Are The Terminator And The Matrix Part Of The Same Universe?

As part of our series on mind-blowing movie fan theories, we’re changing the way you watch some of Hollywood’s most famous films. This week: ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix’.

The theory

There are some who believe that the separate stories of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix’, released 15 years apart, actually share the same universe – the former sci-fi franchise eventually leading into the enslavement of mankind in the latter.

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Though ‘The Terminator’ was written by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd and released in 1984 while ‘The Matrix’, written by the Wachowski siblings, wasn’t released until 1999, some fans insist the two franchises dovetail perfectly – because how many series about man vs machine do we really need? Can it be true? Could we one day see a Keanu/Arnie crossover? Could our brains handle that much awesome?

The evidence

- Author Sophia Stewart claims that both ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix’ were plagiarised from her 1981 story, ‘The Third Eye’.

Stewart claims that her manuscript, which at only nine chapters was never finished, formed the basis of not one but two of the most popular sci-fi franchises of the 20th century. “‘Terminator’ starts from the front of my book to the back,” Stewart told “‘Matrix’ starts from the back of my book and works its way to the front. They are moving in two opposite directions. My book was separated into two. ‘The Third Eye’ is an epic, my book spans three time frames: the past, the present and the future. Those films do the same thing.”

- Skynet, the killer A.I. from ‘The Terminator’ and the machines of ‘The Matrix’ are one and the same, the former an unevolved version of the latter. Once Skynet takes over and enslaves humanity, they suffer the ‘Neo’ problem – but Neo is actually revolutionary John Connor. Thus Skynet send back one of their machines to kill Neo/John’s mother, Sarah, which results in the events of ‘The Terminator’… which ultimately leads to the events of ‘The Matrix’… which leads back to the events of… you get it. ‘Terminator’ is essentially a ‘Matrix’ prequel.

- Morpheus says as much himself in ‘The Matrix’: “We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to A.I…. A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.” This is basically describing the events mentioned in ‘Terminator 2’ and seen in ‘Terminator 3’, where the US government – in partnership with Cyberdyne Systems – creates a self-aware artificial intelligence which decides that humanity is harshing its buzz.

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- Think of every flash-forward to the future in ‘Terminator 2’, as the resistance battles the machines: every scene is as black as night. This is the period as described by Morpheus in ‘The Matrix’, in which humans “scorched the sky” to stop the machines drawing power from the sun. Had we seen more of the James Cameron ‘Terminator’ movies (and if we conveniently ignore ‘Terminator Salvation’), we would eventually see the machines decide to use humans as a power source instead of simply wiping them out.

- ‘The Terminator’ series totally has time travel and you can argue anything to be true when you have a plot device like time travel in your corner.

The verdict

Let’s file this one under ‘N’ for ‘Nice idea’. There are similarities between both franchises as both cover the same ground: the idea of a war between man and machine that is started when AI becomes self-aware and turns on us. But that’s just about where the similarities end – everything else is a bit of a stretch, and even with time travel the settings and timeframes don’t really overlap properly. If Neo was supposed to be John Connor, why was he called Thomas Anderson? Why no mention of his mother, or the sentient machines that were sent to kill him as a boy? These things are conveniently left out of fan theories.

Sophia Stewart may have filed a lawsuit against Cameron and the Wachowskis claiming they ripped her off, but no decision was reached and her case is dubious to say the least. She has apparently produced ‘evidence’ that she sent the Wachowkis a story outline in 1986 in response to an ad to write comic-books. But that proves nothing and certainly doesn’t explain how James Cameron would have been able to steal her intellectual copyright, given ‘The Third Eye’ was unfinished and unpublished. No one other than Stewart can verify that ‘The Third Eye’ was dated to 1981 – it was only published in 2006. So as far as any official crossover goes, you can go ahead and pour water on it.

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Besides, everyone knows the Wachowskis “borrowed” quite liberally from anime ‘Ghost In The Shell’ for their ‘Matrix’ screenplay. James Cameron was inspired to write ‘The Terminator’ after a nightmare (although granted, that’s a little harder to prove).

Supplemental series ‘The Animatrix’ fills in ‘The Matrix’ back story a little, particularly the excellent shorts ‘The Second Renaissance’ which show the war between man and machine – and there’s not much in the way of Terminators or Hunter Killers in the mix. ‘Terminator Salvation’ also throws a spanner in the works, with Christian Bale’s John Connor a freedom fighter and very much not an office worker or part-time hacker.

Still…it’s fun to pretend that there are loads of Arnies running around somewhere in ‘The Matrix’. It certainly makes ‘Matrix Reloaded’ and ‘Matrix Revolutions’ more palatable if you expect the T-1000 to show up and blow Keanu Reeves away during every tedious scene of exposition.

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Photos: Rex/Moviestore/Sophia Stewart/Warner Bros/Snap Stills/Everett