Terminator: Dark Fate has failed to turn around the franchise's fortunes at the box office, so what next for the Terminator series on the big screen? After James Cameron's classic The Terminator became a hit and seeped into the cultural consciousness of the 1980s with iconic quotes such as "I'll be back," a sequel was conceptualized with the notion of exploring Sarah Connor's journey into the next decade. Terminator 2: Judgement Day took Cameron's original idea to new heights, but it perhaps also turned Terminator into a fully-fledged franchise when two movies would've done just fine.
Without Cameron's input, the Terminator movies expanded hugely, but also began a slide of drastic diminishing returns with Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys each failing in terms of either financial success, critical reaction, or both. Big names such as Christian Bale and Emilia Clarke failed to attract audiences, and the setting was shifted from the future battle against Skynet back to the present day without any indications of halting the decline.
Having exhausted virtually all other options, Terminator went back to its origins for Dark Fate, but despite reviews generally labeling the effort as the franchise's best since Judgement Day, the commercial fall from grace has continued, and Dark Fate must, unfortunately, be considered a box office bomb following a vastly disappointing performance. After once again trying to reshuffle the formula and once again coming up short, is Terminator's future as bleak as the cyber-apocalypse it depicts on-screen?
Terminator: Dark Fate Is Unlikely To Get A Sequel
In the run-up to Terminator: Dark Fate's release, it became clear that tentative plans were afoot for potential sequels. James Cameron even revealed that artificial intelligence would be the primary focus of future movies, clearly indicating that at least the basic skeleton of a story had been mapped out beyond Dark Fate. These over-optimistic designs are evident in the latest Terminator film itself. The threat of Skynet is replaced with a new man-made computer system in the form of Legion, and Dani is established as the new John Connor of this continuity, leading the Resistance in the future against a different enemy. Dark Fate focuses on ensuring Dani's survival but, unlike in Judgement Day, the timeline isn't fixed. Instead, the story ends with Dani resigning herself to a violent future and the Legion takeover is still very much on the cards, thus paving the way for plenty of future installments in which the new Resistance and the upgraded machines would continue to do battle.
Dark Fate's dismal box office has seemingly put paid to that idea. An uninspired opening domestic weekend of only $29 million was a grim sign of things to come, and showed an almost negligible improvement upon the doomed Terminator Genisys. Reports soon emerged claiming that Dark Fate was set to lose a whopping $120 million after the film's $185 million budget and marketing costs were taken into account. In the modern industry, Hollywood productions that bomb in the U.S. now have a chance to break even or turn a profit thanks to the emergence of the Chinese market. Unfortunately, Dark Fate's lack of drawing power has proved problematic on an international level too, once again showing little to no improvement upon the performance of Terminator Genisys.
Given the massive loss Paramount and their associates stand to endure after Dark Fate bombed, as well as the worrying lack of movement made since Terminator Genisys, the chances of a direct sequel happening look about as likely as Sarah Connor inviting Carl over for Thanksgiving dinner.
Terminator's James Cameron Promise Is Gone
Since Rise of the Machines in 2003, there has always been a sizable asterisk next to the Terminator frachise's struggles - the lack of involvement from original creator, James Cameron. The Avatar and Titanic director was the key creative force behind the first two Terminator movies and then went on to enjoy record-bothering success elsewhere. As Terminator floundered without him, it was easy to pin those woes on Cameron's absence, and while history certainly might've played out very different had the original director stayed on for Terminator 3, there's evidently many more factors at play.
Recognizing the lack of interest in Terminator after the events of the second film, Dark Fate was conceived as a direct follow-on from Judgement Day, entirely ignoring everything that came after the turn of the millennium. If that wasn't enough to tempt back lapsed fans, James Cameron was drafted in as a producer and writer, with his return also heralding the on-screen comeback of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Essentially, Dark Fate did everything it could to recapture Terminator's old magic, from reuniting key cast and crew to rewriting the timeline in a way that would appeal to fans from the 1980s and 1990s.
In a sense, this tactic wasn't a complete failure, as many fans and critics agree that Dark Fate is the best Terminator movie in recent memory. Movie studios, however, will be more concerned with their bottom line, and the fact remains that while those who did see Dark Fate mostly enjoyed it, the lure of Cameron, Hamilton and the original timeline wasn't enough to entice movie-goers into buying tickets. This disconnect between reviews and box office is arguably the most worrying sign for the future of Terminator, as it suggests that audiences are simply bored with the franchise, and that no matter what Terminator does, there simply isn't a desire in the market for additional movies. Perhaps this dark fate would've been different if Terminator 3 - 5 simply hadn't happened, and the latest installment was the actual third entry in the series. For now though, it appears that the James Cameron card Terminator held up its sleeve for so many years has been spent - and to no avail.
Will A Terminator 7 Reboot The Franchise?
A continuation of the story Dark Fate started looks remote, such is the financial loss Terminator has endured, but it would make little sense to return to the other continuity after Terminator Genisys fared just as poorly. If Paramount and Skydance insist on pursuing further avenues within the cyber-apocalypse, perhaps the only real option left available to them is a complete reboot that abandons all plot threads, familiar characters and existing timelines in favor of an entirely fresh slate, telling the Skynet story from the very beginning.
As alluded to previously, however, the lack of box office growth from Terminator Genisys to Dark Fate shows that a string of bad movies has killed interest in the franchise to the point where releasing a much stronger movie has minimal impact. As a result of this phenomenon, the main issue currently facing Terminator is that many movie-goers simply don't care about the product, whatever timeline, continuity or characters it features. This isn't a problem that will be solved by a reboot. In many ways, Dark Fate virtually acted as a reboot in itself, winding back the narrative to 1991 and erasing three entire movies. How much of an effect could finishing the job and scrubbing out the remaining two films have? And which studio executive would take such a mammoth risk in green-lighting an inevitably expensive production despite a well-documented recent history of vastly underperforming.
If there is a way forward for the Terminator franchise, perhaps it's on the small screen. Ignoring the misfortunes of Dark Fate, there remains some goodwill and appreciation for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the Fox TV series that ran for 2 seasons between 2008 and 2009. With the streaming wars now well underway, Terminator might find better success telling smaller stories (with a smaller budget) on an online TV platform. Services are currently competing for brand-name properties, and having seemingly sent its last T-800 into theaters, Terminator might find itself revitalized by a change of scenery and in a market that specializes in reviving defunct properties.