Terminator: Everything You Need to Know Before Watching Terminator Genisys

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Terminator Genisys marks the fifth installment in the Terminator franchise, and it can be tough to remember all the important details that came before. Or, perhaps you haven’t seen any of the previous films, but want to check out the new one. We’ve got you covered with this guide to the Terminator series.

The Terminator

Directed by James Cameron. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd. Written by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. Release date: October 26, 1984.

Released in 1984 and directed by James Cameron, The Terminator kicked off the Terminator franchise, shot Arnold Schwarzenegger into superstardom – a path he was arguably already on following the two Conan movies – and spawned a franchise with multiple films and a television series, as well as several spinoff properties like video games and comic books. While the franchise’s quality has deviated over the years, the first two films are classics that any film fan needs to see.

The Characters

The Terminator/T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger): A robot sent back in time, disguised as a human, to assassinate Sarah Connor. The film’s villain, later in the series becoming a hero.

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton): The protagonist. A woman who will eventually give birth to John Connor, who will lead the Resistance against the robots. Target of the Terminator.

Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn): A Resistance fighter sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator. Father of John Connor.

Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen): A psychologist who analyzes Kyle Reese. Returns in Terminator 2: Judgment Day as Sarah Connor’s psychologist, and has a cameo in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

The Plot

In 2029 A.D., humans have almost been eliminated after an event known as Judgment Day occurred. Machines have taken over the planet. The few humans remaining are known as The Resistance, and they are in a constant battle with the machines – which are under the control of a self-aware computer system called Skynet. The leader of the Resistance is a man named John Connor, born to Sarah Connor, who is currently living in 1984. The machines, unable to defeat John in the present, send a Terminator – a robot with a tissue-like external layer, resembling a human – back to 1984 to kill his mother. John sends back Kyle Reese in order to protect his mother.

Both the Terminator, with the model number T-800, and Kyle spend a significant chunk of time trying to locate Sarah Connor, who is blissfully unaware of how important she is to the survival of the human race. The Terminator kills two other Sarah Connors before locating the one it was trying to locate, but she is saved by Kyle. After a shootout, the two humans manage to escape and flee, the Terminator in pursuit.

Kyle and Sarah continue running from the Terminator for some time, always just managing to escape. The police wind up being no help. After one particularly close encounter, Kyle and Sarah have sex, conceiving the child who would eventually grow up to be John Connor. The Terminator finds them soon after and continues the chase. It apparently ends after an explosion which seems to shut down the Terminator, but it continues its pursuit as a one-armed torso. To finally put an end to the Terminator, Sarah leads it to a hydraulic press, which finally shuts it down for good. Kyle Reese dies during the chase. Some of the Terminator’s body remains, and is gathered up by the police – leading to reverse engineering which speeds up Judgment Day.

Several months after, Sarah, now pregnant, roams the world, recording audio logs for John when he gets older.

Is It Any Good?

It doesn’t get much better than The Terminator as far as I’m concerned. I love everything about this movie. It offers us a fresh premise, gave us the best performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career – he was finally used properly – gave us a lot to think about, and was a ton of fun from start to finish. It was intriguing enough to make us want to see more, but didn’t necessarily demand a sequel, even though even James Cameron probably didn’t envision how big the franchise would become.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Directed by James Cameron. Produced by James Cameron. Written by James Cameron and William Wisher. Release date: July 3, 1991.

The Terminator was a surprisingly moderately budgeted movie, and it made a good chunk of change, so a few years later it was given a sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A much higher budget was used, and it shows. Judgment Day was a film that saw brand new achievements in the field of CGI, and also took the “bigger is better” approach to filmmaking to heart, giving us essentially the same movie as the first one, but with much bigger action scenes.

The Characters

The Terminator/T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger): A robot sent back in time in the first film, disguised as a human, to assassinate Sarah Connor. Reprogrammed and sent back this time to protect her and her son, John.

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton): John’s mother. After surviving the events of The Terminator, she finds herself confined to a mental institution, under the care of Dr. Silberman.

John Connor (Edward Furlong): The protagonist. The son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Now ten years old, he will eventually grow up to become the leader of the Resistance.

T-1000 (Robert Patrick): The villain. A shapeshifting Terminator who has been sent back in time to assassinate John Connor.

Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen): A psychologist monitoring Sarah Connor. Earlier talked with Kyle Reese about the events of the “future,” which he thinks are delusions.

Miles Dyson (Joe Morton): A computer engineer who creates a computer system that is the precursor to Skynet.

The Plot

Set in 1995, a ten-year-old John Connor lives with foster parents as his mother, Sarah, has been incarcerated in a mental asylum. Two Terminators from the future have been sent back in time; one has been sent to kill him, while the other is here to protect him from the first one. The villain is a T-1000, a shapeshifting Terminator, while the good Terminator is the same T-800 that acted as the villain in the first film.

They both get to John at a mall, and engage in a fight over him. The T-800 and John eventually escape. John, now believing everything his mother told him about the future, orders the T-800 to help break her out of the mental institute. When they arrive, the T-1000 is already there. Another shootout occurs, and once again the heroes manage to escape – this time with Sarah with them.

