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Terminator Wiki

The concept of timeline or continuity in the Terminator universe is complicated by the franchise's reliance on time travelling missions, as many events have been altered as to when and how they happened, such as the creation of Skynet, as well as Judgment Day. There have also been events undone or postponed due to interference from the time travels of both machines and Resistance, such as Miles Dyson's involvement in Skynet, or the identity of the developers of Skynet (changing from Cyberdyne Systems to Cyber Research Systems and back again.) Some events also seem to be part of a predestination paradox of sorts, where time travel seems to be required to maintain a timeline rather than to alter it.

In the Terminator franchise, there is no single canonical time theory. In fact, time theory is barely mentioned in the two original Terminator films by creator James Cameron. There are several time theories have been applied in various Terminator sources or discussed along fandom.

See also: Time theory
Note: This page contains spoilers

Alternate timelines[]

Main article: Alternate timeline

The theory of alternate timelines has been applied to various parts of Terminator lore, including Terminator 2: The New John Connor Chronicles and Terminator Genisys. This theory affirms that changes made during time travels cause alternate timelines to be created. However, there are two major variations on this theory:

Single timeline[]

Main article: Single timeline
See also: Predestination paradox

The theory of single timeline applies to other parts of Terminator lore, including The Terminator and The Terminator: Tempest. It posits that there is only one timeline, and that time travelling events cause it to constantly shift.

Temporal mechanics[]

As we've seen, different parts of the Terminator franchise adhere to completely different theories of time travel, making it difficult to determine how time travel actually works. Though there is little in-universe explanation of the temporal mechanics of the space-time continuum in the Terminator universe, many contradictory bits and pieces have been picked up from the multiple alterations to the timeline that have occurred due to temporal interference by the Connors, the Resistance, Skynet's agents, or others:

  • Sometimes, traveling back in time will cause a predestination paradox. Instead of altering the course of events, it will cause those events and bring about the timeline that the time traveler comes from; essentially, the time traveler's presence and actions their consequences in the past create the future that the traveler comes from, causing a never-ending loop where they're destined to travel back in time to cause the chain of events that lead to them going back in the first place. The Terminator
  • When a time traveler (or, in John Connor's case, a person whose very existence was caused by time travel) successfully alters the course of events, their own memories and their existence from the point they arrived in the past onwards will remain the same and continue, allowing the time traveler originating from the previous timeline to continue to exist in the new timeline as an anomaly. Terminator 2: Judgment Day "Gnothi Seauton" "Today Is The Day, Part 2"
  • When the course of events leading up to an event were due to a predestination paradox and the causality loop is broken (for example, by deciding not to send the time traveler back to fulfill their role in the past), the future reality can continue to exist without its own version of the time traveler going back as the previous timeline's version did. Revolution issue 5
  • When two or more time travelers are sent back to different dates, the second time traveler may come from the new, altered future instead of the version that had originated in the first traveler's timeline. "Today Is The Day, Part 2"
  • When a time traveler travels into the future of a timeline, they may arrive in an alternate future where their return to their origin date has not yet occurred and thus the time traveler has been completely absent for the time between the origin date and the future they'd arrived in. Terminator 3: The Redemption, "Born to Run"
  • Even if many alternate timelines (or iterations of the single timeline) have been created, certain key events tend to remain the same (i.e., Skynet's creation; Judgment Day happening; John Connor rising to become leader of the Resistance; Skynet and the Resistance fighting a war which ultimately ends with the Resistance's victory; or many of Skynet machines being virtually if not completely identical down to their series designations). In T2: Rising Storm, Skynet noted these recurring patterns when discussing the mechanics of time travel, and theorized that timelines have an elasticity to them: time travel can cause events to bend off into an alternate direction, but the new course of events will seek to "spring back" towards the original timeline's history, in an attempt by the spacetime continuum to force the alternate timelines' divergent histories back into the original version of events. T2: Rising Storm
  • Finally, The Terminator RPG tries to look at the whole franchise and give a holistic look at temporal mechanics. According to this approach, time travel is both dangerous and unpredictable. Changes to the timestream happen in waves, as multidirectional echoes that affect the past, present, and future. Although the timeline tries to correct itself, there's no way to know whether time travel will end in a predestination paradox or an actual change in history. It’s impossible to tell whether the time traveler will remain unaffected by this ripple effect or if they will be altered or even erased from existence. There's also no way to know if the manipulation of time is affecting one single timeline or actually creating multiple alternate branches, or even whether it's possible to collapse all these alternate timelines into a single dominant one. And, to make things even worse, there's no way to know if excessive tampering with the timestream won't eventually unravel time itself. The T2 RPG Sourcebook

The Kyle Reese paradox[]

Since the release of The Terminator, the best known and most highly-debated paradox is the predestination paradox of John Connor sending Kyle Reese back in time to become John Connor’s father. If we consider the timeline of The Terminator to be single and linear, it is possible that the causality loop began long before the film and that there were numerous timelines before the movie. Points of contention include whether Kyle was always John Connor's father (perhaps requiring someone else to send Kyle back in time), or whether in that theoretical alpha timeline John Connor had a different father. Kyle Reese knows that Skynet sent back a T-800, so it’s possible that a timeline was created before he went back in time. Similarly, there must be a reason why the Sarah Connor snapshot he carries with him was taken, as without the events of The Terminator the boy would not take a picture of her.

See also[]


External links[]

YouTube videos regarding Terminator timelines