1984 • 107 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen
Writers: James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Awards and Honors
The Essential Films
100 Essential Horror Movies - #19
100 Greatest Movie Heroes - #43, Sarah Connor
100 Greatest Movie Villains - #49, The Terminator
Top 20 End of the World Movies - #2
National Film Preservation Board
Inducted to National Film Registry: 2008
In the future, a great war wages between mankind and the machines. A cyborg, or Terminator, is sent back in time to present day to eliminate Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, who leads the human resistance against the machines. The humans send back a guardian for Sarah… a man named Kyle Reese who must help Sarah escape and outrun the deadly killing machine who will stop at nothing to change the future.
WHY IS IT ESSENTIAL?
3 GENRES FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
It is rare when a film cross-pollinates genres to create something extra-ordinary. This is what The Terminator does. The Terminator is an action movie with a science fiction concept filmed and presented as a horror movie. Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the Terminator cyborg is absolutely terrifying. Truly, one of the great screen villains. The Terminator is essentially a hitman with a target. But the difference being, this hitman is completely unstoppable. Bullets, knives and explosions do not hurt it. It does not feel pain, nor mercy. These are all classic traits of any of the great horror villains from Michael Myers to Jason Vorhees… except increased exponentially. On top of this, who is the hero of the story? Sarah Connor. A normal, all-American girl who doesn’t understand why this (literal) killing machine is out to destroy her. Sound familiar? Add all this to the fact that, visually, the film is incredibly dark there are a small number of day time scenes which add to the horror ambience.
I’LL BE BACK
ORIGINAL VS SEQUEL
There is endless debate amongst the Terminator fanbase as to which film is better: The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. What’s entertaining about this argument is that they are incredibly different films. The original is more of a horror/thriller while the second is just straight-up ass-kicking action. However, the debate rages and that can only be the sign of a good series. Don’t believe me? Which film is better Godfather or Godfather II? Exactly.
James Cameron is an incredibly talented director. The man knows exactly what he’s doing and his movies always look spectacular and he’s always breaking new ground. The Abyss and Terminator 2 used special-effects technology that was still in its infancy and those movies STILL look amazing. Avatar, while being a recycled story, was a groundbreaking film visually and hell, yes, even Titanic looks incredible. James Cameron knows how to make a movie. But, the most impressive film to this day still has to be the original Terminator. Why? Because while Avatar, Titanic and T2 all look better, they also had HUGE budgets. Terminator was made for practically nothing (by Hollywood standards) and Cameron was put in a position where he had to create a visually impressive movie on pretty much no money. Do the some of the effects look hokey in 2011? Sure. But in 1984 that was cutting edge technology.
Unlike Avatar and Titanic, where Cameron relies heavily on his incredible visuals and sees the story as an after thought, The Terminator story is classic. He took an old science fiction concept (man vs machine) and put a spin on it that still keeps your imagination alive. Both T1 and T2 take the concept of fate and the concept of time travel and had a lot of fun with it. Can you change the future for the better or for the worse? Or will the inevitable always happen? It’s phenomenal story-telling. Too bad it may be ripped off some Harlan Ellison stories: