Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time
The Terminator Films

The Terminator (1984)

Terminator Films
The Terminator (1984) | Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) | Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Terminator Salvation (2009) | Terminator: Genisys (2015) | Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

The Terminator Films - Part 1

The Terminator (1984)
d. James Cameron, 108 minutes

Film Plot Summary

The action film opened in the year 2029 in a dark, ruined post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, a scene of annihilation and devastation ("nuclear fire") where AI machines ruled the world, led by a computer network called Skynet:

"The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight..."

The film then returned to the present-day of mid-May 1984 Los Angeles, a nighttime scene, where an indestructible cyborg assassin, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a T-800 Series (Model 101) model, materialized nude next to a dumpster and garbage truck after electrical flashes. [It was an unstoppable, villainous Cyberdyne Systems cyborg (with a humanoid, human tissue exterior and cold chromium/metallic, skeletal interior - and a death's head skull). The Model 101 series robot was a muscular, 6 foot tall, indestructible, intelligent, killing-machine (without a moral conscience).] It demanded clothing ("Your clothes") from three young punks (one of whom was Bill Paxton), before heaving away two of them, and killing a third with a lethal gut-punch after he had attempted to stab the Terminator with a knife.

A second individual named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier of the Tech-Com human Resistance movement of the future (led by Resistance leader John Connor) fighting against Skynet, was also teleported back, and appeared amidst electrical sparks in a downtown LA alley. Also nude, he stole pants from a derelict homeless bum in an alley, and ran from police before stealing a trenchcoat and shoes from a store, and making off with the officers' shotgun from their vehicle. In a gun shop, the Terminator robbed a 12-gauge autoloading rifle, a .45 longslide with laser-sighting, and an Uzi 9mm - ignoring the 15-day waiting period for the handgun, and blasting the clerk to death.

The search was on by both individuals (equipped with weapons and vehicles) for Sarah Connor for different reasons:

  • the Terminator was there to eliminate Sarah, the mother of future unborn son and Resistance leader John Connor
  • Kyle Reese's mission was to rescue and protect Connor's mother - and inadvertently to father the child, John Connor, who would grow up and in the future lead a rebellion against the human-made machines and their future masters

Both Terminators systematically searched and hunted down the three 'Sarah Connors' listed in alphabetical order in the phone book. Big Jeff's (a Big-Boy style) restaurant waitress was the 'right' Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), an independent woman who shared an apartment with friend Ginger Ventura (Bess Motta), who had a sex-obsessed boyfriend named Matt Buchanan (Rick Rossovich). The Terminator brutally shot and killed two other 'Sarah Connors", alerting two homicide police officers: Lt. Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield), and detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) to the coincidental fact of the identically-named victims (would he be called "The Phone Book Killer"?). On Sarah's dateless Friday night, Kyle located the right Sarah, and followed her on her motorbike from her apartment's parking garage to dinner and a movie.

In a restaurant, Sarah heard a TV news broadcast of the two execution-style murders of two other Sarah Connors, and suspected she was the next victim. She fled to the Tech-Noir bar/night-club, noticing that she was being followed (by Kyle Reese). After Ginger and her boyfriend had sex in the apartment, the murderous Terminator entered and killed Matt, then shot Ginger, but realized Sarah was still alive when he heard her frantic voice calling on the answering machine - and revealing her location at the Tech-Noir on Pico Boulevard. He took with him Sarah's school picture ID to identify her. Sarah called the police, and was told to remain there and await police protection.

Both Kyle and the Terminator converged on the Tech-Noir, where Kyle was the first to get to Sarah - he opened fire with his shotgun on the cyborg, and saved defenseless Sarah from being killed. After blasting the Terminator a second time, Kyle convinced her that he was there to protect her ("Come with me if you want to live"). As they fled in his stolen vehicle, followed by the Terminator in a hijacked police car, he told her that the Terminator was an assassin - a Model 101 cyborg created by Cyberdyne Systems, a metal skeleton surrounded by living tissue. It was specifically targeting her, and Reese had come back from the future to protect her:

I'm here to help you. I'm Reese, Sergeant Techcom BN38416, assigned to protect you. You've been targeted for termination...It's very important that you live....(The Terminator) He's not a man - a machine. A Terminator. A Cyberdyne Systems Model 101...Not a robot. A cyborg. A cybernetic organism...The Terminator's an infiltration unit, part man, part machine. Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis - microprocessor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue - flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs...The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy. But these are new, they look human. Sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot...Listen and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever! Until you are dead!

