#76) The Terminator (1984)


#76) The Terminator (1984)

OR “Die, Robot”

Directed by James Cameron

Written by Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd. Based on the works of Harlan Ellison?

Class of 2008

The Plot: In the not-too-distant future of 2029, a war between machines and humans comes near an end when the human resistance finally takes control. To prevent this, the machines’ company Skynet sends a Terminator robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose unborn son will lead the resistance. Also arriving from the 2020s is Reese (Michael Biehn), a human who will protect Sarah at all costs.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “among the finest science-fiction films in many decades” and praises Cameron, Schwarzenegger, Stan Winston and even the soundtrack. An essay by John Willis is a pretty thorough overview of the film, its creation, and its legacy.

But Does It Really?: The film’s lasting influence cannot be denied. As science-fiction, it’s inventive but at times illogical. As action, it’s endlessly riveting if excessively violent. Regardless of genre, “The Terminator” clips along at an exciting pace and creates a real and terrifying world for the characters to run around in. This is all grounded by Linda Hamilton’s fine performance (though I don’t believe for a second she’s only 18) and of course, the Schwarzenegger performance to end all Schwarzenegger performances.

Everybody Gets One: Amazingly this is the only film on the NFR for pretty much everyone, from Arnold and Linda Hamilton to Michael Biehn and Paul Winfield. Most surprisingly, despite directing 11 films, including two that were/are the highest grossing films ever, this is James Cameron’s only representation on the Registry…for now**.

Wow, That’s Dated: The usual ‘80s fare, like answering machines and compact laserdiscs – not to mention that score! But perhaps the most dated reference of them all: it’s an Orion picture.

Take a Shot: They actually don’t say the name “Terminator” that often. I say you do you.

Seriously, Oscars?: Perhaps due to its low-budget status and Orion’s overall lack of support for the film, “The Terminator” received zero Oscar nominations. Its sequel would help rectify this oversight with four Oscars in the tech categories.

Other notes

  • I’ll go ahead and predict that 2029 will end up being exactly how the film depicts it.
  • Wow, that’s two different sets of male buttocks in the first 10 minutes of this film. And who says there’s nothing in these kind of films for the ladies?
  • That’s the late great Bill Paxton (in his only NFR appearance as well++) as one of the street thugs at the beginning.
  • This really is the best use of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a film. Don’t give him a lot of lines, just let him stand there and look cool kicking ass. And to think the producers passed on O.J. Simpson.
  • To be fair, the scene of Reese grabbing clothes is an accurate depiction of how most men go shopping. Just grab what you need and run.
  • Technically Reese’s memories of the war are a flash-forward.
  • This film raises a lot of issues involving time-travel. For starters, I feel like killing those other two Sarah Connors would lead to some pretty massive Butterfly Effect shit.
  • So 12 years in the future, graphics devolve back into early ‘80s mode? Or does Skynet have a retro app?
  • Reese’s description of the Terminator (“It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with…”, etc.) sounds a lot like our president.
  • Can the police arrest a man who hasn’t been born yet?
  • All I can say about those effect shots with the Terminator is “Stan Winston, you are missed.”
  • Like so many action films, this one falls victim to “You still don’t get it, do you?”
  • Sarah and Reese running for their lives in the police station is not the right time for a keyboard solo, Brad Fiedel!
  • This film has so much wibbly wobbly timey wimey going on with Sarah Connor and her role in the uprising that if I think about it too much I’ll go cross-eyed.
  • I’m glad that when a homicidal robot is hunting you down, there’s still plenty of time for doing it.
  • Surprise guest star Ron Swanson as the truck driver.
  • If my math is correct, Sarah Connor is 42 years older than Reese.
  • Some of these effects really don’t hold up. Next time fellas, use ILM.
  • The final chase sequence may be the first one in all of film that is comprised solely of crawling.


  • So many sequels, the first being considered equal to the original. The rest, not so much.
  • A TV series focusing on Sarah Connor and her son, starring a pre-“Game of Thrones” Lena Headey.
  • A Universal Studios attraction that is technically based on the first sequel, but we’ll include it here for the time being.
  • Everyone, EVERYONE, has spoofed this film. Jesus Christ so many people have said, “I’ll be back.”
  • Shortly after the events of the film, Sarah Connor went into hiding in Manhattan and fell in love with a guy who looks like Ron Perlman.
  • This launched both Schwarzenegger and James Cameron into stardom, so go ahead and pick your least favorite Schwarzenegger film while I play Cameron’s self-indulgent Oscar speech.
  • Bonus Clip: It was during the filming of “Terminator: Salvation” that Christian Bale delivered this little gem that took a naïve America by storm in 2009 (though it’s fun to hear him slip into his native English accent).

** 2017 Update: Well that was fast. Five months later and “Titanic” shows up on the Registry. Ask and you shall receive.

++2017 Update: Nope, he’s got “Titanic” too!

6 thoughts on “#76) The Terminator (1984)”

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