The Terminator was released way back in 1984. At the time, it was all quite far-fetched, but with our reliance on technology these days, real-life Skynet is probably only a couple of years away. As such, you could say that the Terminator movies have that unique quality of getting a little more relevant and frightening each time you watch them.
Not that they needed too much help in that regard. In the liquid-metal T-1000 and the terminator of Terminators that is the T-X, we’re looking at some truly iconic movie villains here. But which is the strongest Terminator? Let’s try ranking every model from the main movie series.
Updated November 26th, 2019: Terminator fans got a new entry to the franchise in 2019, so it's time to answer the question that's been on everyone's mind: Where does the Rev-9, the brand-new model and antagonist of Terminator: Dark Fate fit in?
13 The T-800 (Prototype)
Now, granted, this is a prototype. Even the all-knowing Skynet needs a little practice, so let’s not judge too harshly. After all, your grandma could be a world-champion knitter now, but how many sweaters with uneven sleeves did she make before getting the whole process down? Let’s just give people a break.
The prototype of the classic T-800 model appeared in Terminator Salvation, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was too busy to appear. It’s the least powerful model of all because of its complete lack of gravitas. They tried to shoehorn Schwarzenegger in via digital trickery, and the few seconds of footage of (what’s supposed to be) his face just did not cut the mustard.
12 The T-1
Following on from the prototype of the classic T-800, we’ve got another primitive model. The T-1, as the name implies, was the first Terminator class machine Skynet created, and wasn’t nearly as refined as the cyborg models that would come later.
The T-1 is a heavily armed and armored tank, making appearances in both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation. While it’s certainly a formidable enemy, it also completely lacks in character and gravitas. Bipedal robots were beyond Cyberdyne at first, hence the tank treads that propel this guy alone. Its movement is versatile as a result, yes, but it’s far from agile, and they’re great, lumbering targets.
11 Marcus Wright (Terminator Salvation)
Now, we feel all kinds of conflicted over this one. One of the reasons that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters in the franchise are so beloved is how deftly they blend characteristics of man and machine (much of this is due to Schwarzenegger’s naturally monotone performance and delivery, but we won’t dwell on that). What was the deal with Marcus Wright of Terminator Salvation, then?
While the T-800 and T-850 always seem more machine than man (because they are), the opposite was true here. Wright knew nothing of the fact that he was a cyborg. Neither did the audience or most of his fellows. After the revelation, though, his abilities amount to the fairly standard-issue enhanced strength and wiring himself into the enemy’s systems stuff.
10 The T-1000 (Terminator Genisys)
Hey, now. Whoa, whoa, whoa there. Don’t panic. We aren’t putting the iconic and beloved T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgment Day this low on the list. We’re talking about Lee Byung-hun’s T-1000, as featured in Terminator Genisys.
The issue here was that classic ‘bot returned purely as a moment of fanservice. It was introduced and then disposed of far too quickly. As Screen Crush put it, Byung-hun is: “relegated to a single extended action scene in the film’s first half, only has a few lines of dialogue, and then goes out like a total chump… the liquid metal robot brought to life in 2015 isn’t even as impressive as his 1991 counterpart.”
9 Grace (Terminator: Dark Fate)
Technically speaking, Grace isn’t a Terminator, but she has abilities that are comparable to some models (even if she can’t maintain them for long).
A soldier from the near future, this highly-trained warrior was cybernetically enhanced to save her life after sustaining life-threatening injuries. She isn’t as durable as the deadliest machines and cannot sustain herself without taking regular doses of various treatments. Nonetheless, she’s so much more than a regular soldier and her ability to detect some machines make her invaluable. A step above Marcus Wright, in our book.
8 The T-800 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
Ah, yes. That’s right, friends, it’s good old Uncle Bob. Back in 1991, the scene where we discover that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is actually on John Connor’s side this time (“get down!”) must’ve been quite a thing. Over the course of the movie, Uncle Bob underwent a good chunk of character development (for a Terminator). That’s power of a completely different kind, right there.
In battle, the T-800 lacks the newfangled shapeshifting abilities of later models, but it does its best to make up for that in its raw resilience and physical strength. Unable to best its more advanced opponents hand-to-hand, it still had a deep knowledge of tactics and weaponry, which allowed it to (eventually) defeat and destroy the T-1000.
7 The T-850 (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines)
Now, of course, you can’t reminisce about dear old Uncle Bob without bringing up his counterpart in the next movie, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Here, again, Schwarzenegger played a cyborg assassin, which had been reprogrammed by the human resistance and sent back in time to protect John Connor (and his future wife, Kate Brewster, who sent the cyborg herself). This Terminator model, however, is slightly different: it’s a T-850.
