There are few film and television franchises that can match the Terminator series in terms of longevity. The franchise consists of a number of science fiction action films, comic books, novels, and other media, all of which revolve around a total war between Skynet’s synthetic intelligence – a self-aware military machine network – and John Connor’s Resistance forces, which are composed of the human race’s survivors.
Since founder James Cameron fled the nest, the Terminator series has seen an incredible amount of turmoil, resulting in some catastrophic mistakes and more than one full reboot. Due to the complexities of time travel in the Terminator films, it is difficult to order them chronologically (and because there are fractured timelines). The newest installment in the series does nothing to alleviate the situation since it omits everything except the first two Terminator films. I would therefore advise you to continue reading as I go through the breakdown of the films as they were released and in the canonical story order.
Terminator Movies in Order by Release Date at a Glance
Each film in the Terminator franchise is linked to the preceding one and continues the narrative from the previous film’s conclusion. Each film is centered on a different incident in which Skynet sends its killer robots from the future to change the outcome of the ultimate battle. As a result, the ideal sequence is to watch Terminator films in chronological order so that you can keep track of the narrative and all of the events.
Here is the list of complete terminator movies in order of release:
- 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)
Terminator Movies in Chronological Order at a Glance
This meandering and astonishingly lengthy tale may be a bit difficult to follow at points. That’s to be anticipated in any series in which time travel plays a significant role, and the fact that the Terminator franchise has undergone many reimaginings in recent years further muddies the waters. Thus, for your viewing convenience, below is a list of all Terminator films, arranged chronologically:
- Terminator: Genisys (2015)
- The Terminator (1984)
- Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
- Terminator: Salvation (2009)
- Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Terminator Movies in Chronological Order and how are they Connected
Terminator: Genisys is a prequel to the first film in the franchise, detailing what occurred on the day of the last battle. However, the film is entirely self-contained and does not follow the events of the first Terminator film. Thus, the timeframes are linked in the following order:
1. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
The Terminator series defies conventional chronology since its concept is based on altering the past in order to influence the future. However, if we strictly follow the chronological sequence, this film begins with John Conner (Jason Clarke) defeating Skynet in 2029 and sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to 1984 to save John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke).
However, Sarah’s history is not what Reese anticipated: she has spent her whole life training to battle the robots. It’s critical to understand that this picture serves as a reset for the whole Terminator world. It alters the events in the first Terminator film when Sarah lacked preparation time. However, that is the franchise’s point; if anything does not go Skynet’s way, it will send killer robots back to alter it.
John Connor, the leader of the human rebels fighting Skynet, devises a plan to assault Skynet but opts out in order to prevent Skynet from carrying out its backup plan—sending a terminator to murder the woman who would give birth to John, Sarah Connor. However, he fails, and so he sends his right hand, Kyle Reese, to guard Sarah. Kyle Reese is the one who will sire him.
And as Reese leaves, he notices John being assaulted by someone who seems to be a Skynet soldier. When Reese arrives, he encounters a terminator that is unlike any he has seen before. He is rescued by Sarah, who is aware of his identity and purpose for being there. He also learns she is carrying a terminator. She informs him that the terminator he met was intended to murder her when she was nine years old and that the terminator, along with her, was sent to save her and has been her friend and protector ever since.
They intercepted the terminator he was following and want to use its chip to trigger a time machine they constructed in order to go to 1997, the year Skynet was launched, but Reese believes they should travel to 2017, not 1997. He claims that a voice or memory instructs him to remember the date because that is when they will be able to defeat Skynet. Thus, Sarah and Reese go, the terminator remains behind and promises to meet them at their arrival, but they are detained upon their arrival and an unexpected visitor appears.
2. The Terminator (1984)
Seven years later, James Cameron returned to develop and film Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the sequel to his 1980s classic. The sequel improved on its predecessor’s groundbreaking technological brilliance in every aspect and established the benchmark for ‘90s action films until The Matrix altered the game years later. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised their roles in this tale that reversed the original’s premise. This is, in many respects, the first successful reboot of The Terminator series.
