My rankographies are based on personal preference and I rank movies according to how much I enjoyed them, rather than any specific technical merit or attribute. Remember, this is just my ranking, not THE ranking, so be sure to post your own personal ranking of The Terminator franchise in the comments below. I know I joked about it in the intro, but The Terminator franchise really has been all over the place in terms of quality and consistency throughout its 35 year history.
There have been some genre-defining classics, but there have also been some generic and poorly-crafted low points as well. Although I saw both T1 and T2 when I was fairly young, I never developed much of an opinion on them at that age, so this is one of those unique franchises that I’m pretty familiar with, but have no nostalgic connection to, so I’ve been able to give each of these movies an equal chance when turning a more critical eye to them. I’ve already reviewed all six of these movies on this channel, so if you wanna check those out for some more in-depth thoughts on each of them, I’ll put the links in the description below and I’ll also link them up in the cards as we go along. Alright, let’s get this rankography started. Coming in at #6: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
This placement probably isn’t much of a surprise to most of you since this is widely regarded to be one of the lesser films in the franchise. Despite putting it in last place here, I don’t hate this movie. I certainly dislike it more than I like it, but it does have its positive aspects, the biggest of which (no pun intended) is Arnold Schwarzenegger. This film marked his third time putting on those iconic sunglasses and he once again injects the roll with dry humor and a bit of heart. Unfortunately, it’s the character interactions that are particularly poor here, including those with Schwarzenegger.
The emotional connection between him and John Connor has all but disappeared and instead we’re left with an awkwardly forced relationship. And it’s not just the characters who feel awkward and forcedÖ it’s the whole story. T2 really wrapped up the plot put forward in those first two films. It was satisfying and it was a clear conclusion. Given the success of that film, it’s definitely understandable that the studio wanted to continue the franchise, but unfortunately that meant that wherever they decided to go with the plot, it would feel like this extra piece tacked onto the already completed story. And that’s exactly what happened. The idea behind it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have that strong integration with its predecessors like those predecessors had with each other. It was clunky and a bit unnecessary, but T3 established the alternate timeline concept as a viable plot device for the franchise ñ something that’s been integral to every sequel since. Coming in at #5: Terminator: Salvation.
This was actually the first Terminator film I ever saw in the theater and up until about a week ago, the only one I had seen in the theater. So maybe it was the excitement of seeing it on the big screen or just the fact that I was a lot more lenient with movies when I was younger, but I enjoyed it quite a bit that first time around. But over the years, it’s fallen in the ranking for me as I’ve come to realize just how hollow it is. Again, I wouldn’t say this is a bad movie, but it mostly consists of empty genericism with an outer shell of Terminator action. This movie’s a strange one in the franchise cause it’s the only one set exclusively in the future. I’m sure some people enjoy that aspect quite a bit, but it’s one of the film’s biggest detriments for me cause I’ve always thought the future scenes were the dullest parts of the first three movies. Speaking of dull, this movie features the most uninteresting set of characters in the entire franchise, very strangely choosing to direct most of its focus on brand new characters, as opposed to iconic ones like John Connor.
Even when that focus does shift to familiar faces, it’s a largely lackluster affair. The only shining spot in this film is Anton Yelchin’s performance as a young Kyle Reese and I think this movie would’ve been far more interesting and satisfying if it had spent more time on him. Coming in at #4: Terminator: Genisys. Even though Salvation was the biggest outlier for the franchise, I truly think Genisys is the most unique film in the franchise, especially when it comes to its storytelling style and use of time travel. Obviously the entire franchise hinges on the concept of time travel and the idea of alternate timelines was established way back in T2, but this is the first film in the franchise to take that tangential timeline idea and base the entire premise of the plot around it.
It doesn’t always make perfect sense and it’s odd to see Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese portrayed by different actors, but I really appreciate the time and fate-bending route they took with this one. This might also be the most fun Terminator movie. It still has some suspense and the end-of-the-world fears that every film in the franchise has, but there are a lot of lighthearted moments too, especially with the action. This film also marks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the series after his absence in Salvation and he’s one of the highlights, bringing plenty of his expected literal humor and one-liners.
This movie’s certainly not the strongest story-wise, but I actually enjoy this one a decent amount and am still surprised by all the hate it gets. Coming in at #3: Terminator: Dark Fate. Of all the Terminator movies, this one was the most difficult to place in this ranking. I was going back and forth between this and Genisys cause from a movie-watching standpoint, I actually enjoy Genisys more. It’s interesting and kinda lighthearted and breezy. So, while Dark Fate doesn’t have as much of that lightheartedness, it does have a stronger central story. It’s also the movie that feels most in-line with T1 and T2 out of all the other sequels, which is certainly helped by its post-T2 setting as well as its erasure of the other sequels from the timeline. We see the return of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton to their iconic roles, with one seamlessly falling back into the character and the other coming off a bit unlikable.
This movie makes some bold choices regarding some of its big characters and they worked for me, though I can see how some people could be very irritated by them. Another thing that helps and hurts this film is its plot similarities to T2. It’s certainly its own story, but there are a lot of moments and characters that are reminiscent of those in the second film. On one hand, it makes sense since it’s an established framework that worked in the past, but on the other hand, it can sometimes feel like a knock-off version of T2. Oh and what is up with 80s action sequels being set in Mexico this year? Coming in at #2: The Terminator. This one’s a sci-fi action classic for a reason. At the time, it was a very unique premise and remains a well-crafted and compelling story to this day.
The blend of science fiction, action, horror, and romance creates something that’s universally appealing and you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who didn’t like at least some part of this movie. You’d also be hard pressed to find somebody who isn’t aware of this film. It’s become inextricably engrained in pop culture that even people who’ve never seen any of the films could tell you about the general plot and characters. Speaking of the characters, The Terminator presents us with an iconic set of sci-fi roles. Perhaps the most recognizable of which is Arnold Schwarzenegger and his performance as the T-800 Terminator. This is a role he was absolutely born to play. I can’t imagine anybody else as the character and I can’t imagine a more perfect role for him. Between his physicality, accent, and general presence, you have no trouble believing that he’s a deadly cyborg from the future.
This film works as not only a solid tale on its own, but also as the establishment of the world of The Terminator and all of the interwoven story complexities it entails. So that means my #1 Terminator film is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Ahh, the classic movie question: T1 or T2? Much like other sequel pair-ups before it, the debate will rage on, continuing long after Skynet takes over. It’s a tough call, but T2 has to take the top spot for me. It’s a bigger movie in just about every sense of the word. That’s not always an indication of quality, but in the case of T2, bigger really is better. The action here is exhilarating and the CGI takes an impressive leap forward, both largely due to the massive budget increase between this film and its predecessor. It’s a much funnier film, but also ups the emotionality, especially when exploring the unique friendship between John Connor and the T-800.
This film does an excellent job of utilizing the easy-to-mess-up time travel plot device to deftly tie this film and T1 together, resulting in a well-crafted and cohesive overarching story that’s full of action, laughs, and heart. T2 is one of the quintessential action movies of the 90s, forever changing the genre, and easily takes the top spot for me. Alright, so that’s my rankography of The Terminator franchise. Six films spanning 35 years and a seemingly infinite number of alternate timelines. What does your ranking look like? I’d love to see some reasoning for your order, so make sure you post it in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out my reviews of all six Terminator films for some more in-depth discussion of each, as well as my ratings, pros and cons, and even tailored film recommendations.