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The Terminator: To Franchise or Not to Franchise

Franchise Overview

The Terminator came out in 1984. There have been 5 other Terminator movies and one TV series, and many video games, in the Terminator franchise. Now for copyright reasons it’s unlikely there will be another Terminator movie or TV show. Now that the franchise is considered dead some have expressed the belief Terminator should have never become a franchise in the first place.

When a coworker told me, they were going to make a sequel to The Terminator, I didn’t how it was possible. My coworker explained they could make a sequel out of anything. This article has spoilers.

A Recap

The Terminator’s premise is a robot and a human are sent back to 1984. The robot is a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It was sent back to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) so she couldn’t spawn John Connor. John Connor formed and led a successful resistance against the machines. The machines were facing certain defeat in 2029. Sending a Terminator back to kill Sarah Connor before she conceived John Connor was an attempt to stop the resistance before it started. The humans sent Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to 1984. Kyle Reese’s mission is to prevent the Terminator from killing Sarah Connor. According to Kyle Reese he and the Terminator were the only entities sent back in time.

The Terminator kills Kyle Reese, but not before Kyle impregnates Sarah. Sarah destroys the Terminator. The implication is the machines, by sending the Terminator back in time, caused the situation they were trying to prevent.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day’s premise is a second set of entities, a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a T-1000 (Robert Patrick), are sent back in time. The T-1000 is sent to kill an adolescent John Connor (Edward Furlong). The T-800 is sent to protect John Connor. Sarah Connor learns Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) of Cyberdyne Systems used surviving parts from the 1984 Terminator to advance robotics and electronics.

Miles, Sarah, John, and the Terminator destroy all of Cyberdyne’s research. The T-1000 and the Terminator are destroyed. This indicates the future has been changed and Judgement Day, the day the machines cause a nuclear holocaust, is averted.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ premise is the actions in Terminator 2 only delayed Judgement Day. Inevitably sentient machined will be developed and gain control of a nuclear arsenal. When that happens so will Judgement Day. A T-800 and a T-X (Kristanna Loken) are sent back in time. The T-800’s priority is to save John Connor (Nick Stahl) and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).

The T-800 destroys itself and the T-X. Judgement Day happens. John and Kate survive in a blast shelter. John is destined to be the resistance leader and Kate is destined to be his second in command and wife.

Terminator Salvation shows the final stages of the war between the humans and the machines. In this movie time travel is alluded to but doesn’t play a significant role in the events shown.

Terminator Genisys’ premise is Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) comes back to a 1984 where Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) lives with a T-800 dubbed Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger). When she was young terminators killed her parents and Guardian rescued her and trained her to kill terminators. Sarah enlists Kyle to join her and the Guardian to stop Judgment Day. Kyle and Reese time travel to 2017 while the Guardian hides out, ages, and waits for 2017. They meet a John Connor (Jason Clarke) that’s a machine.

Terminator: Dark Fate has John Connor out of the picture. Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is the new savior of the human race to be protected. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back to save Dani. A REV-9 series terminator, named Gabriel (Gabriel Luna) is the assassin. The back story is Sarah Connor has been following clues left behind by an unknown entity. These clues lead to Sarah showing up while Grace is battling a REV—9. Sarah tracks down the source of her clues. It’s a geriatric T-800 that calls himself Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Together they fight off the REV-9.

Genre History

The Terminator was a critical and financial success. It cost $6.4 million to produce and earned over $38 million at the U.S. box office. Worldwide it earned over $78 million at the box office.[i] This was the first Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that was critically acclaimed. It is the movie that began Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trademark phrase, “I’ll be back.”

Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a critical, financial, and technical success. The computer animation was cutting edge and was often used as examples of the latest in computer animation. The budget was $100 million and it earned over $203 million at the U.S. box office. Worldwide box office receipts totaled over $515 million.[ii]

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a disappointment for the fans and at the box office. It earned about $20 million less at the U.S. box office than it cost to make the film. Worldwide it earned over $433 million at the box office. It cost about $170 million to make.[iii] It started a trend of diminishing returns for the franchise. Many felt at 55 Arnold Schwarzenegger was too old for the part. That was not the only problem critics found with the movie.

Terminator Salvation, a 2008 release, was the most expensive film in the franchise to make. It cost $200 million to make and made $150 million in the U.S. box office and $365 million worldwide.[iv]

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles aired on television in 2008. This series lasted 2 seasons.

Terminator Genisys cost $155 million to make. It earned less than $90 million in the U.S. Box office and over $432 worldwide.[v] It did explain the geriatric looking terminator. The titanium chassis and electronic parts stay in good repair but the skin, which is simply cosmetic, ages the same as with humans.[vi]

Terminator: Dark Fate is among the movies that has an opening scene that seems designed to anger fans. The movie costs $185 million to make and earned $62 million in the U.S. and over $261 in the worldwide box offices.[vii] This movie brings back Linda Hamilton as (Sarah Connor).

[i] The Numbers.com, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Terminator#tab=summary, last accessed 10/25/20.

[ii] The Numbers.com, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Terminator#tab=summary, last accessed 10/25/20.

[iii] The Numbers.com, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Terminator#tab=summary, last accessed 10/25/20.

[iv] The Numbers.com, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Terminator#tab=summary, last accessed 10/25/20.

[v] The Numbers.com, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Terminator#tab=summary, last accessed 10/25/20.

[vi] It’s reminiscent of the old joke: “I’ve got the body of a 20-year-old”. “Well you better give it back you’re getting it all wrinkled.”

[vii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6450804/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0, last accessed 10/29/20.

