The Terminator Explained

The Terminator
Director:James Cameron
Producer:John Daly
Derek Gibson
Gale Anne Hurd
Starring:Arnold Schwarzenegger
Michael Biehn
Linda Hamilton
Music:Brad Fiedel
Cinematography:Adam Greenberg
Editing:Mark Goldblatt
Distributor:Orion Pictures/ Hemdale Film Corporation
Runtime:108 min.
Country:United States
Followed By:

The Terminator is a 1984 science fiction/action film directed and co-written by James Cameron. It features Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. The film was followed by two sequels with a third sequel due out in 2009. The franchise includes a television series and video games.

The film takes place in 1984, introducing the concept of a "terminator", specifically the titular character (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a seemingly unstoppable cyborg assassin who has been sent back from the year 2029 by a race of artificially intelligent computer-controlled machines bent on the extermination of the human race. The Terminator's mission is to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) whose future son leads a resistance against the machines. A human, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), is also sent back from the future to protect her.

In 2008, The Terminator was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[1]


The film opens in the ruins of Los Angeles in 2029; the world has been devastated by nuclear war. Machines control the post-apocalyptic Earth, and are determined to exterminate the human race. The action then shifts from the future to May 12, 1984.[2] Two men appear in Los Angeles in separate locations, manifesting in storms of electricity. One is heavily muscular, and appears unscathed by his journey; the other man, slim and wiry, seems to have been seriously weakened by his journey, though he regains his strength fairly quickly. Both men are naked. The mysterious muscular man (Arnold Schwarzenegger) obtains clothes and weapons and begins hunting down all women named "Sarah Connor", using a phone book to track his targets. He successfully kills the first two of the three listed women. When he attempts to kill the last Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), he is stopped by the other time traveler, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who has also been gathering weapons and equipment. It transpires that Reese has been sent back to protect her. While hiding from their assailant in a parking garage, Reese explains that the man hunting Sarah is actually a Terminator, a cyborg assassin. Terminators were built by Skynet, an artificial intelligence network created by Cyberdyne Systems. In the near future, Reese explains, Skynet gained self-awareness, intitiated a global takeover of military hardware, and launched a nuclear war against humanity. Skynet ordered that a scant number of humans were to be kept alive in order to be used as slave labor. John Connor, Sarah's son, rallied the few remaining humans and led a resistance movement against the machines. After a grinding campaign, the human resistance was on the verge of victory; in a last-ditch effort, Skynet sent the Terminator back in time to kill Sarah before John was born, preventing the resistance from ever being founded and (presumably) allowing the machines to win by default. Reese volunteered to follow the Terminator back in time to protect Sarah; after using the time transportation equipment, it was to be destroyed by the resistance in order to prevent further Terminators from going back in time.

The Terminator feels no pain, has no emotions and will stop at nothing to accomplish its mission. The time travel process developed by the machines can only send living tissue or an object covered with such living tissue, preventing Reese - and the Terminator - from bringing any advanced weaponry. Reese is skeptical of the stopping power provided by 20th century small arms; the Terminator is protected by a hard metal endoskeleton, although the living tissue covering the endoskeleton (referred to as a "combat chassis" by Reese) makes the Terminator indistinguishable from a human being.

After Kyle finishes his story, he and Sarah are attacked by the Terminator again, resulting in a chase that leads to the police stopping and capturing Reese; the Terminator crashes its vehicle, but disappears from the wreckage. At the West Highland Police Station, Sarah is told by Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) that Reese is crazy. Meanwhile, Reese is questioned by psychologist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen). Reese explains his mission to Silberman - who concludes that the story is a paranoid delusion, constructed in such a way that it requires no evidence, thus preventing anyone from refuting it. The Terminator arrives at the police station and asks to see Sarah, but the desk sergeant denies access. After examining the police station and uttering the infamous catch phrase "I'll be back", the Terminator leaves - returning seconds later by plowing a car through the front of the building. The Terminator goes on a rampage through the building, killing 16 police officers (while the second film stated the number to be 17[3] . Reese manages to escape and rescue Sarah. They hide out in a motel, where Reese teaches Sarah to make pipe bombs from household supplies. Sarah sarcastically calls herself "some legend," and asks Reese if he is disappointed with her, and if he's ever been in love. After replying no to both questions, he confesses that he is in love -- with her. At first, Reese thinks he has made a fool of himself, but Sarah feels the same way, and they make love.

Later that night, the Terminator tracks them down and shoots Reese, wounding him. Sarah manages to knock the Terminator off its motorcycle. A tanker truck then runs over the Terminator. The damaged cyborg commandeers the tanker truck and drives it at them. Reese uses one of their last bombs to blow up the truck, causing the Terminator to collapse in a burnt heap. At first Reese and Sarah celebrate, thinking that the Terminator has been destroyed, but the bare metal endoskeleton is still functional and pursues them into a factory. In the ensuing chase, Reese jams a pipe bomb into the Terminator's abdomen, blowing its legs and one hand off, but killing himself in the process. The Terminator, still partially functional, drags itself by its remaining hand to pursue Sarah, until she finally crushes it in a hydraulic press, destroying it.

