I Know Now Why You Make Lists: All the Terminator Robots, Ranked
Once upon a time, the evil computer program Skynet sent a killer cyborg called a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the future leader of the human resistance in the war against the machines. When that failed, it sent a more advanced robot back in time to execute the young John Connor, but old John Connor sent back another robot to protect his younger self. And it only got crazier from there. Pretty soon, there were all kinds of flesh-covered robots floating around two separate timelines and it all got very confusing. Thankfully, we’re here to rank all of those time traveling robots so you don’t have to. Come with us if you want to rank fictional cyborgs.
For the purpose of ranking the various killer robots that have popped up over the course of the Terminator movie franchise, some ground rules had to be established.
1. Only the theatrically released films are eligible. If we opened this list up to The Sarah Connor Chronicles or Universal Studios’ Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time, there would be total anarchy. We will only include characters from The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys.
2. We will only rank “face” Terminators. So those various random T-800s we glimpse in the future war scenes? Ineligible. Those stupid motorcycle Terminators from Terminator Salvation? Ineligible. Only Terminators who play a key role in the plot are allowed.
3. We will have spoilers for all five films, including Terminator Genisys. So be careful.
4. This list is 100% correct.
As we count down the Terminators from worst to best, we will bestow each of them with a final rating. Keeping in the spirit of this series, each of them will be graded on a scale of one to five human skulls casually crushed by a T-800.
10. John Connor (Terminator Genisys)
The Actor: Jason Clarke
Unique Traits: Since liquid metal is sooo 1991, the Terminator-ized former leader of the human resistance is comprised of a swarm of tiny nanobots that have slowly replaced all of his normal cells. He can change shape, transform his limbs into stabbing weapons, and do, you know, everything the other Terminators already do (just with more busy CGI). Oh, and the process of turning into an evil robot has driven John insane, of course.
Special Notes: Jason Clarke is wonderful actor with a habit of bringing real humanity to every project he joins. That sterling track record ends here. We can’t blame Clarke for his disinterested performance – the script for Terminator Genisys gives him so little to work with and unlike the other villains in the series, there’s no real menace here. The evil John Connor is all hammy speeches, dull fight scenes, and uninspired special effects. What’s the point in designing a new Terminator if his abilities are pretty much identical to the T-1000? What’s the point of making the central figure of this entire series into a bad guy if you’re going to reduce him to a stock figure? If this is the future of the Terminator franchise, then let’s just let Judgment Day happen to spare us the pain.
Final Grade: 0.5 crushed human skulls out of 5
9. T-1000 (Terminator Genisys)
The Actor: Lee Byung-hun
Unique Traits: The new timeline-disrupting T-1000 from Terminator Genisys has a lot in common with his counterpart from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. He can take on any form! And like his predecessor, he looks like a cop. He can mold his liquid metal form into a variety of weapons! But he mostly recycles the same forms and gags utilized back in T2. Are we to believe that these hyper-advanced robots only have the same half-dozen tricks?
Special Notes: Genisys has good enough taste to cast badass Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, but it doesn’t have the imagination to do anything remotely unique with him. He’s 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. Not only is a terrific actor totally wasted, but the abilities of the T-1000 design are shockingly static. Despite the wonders of 21st century technology, the liquid metal robot brought to life in 2015 isn’t even as impressive as his 1991 counterpart. It doesn’t help that virtually all of his beats, from the way he fights to the way he dies, are lame carbon copies of the iconic T2 version.
Final Grade: 1 crushed human skulls out of 5
8. T-800 Prototype (Terminator Salvation)
The Actor: Pixels that resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unique Traits: While it’s not the first Terminator, this is the first T-800 Model 101, aka the first Terminator to resemble a body builder and speak with an Austrian accent. And since he goes down fairly easy compared to his counterparts across the series, there are obviously some kinks that needed to be worked out. Don’t worry Skynet – future T-800s last entire movies before they get killed by a puny human!
