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If there’s a character ideal for multiple mediums of sci-fi, it’s the Terminator or at least the idea of Terminators. The concept of a cyborg (cybernetic organism, or rather a robotic endoskeleton with living tissue over it) going back in time to kill the leader of the human resistance once the world goes kablooie isn’t that hard to grasp. The difficult part is keeping up with the alternate timelines and paradoxes by each subsequent sequel or TV show.
But for the nonsense the Terminator franchise has become, there's an equal number of insanely cool things about the license that makes the killer assassins from the future so damn likable. And because there’s a major motion picture coming out Thursday for part 4 - Terminator Salvation - we’re here to fill you in on the games of the series. But first, what is a Terminator?
The Terminator – 1984
A cyborg built to resemble an Austrian bodybuilder goes back in time from 2029 to 1984 in order to kill Sarah Connor (because she’ll give birth to the leader of the human resistance). A human - Kyle Reese - is sent back in time to stop her from being killed. Along the way, Kyle impregnates Sarah (he’s the father!), and the movie cements the fact that Terminators will absolutely not stop until they kill their target. The antagonist is shot up, blown up (twice) and only dies under a steel press.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – 1991
Two Terminators are sent back in time after John Connor, Sarah’s son. One is the cyborg Schwarzenegger from Part 1 and the other is a liquid metal shapeshifter, known as the T-1000. Good Terminator and John bust Sarah out of a psychiatric hospital and blow up Cyberdyne in order to keep the company from reverse-engineering the Terminator tech (left by the first cyborg in Part 1), that will ultimately doom all of humanity. Oh and they melt the T-1000. The future is safe!
T2 3-D: Battle Across Time – 1996
This short film is actually a live attraction at Universal Studios. Guests take their seats in a small auditorium for a Cyberdyne trade show, demonstrating the latest in robotic innovations. Then the video feed is interrupted by Sarah and John Connor threatening to blow up the building. From there, the show continues as live-action with stunt performers playing the main characters from the films - that is until they drive a motorcycle into the future. The rest is a 3D film about Schwarzenegger and John destroying the Skynet system. Extremely cool for how silly the concept is. Embedded is the entire short film, but it’s not in 3D. You’ll have to imagine the wowy-zowy effects. Neato!
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – 2003
Sarah Connor’s dead from cancer, John Connor lives off the grid and has visions of a terrible future. Meanwhile, the shapeshifting/liquid-y TX (a lady terminator) comes from the future to eliminate all the leaders of the human resistance, John, and his future wife Kate Brewster. Apparently, Judgment Day was just delayed by the events of Part 2, as the Skynet system is now being funded by the US military. The old Arnie model shows up, helps destroy the TX, Skynet goes online and releases rockets anyway, killing most of humanity and setting John up to be the leader of the humans.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – 2007
We can’t really follow the story anymore. The TV show acts as if T3 never happened and you can read about the crazy events here.