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Every Terminator film and TV show, ranked best to worst!

Just like he said, he'll be back.

Terminator 2 Screenshot
Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures

In the realm of sci-fi, few franchises have been as influential as The Terminator. From the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger walks out of that time portal – naked and rippling with muscle – it has given us some of the most compelling movie moments and some of the most memorable quotes in cinema history. It has also delivered a handful of duds that failed to live up to the high points of the series.

We’re taking every Terminator movie (and one TV show) and ranking them so you know which ones shine and which ones suffer a dark fate. This franchise has it all – the good, the bad, and the just plain misguided, so here are our picks for the best Terminator films and shows, ranked.

7) Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genysis screenshot
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

The Terminator franchise has its moments of greatness, for sure, but Terminator: Genisys is certainly not one of them. From dodgy CGI, a plot that is convoluted even for a time-travel-laden franchise, and dialogue that feels more robotic than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, there are a lot of strikes against this attempt to reboot the series with a younger Sarah Connor. Not even a competent performance by Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is enough to lift this dud. This is the worst Terminator film ever, and it isn’t even close.

6) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machine
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Even though Schwarzenegger is a surprisingly funny man, even his solid comedic timing couldn’t save this misguided attempt at making the Terminator franchise into an action-comedy film. The ridiculousness of seeing the T-800 in bright pink, star-shaped sunglasses saying “talk to the hand” is more groan-inducing than funny, as is the moment when the T-X robot randomly expands her breasts. And that is before T3 undermines the “No Fate but What We Make” theme from the earlier entries with the new message of “Judgement Day is Inevitable.” Despite a haunting ending, Rise of the Machines simply can’t compare to the high points of the series that came before it.

5) Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

If a monkey’s paw made a movie, it would be Terminator: Dark Fate. Sure, we got Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor, but it meant a poorly put-together opening sequence that undermined most of the existing series lore. We also got Arnie back as an aging T-800, but he’s (bizarrely) living a suburban home life with a family that doesn’t notice the 600-pound robot in the room. Still, the action here is fun and there are some solid chase sequences to prop up a film that doesn’t hold a candle to the original movie.

4) Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

We were all excited for Terminator Salvation. It promised to show us the future war we’ve been getting hints of for decades and featured Christian Bale, at the height of his Batman fame, as John Connor. There is a lot to enjoy here, with big action scenes and a solid twist. Unfortunately, it turns out that portraying the horrors of the war against the machines isn’t quite as terrifying as hearing about them from the survivors.

3) Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Image credit: Fox

The biggest problem with making a Terminator TV show was always going to be the cast. You can’t possibly pay Linda Hamilton or Arnold Schwarzenegger to show up on a television set, especially when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was made. So, they did the smartest thing they could have done – they brought in an entirely different Terminator in the form of Summer Glau and recast the incredible Lena Headly as Sarah Connor. The result is a show that still very much feels like a TV version of a great film but still has the big moments that you want out of the Terminator franchise.

2) The Terminator

The Terminator
Image credit: Orion Pictures

It is hard to state just how revolutionary The Terminator was when it first came out. While some of its special effects haven’t aged well, the plot, acting, and horror tone of the film change how we approach sci-fi in general. While he had been a movie star before, this is the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger the icon he is while underrated performances by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn make this film holdup 40 years after it was first released.

1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Terminator 2 screenshot
Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures

It is incredibly rare for a sequel to surpass the original, but Terminator 2: Judgement Day manages it brilliantly. Linda Hamilton returns as a harder, more determined Sarah Connor who is capable of single-handedly dismantling the staff at the maximum security facility she’s been held in. Arnold Schwarzenegger has more dialogue as the kinder, more gentle version of the murder-bot he played in the original, but the real treasure of this movie is how, for the first act, you don’t know that Arnie is playing the good guy. Everything is framed to make him seem like he is back to finish John Connor off, which makes the twist that he is actually there to protect him work perfectly. Add in the huge leap in effects for the T-1000 robot and this is somehow an improvement to one of the best sci-fi films of all time.

Want to know what's coming up next in pop culture? Check out our guides to upcoming movies, upcoming TV shows, upcoming comics, and upcoming comic conventions. If you're looking for specific franchises or genres, we have all the upcoming MCU, upcoming Star Wars, upcoming Star Trek, and upcoming DC movies & TV for you. If you're a fan of superheroes and not specific to just Marvel or DC, we have overall guides to all the upcoming superhero movies and upcoming superhero TV shows (and new seasons) as well.

Trent Cannon

Trent Cannon: Trent is a freelance writer who has been covering anime, video games, and pop culture for a decade. (He/Him)


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