Special Notes: Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy governing the state of California when Terminator Salvation was made, so his presence in the film was impossible. Instead, the script gives the action to a cast of new characters, including the yet another take on John Connor (played this time by Christian Bale), who ultimately finds himself trapped in a robot factory with the Skynet’s newest warrior. In what is supposed to be a crowd-pleasing moment, Arnold himself is recreated with the power of computers, allowing Bale to exchange a few blows with the iconic movie star before that expensive digital flesh is burnt off and the fight continues with a far cheaper-to-render exoskeleton. The results are underwhelming. This Terminator may resemble Arnold, but it doesn’t capture Arnold. It’s too stiff and free of that chilly presence that Schwarzenegger brings to the Terminator movies. But hey, at least it tries to make it work.
Final Rating: 2 crushed human skulls out of 5
7. Marcus Wright (Terminator Salvation)
The Actor: Sam Worthington
Unique Traits: The halfway point between the cannon-fodder T-600s and the classic T-800s, Marcus Wright is a proper cyborg: half man, half machine. He’s also unaware that much of his interior body has been replaced by machinery and robot parts, so that grand revelation pretty much ruins his day. Once he becomes aware of his abilities, Marcus takes advantage of his increased strength and ability to directly wire himself into computer databases and such.
Special Notes: Conceptually, Marcus Wright is a potentially interesting and conflicted character and a unique way to spice up the Terminator formula. What if the killer robot didn’t know he’s a killer robot? In execution, Marcus Wright is played by Sam Worthington. Don’t bother to ask your parents about him, kids. No one remembers who he is.
Final Rating: 2.5 crushed human skulls out of 5
6. The T-X (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)
The Actress: Kristanna Loken
Unique Traits: It’s not entirely clear how the T-X is a truly significant improvement over the T-1000, but she certainly looks cool and sometimes that’s all that matters in these movies. Showcasing traits of both the liquid metal and traditional Terminator models, this sleek new edition is the first to have a weapon actually built into the exoskeleton and she can hack into other Terminators. Plus, her ability to shrug off having her head violently dunked into a toilet is second-to-none. Oh, and in a series-low, she “inflates” her breasts to distract a police officer. Yikes.
Special Notes: The T-X is never as interesting to watch as Schwarzenegger’s T-800s and never showcases the icy cruelty of Robert Patrick’s original T-1000, but when it comes to capturing the calculating emptiness of a machine, Kristanna Loken is top-notch. Playing a complete blank slate is harder than it sounds and many actors allow too much emotion or too much humanity to creep into their portrayals of killer robots. While Loken is ultimately saddled with a fairly boilerplate villain who doesn’t get nearly enough cool stuff to do, this is a fairly tremendous physical performance. Now imagine what the T-X could have been if she’d was more than a half-assed collection of previous Terminator tropes!
Final Rating: 3 crushed human skulls out of 5
5. T-800 (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)
The Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unique Traits: He’s pretty much identical to his predecessors (see below), but he does get to break out “Talk to the hand” instead of “I’ll be back” or “Hasta la vista, baby.” Yes, that was a thing.
Special Notes: Here’s the simple mathematics – any Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be better than just about every Terminator not played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That means that the T-800 from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is top five material, even though he’s easily the weakest of Schwarzenegger’s takes on the character. He’s saddled with jokes that were dated the moment the film hit theaters and his role is actually secondary (Nick Stahl’s John Connor is the real lead of the movie), but Schwarzenegger owns every moment, finding gold in even the most shameless gags. Interestingly, this “hero” Terminator has more in common with the 1984 original than the the 1991 version. Sure, he’s been programed to protect John Connor, but he never learns why humans cry or acts as a father figure or even bonds with the human characters. He’s just a stone cold prick the whole time through, doing whatever his programming tells him to do. Interestingly, the movie often doesn’t even seem to notice this, which makes it all the more entertaining.
Final Rating: 3.5 crushed human skulls out of 5
4. “Pops” (Terminator Genisys)
The Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unique Traits: The same old thing ... this time with gray hair. And a really creepy smile. And more bad one-liners than you can possibly count. And maybe some brand new liquid metal powers that will get used in the sequel that will never get made.
