Terminator Movies: All Timelines, Explained

The Terminator franchise is one of those seminal, genre-defining works that inspired entire generations of filmmakers and helped shaped the Sci-Fi Action Thriller genre as we know it today. The series first kicked off in 1984 with the release of the James Cameron directed science fiction thriller, ‘The Terminator’. Back then, Cameron was not the multi award-winning director of critically acclaimed billion-dollar films such as ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ that we know today. He was just another struggling writer with lofty dreams of immortalizing his words on the silver screen.

Cameron reportedly got the idea for ‘The Terminator’ in a providential fever dream where he first conceived his idea about a killer cyborg sent from the future. The impact that ‘The Terminator’ has had on the movie landscape cannot be underestimated.

Science fiction had a very different perception in the audience eye back then. ‘Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi’ had just released the year before, bringing an end to one of the most beloved science fiction sagas of all time. At a time when people expected Sci-Fi films to feature optimistic and inspirational overtones, ‘The Terminator’ shocked audiences with its gritty and bleak depiction of the future, and technology’s role in creating it. It also launched Arnold Schwarzenegger as the next great Hollywood action movie star, with his depiction of the titular Terminator T-800 cyborg earning him widespread critical and audience acclaim.

Terminator franchise has seen a total of 6 movies till now. And in case, you are confused as to how to follow the timeline of all Terminator movies and which ones are interconnected to each other, we are here to help you out. Read on.

1984 and 2029: Terminator

Right off the bat, you realize that ‘The Terminator’ is not ordinary Sci-Fi fare, as the film opens in a post apocalyptic future. The year is 2029 A.D., and humanity is at war with a cybernetic machine intelligence known simply as Skynet. Man and machine battle across the battle ravaged landscape, with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance. Legendary leader of the resistance, General John Connor has defied all odds and managed to inspire humanity to within touching distance of total victory.

In a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war, Skynet sends its elite T-800 Terminator, a cyborg with living tissue over a metal endoskeleton, back to the past through a time machine in order to kill Sarah Connor, John Connor’s mother (played by Linda Hamilton). The human resistance gets wind of this plan, and sends soldier Kyle Reese to protect Sarah Connor.

Both arrive in present day Los Angeles through the time machine unarmed and naked (the convoluted rules of time travel in the Terminator universe dictate that only organic matter can be sent back through time). The Terminator starts targeting and eliminating all women named Sarah Connor in the city, while Reese tries to stay one step ahead of him. They finally converge in a club where Sarah Connor is hiding out, and a brutal shootout ensues. Reese manages to temporarily disable the Terminator and escapes with Sarah, but the Terminator gives them chase.

After yet another shootout, the police arrive and arrest Sarah and Kyle, while the Terminator slips away unseen. Sarah and Kyle are taken to the police station, where their attempts to explain the reality of the situation fall on deaf ears. Their troubles only magnify when the indomitable Terminator soon arrives at the police station and mows through numerous police officers in order to get to Sarah.

However, she and Kyle are able to escape yet again, and they hide out at a discrete motel where Kyle starts building homemade explosives. The two then share a tender moment of peace as Kyle confesses his love for Sarah and she reciprocates the feeling. The lovers end up in bed and later get dressed just in time as the Terminator pulls up to the motel. Once again, Sarah and Kyle try to make their escape in a truck as the Terminator gives hot pursuit on a motorcycle.

What follows is one of the greatest action sequences in cinema history, as the Terminator gives chase with unrelenting ferocity and our desperate heroes try to escape its crosseye. After a series of increasingly violent crashes and explosions, all three of them end up in a hydraulics factory where Reese sacrifices himself to save Sarah and cripple the Terminator. Sarah finishes off the cyborg by crushing him under a powerful hydraulic press. The movie signs off with a pregnant Sarah Connor at a remote gas station somewhere in Mexico, preparing for the birth of her son and the destiny that awaits him.

1995: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

‘The Terminator’ was an unprecedented success, winning rave reviews all over and cleaning up at the box office. It catapulted Arnold Shwarzenegger into the international spotlight, and there was immense excitement when the prospect of a sequel to ‘The Terminator’ was brought up. Seven years after the release of the first one, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ premiered in July 1991 amidst significant hype and anticipation. James Cameron returned as director, while Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise their roles as Sarah Connor and T-800 respectively. The movie also introduces Edward Furlong as a young John Connor and Robert Patrick as the shape-shifting, liquid metal T-1000 Terminator prototype.

