The 'Terminator' Timeline Explained
One of the most commercially successful action sci/fi franchises in cinema history is The Terminator series. In fact, Terminator 2: Judgment day wasn't just a box office smash success for a Rated R film, it's one of the highest grossing films of all time and is a genre-defining masterpiece that many directors still emulate today.
Plus, what kid hasn't watched that movie and wished they had their own robo-guardian that looked and sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger as a companion?
With the news of Terminator: Dark Fate's release hitting the internet, tons of people are trying to figure out just how the film fits in the overall timeline of the series as a whole. It'll be the sixth movie in the franchise and after so many releases, things can get a bit muddled to fans, especially when the entire premise of the movie is built around the use of time travel to save humanity's fate.
So anytime there's an announcement of a new Terminator film, people are inevitably going to search one thing:
What is the Terminator timeline?
It all starts with Skynet going online in 1997, an artificial intelligence program that gives sentience to machines, who then compute that the best way to run things would be to destroy humanity because human beings kinda suck. Nukes are launched and the planet earth is turned into an apocalyptic wasteland.
A man by the name of Kyle Reese is born in the year 2002 (seems random but important to remember for later). He's a soldier that fights for the human cause under John Connor, who defeats the machines in 2029. Yay! Humanity wins! Kinda...
Except the machines with a seemingly limitless capacity to better themselves and churn out resources have figured out the complex problem of time travel. So they send a robot, called a Terminator, back in time to kill John Connor's mom before she gives birth. Her name is Sarah Connor.
John, catching wind of the robot's plan, sends Reese back to the year 1984 to protect his mother from the Terminator.
The First Timeloop
The Terminator goes back to the year 1984 and lands in LA's Griffith Park Observatory. He wrecks some goons, steals their clothes to look human, and then patrols LA to find Sarah Connor and murder her. He decides to look up all the Sarah Connors in LA and kill them one by one. Because he's a robot and doesn't really mind monotonous tasks all that much. In fact, that's kinda what robots are, you know, designed to do.
Reese is sent back to 1984 (making him -18 years old) and while protecting Sarah Connor, falls in love with her. The two hopped up on escaping Terminator adrenaline decide to have some cross-decade sex and Reese becomes John Connor's father, the military general, John Connor. Weird but also awesome.
Reese dies while working with Sarah to protect her from the Terminator. Sarah ultimately crushes the robot in a hydraulic press and fades off into the shadows and off the grid, knowing she's going to give birth to the savior of humanity one day.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Before we go any further you have to know this: the John Connor that sent Reese back in time is not the same John Connor that Sarah gives birth to in Judgment Day. Someone else was John's dad in the first film, not Reese. Still with it? OK, good.
T2 John Connor is born in 1985 and raised by Sarah to be a total bad-ass. She hangs around military dudes in South America because she knows what's coming: Robo Hell. So she teaches her son combat training, tactics, hacking skills, and basically how to be a total against-all-odds survivor. And maybe how to ride dirt bikes and be friends with Bobby Budnick from Salute your Shorts. Not sure if it was part of the regimen or not.
Sarah's committed to a mental asylum for trying to bomb a computer factory that houses bits of the Terminator robot that were found after the events of the first film. T2 John is then put into foster care, all while Mr. Breathes-staccato-while-dying, Miles Dyson, tries to reverse-engineer the computer chip found in the Terminator for Cyberdyne systems, because it's light years ahead of any existing human technology.
This tech is eventually used to create Skynet again, but it's not the same Skynet that T1 John Connor (OG JC) ended up taking down, but ultimately functions as the same exact human-killing-robo-run regime. Time loops are weird.
The Second Time loop
Here's where things tend to get tricky. So in Terminator 1 there's the time loop that exists where Reese goes back in time and saves Sarah Connor. Time loop 2 takes place after Cyberdyne creates the other Skynet, which causes the nukes to launch in 1997 and destroys humanity. This second time loop is what causes the two Terminators to get sent back in time: the reprogrammed T-800 to protect John Connor, and the T-1000 liquid metal dude sent back to kill him.