It possesses a few minor differences and enhancements over the T-800, including a more aged appearance (convenient for Arnold, that, isn’t it?) and a deeper understanding of human psychology. In the end, though, it’s the same old shtick: the T-850 doesn’t have any fancy liquid metal abilities, but relies on its brute strength, endurance, and competence with a range of advanced weaponry to defeat its enemy. Its foe was the T-X, which it manages to destroy –along with itself—by thrusting one of its own volatile power cells into the T-X’s mouth, causing a huge explosion.
6 “Carl” (Terminator: Dark Fate)
Yes, the aging Arnold Schwarzenegger again played a T-800 (Model 101) in Terminator: Dark Fate. Technically, there’s very little to pick between Schwarzenegger’s models in terms of their powers in battle, but this version is perhaps the strongest yet in an entirely different way.
The T-800 we meet in Dark Fate has actually created a human life for itself. It’s become known as “Carl,” owns a draperies business in Texas and even has a family of sorts. It still has its shortcomings, of course, but its interactions with the family and Sarah throughout show just how powerful this T-800’s abilities to assimilate with humanity has become.
5 The T-3000 (Terminator Genisys)
As any fan of the movies will tell you, Terminator Genisys was a bit of a misfire. After Salvation and the whole Arnold Schwarzenegger is back except he isn’t at all thing it pulled, it was great to see the main man himself return properly, but that was about all that Genisys got right.
The T-3000 was unexpected, though, you’ve got to give them that. This new Terminator model was created after Skynet infected an alternate John Connor with nanomachines and pulled some time travel shenanigans. Its abilities are a cut above those of even the T-1000, with its shape-shifting, regenerative capabilities, and adoption of behavioral characteristics being much more sophisticated. Nevertheless, it’s very vulnerable to magnetic attacks (its abilities are reliant on the magnetic field that sustains it).
4 The T-800 (The Terminator)
Technically, yes, we’ve already covered the T-800 model with Uncle Bob. The unit from the original movie, however, is a completely different entity to deal with. In the original movie, Schwarzenegger played the role of the villain, a Terminator sent back through time to bring an end to Sarah Connor before she gives birth to John, the future leader of the resistance.
Her protector is a human being this time: Kyle Reese (John’s father), who destroyed the T-800 but lost his own life in the process. Before this happened, though, this Terminator showed even more resilience than in the later movies. It lost its living tissue, but continued to pursue Sarah and Kyle. It then lost its legs and crawled on after her; only stopping when its entire body was crushed in a hydraulic press (except that famous arm, with which it was trying to strangle Sarah at the time). Very high points for malevolence and screen presence, and even higher points for persistence.
3 The T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
Now, this was a Terminator, right here. When it comes to excellent performances as a cyborg in the series, Schwarzenegger (quite rightly) gets huge praise, but let’s not downplay everything Robert Patrick did as the T-1000.
This advanced Terminator model had every trick in the book. Shapeshifting, almost instant repairing of any damage, forming sharp metallic weapons… it was the robo-assassin. Patrick effortlessly exuded menace in every scene he featured in, and those special effects still hold up remarkably well. With all of these things combined, you can see how the T-1000 (of Judgment Day) is one of the most memorable and powerful Terminators in the series.
2 The Rev-9 (Terminator: Dark Fate)
Rev-9 may not roll off the tongue as well as T-1000 did, and it may not become remotely close to being as iconic as Robert Patrick’s famous character, but this model is actually a significant upgrade over it.
The big bad of Terminator: Dark Fate has all the shapeshifting and look ma, my arm’s a huge blade party tricks the T-1000 boasted, but has more control over those abilities. Not only that, it has a unique new gimmick of its own: it can split itself into two equal selves. As the movie’s director Tim Miller himself put it, "Our cool new feature... is he can split. So he’s twice as deadly." That kind of thing will get a cyborg assassin very close to our top spot.
1 The T-X
As is often the case when the subject of strongest Terminators comes up, it’s tough to call between the T-1000 and the T-X. In terms of advanced abilities, the T-3000 might technically have it, but we’re talking about the big picture here. What’s iconic about the T-3000? Not a whole lot.
In this case, we’re going to give the top spot to the T-X. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines presented this model as the most fearsome yet: one of Skynet’s most advanced creations, a terminator of Terminators. It has several built-in weapons like a buzzsaw and plasma cannon (which no other Terminator up to this point has had) and could hack and take control of other machines.
Again, the T-850 was only able to finally destroy it with most desperate of measures (destroying them both with one of its volatile power cells). Was the Terminatrix the strongest of all? Quite possibly.