The Terminator is the first work in the Terminator franchise and the first film of the movie series. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Linda Hamilton, with Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield and Earl Boen in supporting roles.
The film opens with the depiction of the year 2029—a possible future where mankind has been oppressed by artificially intelligent machines, lead by the rebellious computer system Skynet. This computer became sentient and started a nuclear war by hijacking control of the United States' nuclear arsenal, launching the ICBM's in a devastating attempt to annihilate humanity. Subsequently, a post-apocalyptic war is raged in the future, where a small Resistance group of free humans try to win back their planet and survive the machine onslaught, lead by the heroic, influential General John Connor. Connor is the man responsible for the creation of the human resistance, and credited with rescuing mankind from extinction by rallying survivors to combat Skynet's forces.
A scroll appears on the screen, stating "The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged on for decades. But the final battle will not be fought in the future. It would be fought in our present...tonight".
Though the year is not specifically mentioned, the "present day" of the movie starts in the year 1984, Los Angeles, and introduces the arrival of the Terminator, a Series 800 Model 101 Infiltrator unit sent back in time by Skynet to assassinate Sarah Connor, mother of the future saviour of mankind (and Skynet's greatest enemy), before he is conceived by an unknown father the following year.
Since the time machine Skynet uses is only capable of sending organic matter (clothes, weapons, etc. can't be sent back), any being using the time machine must travel nude. The cyborg assassin, able to travel due to being covered by living organic skin that protects the robotic metal endoskeleton combat chassis, must also abide by these rules and arrives nude as well. The T-800, knowing it must wear clothes to maintain cover and infiltrate modern society, confronts the first people it meets that have compatible clothing sizes. In this case, they are three punk rockers drinking by a observation telescope at Griffith Observatory. The T-800 approaches them and after some verbal sparring, demands their clothing. The punks (played by Bill Paxton, Brian Thompson and Brad Rearden) refuse, one pulling a switchblade. The T-800 proceeds to forcefully push the punk away and into a gate, damaging his spine and killing him, then uses its bare hand to remove the heart of the second punk by punching through the flesh below the ribcage. The third punk, having just seen his two friends so easily killed by what appears to be a nude, muscle-bound psychopath, begins to strip and offer his clothes to the Terminator. After stealing a large amount of deadly weaponry from the Alamo Sports Shop, the T-800 begins to systematically hunt down and shoot every person listed as "Sarah Connor" in the phone book, in alphabetical order.
Meanwhile, in another part of Los Angeles, human resistance soldier Kyle Reese has arrived through time as well, tasked with protecting John Connor's mother from the Terminator, which was sent back as a last-second act of desperation by Skynet to eliminate its enemy's entire existence. He steals clothes from a homeless man and a shotgun from an unattended police vehicle. The Terminator's systematic murder of the first two “Sarah Connors” draws media attention, and the attention of police Lt. Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield), and detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen). The remaining Sarah Connor, a hapless 19-year-old waitress with a dull life, who lives with her best friend and roommate Ginger Ventura, finds out about the other two Sarah Connor murders on television. Worried by the name connection, and noticing that she is being followed (by her unknown protector, Kyle Reese), she takes shelter in a local club called TechNoir, where she calls the police for protection.
Meanwhile the Terminator goes to Sarah's apartment where it kills Ginger and her boyfriend Matt Buchanan. After hearing a voice on the answer machine, it realizes that Sarah is somewhere else and after finding Sarah's University ID, sets out to track her down.
While Sarah is waiting for the police at TechNoir, the Terminator and Reese both arrive to acquire her. Reese, not knowing what the Terminator looks like, has to wait for it to make a move before he is able to intervene and save Sarah from the Terminator. The Terminator and Reese wreak havoc at the disco in their ensuing firefight, the Terminator killing six people in the process. Reese empties his stolen police shotgun into the Terminator's chest, knocking it into a reboot cycle. He then grabs Sarah and they both flee in a stolen vehicle while the Terminator pursues in a hijacked police car. While fleeing, Kyle tells the terrified Sarah what is going on, to her initial disbelief. After an intense shootout between Reese and the attacking Terminator, the police arrive and arrest Reese and Sarah and bring them to West-Island police station. The Terminator escapes unseen, and breaks into a hotel room to perform self-repairs on its damaged eye and right arm, having to cover the damage with sunglasses.
At the police station, Sarah is reassured and interviewed by criminal psychologist Peter Silberman, who believes that Reese is insane; delusional; a "loon." Reese's claims about the future and the advanced robot's mission are dismissed as those of a raving lunatic; clearly someone suffering from psychotic delusions. The police also have "logical explanations" about the Terminator; they think he survived several bullets with a bullet-proof vest and that when he smashed through a windshield with his bare hand, he must have broken every bone in his arm.
However, mere minutes later, the Terminator arrives at the station, and when denied access to see Sarah, casually utters to the desk sergeant "I'll be back", before driving a car directly into the lobby, destroying the lobby and killing the desk sergeant. The machine, now heavily armed with an AR-18 carbine and a SPAS-12 shotgun, begins a one-man massacre on the station, killing 17 police officers in its determined search, causing a power outage, setting a fire, and greatly damaging the building in the shootout. Part of the station eventually collapses. Reese and Sarah are able to escape once again, and go into hiding in a cave. They then rent a free room at the Tiki Motel, where Reese begins teaching Sarah how to build homemade explosives.
