The Terminator

1984, Pacific Western Productions et al

With his imposing figure and droll witticisms, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a cultural icon as a killer robot, while James Cameron began his meteoric rise as an equally potent Hollywood force, in a film that needs no introduction. Just as Alien spawned a slew of prequels, sequels and spin-offs, Terminator gave rise to a substantial franchise. Its cheesy dialog and hokey-looking effects haven't diminished its popularity; indeed, they're as endearing as Arnie's bad acting.

     

 

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1991, Pacific Western Productions et al

Somehow, Arnold Schwarzenegger's title character managed to survive a confusing, implausible transformation from a bad robot into a good one, seemingly for the purpose of building an equally confusing, implausible backstory about his mission from the future. But we never get a chance to try and figure things out owing to relentless action and James Cameron's swift pace. Cameron also upped the ante by using cutting-edge (at the time) CGI to create an even more evil robot than Arnie's previous incarnation, personified to chilling effect by Robert Patrick. The film's impressive box office performance cemented Cameron as a force to be reckoned with.

       

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

2003, IMF Internationale et al

Owing to a string of issues concerning property ownership, James Cameron (who was busy with a floundering Titanic) backed out of plans to produce the second sequel, and the franchise landed in the hands of the newly-minted studio C2 Pictures. Arnold Schwarzenegger waffled about reprising his role, so Cameron gave him a nudge. The resulting effort is long on effects and short on story, but moderately entertaining nonetheless.

     

 

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Terminator Salvation

2009, The Halcyon Company et al

The road to Salvation was paved with seemingly endless turmoil; ownership of the franchise passed through multiple business entities, enduring frantic negotiations and bitter court fights along the way, before finally landing in the hands of the Halcyon Company; further battles ensued over distribution rights. Serving as Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger had to decline participation. Armed with $200 million, Joseph McGinty Nichol (a.k.a. McG) incrementally moved the story into a post-apocalyptic future. The temporal shifts, plot twists and seemingly endless action sequences make the story, such as it is, difficult to follow, relying a bit too much on the audience's familiarity with the sequel's predecessors to make sense of things.

 

     

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Terminator Genisys

2015, Skydance Productions

The franchise suffered yet more turmoil, with the Halcyon Company going bankrupt and the rights passing through three other studios before reaching Annapurna Pictures, who consulted with James Cameron for story ideas. In spite of Arnold Schwarzenegger's much-hyped return, plus the overt bid for the young male demographic with Emilia Clarke, Genisys manages to embarrass itself with a bizarrely convoluted, technobabble-heavy time-travel story saddled with aging Arnie's witless one-liners.

Continuing along its troubled course, the franchise saw proposals for a television series come and go. Now, it's been reported that a previously cancelled reboot is being pursued by yet another studio; presumably production will be overseen by James Cameron, and the film will star Linda Hamilton, reprising her role as Sarah Connor; Schwarzenegger may appear courtesy of unused footage from T2. The film is being described as a direct sequel to T2. Given the franchise's track record, however, my expectations are pretty low.

 

     

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