Much like the first Terminator, the basic fundamental premise of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is fairly simplistic. This time around, Skynet sends its advanced T-100 prototype Terminator from the future to locate and kill young John Connor. However, there is an exciting twist to the old formula this time around – since Kyle Reese is dead, the human resistance of the future capture and reprogram the older T-800 Terminator model and send it back to the present to protect young John Connor.

As you can imagine, both Terminators go looking for John Connor, with the T-1000 leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. John Connor himself has grown up to become a mischief making 12-year-old living with his foster parents ever since his mother (Sarah Connor) got committed to a psychiatric institution. Soon enough, they both track John to a nearby video game arcade and arrive just in time to face off against each other in an epic battle of the machines. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that the older T-800 is outmatched against the highly advanced T-1000 Terminator, but the T-800 manages to catch him off guard and escape with John. John then convinces the T-800 to help him break his mother out of confinement, where they once again barely manage to outpace the T-1000.

Now it is an unfortunate reality of life that sequels are rarely better or even as good as the movies that preceded them. There are very few exceptions to this rule, and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is one of them. The movie takes all the thrilling car chases, tense action sequences and death-defying stunts of the original film, and takes them up a notch. The next hour is a non stop procession of close escapes, hair-raising tension and adrenaline-pumping action. Eventually, all of them end up in a factory where the T-800 finally defeats the T-1000 by blasting him into a pit of molten metal. The movie ends with the T-800 sacrificing himself in order to destroy any trace of Skynet technology.

2005: Terminator 3 Rise of Machines

‘Terminator 3’ released over a decade after ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’, and features the continuation of John Connor’s storyline. Unsurprisingly, the third Terminator movie pretty much follows the same basic plot-line as its two predecessors. This time the story is set in the year 2005, John Connor is all grown up and Skynet sends an all new female Terminator called T-X to kill him. Once again, the resistance sends back Arnold’s old and outdated T-800 to protect John and his future wife Katherine Brewster.

By the time ‘Terminator 3’ was released, fans were tired of the stagnancy that had taken ahold of the franchise, and the movie suffered for it. Not only was the movie widely panned, but it also considered by many to be the movie when the franchise started going downhill. The movie ends very anti-climatically with John and Kate safely trapped inside a nuclear bunker while the world around them erupts in nuclear fire.

2018: Terminator Salvation

2009’s ‘Terminator Salvation’ was supposed to be something of a reboot for the Terminator franchise. With an all new director at the helm, the film was this time set in the post apocalyptic future, and featured the exciting talents of Christian Bale as John Connor and Sam Worthington as human-cyborg hybrid Marcus Wright.

The story focuses on the life of Marcus Wright, as he discovers the truth of his existence as half man, half machine and struggles to come to grips with his humanity. He achieves his redemption at the end of the movie as he sacrifices himself to save John Connor, who was critically injured during his mission to destroy Skynet headquarters once and for all.‘Terminator Salvation’ received rather mixed reviews at the time and did not do particularly well at the box office either.

1984, 2017 and 2029: Terminator Genisys

Despite the utter failure of the previous attempt, director Alan Taylor attempted to revive the Terminator franchise with 2015’s ‘Terminator Genisys’. The film featured ‘Game of Thrones’ star Emilia Clarke as a young Sarah Connor, Jai Courtney as resistance soldier Kyle Reese and Arnold Shwarzenegger as an old, rusty T-800 Terminator.

The story follows an alternate storyline in which John Connor has been infiltrated by Skynet in the future and sent back to the past to ensure the destruction of humanity. Sarah and Reese thwart his plan and manage to achieve a rare happily ever after scenario in this otherwise bleak world. Despite initially being part of a planned trilogy, the extremely poor performance of ‘Terminator Genisys’ at the box office meant that the planned reboot was already dead and buried.

1998: Terminator: Dark Fate

After the spectacular failures of the last two Terminator films, 2019’s ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ feels like the last chance for this once venerated franchise to make a comeback. The film features the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger as older, wiser version of Sarah Connor and T-800 (who goes by the name Carl now).

This reboot attempts to do something that Terminator fans have already done years ago – it tries to make you forget about the last three Terminator movies. The film picks off in 1998, three years after the events of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. As such, the events of ‘Terminator 3’, ‘Terminator Salvation’ and ‘Terminator Genisys’ are no longer canon. The film features an all new Terminator, dubbed as the Rev-9 sent by an alternate evil AI overlord known as Legion. Whether ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ can restore the Terminator franchise to its erstwhile lofty heights remains to be seen.

Read More: All Terminator Movies, Ranked