The Terminator movies in order

The Terminator - The Terminator movies in order
(Image credit: Cinema '84)

It doesn't feel pain, or pity or remorse, and it absolutely will not stop, until you watch The Terminator movies in order.

The Terminator franchise is a sci-fi epic - six movies (some excellent, some questionable), each one a building block to form the intrepid web of cyborg assassins and future wars. But what is the correct order to watch them all in? Well, that depends on you. You could just watch them in release order, starting with 1984's The Terminator all the way through to 2019'a Terminator Dark Fate. 

There’s another timeline though, and that’s the chronological order of the Terminator movies, which, to put it politely, is a bit of a mess. Or, another way of saying it is if the timeline of the Terminator movies were a hard drive, they’d need one hell of a defrag. Thankfully, we’ve attempted to make sense of the chaos that is the chronological order of the Terminator movies, if you fancied watching them in an alternative way.

To accompany this list, we’ve put together The Terminator streaming guide for both the U.S. and U.K., as well as The Terminator movies ranked, worst to best for your viewing pleasure. And if by the end of it you’re craving something more, we’ve got lists of the best 80s sci-fi movies and also the best sci-fi movies of all time for you to work through.

Terminator movies in release order

  • The Terminator
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Terminator Genisys
  • Terminator: Dark Fate

The Terminator

The Terminator_image 2_Cinema '84

(Image credit: Cinema '84)
  • Release date: October 26, 1984
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn

The movie that started it all, The Terminator, introduced the world to cyborg assassins, The Terminator or T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Kyle has been sent back to 1984 from the future to protect Sarah from The Terminator, who is on a mission to kill her. 

Why? To avoid the eventual birth of her son, John Connor, who will eventually lead the human race in a future war against Skynet, a military intelligence network that develops self-awareness and chooses all of humanity as its nemesis. What ensues in The Terminator is some epic chase scenes, tech-noir sci-fi visuals, and a smelting exoskeleton. Some of the special effects have aged poorly, but it's still an absolute sci-fi classic.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2 Judgment Day_Carolco Pictures

(Image credit: Carolco Pictures)
  • Release date: July 3, 1991
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick

As far as we’re concerned, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the shining light of the franchise and a true beacon of greatness. In T2, 11 years after the events of The Terminator, the shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is set on destroying a young John Connor (Edward Furlong). A revamped and realigned T-800, reprised by Arnie, has also been sent to protect John in a twist of fate that ultimately acts as a redemption arc from the Terminator of 1984. 

The T-1000 steps in as a worthy replacement villain in the process. It's rare for a sequel to surpass the original, but T2: Judgment Day is an exception to the usual rules.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines_C-2 Pictures

(Image credit: C-2 Pictures)
  • Release date: July 2, 2003
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes

For Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the franchise returned for the first time without director James Cameron. This time Terminator fans traveled some years after the events of T2 where John is laying low with his future wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) and this time the Terminator, aka Arnold Schwarzenegger, is set on protecting them. Meanwhile, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), a breast expanding opponent with a reconfigurable arm most noted for its plasma cannon, has been sent from the future to destroy John and Kate. 

You’re sensing a pattern, right? T3 continued the chronological timeline of events, but seemingly set the franchise up for a change with the fourth release, Terminator Salvation. It's not the best movie ever made, but we have to give it respect for a brave ending that we did not see coming.

Terminator Salvation

Terminator: Salvation_The Halcyon Company

(Image credit: The Halcyon Company)
  • Release date: May 21, 2009
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin

Now, this is where things start to go awry. We’re still in the release order, so we’ll explain chronologically where this fits in later on. For now, we’re in the future, exploring the relationship between Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and John Connor (Christian Bale) as they lead the assault from the frontlines of the future war we’ve heard so much about. 

As part of The Resistance, Kyle and John aim to take down Skynet and in doing so discover the early stages of the Terminator program, which has Kyle down on their kill list. John joins forces with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger he frees from the Skynet base, in twists of fate that bring enemies together. 

A decent action flick in it's own right, Terminator Salvation felt very different from previous movies in the series. Also we got to see CGI naked Arnie, which was something.

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys_Paramount Pictures

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)
  • Release date: July 1, 2015
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney

At this point, we’re thrown back in time. In Terminator Genisys Arnie reprises his role as the T-800, now known jovially as Pops, and is sent back to a time where Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is young. Pops is there to protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator that will eventually be sent back in her future in 1984. When this is all going on, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is also sent back in time and whilst doing so witnesses John Connor (Jason Clarke) being attacked by a Terminator that changes him into a hybrid Terminator himself. 

This is also accompanied by a vision that Skynet actually began in 2017. In this mish mash of timelines, the trio time travel to the fated year in an attempt to take down Skynet whilst also coming up against new Terminators and John Connor’s transformed state.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate_Paramount Pictures

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)
  • Release date: November 1, 2019
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis

The final release of the franchise is Terminator: Dark Fate. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back as older versions of themselves, showing that the timeline has advanced. And whilst James Cameron returns to the director’s chair, he picks up where he left off, ignoring the events of the Terminator franchise’s timeline and picking up after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. 

Fans were introduced to new characters, left in shock after a huge plot twist, and told to throw everything they’d understood so far about time travel and the loop in which it exists out the window. Instead, they’re facing changes that shouldn’t have been possible by using alternate timelines. So, what better point to pick up and attempt to untangle the chronological order of the Terminator franchise than here?

Terminator movies in chronological order

  • Terminator Genisys
  • The Terminator
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Terminator: Dark Fate
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • Terminator Salvation

Director James Cameron steered the ship for the first two films, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. However, when it comes to the chronological order, Terminator Genisys sees T-800 protecting a young Sarah Connor and warning her of the fight she will face in 1984, placing it before the events of T1 and T2. In a bid to protect her, they also time travel to 2017 to take down Skynet before it has started. With time travel a huge part of each movie, whilst you can follow one timeline and place it in an order, another timeline in the same movie can take you elsewhere. 

So, let’s say we follow Terminator Genisys from before 1984, T1 in 1984, and T2 several years after that. At this point, we reach Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which picked up the baton ten years after the events of Judgment Day. Sure.

Terminator 2 Judgment Day_thumbs up_Carolco Pictures

(Image credit: Carolco Pictures)

But, what if we take into account that Terminator: Dark Fate sets its story firmly after T2 as well, ignoring the existence of the other films in the franchise. Dark Fate chooses to ignore closed-loop time travel for the first time and exists on alternate paths between an opening scene set shortly after the final events of T2 and 2022. 

Then it could be argued that Terminator: Dark Fate and T3 carry different timelines going forward and could both sit in the same spot chronologically. Considering Dark Fate started its own idea altogether, we’ll place Terminator Salvation after T3. 

In the simplest terms that we can put it, T1, T2, T3, and Salvation all sit on the alpha timeline. Whilst not linear, they string together in a timeline that exists perfectly when not taking the other two Terminator movies into account. Genisys and Dark Fate, on the other hand, live on the beta timeline where Genisys lives before T1 and T2’s events, but Dark Fate could replace T3 and Salvation, setting up a completely alternate story that ignores the existence of the alpha timeline past T2. Phew.

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Grace Dean
Contributing Writer

Grace is a freelancer who started writing for since 2021. She's a huge fan of movies, TV, and gaming, and if she's not clutching her Xbox controller or scanning the streaming platforms for the next must-watch shows, you'll find her spending copious amounts of time writing about them on her laptop. Specialties include RPG, FPS, and action-adventure games as well as 80s sci-fi movies and book adaptations.