Time Travel and Paradox

Time travel stories work on the premise of if the past can be changed. If the past can’t be changed then a time traveler trying to change the past will be like Wile E. Cayote trying to catch the Road Runner.[i] If the story is based on the premise the past can be changed there is the “Grandfather Paradox”. If a time traveler kills their grandfather, before the grandfather conceived the time traveler’s parent, then how could the time traveler exist to kill the grandfather.[ii]

The Terminator strongly indicated in its universe the past can’t be changed. This is a logical reason for claiming the movie should have never become a franchise. Kyle Reese did not know anything about the physics of time travel. He only knew what he was told. It is possible after he went through the resistance discovered a second terminator was sent back in time. Two terminators in two different dates would seem to ensure a mission success. The machines would have a better understanding if the past could be changed. The machine’s understanding would be theoretical. Computers would be unlikely to embark on a mission to they knew would fail.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day ended with all the data on the technology need to create Skynet destroyed. Judgement Day won’t be coming. The Connors had reason to hope for a normal future for them and the rest of the world. It seemed a good way to end a story. There was an alternate ending which showed Sarah as a grandmother and John as a U.S. senator.[iii]

If the premise is the past can be changed, how does a movie or franchise deal with this reality. The Terminator franchise uses what’s called a “Ripple Effect”. This means what is changed in the past effects the future timeline. Developing sentient computers that will attempt to destroy the human race is inevitable. Events in the past can change Judgement Day’s date but eventually Judgement Day will come. Dr. Carl Sagan pointed out if a time traveler changed Queen Isabella’s mind about financing the Columbus expedition Europeans would have found the Americas around 1500 anyway.[iv] Adel Helal gives a detailed explanation of the Terminator timeline in his video.[v]

[i] The Road Runner is a cartoon series where Wile E. Cayote would come up with elaborate plans to catch the Road Runner. All attempts end in catastrophic failures.

[ii] The movie Final Countdown explained the paradox. Carl Sagan also explained it in his book Cosmos. Carl Sagan’s version was similar to the Back to the Future Scenario.

[iii] Terminator 2 (Special Edition Alternate End), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgUsMkbipQQ, last accessed 11/2/20.

[iv] Cosmos by Dr. Carl Sagan, © 1980 Carl Sagan Productions, Inc.

[v] Terminator Timeline Accurately Explained by Adel Helal, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mX60d8W4ZcM&t=17s, posted December 4, 2015, last accessed 10/31/20.

Time Fractures and Possibilities

When the humans found a terminator had gone into the past, and everything is well, then whatever the terminator did in the past had no negative effect. Sending another entity into the past to fix what wasn’t broken would be dangerous.

Another model for time travel is where traveling into the past creates a fracture and a second timeline. In such a case the machines would send a terminator back to create another universe where machines will prevail. John Connor, if knowledgeable of the physics, would be attempting to save the humans in the new universe from extinction.

In the original, May 12, 1984 is a bad day for Sarah Connor. She had a rough day at work and someone canceled a date with her. With no terminator no, Sarah Connor’s are killed Nancy (Shawn Schepps) doesn’t make the “You’re dead, honey” wisecrack. There is no newscast in the bar announcing a second Sarah Connor killed. Sarah Connor meets a man, say an accountant, and within a year she has a son and names him John, the 9th most popular boys name that year.[i]

John A. has organizational skills from his father and people skills from his mother, the server. He survives Judgement Day and uses these skills to organized a bunch of people of various knowledge and abilities into a cohesive fighting organization. The humans win but not before a terminator is sent into the past to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese, who knew what Sarah Connor looks like from the picture John Connor gave him. John gave him the picture for reason’s unknown.

The events in The Terminator, and the back story for Terminator 2: Judgement Day, happen. In 1985 John B. Connor is a delinquent with a criminal record. With no T-1000 John B. continues his life of crime. He is in prison on judgement day and survives with the other convicts. John B’s skills enable him to lead the convicts, which form the nucleus of the resistance movement.[ii]

With the T-1000 in 1995 John C. Connor is in Kate Brewster’s (Claire Danes) words “a mess”. It’s difficult to see him as a leader of a significant military force. He has knowledge equivalent to a commando. This would make him a good instructor or the leader of a small unit. Kate Brewster demonstrated in Terminator 3 she, daughter of a lieutenant general (David Andrews), could credibly lead a large military force. John C. could make a good figurehead of decoy leader.

[i] Babycenter.com, https://www.babycenter.com/top-baby-names-1985.htm, last accessed 11/2/20.

[ii] The prospect of accountants and criminals being to likely survivors of a nuclear war was put forward in the movie Fail Safe. During a party Dr. Groeteschele (Walter Matthau) proposed the accountants, who knew organization, would fight with convicts, who knew violence, over the remaining resources.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on November 08, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting. The James Bond franchise is a very interesting franchise. It does seem with the Terminator franchise there is The Terminator, Terminator 2, and the rest are condemned to suffer by comparison to them. The same could be said of the Alien and Predator franchises.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2020:

Time travel movies are fun ones to watch. Many of the Star Trek movies addressed that aspect of not making any significant changes that could then change the future. You showcased the "Grandfather Paradox" well. I did not watch all of the Terminator movies. Often the first one does better than subsequent ones at the box office. Liz's example of the James Bond ones is an exception.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 08, 2020:

You have done a good job at reviewing this series of films. Like with many franchises, the first ones faired better than subsequent films it seems. One that bucks this trend is the James Bond franchise.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 08, 2020:

This is a good review of the Terminator, Robert. It sure made a lot of money over time but none had as much money as the first one. I have only watched a couple of them, which was enough for me.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 07, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you like the article.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on November 07, 2020:

l love your writing...