The end of the film shows Sarah pregnant, and traveling in Mexico on November 10, 1984. She records audio tapes which she intends to play for her son, John, at some point in his life. She reveals to the tape that John is Reese's son, conceived during their one night at the motel six months earlier (see Predestination paradox), although she expresses doubt as to whether or not she will reveal to John the identity of his father.[4] While Sarah's gas tank is being filled, a young Mexican boy takes a picture of her, the same picture John will give to Reese in the future. Sarah pulls out of the gas station and drives into the distance where storms are approaching over the mountains. The end credits start to roll as her Jeep disappears.


Linda HamiltonSarah J. Connor
Michael BiehnKyle Reese
Arnold SchwarzeneggerThe Terminator
Paul WinfieldLieutenant Ed Traxler
Lance HenriksenDetective Hal Vukovich
Bess MottaGinger Ventura
Earl BoenDr. Peter Silberman
Rick RossovichMatt Buchanan
Dick MillerPawnshop Clerk
Shawn ScheppsNancy
Bruce M. KernerDesk Sergeant
Franco ColumbuFuture Terminator
Bill PaxtonPunk Leader
Brad ReardenPunk
Brian ThompsonPunk


Cameron originally envisioned the Terminator as a small, unremarkable man, giving it the ability to blend in more easily. As a result, his first choice for the part was Lance Henriksen. O. J. Simpson was on the shortlist but Cameron did not think that "such a nice guy could be a ruthless killer".[5] According to him and co-writer William Wisher, Schwarzenegger was offered the role of the human soldier Reese. However, they realized that he would be better suited as the Terminator, which as a result became large and muscular. Michael Biehn was also on the shortlist for the Terminator, and not the hero Kyle Reese. The idea of Schwarzenegger as the hero would be revisited for the sequel.

Production was originally scheduled for Spring 1983 in Toronto, but after Dino De Laurentiis chose to option Schwarzenegger to film Conan the Destroyer, filming was delayed until March 1984 in Los Angeles.

Several scenes cut from the film are available on some DVD releases (though not incorporated into the film). The secondary police characters Vukovich and Traxler had several of their scenes cut, and in the cut scenes we can see Traxler realizing that Reese is right, and when dying gives him his weapon. One particular scene involving the destruction of Cyberdyne inspired a very similar plot point in the sequel. In this scene, Sarah suggests to Reese that they find Cyberdyne Systems and destroy it before they can invent Skynet, preventing the war. At the end of the film, when Sarah is being taken away by the ambulance, two factory workers find the remains of the Terminator and decide to turn it over to Research and Development, with the camera zooming out to reveal the name of the factory: Cyberdyne Systems. These two scenes set up major plot points in Terminator 2, where the CPU and arm from the Terminator in this film are reverse engineered and used to create Skynet, and where Sarah, John, and the Terminator blow up Cyberdyne to prevent the war.

James Cameron once said that what inspired him to make The Terminator were two episodes from the 1960s television science fiction series The Outer Limits [6] - "Soldier" and "Demon with the Glass Hand", both written by science-fiction author Harlan Ellison. When the author threatened a lawsuit, Terminator production company Hemdale and distributor Orion Pictures gave veteran fantasy writer Harlan Ellison an "acknowledgement to the works of" credit on video and cable releases of The Terminator as well as a cash settlement after he threatened to sue for plagiarism of the two The Outer Limits episodes and the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever". Philip K. Dick's short story, Second Variety is also said to have been an influence on the film.


The Terminator was a low-budget movie, at roughly $6.5 million, which turned out to be a box-office hit, earning $38,371,200 domestically. The film went on to gross more than $78 million worldwide.[7] The film has received mostly positive reviews. On At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, Ebert gave the film "thumbs up" and described it as very violent, sometimes sadistic, yet solid action picture. Siskel gave the film "thumbs down." Currently, The Terminator has ratings of 100% and 84% positive reviews on popular review aggregator websites Rotten Tomatoes[8] and Metacritic,[9] respectively. The film was placed in Time Magazines Top 10 Films of 1984.

In 2001, The Terminator was ranked 42nd on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills.

In 2005, Total Film named The Terminator the 72nd best film ever made.[10]

In 2008, The Terminator was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[11]


See main article: The Terminator (soundtrack).

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: The Terminator (1984) being one of 25 films to be preserved. Digital Spy. December 31, 2008. 2009-01-01.
  2. (Near the start of the film a police officer mentions that the day is Thursday; May 12 fell on a Thursday in 1983, but on Saturday in 1984. Since the year 1984 is referenced several times in the movie, the Thursday reference appears to be an error. (Terminator script)
  3. Web site: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). 2007-10-05.
  4. Web site: T2 and Technology. Larry. Yaeger. June 24, 2006. …the Terminator stories posit a temporal loop — a causality paradox — as the principle contributors to this eventuality..
  5. Booklet in the Collector's Edition Release of DVD version of The Terminator.
  6. James Cameron
  7. Web site: The Terminator (1984). Box Office Mojo. 2007-07-15.
  8. The Terminator Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  11. News: Terminator joins movie archive. December 30, 2008. BBC News. BBC. 2008-12-30.