Terminator: Dark Fate appears to have tanked at the box office, at least by blockbuster standards. Its quarter billion dollar world-wide gross sounds like a lot, but that’s considerably less than Terminator: Genisys, which was also not well received. For some reason, the Terminator franchise doesn’t seem to be working very well any more. Why is that?
To try to intuit an answer, I decided to go over some quick synopses of the movies. I’ll start with the first two, which everybody loved:
- The Terminator — Thrilling action as Sarah Connor fights a killer robot, sent from the future by Skynet, so that her future son John Connor can become the leader of the human resistance that defeats the machines.
- Terminator 2: Judgement Day — Thrilling action as Sarah Connor fights a killer robot, sent from the future by Skynet, so that her son John Connor, who fights along side her, can become the future leader of the human resistance that defeats the machines.
Okay, now let’s compare those to some of the newer films that didn’t do so well:
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines — Sarah Connor is already dead when the movie starts. We learn that John Connor will be killed by a terminator in the future. He fails to stop Skynet from killing billions of people in a nuclear holocaust. As the movie ends, we see that he will lead the resistance only because he happens to end up in a command bunker near his girlfriend’s father’s military base.
- Terminator Salvation — Sarah Connor is already dead when the movie starts. John Connor is not the leader of the resistance. I’ve pretty much blocked out the rest of this movie.
- Terminator Genisys — Sarah Connor fights a killer robot, sent from the future by Skynet, so that her future son John Connor can become the leader of the human resistance…but there’s already a killer robot, and Kyle doesn’t understand why he’s there, then they all travel forward in time, then Skynet kills future John and sends an evil twin John back in time, then Sarah and Kyle fight him…and oh God it’s just a mess.
- Terminator: Dark Fate — A terminator kills John Connor in front of his mother, but it doesn’t matter because someone else will lead the resistance against something that isn’t Skynet anymore. Nevertheless, Sarah Connor keeps hunting terminators in a futile attempt to find meaning in her life.
Looking at this collection of plot summaries, one problem with the sequels stands out immediately: Stop killing the Connors, you assholes!
I mean, what the hell were the writers thinking? The first two movies were all about the Connors’ fight for survival, so killing either of them in the sequels is undoing the victories that had fans clamoring for a sequel in the first place. Killing one of the Connors betrays the fans as badly as if — just making up crazy examples here — the makers of the Aliens sequel decided to kill Newt, or the makers of The Matrix sequel decided to kill Trinity and Neo. It may make some kind of dramatic sense in a particular movie, but it’s a betrayal of the series as a whole.
The later entries in the franchise also abandon a key theme that runs through the first two Terminator movies: Taken together, the movies are about a family caught up in the beginnings of a war. They are about the struggle of a parent preparing her child to fight in that war, and about both of them learning to battle an inhuman enemy without losing their own humanity. None of the T2 sequels ever really got this, but the creators of the nearly-forgotten TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles understood it very well, and I’ve always felt the series was the true sequel to the first two movies.
If you like the early Terminator movies, but you haven’t see the series, I highly recommend you check it out.