Just reviewing for you in case you get lost.
So Sarah, T2 John, and the T-800 all join forces to put a stop to Cyberdyne's research because they're basically creating Skynet all over again which is great if you're a microwave or washing machine and not so much if you're a biological organism.
After convincing Sarah to not kill Dyson and rather show him the world he's creating, the four of them head to Dyson's job and manage to destroy all of the research Cyberdyne has compiled, thus protecting the future or so they think.
There's still the messy business of killing of the T-1000, which the three manage to do in a Steelworks facility. After throwing that nerd in some Lava, they toss the bits of the "bad" T1 Terminator into the lava (the chip and hand) and the "good" T2 Terminator lowers himself into the lava to destroy the last remaining remnants of any future technology. Sarah's hopeful for the future for the first time in forever.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Sarah Connor ends up dying on August 29th, 1997 from Leukemia and not the nuclear holocaust as she originally thought. She's convinced that her and her son, along with the "good" T-800 have prevented the world from ending. T2 John Connor then heads off into the grid, like his mom did when she was alive, to hide from any Terminators that might come back from the future to mess him up.
Trouble is, the military manages to create Skynet which goes online seven years later, in 2004. Judgment Day happens, the nukes are launched and everyone's burnt to a crisp and the humans vs Skynet war is started all over again.
The other timeloops are engaged again, and we end up with Skynet sending back another terminator, the T-X, to kill the woman that ultimately ends up being John Connor's wife, Kate Brewster. The two meet after John hurts his leg in a motorcycle crash and he breaks into a veterinary office for drugs to treat his wounds. While there, the T-X attacks Brewster and a reprogrammed T-800 comes out of nowhere to save the future-Mrs.-John-Connor's life.
The T-800 tells them that the actions of the second Timeloop, Terminator 2, weren't enough to stop Judgment Day from happening, merely postpone it for a few years. He tells T2 John and Kate that the two of them are going to work together in the future to defeat Skynet, with T2 John as the leader of humans and Kate as his second-in-command. They go to Sarah Connor's grave which, when unearthed, contains a huge weapons cache she left for them in case Judgment Day wasn't averted.
The T-800's plan is to take the couple to Mexico so they can survive the nuclear fallout and lead humanity, but they urge the robot to take them to the military headquarters where Skynet's being developed so they can try and end or postpone Judgment Day from happening yet again.
They're too late in stopping Skynet from being activated, so they head to the Skynet core to destroy it at Crystal Peak. The T-X follows them, and after an epic battle, the T-800 manages to kill the new, future Terminator and himself in the process. T2 John and Kate discover that the "Skynet Core" they planned to destroy at Crystal Peak isn't the Core at all: it's a nuclear fallout shelter. Judgment Day occurs and the couple survive the explosion but most of humanity doesn't.
Time loop C and Terminator Salvation
A year before the 2004-postponed Judgment Day occurs, a death row prisoner by the name Marcus Wright is accosted by Dr. Serena Kogan who convinces him to donate his body to science after he's executed. He agrees. It's important to note also that in this timeline, since Judgment Day was already postponed, Kyle Reese was born in 2002 (T2 John Connor's father, told you that'd be useful).
In time loop C, John Connor is a soldier in the human resistance against Skynet. At the opening of Salvation, Connor discovers that there's a Skynet facility where human beings are being captured and used to develop Terminator robots. Guess who's in the facility? Marcus Wright, who's now some sort of human/robot hybrid that apparently loves listening to Alice in Chains.
After the facility's destroyed, Wright emerges from the wreckage and heads towards Los Angeles because he really misses Randy's Donuts and hopes there's one still standing (I'm joking, but, who knows? That could've been the actor's motivation behind the whole thing.)
