Origin and Central Themes
The Terminator franchise was born from the mind of film director James Cameron. In a special feature on the Terminator 2: Judgement Day Extreme Edition, Cameron recalls a nightmare that inspired him to write the first Terminator screenplay. Cameron was haunted by the image of a metallic figure emerging from a raging fire and stalking toward him. (Cameron recreated this scene in both of the Terminator films he wrote and directed).
From Cameron’s nightmare emerged the story of a woman, Sarah Connor, hunted by a futuristic cyborg intent on preventing the birth of her son, the future leader of the human resistance against the machines. Incorporating a number of science fiction tropes, including artificial intelligence, time travel and nuclear holocaust, The Terminator (1984) is tale of survival horror at its core. Its sequels would further explore the themes of man vs. machine, dehumanization, and “ends justifying the means.” The Terminator birthed a franchise that would span four decades and virtually every form of media, from television to novels to video games.
The Terminator in Films
- The Terminator (1984) – In the future, an artificial intelligence known as Skynet wages war against humanity. On the verge of defeat by resistance fighters led by John Connor, Skynet sends a Terminator cyborg back through time to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah. The resistance is able to send a lone soldier, Kyle Reese, through time to protect Sarah and her unborn son.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – A T-1000 Terminator unit, more advanced than the T-800 model that targeted Sarah Connor in the first film, hunts ten year-old John Connor. This time, the resistance is able to send a reprogrammed T-800 to protect John and preserve a future in which humanity vanquishes the machines. Tired of running from her fate (and nightmares of “Judgment Day,” the nuclear holocaust that would incinerate most of humanity), Sarah takes matters into her own hands in an attempt to prevent the creation of Skynet.
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) – Having lived most of his life “off the grid,” John Connor learns that Skynet has sent a third Terminator back through time. Even worse, he realizes that previous efforts to prevent Skynet’s creation and the war with the machines have merely delayed Judgment Day. Aided by another reprogrammed T-800, John attempts to pull the plug on Skynet before it can unleash America’s nuclear arsenal on humanity.
- Terminator Salvation (2009) – Having survived Judgment Day and joined the human resistance, John Connor struggles to come to terms with unexpected developments in the war. Meanwhile, a man with a mysterious past befriends a young freedom fighter named Kyle Reese, setting him on a collision course with John and Skynet.
The Terminator in Video Games
The first officially licensed Terminator video game was released for DOS in 1990 by Bethesda Softworks. (In a fitting twist of fate, Bethesda eventually acquired the rights to another franchise centred on a nuclear holocaust: Fallout.) Since 1990, The Terminator has spawned more than a dozen games, ranging from the popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day arcade game to the recent Terminator Salvation multiplatform movie tie-in.
The critical reception for Terminator video games in the 2000’s was generally poor, with Metacritic aggregate scores ranging from 25 to 68 for various titles. Terminator 3: The Redemption (2004) received the highest aggregate score (68), while Terminator 3: War of the Machines (2003) received the lowest (25). Terminator Salvation (2009) received a middling 48 aggregate score on Xbox 360 and a 43 on Playstation 3.