Before James Cameron was obsessed with giant blue cat people parading around prog rock landscapes, he created the only two Terminator movies anybody's ever enjoyed. Now, over three decades later, we're still getting Terminator movies. And not just the chilling real-life prequel Terminator: Alexa, but the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate, which brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger as himself, probably.
Oddly, Dark Fate rewrites the series' continuity, ignoring certain sequels and presumably that music video wherein the Terminator almost murders Axl Rose. And with time travel thrown into the mix, keeping track of the increasingly convoluted franchise can be pretty damn tricky. So like we did with the Halloween series, let's attempt to make sense of this cybernetic Gordian knot once and for all.
The first Terminator is pretty straightforward. John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 to save his mother Sarah Connor in from the T-800, a robotic killing machine with a conspicuously thick Austrian accent. Sarah and Reese hook up (despite the fact that he's technically way younger than her), and Reese ends up being John's dad. Temporal bootstrap loop and some awkward sexual dynamics aside, it's a relatively simple story.
With Terminator 2: Judgment Day, things got a bit more complicated. Sarah actually endeavors to stop Judgment Day (when the robots nuke humanity) from ever happening. And as far as we knew in 1991, she succeeds. Miles Dyson dies, meaning he can't create SkyNet (or any of those sleek vacuum cleaners). And a reprogrammed T-800 sacrifices himself in order to destroy the remaining Terminator tech, while also subtly suggesting that Siskel and Ebert should recommend the movie.
It may be hard to remember after the litany of sequels, but T2 ended on a real question mark, with the creation of a new timeline that presumably wouldn't lead to full-on robo-genocide.
That is, until Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, which revealed that Judgment Day had merely been delayed, from 1999 to 2004. Also, Sarah Connor is dead. Yeah, kind of a bummer. A few years later we got a TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which seemingly operated on a totally separate continuity from T3. John and Sarah are saved by a Terminator (this one a hot girl) sent back from 2027, and Judgment Day has now been bumped up to 2011. And obviously, Sarah is alive, these being her chronicles and all.
Making matters even more confusing, The Sarah Connor Chronicles ended on a cliffhanger which (after its cancellation) was never resolved, creating yet another timeline. In the series finale, John Connor travels into the future, but no one's ever heard of John Connor, because he disappeared from the timeline after travelling into the future. Which makes one wonder why Marty McFly didn't visit a future where history recorded that he'd been abducted by crazy old Doc Brown, never to be seen again, but let's move on.
Terminator: Salvation thankfully doesn't add any more timelines to the mix, and is mostly remembered as the movie in which Christian Bale saves humanity from the scourge of cinematographers. But then in Terminator: Genisys, we see the events of the first movie yet again, but this time things are slightly different. How? Why? Does anyone even care anymore? Well, apparently yet another Terminator was sent back to 1973 to kill young Sarah Connor, but luckily a T-800 saved her, because humans and robots are basically playing temporal whack-a-mole at this point. Who sent these Terminators? Well, we never actually find out.
The T-800 ends up becoming a surrogate father figure to Sarah. And because he's been kicking around since the Nixon administration, this Terminator ages, allowing Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise his role without creepy CGI Botox. Also, future John Connor has been turned into an evil robot, and Judgment Day happens in 2017. Yeah, our map of these movies is starting to look like a pretzel. An extremely drunk pretzel.
We're not even going to attempt to sort through the myriad novels and comic books, such as the one in which Skynet is represented by a literal mustache-twirling, top-hat-wearing villain. Now we're getting yet another Terminator movie. Dark Fate Marie Kondos all the sequels that don't bring the current rights-holders joy. The first clue to this is how it features a very much alive Sarah Connor, played again by Linda Hamilton rather than another Game Of Thrones cast member. Meaning that unless necromancy is now part of the Terminator-verse, it's ignoring T3. According to reports, Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2, even including a new-ish performance from T2's John Connor, Edward Furlong. So now the series is more like this:
It's enough to make one want to strip naked and travel back to the '80s, when things made (slightly) more sense.
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For more, check out After Hours - All Arnold Schwarzenegger Moves Are In The Same Terminator Universe:
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