After years outside of the franchise’s inner workings, producer James Cameron has returned to the TERMINATOR saga and helped shape the story for the latest entry in its long line of movies, TERMINATOR: DARK FATE. Also reviving the character of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, this latest film overrides the TERMINATOR timeline past the point of the second film, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY.
But with a franchise that’s spanned over 30 years and soon to be six movies, there’s a lot of history that needs to be brought into context. While there are events that may not play into the narrative of director Tim Miller’s TERMINATOR: DARK FATE, there are certainly notable moments that shaped why the franchise has gotten to its point of a soft reboot.
With that in mind, allow us to bring you on a time-traveling journey to recap the TERMINATOR movie franchise, so that when you see TERMINATOR: DARK FATE, you’ll be ready to make your own path for the future.
The Terminator (1984)
In the beginning, there was Judgment Day: the day the machines waged war with humanity. On August 29, 1997, the artificial intelligence known as Skynet became self-aware and launched a devastating nuclear attack on the world as we know it. Few humans survived, and the Resistance against these machines would be led by John Connor, the commander of the human forces that would defeat Skynet in 2029.
Unfortunately, just as it was about to be bested by Connor and his forces, the crafty AI put a plan into motion. Sending a T-800 cyborg back to the year of 1984, Skynet planned to kill Sarah Connor before she could give birth to her son, humanity’s savior, John. In turn, John would send his best friend, and trusted lieutenant, Kyle Reese, back to the same year to protect his mother from harm.
As fate would have it, John was ensuring his conception in that moment, as Kyle falls in love with Sarah Connor, and in turn becomes his best friend’s father. Sadly, Kyle dies protecting Sarah, who finishes the relentless T-800 and moves to Mexico to prepare for the oncoming storm.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Sometime after the events of THE TERMINATOR, Sarah Connor is committed to a psychiatric facility. Her ramblings about “judgment day” and her para-militant lifestyle have deemed her delusional and a threat to her son, John’s, welfare.
At the beginning of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, John lives with a foster family he despises and regularly causes mayhem with tricks his mother taught him to survive off the grid. But danger has found him yet again, as a T-1000 model Terminator is sent back to the year 1995, with the sole purpose of killing John Connor before he can become the man who defeats Skynet.
John is eventually reunited with his mother, as a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator is sent back by John’s future self, in order to protect the Connor family from harm. With the help of would-be Skynet system architect Miles Bennett Dyson, John, Sarah and the T-800 destroy all traces of the project that would have allowed Judgment Day to take place, but there are major sacrifices that must be made to ensure victory.
Sadly, Dyson dies during the explosion of his lab, and the T-800 must be lowered into molten metal in order to erase any trace of the killing machines that have plagued Sarah and John Connor for so long. With those events, and the destruction of the liquid metal T-1000, the road to the future is open and uncertain for Sarah and John.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Years after TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, John Connor is a loner who continues to live off the grid. Judgment Day’s original 1997 plan has come and gone, with humanity still thriving for some time after. Losing his mother to Cancer, John drifts through life, still looking over his shoulder for the next big threat.
Enter the T-X, a female Terminator who has the metal endoskeleton similar to the T-800, but with shape-shifting liquid metal skin like the T-1000. She’s sent back to the year 2004 not only to kill John Connor, but to also eliminate his lieutenants vital to the success of the human revolution against Skynet.
One such lieutenant is Katherine Brewster, John’s eventual wife and co-conspirator in TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. Childhood friends thrown back together by fate, John and Katherine are protected by yet another T-800, this time programmed to follow orders from Katherine.
As it was that T-800 that kills John in the future, thanks to a surprise attack by Skynet, the future Mrs. Connor sends the weapon of her husband’s destruction as a token to ensure his survival. Unfortunately for all involved, Judgment Day cannot be stopped this time around.
With Skynet masquerading as an anti-virus software, it is employed to try and solve a massive communications crisis the world is facing throughout TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. What ends up happening is the moment John has feared and prepared for his entire life.
As the nuclear attack is launched on humanity, John and Katherine are squirreled away in a bunker for safe keeping. Making radio contact with those who survived the blast, John Connor starts the formation of the human Resistance.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
In the year 2018, John Connor is a commander of human forces fending off the attacks of Skynet and their various machines. It’s soon discovered that, per an intercepted transmission from the AI consciousness itself, a mass hit is going to be executed among the ranks of the human Resistance. The first two names on that list? John Connor and Kyle Reese.
Knowing full well of Kyle’s eventual fate as his father, John tries to save Kyle’s life, as he’s eventually captured by Skynet. John’s superiors are looking to launch a full-out offensive on the nearest machine base, but John is about to do something risky and go rogue against his superior officer’s plans.
John Connor finds himself enlisting a stranger named Marcus to assist him in carrying out his plan to rescue Kyle and the rest of the human captives. This stranger turns out to be a prototype Terminator that’s designed to be the most human unit ever created. Though John and his wife, Katherine, originally wanted to have him executed, Marcus has a usefulness he can provide when it comes to Connor’s battle plan.
Marcus helps John infiltrate Skynet’s headquarters, just as a massive attack takes out the commanding officers of the Resistance. The two free Kyle Reese and the rest of the human captives in the Skynet base, but John Connor is stabbed through the heart by a prototype T-800 during the ensuing battle to escape.
As a final act of kindness, Marcus gives his heart as a transplant to John, who then assumes command of the Resistance. It is assumed that he eventually goes on to defeat the machines in 2029, as history has noted.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
The final TERMINATOR sequel before TERMINATOR: DARK FATE sees TERMINATOR SALVATION’s timeline totally wiped off the slate. In fact, TERMINATOR GENISYS plays around a lot with the Terminator mythos. It starts with John Connor and Kyle Reese defeating Skynet in 2029, but in addition to sending a T-800 back to 1984, another version of Skynet from a parallel dimension turns Connor into a Terminator himself.
At that point, Kyle Reese is already sent back to 1984, where he sees that Sarah Connor is not only alive, but aided by a reprogrammed T-800 known as “Pops.” Sent back to prevent Sarah Connor from being killed as a child, Pops protects her as Kyle would in the previous versions of events in TERMINATOR history. But as Pops and Sarah take out the T-800 sent back in THE TERMINATOR’s version of 1984, the timeline changes yet again.
The alternate Skynet, who masqueraded as a human named Alex, takes on the name Genisys, an operating system set to launch in 2017. It’s the new game plan for Skynet to eventually take control of all computer systems around the globe. We learn this because not only have Kyle’s childhood memories now given him the clues to follow up, but he, Sarah and Pops actually travel forward in time to 2017 to try and stop it.
Cue the infiltration of Genisys’ labs and a gigantic battle between Pops and the T-5000, better known as John Connor. Everything ends in yet another massive TERMINATOR franchise explosion, but thanks to an indestructible bunker for our human heroes to hide out in, and a cool new/accidental upgrade that gives Pops a liquid metal skin, our heroes survive. But we soon learn that so did Skynet, which would have probably waged war on humanity yet again, provided TERMINATOR GENISYS actually got a sequel.
There you have it: the messy, but entertaining timeline that brings the TERMINATOR series to its dark fate. Now that you’re all caught up on the TERMINATOR saga, it’s time to meet TERMINATOR: DARK FATE available on AMC Theatres On Demand.