When she asked, "Why me?", Reese further explained what he knew about the grim future, and the AI computer Skynet (defense network computers) responsible for the nuclear holocaust: "There was a nuclear war a few years from now. All this, this whole place, everything -- it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah...Defense network computers. New, powerful, hooked into everything. Trusted to run it all. They say it got smart -- a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond-- extermination." Kyle explained how he grew up after the war "in the ruins, starving, hiding from HKs...Hunter-Killers, patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal." He showed his forearm with a laser-scanned, burned-in brand.

He continued with a description of one brave Resistance fighter-leader, John Connor, Sarah's future unborn son, who helped humans to barely survive and defend themselves against the machines:

Some of us were kept alive, to work, loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherf--kers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor - John Connor. Your son, Sarah. Your unborn son.

Although they stole a second vehicle (a Cadillac) and were again chased by the Terminator on downtown streets, Reese and Sarah were cornered and apprehended by police. In their custody, Kyle was questioned by incredulous criminal psychologist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen). He told them that he was a soldier fighting for the 132nd under Commander Perry, from the year 2021 to 2027. And for the last two years, he fought under John Connor against the enemy -- "a computer defense system built for SAC-NORAD for Cyberdyne Systems." Silberman restated Reese's story - that the computer thought it would win by killing Connor -- "the mother of its enemy. Killing him, in effect, before he's even conceived - a sort of retroactive abortion." Reese explained how the computer's defense grid had been smashed by the Resistance forces, and how Skynet had no other choice: "We'd won. Taking out Connor then would make no difference. Skynet had to wipe out his entire existence." The Terminator and Reese were the last two to be transported back in time, by a time displacement machine that was afterwards destroyed by the Resistance. Reese had no way to return to the future: "Nobody goes home. Nobody else comes through. It's just him and me." Silberman regarded Reese's complete story as the paranoid, insane delusions of a psychopath: "In technical terminology, he's a loon." The officers explained away the Terminator's survival by claiming that he was wearing a bullet-proof armored vest, and that he was on drugs (PCP) and must have broken every bone in his hand when he punched through the windshield at Sarah.

Meanwhile, the Terminator performed two surgeries upon himself (on his damaged right forearm and his left eye) - the result of crashing his stolen police vehicle. The Terminator, now wearing sunglasses to conceal his injury, entered the outer secured lobby of the police department where Sarah and Kyle were being held. When denied access to see Sarah Connor and told he had to wait, he casually uttered three famous words to the desk captain: "I'll be back," before ramming the building with a car. During his assault and massacre of the facility's dozens of officers, the two fugitives escaped from the besieged police station, and fled during a massive manhunt. They hid out in the countryside under a road overpass, where Sarah asked about her future son as she treated Kyle's mild bullet wound. She learned that he was strong and heroic -- Kyle vowed: "I'd die for John Connor." Reese had volunteered to be sent back: "It was a chance to meet the legend - Sarah Connor. Taught her son to fight, organize, prepare from when he was a kid. When you were in hiding before the war..." She was doubtful about her future role as a legendary figure: "Do I look like the mother of the future?..I didn't ask for this honor, and I don't want it. Any of it!" Kyle delivered a personal message to her from her son: "Thank you, Sarah, for your courage through the dark years. I can't help you with what you must soon face except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive or I will never exist. That's all."

