What is the perfect word to describe a sci-fi trilogy that started off fantastically, drove into other alternate futures which ruined all potential and possibilities, and then makes an acceptable comeback with its last outing? It would make a sensible direction towards the word “terminated”, but it is believed the better word here is moribund. The Terminator franchise has no more legs, and it’s time to accept it.

Look, many have watched all the Terminator films and some enjoy the thrill of escaping advanced cyborgs that are hunting down the leader of the human resistance, only to have another advanced protector thwart their attempts and terminate them (no pun intended). It has the cool action sequences and (some) smart uses of CGI to continue each feature’s momentum, plus time to understand each character’s motives and usefulness in the comings of an inexorable war between humans and robots.

However, it all just follows the same formula for every film and as history has taught us, repeating the same formula for a trilogy does not bode well for its reception or box-office performance. All the films have the same type of order, with the protector and villain both meeting at the same point, the protector gets away with their target and in the end, both die but the leader of the future will build themselves to become more confident and stronger.

Let’s evaluate the first two excellent films and understand where it all went horribly wrong afterwards for the franchise.

Photo Courtesy of Dams Media Digest

The first Terminator film was an incredible hit, building director James Cameron’s and titular character Arnold Schwarzenegger’s resumes with a sci-fi film that continues to be an inspiration to this day. With incredible action sequences, solid performances, a compelling story and fast-paced momentum make it a blast from start to finish. Our hero, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) must live on as her son that exists in the future, John Connor, will become the leader of the human resistance. She gets assistance from Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to escape from the deadly cyborg T-800 model (Schwarzenegger). This film gives a grounded and realistic approach to Sarah, as it is unbeknownst to her that she is important for the future of mankind. Add that with some risks and a sense of confidence, and you have the foundation for Sarah Connor as the hero of the Terminator franchise.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day, one of the best sequels of all time, somehow topped the revolution-making theatrics established in the first film with even more jaw-dropping action sequences and visual effects that look better than most films today. John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a teenager must join forces with his mother Sarah and a T-800 model (Schwarzenegger) that’s on their side against the advanced liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick). It becomes a treat to watch how John interacts with the T-800, as it allows for an emotional depth between humans and cyborgs, something that is being called into question today. The film treats it as a “father I never had” moment and it carries this interesting yet effective chemistry between Furlong and Schwarzenegger all the way to the end.

{Sigh} Then it somehow falls from here with the extra and unnecessary sequels.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t a bad addition to the series. It isn’t stellar like the first two unfortunately as it lacks freshness and the film appears to be one long chase scene for 109 minutes with some corny dialogue and rehashed action from its predecessors. Some people may be satisfied with Kristanna Loken’s work as the first onscreen Terminator (or called T-X in the film) as she has a gorgeous yet robotic presence. Other than that, this is a passable sequel with no real consequences.

Now, Terminator: Salvation tried to do something different from the series by being set in the post-apocalyptic world instead of the same old-time travel techniques from the first three. It just forgot to be good in almost every other sense as it overused special effects to combat a mediocre story and a disjointed pacing. It didn’t even remotely pick up until the third act as a villain appeared in the form of a T-800. Christian Bale as John Connor was weak, the story was predictable, and it sorely missed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s true presence.

Terminator: Genisys is the epitome of everything that makes a bad film. Lack of stakes, poor story, no twists, and overabundance of CGI. The revelation of how atrocious this film was in respect to the first two films makes the audience cry inside. Somehow, director Alan Taylor ruined all the suspense surrounding this film with the trailers and even scrutinized the past further by revisiting the first Terminator film. The only thing that was done right was bringing Schwarzenegger back and letting him do his thing. Poor Emilia Clarke even expressed her disdain for this convoluted mess.

It seemed that the once high bar set by the franchise disintegrated faster than a snap by Thanos. It is a shame because the trilogy should have ended after the second one, not sputter chaos with nonsensical sequels. That is the biggest problem with sequels nowadays is that they lack heart and just move out with the intention to prosper further with money-making ambitions. Cameron left before they made the third one, and that should’ve signaled a stop in production.

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Here is where it becomes a little interesting. Terminator: Dark Fate had all the hope and potential in the world to make a rebound after the failings of the last two installments (three if you could argue properly for Rise of the Machines). James Cameron and Linda Hamilton returned and studio went back to an R-Rating (since Salvation and Genisys were PG-13). Director Tim Miller, after his work on Deadpool, went for a gritty, violent outing this time that was pleasing and suspenseful. The biggest faults with the film was it was too derivative of the first two installments and had some questionable narrative choices. Other than that, another popcorn entertainment of two hours we had on our hands.

Now the question remains. How can an acceptable rebound still push this franchise from dying to terminated? There is a possibility the audiences were still burned out from Salvation and Genisys. If a film series has become successful for the money it is making but is still leaving a bad taste in the mouth, it invites all interest to cease (completely). That brings me to another point since Dark Fate did not make enough money, making it a box office bomb that costed the studios more than 100 million dollars. Paramount will have to make a huge film grosser to combat this significant loss, similar to how Warner Brothers rebounded after a box office bomb with DCEU’s Justice League.

The other thing is that Schwarzenegger is not a box office star anymore, compared to the way he was over two decades ago. Many of his films from 1999 onwards have been poorly received or yielded too much loss in profitability. He cannot seem to find his footing anywhere other than beyond this series. At one point he was the biggest man in the world, flexing his muscles and showing off his abilities in film. Now he’s just the average Joe, pushing his limitations at an age of 70+ knowing how inevitable it is that he cannot return to the past.

The franchise has slowly died out because it keeps insisting on trying to please the audiences with the same methodical formula it has been using since 1984. They keep hiring new actors and backstage talent, but it doesn’t have the glory mist it once did. Trying to shove more material down our throats we don’t want has finally showed and the studio will suffer for it.

Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Fast and Furious, and Mission Impossible thrive because they experiment and freshen up the atmosphere that opens the doors to a more general interest. They succeed due to creativity, awareness and a clearer focus. The Terminator franchise has fallen into the same trap as Fox’s X-Men franchise, ending on a clear whimper that will be detrimental to them as we may never see a film release from either of those series ever again.

Will the Terminator franchise restart again? The situation it has gotten itself into leads to a lot of speculation about what lies next. For now, it seems the 35-year old franchise has run past its mileage and has been informally terminated.

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