The Terminator franchise launched 35 years ago, when James Cameron introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable time-travelling cyborg in The Terminator. After that film’s success, it was followed by Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1992, which not only broke box office records but went on to be regarded as one of the greatest sequels ever made.
Since then, the Terminator franchise has enjoyed far less success, with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys underperforming both critically and commercially. And while the buzz surrounding new installment Terminator: Dark Fate has been decidedly more positive, we still think it’s worth asking the question: is it time the Terminator franchise was, well…terminated?
9 Why It Should End: The Formula Is Getting Tired...
Seriously: how many times can the Terminator franchise recycle the same formula? Outside of Terminator Salvation, every movie in the series has revolved around protecting the saviour of humanity from a robotic assailant from the future.
Sure, there have been tweaks to this premise – Rise of the Machines sees the target shift from resistance leader John Connor to his inner circle of lieutenants – but ultimately, it’s the same basic plot. With Dark Fate churning out yet another take on this well-trod narrative foundation, it’s fair to say that things are starting to feel a bit stale.
8 Why It Should End: Schwarzenegger Is Getting Too Old...
For a guy his age, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in terrific shape, but it’s getting harder for the Austrian Oak to plausibly portray a relentless, supercharged cyborg. Terminator Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate both resorted to CGI de-aging techniques to allow the 72-year-old star to appear decades younger in certain scenes, as well as jumping through storytelling hoops to explain his aged visage for the remainder of their runtimes. More and more, it’s starting to feel like all this effort undertaken just to retain one cast member is overkill.
That’s probably why Dark Fate looks set to be Arnie’s last outing in the role that built his career. With Schwarzenegger effectively aging out of the Terminator franchise – a franchise that, for many fans, can’t exist without him – is it time for the series to retire alongside the man who launched it?
7 Why It Shouldn’t: ...But The Franchise Is Bigger Than Just Arnie
Nobody can deny that Arnold Schwarzenegger was instrumental to the early success of the Terminator franchise. However, Linda Hamilton’s sizable contribution shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Indeed, Hamilton’s tough turn as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 helped re-define audience expectations of female leads in sci-fi action blockbusters.
So, with Schwarzenegger’s T-800 cyborg increasingly likely to go offline permanently, it’s reassuring to know that Hamilton – who’s nine years younger than her co-star – remains up to the task of representing the franchise’s old guard. Then there’s Dark Fate’s younger cast members Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, who’ve both proven they’re more than capable of carrying the franchise in Arnie’s absence.
6 Why It Should End: They’re Running Out Of New Terminator Ideas...
Each successive Terminator film since 1984’s The Terminator has introduced more advanced – or in the case of Terminator Salvation, less advanced – models of a murderbot. But these new Terminators (such as Dark Fate’s REV-9) are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish, which suggests that the creative well is starting to run dry.
Although the liquid metal T-1000 represented a significant evolution from Schwarzenegger’s T-800, subsequent upgrades boasted only superficial improvements. The only Terminators to buck this trend were the T-3000 and T-5000 that debuted in Genisys, both of which utilized nanotechnology – although they largely functioned as variants on the T-1000, in practice.
5 Why It Shouldn’t: ...But There Are Still Untapped Possibilities
As alluded to in the previous entry, the nanotech angle of the T-3000 and T-5000 cried out to be more fully developed. Indeed, we could see a more ambitious take on this concept – particularly the T-5000’s ability to convert biological organisms into Terminators – adding greater thematic depth to Dark Fate’s sequels, as well as laying the groundwork for inventive action set pieces.
There are also other types of existing and speculative tech hardware that could be extrapolated into cool new models of Terminator unlike anything we’ve seen before. For example, we’ve already touched upon Dark Fate producer James Cameron’s interest in raising the profile of AI in the franchise’s mythology – an approach that could result in a unique, contemporary spin on Terminator’s old school cybernetic soldiers.
4 Why It Should End: The Timeline Is Broken...
If you’re a continuity nut, you probably gave up on the Terminator property a while ago. After all, only three films out of the six in the franchise are currently considered canon – The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Terminator: Dark Fate. Meanwhile, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys have been unceremoniously relegated to “alternate timeline” status, invalidating over half the series’ installments!
Then there’s the time travel mechanics at play throughout the Terminator franchise, which are inconsistently deployed to differing degrees with each subsequent sequel. Even franchise darling Terminator 2 isn’t blameless in this regard – on the contrary, T2 is arguably responsible for derailing the timeline by depicting the future as definitively malleable, not fixed.
3 Why It Shouldn’t: ...But Nobody Really Cares About The Timeline
Let’s be honest for a second here: it’s only hardcore fans who really care about how the overarching continuity of the Terminator franchise fits together. All casual moviegoers want from a Terminator flick is to be entertained – if the story is good, they’re happy. So Dark Fate casually disregarding Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys isn’t going to be enough to sink the franchise among the wider viewing public.
The same applies to quibbles over time travel logic that franchise devotees have: nobody else is all that interested in the subject. Dark Fate neatly explains how Judgment Day still happens even in light of the events of Terminator 2, which is all it needs to do to keep the series’ wheels spinning – regardless of whether or not this fits with the established rules regarding altering the future.
2 Why It Should End: Hollywood Needs More New Franchises...
A recurring complaint among cinephiles is that Hollywood is too nostalgia driven these days, content to just churn out subpar reboots and sequels to aging properties at the expense of investing in new properties. Terminator: Dark Fate hasn’t escaped this criticism: even critics who praised the movie have noted that it owes a considerable debt to what came before it.
There’s also the inescapable sense that franchises like Terminator are relics from a bygone era, no longer able to adequately reflect the concerns of today. Indeed, pundits have taken Dark Fate to task for its clumsy mishandling of gender politics and race relations – both of which need to be addressed if the series is to have a future.
1 Why It Shouldn’t End: ...But There’s Always Room For Good Movies
Hollywood does need fresh franchises – to prevent creative stagnation and to better reflect contemporary sensibilities – but that doesn’t mean we should automatically scrap the old ones. At the end of the day, there’s always going to be a place in cinemas for good movies, regardless of whether they’re part of a long-running franchise like Terminator or not.
Yes, Dark Fate proved that the Terminator series still has strides to make when it comes to dealing with current socio-political matters if it wants to survive. Yet at the same time, the franchise is now headlined by butt-kicking female leads and boasts a recharged premise – a clear commitment to change that could generate quality sequels in the years ahead.