The Terminator movies, ranked worst to best

Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines_C-2 Pictures_The Terminator movies, ranked worst to best HERO IMAGE
(Image credit: C-2 Pictures)

The Terminator movies have brought fans sci-fi greatness with cyborg assassins, excellent action scenes, and honestly, some great laughs. Arnie wasn’t wrong, we did keep coming back for more… but what would a ranking list of The Terminator franchise look like? Well, fortunately, we’ve rewatched all six of The Terminator movies (thanks to our The Terminator streaming guide) to create this ultimate list from worst to best, so you don’t have to – because sadly we don’t all have access to time travel.

Whilst there have been some truly magnificent movies in this iconic franchise, my God, have there been some questionable ones too. From the classic earlier Terminator movies to those later in the franchise built on more complicated timelines and plot twists, each movie has continuously shot for the moon with each go at box-office success – some hitting the spot and others falling short.

Here it is then, our The Terminator movies, ranked, the definitive list. And while you’re at it, why not take a look at some other sci-fi movie greats with our best sci-fi movies of all time recommendations? You could also indulge in other franchises with the Star Trek movies, ranked or Alien movies, ranked lists too.

6. Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys_Paramount Pictures

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

Whilst Terminator Genisys had the building blocks for a great Terminator film – with Emilia Clarke cast as a young Sarah Connor, Arnold Schwarznegger returning as an old T-800, and nostalgic moments to boot – it quickly became clear that this reboot of sorts had missed the mark. Emilia Clarke, although a great actor (and we want to make that very clear), suffers from a plot that gets a little lost in translation. Put alongside Arnie’s cheesy ‘Pops’ nickname and the idea that T1 and T2 should be practically wiped from memory to restart with a new young Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, this leads us on a bizarre path in Terminator Genisys that was unexpected and probably one that shouldn’t have been taken.

Not to forget, the John Connor spoiler that leaves every Terminator fan wondering why they did the leader of the Resistance so dirty. It was a much-anticipated sequel that unfortunately sits at the bottom of our Terminator movies ranked list.

5. 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

Whereas Terminator 2 took great themes from the first one and made it better, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines tried to take what was successful about the first two Terminator movies and somehow made it worse, earning it a low spot in our Terminator movies, ranked. Whilst the overall concept was impressive with the introduction of the first female Terminator, T-X, played by Kristanna Loken, what we got instead was a bizarre cyborg form who boasted laser arms and breast expansion. Why?

Terminator 3 was the most expensive of the franchise up to this point and proved that money doesn’t always mean you’ll get the best movie out of it. “Desire is irrelevant, I am a machine,” is a redeeming movie moment from T3, and the movie as a whole really does give viewers a chance to explore the deeper meaning behind The Terminator franchise. Unfortunately, with every follow-up movie after James Cameron’s original two, it seems they needed to blow up and destroy what we know to be true to make another storyline happen.

Fair play to the ending though, it's a bold play that would have been a spectacular finish to a better movie.

4. Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation_Warner Bros.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)
  • Release date: May 21, 2009
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin

For Terminator Salvation, we turn it up a notch. We promise a brighter and more thrilling future from here on in. And, you’ve got to give it to Salvation, as this one goes completely off-piste by fully tuning the focus onto the future war from which John Connor and Kyle Reese came and where it essentially all began. Christian Bale and Anton Yelchin play the parts of the soldier companions excellently and there’s a great use of CGI that really adds to the franchise at this point.

Whilst Terminator Salvation itself isn’t the greatest movie, it gives context; it sits firmly in one timeline, and whilst there isn’t a standout Terminator villain, the world is full of them and we see what humanity becomes and what Kyle Reese was so eager to protect the world from.

3. Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator Dark Fate_Twentieth Century Fox

(Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)
  • Release date: November 1, 2019
  • Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis

The most recent release from The Terminator franchise is Terminator: Dark Fate which came out in 2019. We’re back to what Terminator fans loved most: copious amounts of chase scenes, Arnold as the old T-800 again, and Linda Hamilton comes back to reprise her role as the true Sarah Connor of the future. Add in a fantastic villain with Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 and you’ve got yourself a classic Terminator movie.

Terminator: Dark Fate split fans at first, initially classed quite widely as a flop, but it really does excel compared to the other Terminator movies. Although seeing the T-800 Arnie living the home life seemed a bit bizarre, there are plenty of those incredible and exciting fight scenes that we all know and love.

2. The Terminator

The Terminator_Cinema '84

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

The first Terminator marks, unsurprisingly, the beginning of it all and misses out only by its direct sequel to the top spot on our list. It was not only James Cameron’s directorial career-launching movie, before the days of Aliens and Avatar, but it also saw the career-defining moments for its three lead stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Michael Biehn.

A movie packed full of important set up, some glorious chase scenes, excellent 80s terror, and equally fantastic 80s synth music all accumulate into a great twist towards the end that begins the franchise. And whilst Arnie’s T-800 doesn’t say an awful lot, boy is he terrifying.

1. 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

Set about 10 years after the original, Terminator 2: Judgment Day turns Arnie’s T-800 into a reformed Terminator set on a mission to protect John Connor. This utterly magnificent sequel is, arguably, one of the best sequels of a franchise ever made and as such earns its spot at the top of our Terminator movies, ranked list.

Both Arnie and Linda Hamilton built on their roles from the first movie and the introduction of the advanced T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is a suitably terrifying villain and one of the best of, if not the best, of the Terminator franchise. And let’s not forget the abundance of iconic movie quotes, including but not limited to our T-800 redemption plot arc, “If a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can, too.”

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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.