The Terminator franchise begins with the first film, which stars a robotic assassin known as Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). He’s been dispatched from war-torn 2029 to 1984 to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the human race’s savior. Additionally, humanity returned another soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who finishes up fathering Sarah Conner’s baby.
Sent back from a future 2029–where icy machines have ruled the world—to 1984 Los Angeles, the indestructible cyborg-assassin known as the “Terminator” begins his lethal mission to assassinate humanity’s most important woman: the unsuspecting Sarah Connor.
However, from the same war-torn post-apocalyptic future emerges a battle-scarred defender—Kyle Reese, a valiant soldier of the human Resistance Army—dedicated to preventing the cybernetic murderer from destroying the world’s final chance. However, the Terminator is emotionless, he does not sleep, and most importantly, he will not stop until he completes his heinous job. Is our future entwined with our past?
3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
This is a follow-up to the first Terminator film. It starts up 11 years later, in 1995. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is serving a jail sentence for attempting to bomb a computer industry, while her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), is an adolescent living in foster care in Los Angeles. Two terminators from the future have come with conflicting missions: an exact replica of the original T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a new T-1000 liquid metal terminator (Robert Patrick). Naturally, one of them has arrived to do Skynet’s bidding.
Linda Hamilton is no longer the helpless damsel in distress in need of a future rescuer, and Arnold is no longer the mindless killer intent on her demise. She is a caged animal on the run, and he is a cyborg assigned to rescue the child whose existence had been ensured by a prior T-800 model. In The Abyss, cutting-edge computer graphics brought the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) to life as the shapeshifting automaton on the hunt for John Connor (Edward Furlong).
Over a decade has passed since the first Terminator attempted to murder Sarah Connor and her unborn son, John. The young guy who would one day lead humanity’s resistance to the Machines is currently a healthy little kid. However, the supercomputer Skynet sends another Terminator, the T-1000, back in time. This new Terminator is more sophisticated and powerful than the first, and its goal is to eliminate John Connor while he is still a kid.
Sarah and John, however, are not alone in their struggle against the T-1000 menace. Another Terminator is also sent back in time to defend them (similar to the one that attempted and failed to murder Sarah Connor in 1984). Now has started the fight for tomorrow.
4. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines brought the Terminator series back to cinemas after a 12-year hiatus. The film serves as an unceremonious send-off for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and is the first installment of the series that James Cameron or director of photography Adam Greenberg left unfinished (Ghost). Arnold vs. the T-X (Kristanna Loken) and jam-packed with CGI and explosives, the film is a lighthearted, contemporary chapter in The Terminator series that builds up the long-awaited battle against the machines.
Terminator 3 starts up a decade after the events of Terminator 2. Sarah Connor’s death postponed Skynet’s waking, but John Connor (Nick Stahl) lives in dread of the computer system discovering him and forcing him to live totally off the grid. Skynet is compelled to pursue him by pursuing other members of his resistance organization and, of course, by returning a new terminator, the T-X.
After more than a decade after ‘Terminator 2’, John Connor has become a wanderer, living ‘off the grid’ to avoid being hunted by future Terminators. Regrettably, SkyNet does return another – and this one is dubbed the T-X, which is much more powerful and sophisticated than the feared T-1000. However, a second CSM-101 Terminator is returned to defend John from the T-X. Now, in the appearance of a computer virus, Skynet is slowly assuming control of civilian computer systems.
John has also met his future wife, Kate Brewster, whose father, a General in the United States Air Force, is in command of the military’s computer systems and is opposed to SkyNet’s uplink. However, when the SkyNet virus enters the computers of the United States military, exposing the nation to assault, the robots begin their heinous conquest. Soon, there will be a nuclear war – and the fight against the robots will begin. Can the outmoded CSM-101 Terminator destroy the highly sophisticated T-X – or will man face a worse future in the aftermath of a nuclear attack?