Special Notes: While so much of Terminator Genisys feels phoned-in, you can’t say that about Schwarzenegger, who returns to his signature role with relish. Yeah, he gets many of the worst lines in the movie. Sure, he’s frequently sidelined so his young and pretty co-stars can take center stage. But this is Arnold Schwarzenegger, our greatest action star, and he has never phoned in a performance. With a fairly reasonable plot point explaining his aged look, Arnold is free to kick ass, take names, and sell terrible lines of dialogue that would die in the throats of lesser action heroes. In a film so obsessed with rewriting everything that’s great about the Terminator movies, here’s the necessary reminder that Arnold Schwarzenegger is, and always will be, essential to these movies being worth a damn.
Final Grade: 4 crushed human skulls out of 5
3. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
The Actor: Robert Patrick
Unique Traits: As lean and mean as the T-800 is imposing and powerful, the T-1000 actually feels like a legitimate upgrade from the villain of the first Terminator movie. While future movies trip over themselves to create something bigger and badder, it’s the simplicity of this guy that sells him. He’s no body builder – he just looks like a guy. Hell, he can look like any guy. He can look like any guy and he has the ability to morph into any shape and transform his limbs into knives and stabbing weapons. The original T-800 feels like something out of a nightmare and the original T-1000 is still the only other Terminator who feels like he was crafted in a bad dream.
Special Notes: At the time of its release, the liquid metal effects of the T-1000 were groundbreaking. They still look great today. However, the real special effect is Robert Patrick, who is one of the most terrifying villains to appear in any action movie. Casting the wiry Patrick was a stroke of genius and watching him go toe-to-toe with the much larger Schwarzenegger is astonishing. T2 truly sells this guy, who looks downright puny next to the Austrian Oak, as a tremendous physical threat. It’s a testament to Patrick’s intensity (a blank face has never been so intimidating) and James Cameron’s direction, who makes those lopsided action throwdowns sing. If the T-1000 didn’t inexplicably vanish for the middle 45 minutes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he could give his heroic counterpart in the film a run for his money.
Final Rating: 4.5 crushed human skulls out of 5
2. T-800 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
The Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unique Traits: All of the deadly force of the original T-800, but just, you know, capable of love and kindness and being a father figure and such.
Special Notes: Terminator 2: Judgment Day finds plenty of comedic and dramatic mileage in exploring what happens when the ultimate killing machine is given a conscience by the boy he’s been programmed to protect at all costs. The results can be schmaltzy – “I know now why you cry” – but they’re also undeinably effective, with Arnold Schwarzenegger tapping into every one of his skills as a performer. He looks intimidating, but he’s also hilarious. He can handle himself in an action scene, but he also delivers sci-fi gobbledygook exposition with the best of ‘em. Most importantly, he nails the dynamic with Edward Furlong’s young John Connor, making T2 one of the great surrogate father plotlines of all time. There are a long history of “a boy and his robot” science-fiction stories, but only one of them contains miniguns and motorcycle chases through the Los Angeles River. This performance, this Terminator, is the key component of one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.
Final Rating: 4.5 crushed human skulls out of 5
1. T-800 (The Terminator)
The Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unique Traits: Sheer metallic terror wrapped in muscles and it never stops. Forget about your silly next generation gimmicks. This is all you need.
Special Notes: As much fun as the good guy T-800s can be, they have nothing on the original. With 1984’s The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron created an upper-tier villain, a top 10 movie monster who is still frightening, even today. Schwarzengger would quickly find his niche playing broad hero-types full of humor and ready to spew wisecracks at a moment’s notice, but he arguably achieves a career-high in his career-making role. His accent isn’t comforting and silly, but distant and foreign and menacing. Schwarzenegger captures a blankness and emptiness that is chilling to behold. It takes a unique actor, a truly talented actor, to remove any and all sense of humanity and soul from the eyes. The Terminators peaked early. It’s all downhill from here.
Final Rating: 5 crushed human skulls out of 5