The future of the Terminator franchise changed with Terminator: Dark Fate as it sets up a new story for potential sequels to tell. When James Cameron left the franchise behind following Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this fictional world had just been saved by Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Judgement Day was averted, Skynet was destroyed before it could be created, and all Terminators in 1995 had been melted down.
Even though more sequels came, Terminator: Dark Fate exists in a new timeline that retcons those films out of canon. Instead, the film picks up shortly after T2 to show what actually happened to Sarah and John, with the death of the latter in 1998 setting off a chain of events making the future previously known impossible. When the film's main story picks up in 2020, the fate of humanity now rests in the well-being of Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). In a setup that sounds all-too-familiar to Sarah Connor (and Terminator fans), Dani suddenly finds herself being hunted down by a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) - a nearly unkillable Terminator - and protected by Grace (Mackenzie Davis) - a soldier from the future. Once Dani is united with Grace and Sarah, the trio travel together to figure out who has brought them together, which is an aged version of the T-800 who killed John named Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
It all builds to an action-packed ending that brings the story at hand to a close, but Terminator: Dark Fate isn't meant to be the very end. Throughout the development of the film, Cameron and director Tim Miller plotted out an overarching story that could span three films. The possibility of even one of these films happening is very much in doubt given Terminator: Dark Fate's current box office performance. However, it is still early enough that it could be saved internationally. Based on how the film ends, hopefully another entry is still in the cards, as Terminator: Dark Fate leaves some major and exciting threads for a sequel to pull on.
Dani & Sarah Together
Any direct follow-up has a clear starting point based on Terminator: Dark Fate's ending, as Dani and Sarah are now teaming up permanently. They are the only main characters left standing after the film's finale and represent the old and new guard of this franchise. Dani is the leader of the future who must prepare to take on this responsibility, and Sarah will now resume her role in shaping the future by mentoring the savior of humanity. She spent a decade of her life making sure she could prepare John to take on this responsibility, and now Sarah will be able to pass on her knowledge and skills to Dani.
What exactly Dani and Sarah plan to do next is undetermined when Terminator: Dark Fate ends though. Dani is shown watching a young version of Grace playing in the park, showing that she'll be keeping an eye on the girl who wound up sacrificing her life to protect her. If nothing else, being reminded of Grace could be a motivating factor for Dani and Sarah to figure out how to prevent the future that the enhanced version of Grace came from. With that in mind, the search for Legion (more on it later) should be their priority.
The Questions Of AI Being Human
In the broader scope of the franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate shows an interest in exploring what it really means to be human and if AIs can become them. The setup for this in Dark Fate comes as Grace blurs the line between a human and a robot through her augmented body, as humans in the future are becoming more machine-like to fight in the war against them. Future films could explore the differences and similarities between cybernetically enhanced humans and intelligent AIs capable of feeling emotion, especially if other people from the new future wind up in Dani and Sarah's lives.
Carl is the other significant piece of setup in Dark Fate when it comes to this discussion. After killing John, the Terminator no longer had a purpose and could not return to a future that didn't happen. He was left on Earth and eventually married and helped raise a son. In his effort to adapt to this new life, though, Carl grew something of a conscious as well, learning what his previous actions meant for Sarah as a parent. As he spent the next several decades helping her kill other Terminators from the future to try and give her a purpose, his human qualities continued to become more prominent before he died to save humanity. The rise of technology in the real-world would make this a timely idea for the Terminator franchise to explore further.
Legion Is Still In The Future
In the bigger picture of the Terminator franchise, sequels to Dark Fate would have to be focused around learning more about Legion. This is the new mysterious A.I. from the future that will become self-aware and wage war against humanity. Essentially, Legion is the new Skynet for this latest Terminator franchise, and the most recent film does not give too many details away about it. Dani and Sarah have only come to know about Legion through their limited knowledge of the future, so Legion remains part of their future, whether they seek it out or not.
To this point, all we know about Legion is that it was created as a cybersecurity system before becoming self-aware and starving humanity. Still, the specifics were left out to be explored in future films presumably. Importantly, Dark Fate leaves no clues for who creates Legion or what country is responsible for it. The search for these answers would likely be central to what a sequel to Terminator: Dark Fate would explore. While it is possible the United States could be behind another sentient AI, the slightly more international story of Dark Fate could lead to Dani and Sarah needing to travel to South America or abroad to find the truth. This setup is remarkably similar to the hunt for Skynet creator Miles Dyson in T2, so the next installment in the franchise will need to get creative with Legion's origin to keep audiences on their toes.