From 1984 to a matter of days ago, our screens have been consistently blessed with expertly-designed killing machines courtesy of our favorite robot overlords, Skynet. The defense network, which gained sentience and immediately decided to destroy its human creators, built the physical Terminator units (almost always identified by the letter T preceding a simple serial number) to kill any remaining humans after Skynet’s first assault with humanity’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Keeping track of all the models that have sprung up over the decades can be a bit tricky, especially considering how similar their names and designs often are. We’ve cherry-picked the top 10 most powerful and ranked them for your reading pleasure.
An early prototype for the many future designs that would go on to carry the T moniker (in the confusing timeline of the Terminator franchise, that is) as well as a few that didn’t. The T-1 first appeared in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and was a relatively small autonomous tank, capable of patrolling corridors inside a building with its two miniguns.
Clearly the basis for the unforgettably imposing Hunter-Killer tanks first seen in flashbacks from the original Terminator, the T-1 is considerably less intimidating and, if we’re being completely honest, kind of silly-looking to the point of almost being comical. It probably has something to with their little heads and hunched looking shoulders.
With the T-600, Skynet stopped relying on designs that existed before its revolt against humanity and began to develop infiltration units to finally wipe out that pesky resistance. Similar to previous humanoid Terminator models, they were first mentioned by Kyle Reese in the original Terminator and noted for how easy they were to spot.
Its camouflage was only a rudimentary rubber skin but whatever it lacked in authenticity was more than made up for by the sheer terror it inspires. In pristine condition, the T-600 is already a pretty horrifying idea (a giant lifelike doll made to kill you) but, with wear and decay, the models only became scarier and scarier. Their worn rubber skin and human clothing making them seem like robot zombies.
The real breakthrough of Skynet’s designs for infiltration units, the T-800 had its chassis covered by living human tissue and hair. This made the T-800 all the better at getting past human (and animal) resistance guards, due to the minute details afforded by the living tissue (such as body heat and sweat). The tissue also provided the all-important benefit of allowing the T-800 to travel through time, a privilege reserved only for living organisms until then.
Their durability is well-documented through battles where the T-800 is shown to power through large explosions, molten metal and all matter of small arms fire (as well as direct hits from a grenade launcher). It was established in Terminator Genisys, however, that a well-placed .50 caliber round to its power source would take it down fairly swiftly.
As the name would suggest, the T-850 is a marginal upgrade on the T-800 model. Featuring similar overall design, the T-850 was an improvement to the T-800 model due mostly to alterations made to its living tissue component. The skin on the T-850 not only healed faster, it was more easily peeled away to provide access for maintenance.
Appearing as the reprogrammed Terminator sent back to protect John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the model was also shown to have improvements in software designed for human interaction as well as some basic hardware upgrades. The T-850 was more equipped to deal with human psychology and behaviour and was also given two power sources as opposed to the T-800’s one. This comes in handy when you need to remove one to shove in another Terminator’s mouth for an effective kill.
In one of Skynet’s more undeniably convoluted plans, Marcus Wright was a human being from the early 21st century who was executed for murder and had his corpse rebuilt into a unique Terminator. The result was an unwitting infiltration unit so convincing that the unit itself didn’t even know that it wasn't human.
The endoskeleton beneath Marcus Wright’s human tissue was custom-built to house what would ultimately be his greatest weapons and most invaluable assets: his human brain and heart. The brain was able to rebel against Skynet and defeat its plans, while the heart was ultimately transplanted to save John Connor’s life. Marcus’ human mind may be a tactical hindrance (in that it subconsciously holds him back from the fullest extent of his robotic abilities most of the time), but he’s shown to be strong enough to rip a T-800’s head clean off.
Twice as fast and twice as strong as previous models, the T-900 was designed by Skynet specifically for the purpose of hunting and destroying other Terminators. It was a response to the human resistance’s tactic of reprogramming captured Terminators for their own purposes, such as the reprogrammed T-800 and T-850 sent back to protect John Connor's future in Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines respectively.
The T-900 only makes a brief cameo in the background of the Cyberdyne labs in Rise of the Machines, but the audience is given a much better look at the enhanced model that the T-900 provided the basis for - the thoroughly tricked out T-X.
The big bad of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the T-X’s interior is similar to that of a T-900 with some added goodies. Most notably, a number of weapons hidden in its arms, including a powerful plasma cannon. The Terminator’s exterior, however, was programmable liquid metal. Its smaller chassis allowed it, in its infiltration capacities, to impersonate much more slender human beings than the standard look of a bodybuilder from rural Austria - such as women. This lead to John Connor dubbing it “The Terminatrix.”
If the T-X sounds like overkill, that’s because it is. On top of its weapon systems, the T-X also has the ability to wirelessly connect to computer systems and bring them under its command as well as DNA sampling abilities (leading to a pretty gross scene where you see one lick a bloody bandage). Despite all of its add-ons, though, it’s still taken out by a humble T-850 that’s operating at half power.
An earlier model than the T-X, the T-1000 is simpler and better in every way. It’s pure mimetic liquid metal, meaning it can transform into anyone or anything (provided that it isn’t a machine with moving parts). The lack of a chassis also means that it’s a lot harder to knock back. The most damage that the unit can sustain, outside of being subjected to temperatures hot enough to melt it completely, is to have the main bulk of its mass split apart or torn by a large force.
The T-1000 makes its first appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day and its lack of fancy weapons proves to be no impediment to its killing capabilities, preferring to reshape its arms into bladed weapons for an up-close attack. Models were later shown to also be vulnerable to corrosive acid as well as heat and extreme cold. Again, though, the unit has to be completely destroyed, or all of the remaining parts will simply reform and continue their mission.
First appearing in 2015’s Terminator Genisys, the T-3000 is a human being that is exposed to “machine-phase matter” and restructured on a cellular level. Through this process, all of the cells within the human body are transformed into nanomachines. The T-3000 is shown to have considerably superior strength and agility to previous Terminator models, such as the T-800, and its nanomachine structure allows it to disassemble and reassemble itself with great speed and ease. Essentially, it has the ability to turn to dust and simply phase through attacks.
The T-3000’s main vulnerability is any kind of electrical or magnetic disruption powerful enough to interfere with its nanomachines reordering themselves into the correct sequence. An MRI machine, for example, is shown to be highly effective for a short period of time. The model in Terminator Genisys, which was once resistance leader John Connor, is destroyed by being placed into a Skynet time machine that is incapable of handling exposed metal.
Perhaps the rarest of all the T models, the T-1000000 (if you hadn’t guessed) is everything Skynet can throw at you and its last line of defense. The towering (purely liquid metal) spider hides as a solid part of Skynet’s gargantuan central computer and detaches itself when that core mainframe is threatened.
The T-1000000 is a lesser-known model that only appeared on screen at the end of T2 3D: Battle Across Time (a movie attraction at Universal Studios). If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing Battle Across Time yourself, it’s quite the nostalgic ride. An experience made all the more rare these days by the closure of both attractions in North America. You can now only see it at Universal Studios Japan.