Being a Terminator fan is tough.
Over the years, many directors have tried to replicate what made James Cameron's two excellent sci-fi action movies special, and to expand the series' rather limited universe and main concepts. Maybe the mistake was to turn The Terminator into a franchise in the first place, given the restrained scope and paper-thin premise of the 1984 original – a cybernetic assassin going back in time to kill the woman whose son will one day save mankind from the machine uprising.
However, there was something captivating about its dark audiovisual identity, and the promise of someday exploring the future war between the Resistance and Skynet has always been attractive.
Funnily enough, only one of the Terminator movies dared to properly step into the post-apocalyptic future where humans have to band together against an overwhelming enemy that feels no remorse and will stop at nothing to wipe out its creators. While Dark Fate got closer to the feeling of Cameron's two bangers, perhaps Terminator Salvation was the sequel that better pushed the entire series forward. Mind you, the final result was merely okay and contained more than a couple of big swings that didn't land with audiences, but it showed a kind of boldness that was needed to keep things fresh.
After Dark Fate flopped in spite of a reasonable level of critical success – mainly due to 16 years of sequels that didn't live up to the first two movies – the franchise's future never looked gloomier. But now, we're waiting for a Terminator anime series coming to Netflix and James Cameron's new, more AI-centric ideas for another theatrical stab at the IP. All this, however, raises the question of whether the franchise even deserves saving at this point. At the very least, a stark change might be needed to bring audiences back.
If this article has gotten you in the mood for a complete rewatch of the Terminator saga, be sure to check out our Terminator streaming guide. Fancy some sci-fi classic regardless of genre? Our all-around best sci-fi movies list has you covered too. We also believe that readers who are into both gaming and dark sci-fi futures should look into the best Warhammer 40K games of all time.
Terminator needs the space provided by T.V. to experiment
One thing is clear after Dark Fate's poor box office performance: it appears that Terminator movies aren't attractive enough to justify a new theatrical entry anytime soon. Even if James Cameron finds enough time to help write the aforementioned new installment between his Avatar movies and the now-in-discussions Alita: Battle Angel sequel, the Terminator won't be back in the near future.
On the other hand, T.V. might hold the most immediate solution to keep the franchise somewhat relevant. Turning to animation isn't the most outlandish idea when it comes to a property which has enjoyed plenty of success with comic books. The Batman scribe Mattson Tomlin is leading the charge and teased in early 2021 the show "subverts expectations and has real guts." Hopefully, it'll subvert our expectations of it being another disposable new attempt to recharge the franchise's dying energy core.
In the post-Terminator 3, late 2000s era, The Terminator first tried its luck with a series, and the result was… surprisingly solid. The Sarah Connor Chronicles maybe tried to bite too much too fast and only lasted two seasons, but the T.V. space provided the material enough breathing room to toy around with the matter of killer robots evolving and learning from humans, while also delivering the low-budget thrills of the very first movie. If you ask around nowadays, most fans will agree that the show had something nice going and deserved at least one more season.
With the first Alien T.V. series about to go into production and Cameron now working under the Disney umbrella, it might be time to bring any new ideas to the much more forgiving market of streaming via Hulu. But, of course, new live-action attempts should avoid retreading old ground that is the basic plot of a killer robot going back in time to murder the leader of the future Resistance, John Connor or not. People clearly don't want to experience a lesser version of the original stories anymore.
There's a path forward for Terminator on video games too
Pretty much nobody expected Terminator: Resistance to be a halfway decent new video game addition to the franchise, especially after the disaster that was Teyon's outdated take on Rambo, but it happened to be solid enough to gain a cult following. Its graphical and functional surface might look janky, but it's a game that really understands what made the original flicks genuinely cool, plus it expanded the lore and told its own story by imitating what Rogue One did for Star Wars movies.
The Terminator franchise has had its fair share of playable chromed stinkers too. In fact, the fan-favorite Terminator: Resistance isn't that good, but when you're dealing with something that has historically struggled to get new exciting entries off the ground, you'll take anything which at least realizes the strengths and weaknesses of the source material and acts accordingly. Still, we think there's plenty of room for experimentation and growth in the realm of video games, especially if new projects dared to escape the movies' collective shadow.
For now, Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance may be reason enough to stay optimistic, as Slitherine's real-time strategy (RTS) take on Starship Troopers (Starship Troopers: Terran Command) turned out to be low-key great. We can't believe a proper Terminator RTS hadn't happened before.
Maybe the franchise should just take a long nap
Of course, the fourth option is to simply let the Terminator rest for a while – much like Riddick – after the upcoming Netflix animated series and RTS game. This likely isn't a realistic scenario, as it's hard to imagine the powers that be stepping away from such a profitable property for too long. Whether it's new movies or bolder projects across T.V. and video games, we severely doubt Terminator will be dormant for longer than a few years, with or without Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We've still to see if next year's new Alien movie delivers solid scares and an enticing look at that universe's unique dark future. Yet, another sci-fi action franchise, Predator, found great success after a handful of forgettable new entries with Prey last year, so we're still holding out hope for the reinvention the Terminator series deserves.
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Fran Ruiz is our resident Star Wars guy. His hunger for movies and TV series is only matched by his love for video games. He got a BA of English Studies, focusing on English Literature, from the University of Malaga, in Spain, as well as a Master's Degree in English Studies, Multilingual and Intercultural Communication. On top of writing features and other longform articles for Space.com since 2021, he is a frequent collaborator of VG247 and other gaming sites. He also serves as associate editor over at Star Wars News Net and its sister site, Movie News Net.