During their night at the motel, Sarah and Reese discuss their feelings, where Sarah expresses her disbelief and feeling of shame at being the mother of mankind's only hope. She doubts Reese's account of Sarah being thought of as a legendary warrior in his future, and says he must be disappointed. He quietly denies this, saying that he was given a picture of Sarah by Connor himself for good luck, and that he fell deeply in love with the woman in the photo. Admitting his passionate feelings for Sarah, who is deeply touched, Kyle thinks he has made a fool of himself and tries to retain his cool stature stating that he shouldn't have said it; but Sarah reciprocates his desire, and the two start to kiss and have intimate sex.
Later, as Sarah and Kyle get dressed, they hear the sound of barking dogs; the Terminator has found them. Sarah and Reese flee in a truck as the T-800 chases them on a motorcycle through a tunnel. During this chase Kyle is mortally wounded by a gun shot from the Terminator while throwing the homemade pipe bombs at T-800. In a rage, Sarah rams the motorcycle, causing both her and the machine to violently crash. The T-800 commandeers a massive tanker truck after killing the driver, shoos the terrified passenger, and tries to drive over Sarah, while the injured Reese inserts a pipe bomb into the exhaust of the vehicle. The resulting explosion destroys the tanker, and the Terminator limps through the rubble as its synthetic human flesh covering completely burns away, revealing the gleaming metal cyborg endoskeleton beneath. The monstrous cyborg continues to chase Sarah and Reese on foot into a hydraulics facility (revealed in a deleted scene to be a Cyberdyne Systems facility), where Reese, in a valiant effort to stop the machine, first strikes it with a metal bar, receiving more fatal blows as the machine retaliates with a back-handed swipe. Kyle manages to blow apart the robot's torso by inserting another homemade pipe bomb among the hydraulic components in the abdomen, destroying the lower half and unintentionally killing himself and injuring Sarah in the leg due to debris from the blast.
The T-800's upper torso is still operational, and begins to crawl after Sarah, who was hampered by her injured leg. She climbs behind a metal slide-gate, while the Terminator tries to reach its arm through the bars in order to strangle her. With the T-800 distracted, Sarah then presses the button—we learn that she has lured the machine under a 1000-ton hydraulic press. As she reaches for the start button, Sarah taunts the Terminator with a profanity, then presses it. The Terminator is crushed to oblivion by the press, which applies 1000 tons of pressure to crush the Terminator, and Sarah's life is saved.
The scene then jumps forward, showing the aftermath of the film's events. Sarah is now several months pregnant with a boy, revealing the movie's twist: by sending back a protector for his mother, John Connor actually inadvertently created his own existence. In their one-night stand together, Reese had conceived a child with Sarah, paradoxically becoming John's father. She acknowledges this during a recording she has taped, which she will later give to her son when he has reached the proper age.
Sarah then stops at a gas station in Mexico on November 10, 1984 (she has now become a fugitive from society), where she has a photograph taken of herself before departing. In a final twist of fate, the audience sees that this is exactly the same picture that Kyle Reese carries in the future. Sarah then drives off into the distance to train her son in preparation for his destiny. In the distance, storms are approaching over the mountains. The end credits start to roll as her Jeep disappears.
- .45 Long slide with laser sighting
- Combat chassis
- Head-up display
- Living tissue
- time displacement equipment
The Terminator's successful reception lead to the birth of many fans, and the film's intriguing sci-fi twists sparked a new respect for the science fiction genre, proving that it was not a hapless B-Movie theme and instead had the potential to become a "work of art". Future movies such as The Matrix and RoboCop were heavily influenced by the themes and style of the Terminator franchise (the philosophical subtext and religious overtones in The Matrix non-withstanding), and opened the floodgates to inspire moviemakers to try out "hard sci-fi" and to give more credibility to science fiction as a film genre.
However, some critics have bemoaned the fact that, apparently, the violent action and gruesome darkness of The Terminator also lead to numerous cash-ins and derivative rip-offs which focused on the violence and gore, instead of following the film’s example of using violence to serve the story, not to dominate it. Therefore, some critics accuse The Terminator for being responsible for the endless stream of super-violent, gunfire-laden action flicks of the succeeding decades.
Harlan Ellison, famed science-fiction author and writer of the television series The Outer Limits, accused James Cameron of stealing ideas and material from Ellison's stories I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, The Demon With a Glass Hand, and Soldier (the latter of which were episodes from The Outer Limits). Cameron insists to this day that the concept of The Terminator was his idea and his alone, though he admits that The Outer Limits was an influence while writing. To avert a lawsuit, production companies Hemdale and Orion settled the issue outside of court, and a new titlecard was inserted into the credits of The Terminator: "Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison." This acknowledgement was also featured in the fronts of the T2: Infiltrator, T2: Rising Storm and T2: The Future War novels.