5. Terminator Salvation (2009)
Salvation was originally intended to be the start of a second Terminator trilogy (the first consisted of Terminator, Terminator 2, and Terminator 3), but the sequels were canceled, leaving this as our only look at life for John Connor (Christian Bale) and the rest of humanity in a very dystopian 2018. We witness Connor discover that the resistance is plotting an all-out assault, based on information indicating that Skynet would eliminate the entire resistance leadership in a matter of days, with John’s father, Kyle Reese, at the top of the list (Anton Yelchin).
In 2003, Marcus Wright is on death row at the Longview State Correctional Facility when he is persuaded to give his corpse to cancer researcher Dr. Serena Kogan. In 2018, only John Connor escapes a failed assault on a Skynet facility, but he learns that Skynet is creating the strong new model T-800. Marcus arrives nude and amnesiac at the place out of nowhere. Marcus meets Kyle Reese, a teenager, and Star, a female, who assist him in surviving the deadly robots.
They travel together in a Jeep. Meanwhile, the resistance finds a signal that seems to be capable of shutting down the machines, and John volunteers to test it. Marcus resolves to assist Kyle when he is kidnapped by a machine and taken to Skynet’s headquarters; on there, he rescues Blair Williams, who advises him to first see John Connor. Marcus, however, stumbles on a mine and is taken to the hospital when a mystery about his origins is revealed.
6. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
The Terminator franchise’s newest installment was released in 2019, although the film is set in the near future of 2022.
Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2, in which we learn about Sarah Connor’s fate (Linda Hamilton). She and her son John Connor (Jude Collie) team together to fight against Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence. While one might argue that this film overlooks the events of the other films in the series, it’s more accurate to see it as the conclusion of all previous events in the chronology.
Sarah and John destroyed Skynet in Terminator 2 and averted the 1997 Judgement Day.
All subsequent films and television shows, including those set in the future, depict events that occurred in a timeline where the catastrophic catastrophe occurred in 1997. Terminator: Dark Fate reveals what happened to Sarah and John after they averted the apocalypse, and how their triumph against Skynet only delayed the danger of artificial intelligence.
Exactly twenty-five years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) eliminated Skynet’s nuclear threat, another apparently insignificant human—this time, the unknowing automobile assembly worker Dani Ramos—sets in action a deadly plot against humanity planned by the future’s despotic robots. Once again, the self-aware computer system sends its most powerful android assassin back in time—the virtually indestructible terminator built of advanced mimetic polymer alloy Rev-9—to kill young Dani in 2020 Mexico City.
However, a brave guardian comes from the distant year 2042: Grace, a bionically augmented Resistance warrior who unwillingly joins forces with an unexpected ally and a battle-tested defender from the past: the armed-to-the-teeth Sarah Connor. Through Sarah’s sacrifice, the world was spared the aftereffects of Judgment Day. Is it possible for the trio of guardians to alter history once more?
Do you need to watch Terminator in order?
Those who are unconcerned with dipping in and out of conflicting continuities may want to just watch each Terminator film in chronological sequence. All Terminator films are narratively linked and include many references to prior events. Additionally, the series’ warped chronology and frequent leaps between future and past make it critical to see the terminator series in sequence.
What is Canon in Terminator?
All terminator movies are canon with different timelines. Many fans believe James Cameron’s Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day to be canon. However, deciding that is rather improper.
It is critical to recognize that the Terminator story encompasses a large number of items, some of which are more faithful to the original concept or to James Cameron’s work than others. What I can say is that each of the films listed below serves as a distinct layer of the canon. The many levels underneath James Cameron’s creation are not intended to indicate whether a product is more or less canon, but rather to indicate how “far” it deviates from the original.
To simplify it,
- First timeline (as they were released in theaters): 1, 2, 3, Salvation
- Second timeline (the Genisys one): 1, 2, Genisys.
- Third timeline (now the canon timeline, all of them with James Cameron): 1, 2, Dark Fate.
All the previous sequels to T2 are just different branches of possible futures. In that sense, they’re all canon. Personally, I consider them all to be cannon, continuity errors are markers of the timeline distorting. So every time judgment day is stopped the past (and the future) changes