The trio heads toward the home of Miles Dyson, a computer engineer working on a system that will become the precursor to Skynet. Sarah wants to kill him and destroy his entire system in order to prevent Judgment Day from happening – his research and programming being reverse engineered from the remains of the T-800 from the first film. The system, located at his company’s HQ is their new target. They head here, grab the Terminator parts, and then blow it up. Miles dies. The T-1000 arrives and begins chasing our trio again, heading toward a steel mill. The T-800 is able to throw the T-1000 into a vat of molten metal, destroying it for good. He then throws the old T-800’s arm in, followed by getting Sarah to lower him into the same vat, so as to not be reverse engineered like his previous incarnation. Terminators cannot self-terminate.

Is It Any Good?

It’s probably an unpopular opinion to claim that I don’t like Judgment Day as much as The Terminator, but it’s a slight step down for me, if only because of Edward Furlong. It’s not usually a good idea to have children lead movies, but Furlong is so bad he knocks the film down a couple of points. It is bigger, more action-packed, and has CGI that still holds up today – how many ’90s films can you say do that? – but Furlong is so annoying that it’s a slightly less enjoyable watch. There’s also a “been there, done that” factor to it; it doesn’t change a whole lot up, meaning the freshness of the original isn’t quite as strong this time around. But it’s still a ton of fun and one of the better sci-fi actioners out there.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Produced by Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Joel B. Michaels, Hal Lieberman, and Colin Wilson. Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Release date: July 2, 2003.

Despite Terminator 2: Judgment Day making a ton of money, it took 12 years for the next entry in the franchise to be released. Production problems and an unwilling James Cameron delayed production much longer than probably anyone hoped, but in 2003, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was finally released, this time, thankfully, with an adult John Connor.

The Characters

The Terminator/T-850 (Arnold Schwarzenegger): A robot sent back in time in the first film, disguised as a human, to assassinate Sarah Connor. In the second film, he was sent back to protect John Connor, a task he performs once again in Terminator 3. Upgraded from the T-800 to the T-850 in this film.

John Connor (Nick Stahl): The protagonist. The son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Nick Stahl takes over from Edward Furlong in the role. John has now dedicated his life to stopping Judgment Day from happening.

T-X (Kristanna Loken): The villain. An incredibly advanced Terminator sent back in time to kill members of the Resistance.

Kate Brewster (Claire Danes): John’s love interest, and in the future becomes his wife and second-in-command.

Lieutenant General Robert Brewster (David Andrews): Kate’s father, and a weapons programmer.

Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen): A psychologist who has both talked with Kyle Reese and monitored Sarah Connor. Has a cameo in Terminator 3, talking with Kate Brewster.

The Plot

Living off the grid, a now-adult John Connor is living in Los Angeles. Judgment Day hasn’t yet happened, even though it’s now 2004, a full seven years after it was predicted. Skynet has now sent back a T-X, a highly advanced Terminator, to eliminate several soon-to-be high-profile members of the Resistance. Coincidentally, he robs the veterinarian clinic of Kate Brewster, with whom he went to high school, right as the T-X showed up to murder her. They are saved by the T-850. After a long chase scene, John, Kate, and the T-850 escape from their pursuer.

The T-850 informs John that he did not stop Judgment Day; he only postponed it. Meanwhile, the T-X kills Kate’s fiancé and tracks down the trio. They once again escape. John and Kate force the T-850 to take them to the birthplace of Skynet, which is run by Kate’s father, Robert, hoping to delay it further. They don’t arrive in time, and Skynet gains control of all of the military’s systems. This is how Judgment Day begins.

John and Kate fly to the core of Skynet – or at least what they believe to be the core – with hopes of shutting it down. What they find is a bunker. As the nuclear bombs begin to fall, John and Kate are safe inside the bunker. The T-850 detonates its nuclear core to blow up the T-X, and John and Kate begin to assume the leadership positions they will carry forward into the future.

Is It Any Good?

My answer to the big question right above is a resounding “maybe.” While I don’t think it comes close to being as good as the first two Terminator films, I do somewhat enjoy it in a “brainless action movie” kind of way. With that said, this is a franchise that has both brains and brawn, and when one of those is missing, it’s going to feel disappointing. There’s also a defeatist attitude in the film. If the last two films were about preventing or postponing Judgment Day, this one is about how inevitable the fall of man is. That’s not exactly screaming “fun.” But its action scenes are enjoyable, the jokes are more effective than they were in previous installments, so it’s not like it’s a complete waste.

Terminator Salvation

Directed by McG. Produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek, and Jeffrey Silver. Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Release date: May 21, 2009.

Just six years after Terminator 3, it was decided that we needed a new Terminator movie. After declaring that Judgment Day was inevitable, it only made sense for the fourth movie to take place in the future, where humans would battle the machines for control of the planet. A big-name cast and a huge budget were given, although it wound up the least profitable installment to-date.

The Characters

John Connor (Christian Bale): The soon-to-be leader of the Resistance, a position for which he has been groomed since birth. Son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Married to Kate. Takes over for Nick Stahl and Edward Furlong in the role.

Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin): A teenager who joins up with the Resistance. Eventually travels back in time to save Sarah Connor and become John’s father. Time travel is weird, okay? Takes over for Michael Biehn in the role.

Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington): A human-Terminator hybrid experiment created by Skynet.

Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard): John’s wife. High-ranking member of the Resistance. A doctor. Takes over for Bryce Dallas Howard in the role.

T-800 (Roland Kickinger with CGI likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger): The leading Terminator of the first three films, in Salvation it is created for the first time, once again taking on a villain role.

The Plot

Years before the primary plot of Terminator Salvation, death row inmate Marcus Wright is selected to perform a medical experiment. He is to become part human, part Terminator – the precursor to the T-800, the iconic Terminator of the franchise. This is before Judgment Day. Years later, in 2018, John Connor, a member of the Resistance, leads the charge against a Skynet base. It’s a failure, with the result leading to his entire crew being slaughtered and the base blowing up. The explosion awakens Marcus, who had been lying dormant for all this time.

John learns that the Resistance is planning on launching an assault against Skynet with a radio signal that will shut them down – planning to do so in four days’ time after intercepting a kill list that says they will all die. Marcus fights with a Terminator, only to be saved by Kyle Reese, a teenager. Kyle informs Marcus of the war between humans and machines. They try to search for John and his crew, eventually getting taken captive in the process. Marcus escapes, and heads for John’s base, albeit wounded. It’s here where John discovers that he’s part robot, and orders his execution. Marcus saves his life, partially earning his trust. If Marcus helps John enter Skynet HQ and save Kyle, he’ll spare Marcus’ life.

Upon entering HQ, it is revealed by Skynet that Marcus’ creation was to lure John Connor into this very spot at this very time, and that the radio signal the Resistance found was a ruse. Skynet destroys the Resistance’s HQ at this time, while Marcus and John have to fight the newly created T-800. They fight and destroy it, but John is injured in the process. He requires a heart transplant. Marcus volunteers, allowing John to survive and assume the role of leader of the Resistance.

Is It Any Good?

Terminator Salvation is the worst of the first four Terminator movies, and it’s not even really a debate. There’s nothing of interest here until the end, and even then, does anyone really care about the origin of the T-800? I wanted these awesome laser fights that future segments from the earlier films depicted, and instead I got a washed-out desert wasteland with mediocre CGI, cold human characters, and dull action scenes. Yawn.

Terminator Genisys (Preview)

Directed by Alan Taylor. Produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg. Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier. Release date: July 1, 2015.

After basically nobody liked Terminator Salvation, and the studio deemed it a flop – due to a far-too-high budget – a new approach had to be taken for the franchise. Now, in 2015, we’re getting Terminator Genisys, which will act as a partial reboot of the franchise. Structurally it looks like it will follow the same type of story as the first two films, although with some new plot elements and at least one twist that the marketing department has decided to spoil in the trailers.

The Characters

Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke): The woman who gives birth to John Connor, the eventual leader of the Resistance. Takes over for Linda Hamilton in the role.

T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger): A Terminator sent back in time either to assassinate Sarah Connor or protect her, depending on the film and the timeline.

Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney): John Connor’s friend (and father) who gets sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor and also impregnate her. Takes over for Anton Yelchin and Michael Biehn in the role.

John Connor (Jason Clarke): The leader of the Resistance. “The Special.” Takes over for Christian Bale, Nick Stahl, and Edward Furlong in the role.

Why Should You Care?

I’ll admit that a new Terminator movie is a tough sell, even for the most optimistic of people. The last two movies were such a sharp decline from the first two that the downward trend the franchise is currently on is startling. But, then, the same can be said of the Jurassic Park franchise, and look how that turned out. So it’s not like there isn’t hope, although casting Jai Courtney in a movie just … hasn’t yet proven to be a good idea, and we’ve tried it more than a few times at this point.

But, hey, Genisys looks to be at least a soft reboot of the series, eliminating Terminator 3 and Salvation from the canon, which will please most people, I’m sure. They didn’t add a whole lot anyway, but erasing them is the same thing Bryan Singer did with the inferior superhero installments in both the Superman and X-Men franchises, and that worked out pretty well for him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was also made for the role of the T-800, so seeing him returning to that – but also somehow aging, which is new for the series – should be fun. Emilia Clarke might not have the size of a Linda Hamilton – or the American accent – but seeing her take over as Sarah Connor should be interesting, if nothing else. The twist the trailer revealed offers a whole lot of new opportunities, so seeing if the movie will capitalize on any of them might determine whether or not it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Oh, and Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons shows up in what’s probably a very minor role. But it’s J.K. Simmons! He’s awesome! So there’s that.

Honestly, I’m not the most excited person for Terminator Genisys. From its poorly spelled title to its casting of Jai Courtney, to it being another Terminator movie after the series has run past its prime, it doesn’t look to me like it has a lot of elements working in its favor. Movies have surprised us before – that’s why we watch them, and don’t just rate them based on what they look like on paper – so let’s hope that Terminator Genisys is a good movie.


If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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