This scene, which was removed and later fleshed out in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, shows Sarah trying to convince Kyle that they have to destroy Cyberdyne Systems. The famous phrase "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves" comes from this deleted scene.
- Writer/director James Cameron provided the voice breaking his date with Linda Hamilton on her message machine. Cameron would later marry and divorce Linda Hamilton.
- The life-size Terminator model was actually made of steel, a production error that complicated the film's shooting. The model was so heavy that it required four people to hold it and move it during close-ups.
- In 2003, The American Film Institute released its list of the 100 greatest screen heroes and villains of all time. The Terminator appeared as number 22 on the list of villains. He also appeared at number 48 on the list of heroes (for subsequent roles).
- Schwarzenegger's famous line "I'll be back", which originated from The Terminator, was originally written as "I'll come back".
- Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen are, so far, the only two actors to play characters killed or injured by a Terminator, an Alien and a Predator. Paxton character was forcefully pushed away and into a gate, damaging his spine and killing him in The Terminator, had acid blood sprayed on him and later was dragged under floors then subsequently killed off-screen in Aliens, also had his spine ripped from his body in Predator 2; Henriksen was shot in The Terminator, ripped in two (as an android) in Aliens and impaled by a Predator in Alien vs. Predator.
- Every film in the Terminator series has a chase scene featuring a truck. The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day both have scenes in a parking garage.
- When the Terminator traces Sarah Connor to the motel just after the love scene, the eye-vision of the Terminator is displayed. There are several printouts of assembly code from the MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor.
- In the UK, The Terminator was originally rated as a 18. When the film was released to DVD, it was re-rated to a 15. In Germany, the uncut version is still rated as a 18 and on Germany's legal child-welfare index.
- The original script had another soldier sent back with Reese to protect Sarah, but the other soldier, called "Sumner", was cut from the final script. He would not have received much screen time, as he died upon arriving, fused into a fire escape by the time displacement field. This contradicts what the sequels show of the time displacement field simply melting whatever is in its path.
- The original screen treatment and drafts gave Reese's age as 21 or 22 while Sarah's age was only 19. In real life, actors Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton were both 27. The second Terminator film gave Sarah's age at the time of her attack as 19, while the third indicated that she was 25.
- In the original script, the Terminator had to eat in order to maintain its organic flesh. After killing the first wrong Sarah Connor, the Terminator was shown eating a candy bar - complete with the wrapping.
- The original script said that Sarah had a pin in her knee from an old skating accident. The Terminator would then go about mutilating its victims in order to find this identifying pin. The novelisation reveals Sarah had to have pins inserted into her leg as a result of shrapnel damage caused by destroying the Terminator, creating the very identifying mark it was looking for, when it mutilated the other victims' legs.
- Although playing the title character, Arnold Schwarzenegger has only 58 spoken words in the film (the Terminator also has more sentences in the voice of Sarah Connor's mother, but they are said off-screen and it is only discovered that it is the cyborg in the last one).
- Franco Columbu makes a cameo appearance as a Terminator in the future in one of Kyle Reese's dreams. This Terminator also appears in the Terminator 3 video game as a boss character.
- The scene where the Terminator endoskeleton is chasing Sarah through the factory after having its lower torso blown away was #82 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
- Kyle and the Terminator were sent back in time to Thursday, May 12, 1984. However, the 12th did not fall on a Thursday in 1984, but in the previous year, 1983.
- A common bit of misinformation states that Brad Reardon played the Unnamed Punk who was left from the credits. However, this role was actually played by New York actor David Kristen. He was kept from the credits after an argument on set with Cameron.
- Originally the Terminator was supposed to look like an average man, someone who could blend into a crowd. An actor they wanted to play this version was former NFL player and movie actor O.J. Simpson. James Cameron passed over O.J. because he "...couldn't imagine such a nice guy playing the part of a ruthless killer".
- The Terminator, originally thought of as a low-budget exploitation film that would make a minor buck or two, opened to surprisingly great numbers, generating millions at the box office and becoming one of the top hits of 1984. Critics were caught off-guard by the detailed plot and complexity of the characters' relationships, and subsequently lathered the film with stellar reviews. Many even placed The Terminator on their "Top Ten Best of..." lists.
- The Terminator character, played by former bodybuilder and upcoming actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, instantly became a pop-culture icon, and arguably the most (in)famous movie character of all time. Overnight, lines such as "I'll be back" and "Sarah Connor?" (best when spoken with a thick, baritone imitation of Schwarzenegger's Austrian accent) became integral to the teenage and sci-fi geek vocabulary, and Schwarzenegger gained everlasting fame for his portrayal of the character. Schwarzenegger would later go on to reprise the role (albeit with a few creative differences) in the two sequels, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, arguably becoming the top action hero star of the 80's and early 90's.
- The Terminator has a rating of 100% "fresh" reviews at the critic aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes.com.
- The Terminator is honored with a spot on the "IMDb Top 250".
- on the Internet Movie Database
- The Terminator at Wikipedia
- The Terminator Locations - James Cameron Online