2. The Terminator (1984)
Now that he has the biggest film toy box in town to play with, we’ll never see James Cameron make the likes of The Terminator again. Back in 1984 he made something lean, mean and slow-building, though mostly out of necessity.
Here, a cyborg assassin (Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill the mother of the future leader of mankind (Linda Hamilton), but humanity send their own operative (Michael Beihn) to protect her.
The Terminator is a horror movie, pure and simple. An unstoppable monster is coming slowly but relentlessly after our heroes, and all they can do is keep some distance between them and it. The film brought us unforgettable imagery, killer lines and not an ounce of fat on the plot, not to mention proving what magic Cameron could weave with a modest budget. Images in this became instantly iconic, from the electric time travel bubble effect to the clever cutting between Arnie and a rubber model for the eye removal scene, to the reaching skeletal arm and the final fading red light of the finale. The following decades would prove what Cameron could do with the biggest budgets around, but his talent and creativity was evident here from the off.
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Terminator 2 is one of the greatest action movies and one of the greatest sequels ever made. It is also James Cameron’s magnum opus.
Expanding on the original film conceptually, maturing the story and characters in emotional terms, and ridiculously beefing up the scale, Judgement Day takes the Terminator series to heights that will likely never be topped.
Having failed to kill the future mother of the human resistance, Skynet sends a new, more advanced terminator (Robert Patrick) back in time to kill resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a teenager. But John is not alone, the resistance sending a reprogrammed Terminator (guess who?) to protect him; his mother – a tougher, more traumatised Sarah (Hamilton) – only a daring escape from a mental hospital away from re-joining the fight.
Before Avatar and Titanic, T2 was the most expensive movie ever made, and you can see it. The famous LA River chase and the explosive storming of Cyberdyne HQ puts all the money on screen and then some. The film also doubles down on the iconic imagery, from the T-1000’s lethal liquid metal shapeshifting to Sarah’s apocalyptic visions and the literal fire and ice final showdown.
Cameron also decided to give his Tin Man a heart in this instalment, a gamble that became the franchise’s most enduring legacy. You’d have to be made of some kind of unfeeling, advanced alloy to not well up a bit at the “I know now why you cry” line or the image of an upturned thumb held above molten metal.
T2 is simply the greatest Terminator movie ever made, and it is unlikely that it will ever be topped.
Recommended for you: Mad Max Movies Ranked
Do you agree with our ranking or does this list deserve to be terminated? What’s your favourite entry in the Terminator franchise? Let us know in the comments and make sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter for more articles like this one.