As he told her more about the future, Sarah lapsed into sleep and had a terrifying, nightmarish vision of a future firefight, involving Reese and other Resistance fighters. When Reese returned to an underground human sanctuary, and as he took out his prized Polaroid picture of Sarah Connor, a predatory Terminator broke into their stronghold and opened fire - there was a tremendous massacre of scores of innocent civilians (women and children). Reese's picture of Sarah burned in flames. When she awoke, they hitchhiked a ride and rented a room (with kitchenette) at the Tiki Motel. While Reese went to buy supplies, Sarah unwisely phoned her mother at her Big Bear cabin -- unwittingly identifying her phone number and location to the Terminator, who was impersonating her now murdered mother. Reese returned with ingredients to make a stockpile of homemade 'plastique' bombs -- Karo corn syrup, moth balls, flares, ammonia, and duct tape. She asked if Reese was "disappointed" in her, and he replied that he wasn't. He described the women in his time as "good fighters" - but there was no one "special" and he had never had someone. He mentioned the "very old, torn, faded" picture John Connor had given him of her, and that he had come "across time" for her - he boldly asserted his love for her: "I always have." Although he realized he had been forward and possibly foolish, she kissed him, and they made passionate love together -- their conceived child would be humanity's future savior, John Connor.

During further pursuit after they were traced to the motel (the two were alerted by a barking dog), the Terminator chased after their stolen truck on a motorcycle, as Reese tossed his explosives at the cyborg behind them. When Reese was seriously-wounded by a gunshot, their truck (driven by Sarah) rammed into the Terminator's cycle and then violently crashed and overturned. Although downed, the cyborg commandeered an oil company tanker-truck. As the Terminator drove after Sarah to run her down, Reese inserted one of his bombs into the piping on the side of the truck, and it was blown up in a fiery inferno. The exterior synthetic skin of the T-800 Terminator was burned away, and only the unstoppable cyborg's metal exo-skeletal frame (with glowing red eyes) remained. The skeletal T-800 rose out of the flames and followed them on foot into an automated factory, filled with giant robotic, hydraulic-powered machines. As Reese commanded Sarah to flee, he valiantly and vainly struck the metallic cyborg with a round steel bar, but was back-handed with the robot's right hand and further hurt. He sacrificed himself when he placed another homemade bomb into the Terminator's open torso, successfully blowing its lower half away. Sarah's left thigh was severely-injured by sharp flying debris from the blast, after which the surviving upper-half of the relentless cyborg continued to crawl after her. She escaped death by strangulation, by luring the cyborg underneath a massive hydraulic press and crushing it. As she pressed a red START button to initiate the process, she yelled out: "You're terminated, f--ker!" The glowing red eyes of the Terminator dimmed and extinguished. Shortly afterwards, Sarah was placed on an ambulance stretcher, and Reese was zipped into a body bag.

In the film's epilogue, a 6-months pregnant Sarah was tape-recording her thoughts on November 10, 1984, as she drove in an open Jeep Renegade through a Mexican desert: "If you don't send Kyle, you can never be. God, a person could go crazy thinking about this...Maybe it will help if you know that in the few hours that we had together, we loved a lifetime's worth." [She would later present these tapes to her unborn son, John Connor, fathered by Kyle.] Pulling off the road at a gas station, she had her Polaroid picture taken by a young boy hustling her for five American dollars in exchange -- it was the same exact picture given by Connor to Kyle Reese, that he had carried with him and fallen in love with. The film's final translated Mexican words were spoken by the young boy, as the wind whipped up an impending storm: "He said there's a storm coming in." Before driving off into the distance toward some mountains, Sarah replied: "I know."

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

This box-office hit, budgeted at $6.4 million, brought in almost $38 million in revenues (domestically), and $78 million (worldwide).

The low-budget film made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star; "I'll be back" became a popular catch-phrase.

Set-pieces: the shootout in the Tech-Noir bar/nightclub, the car chase pursuit in downtown Los Angeles, the police station assault, and the final pursuit by motorcycle and tanker-truck.

The Terminator
(Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Sarah Connor
(Linda Hamilton)

Kyle Reese
(Michael Biehn)

Ginger Ventura
(Bess Motta)

Lt. Ed Traxler
(Paul Winfield)

Detective Hal Vukovich
(Lance Henriksen)

Dr. Silberman
(Earl Boen)

The Terminator
T-800 Series (Model 101) - Exo-Skeleton

Greatest Film Series Franchises - Sections
Series-Introduction - Index to All Films | Series-Box Office

Previous Page Next Page