Connor then discovers a hidden Skynet "kill list" that includes Kyle Reese on it. Wright comes across Reese who is then attacked by Skynet robots. The robots capture Reese and Wright teams up with Blair Williams, a female pilot. who takes him to a human resistance base. During an attack on the base, Wright's wounded by a mine and the human resistance discovers he's a machine.
Connor and his wife, Brewster, want to kill Wright because he's a robot-thing programmed by Skynet and all, but they agree to let him live if he helps them rescue the captured humans, which includes Kyle Reese.
Wright and Connor manage to take down Skynet and rescue the humans the robots have captured and were using to develop the Terminator robots. Connor's heart is damaged in the ensuing final battle, and Wright sacrifices his own heart to save Connor's life.
Connor survives the transplant and in 2029, sends Kyle Reese back to the year 1984, restarting the whole timeloop.
Time loop D and Terminator: Genisys
Time loops A-C, although complicated to follow, play together quite nicely: you've got T1 John Connor sending Kyle Reese to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and then get her knocked up with T2 John Connor, starting Time loop B. They postpone the 1997 Judgment Day to 2004. In that delayed Judgment Day, Time loop C begins when Marcus Wright is convinced by Dr. Kogan of Cyberdyne to donate his body to science.
Time loop D occurs when Skynet tries a new tactic against the resistance. As Reese is getting sent back in time he sees a Terminator attack John Connor and turn him into some kind of a new Terminator robot comprised of nano-machines.
Kyle sees a vision of himself as a young boy looking into a mirror and telling himself that Skynet will be going online in 2017.
Time loop E
A T-800 by the name of "Pops" is sent back to Sarah Connor's childhood to save her from a Terminator robot that kills her parents and then tries to end her.
Pops and Sarah then work together to build a time machine, and, knowing a Terminator's going to arrive in 1984 to kill Connor, they plan for its arrival. They also team up with Kyle Reese who they know is going to show up in 1984, and then kill the T-800 and use it to finish the time machine. They originally plan to go to 1997 to stop the T2 Judgment Day from occurring, but, going off of Reese's dream, travel to 2017 to destroy Skynet once and for all there.
Once in 2017, Pops, Sarah, and Reese learn that a computer system called Genisys that's about to go online is actually Skynet. The John Connor Nano-Machine Terminator finds the group when they're about to destroy Genisys and fights Pops. Pops is able to ward him off and the three of them manager to escape despite going up against such a formidable foe.
Pops, Sarah, and Reese successfully blow up Genisys, but Connor Terminator's not having it. Him and Pops fight to both of their deaths. Pops however, is tossed into a liquid vat that creates T-1000s, and as Sarah and Reese escape, it turns out that Pops isn't really dead after all — he's just been upgraded to T-1000 capabilities. NICE.
After surviving the explosion, Kyle travels back in time to remind his younger self about the 2017 Judgment Day thing, just to protect the future or something. However, the film reveals in the middle of the credits that the Genisys core survived the explosion. Goddamnit.
Where does the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate play into the franchise's story?
There's no nice way to say this: the majority of Terminator fans have long stated that the films following Judgment Day weren't very good.
But fans of JD should be very, very excited for Dark Fate for a number of reasons. Firstly: it's being produced by James Cameron. As in the director of Terminator 1 and 2 James Cameron — the guy who started the whole series. It's being directed by Tim Miller, who absolutely crushed it with Deadpool, and him and Cameron are reportedly co-directing the thing.
Secondly, it reunites Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger from T2. Oh and did I mention it's a direct sequel to Judgment Day?
Which means that the events of Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys won't have any bearing on the events of this movie. Which sounds amazing (personally I liked Salvation, but it's really hard to match the magic that is JD).
If you can't wait to see all of the new and confusing time loops that occur in this film, you'll have to wait Until November 1st of 2019 to do so. The film's been in production for a while, so here's hoping it's worth the wait.