The tortured reboot timeline of the 'Terminator' franchise

They’ll be back. And back. And back. And back.
They’ll be back. And back. And back. And back.

It’s official. Fans are excited about Terminator movies again, which is a bit of a miracle considering the warped wreckage the franchise has been twisted into since the last time a good one (Terminator 2) was released (in 1991).

Since then, the franchise has turned into a parade of rubbish robot reboots, all ignoring significant elements of what came before, all claiming to be a ‘true sequel’ to Terminator 2.

So, what makes Terminator: Dark Fate different? Well, it appears to have learned the lessons of this lot. Hopefully.

Terminator 3 ruins Terminator 2

“Talk to the hand.” (credit: Warner Bros)
“Talk to the hand.” (credit: Warner Bros)

One of the earliest terrible post-T2 moves the franchise pulled was to kill off Sarah Connor in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003).

Connor died (off-camera, via a line of dialogue) of cancer in 1997, which kind of takes the shine off the whole ‘no fate but what you make’ Terminator 2 ending.

The film also married John Connor off, with this sequel’s Terminator sent back to kill John and his future wife Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).

Read more: ‘Dark Fate’ first pictures reveal Arnie’s new-look T-800

Fans weren’t happy with the changes, and neither was Linda Hamilton: “They offered me a part. I read it and I knew my character arc was so complete in the first two, and in the third one it was a negligible character. She died halfway through and there was no time to mourn her. It was kind of disposable, so I said no thank you.”

The Sarah Connor Chronicles ignores Terminator 3

Summer Glau as Cameron (credit: Fox)
Summer Glau as Cameron (credit: Fox)

The TV Terminator, The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 – 2009), ignored Terminator 3, becoming the first instalment of the franchise to claim to be a direct sequel to Terminator 2. It would not be the last.

In this version of the timeline, Sarah Connor (Lena Heady) didn’t die in 1997, and was instead joined by a female Terminator named Cameron (see what they did their?) played by Summer Glau, in 2007, with a joint mission to protect a teenage John Connor.

It might seem astonishing now, but future Game Of Thrones star Heady was hugely criticised by feminist Terminator fans, with British novelist Bidisha stating: “I am shocked to find out that the producers are clearly sanctioning a new, weedy silhouette in such an iconic and genuinely groundbreaking role,’ she said.

Read more: Linda Hamilton says last three ‘Terminators’ were ‘forgettable’

‘There are two issues here: having a toothpick-thin, feeble-looking Sarah Connor is a crime against the iconography of the character; and presenting a clearly emaciated actress as a heroine is a crime against women.”

Oof. We thought Heady was really good in the role, by the way.

Terminator 4 ignores The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood in Terminator Salvation (credit: Warner Brothers)
Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood in Terminator Salvation (credit: Warner Brothers)

Despite the fact Summer Glau is arguably the franchise’s best cyborg since Arnie, for some reason SkyNet didn’t make any more models after her, as she doesn’t appear in Terminator: Salvation (2009), or any instalment after it.

Still, at least Kate Brewster’s in the film, even if she isn’t played by Claire Danes any more. Bryce Dallas Howard takes over, playing off Christian Bale’s John Connor, which at least keeps Terminator 3 – sort of – canon.

Salvation also reboots the franchise as exclusively taking place in the far future of 2018, heavily setting up a sequel via dialogue that’s never paid off. Yay!

James Cameron told Sam Worthington, “the Terminator to make is the one with the war.” He was wrong.

Terminator 5 ignores Terminator 3 and Terminator 4

“I’ll be crap.” (credit: Paramount)
“I’ll be crap.” (credit: Paramount)

It took six years for the franchise to recover from Salvation in the form of Terminator Genisys (2015), which once again wiped the slate clean for a sequel that was pitched as – you guessed it – a true follow-up to Terminator 2.

Its most significant change to canon was that Sarah Connor was protected by a T-800 from an early age, as a child. This ripple effect eventually led to John Connor becoming the villain for some reason. Expect these elements to be ignored in Dark Fate.

Read more: James Cameron teases a ‘hardened’ Sarah Connor

James Cameron said he felt like “the franchise has been reinvigorated” by Genisys, only to retract his positive words later – claiming he’d supported the film out of a sense of loyalty to Schwarzenegger. They must be pretty close pals, Genisys is arguably the worst Terminator movie (and it’s tough competition).

Terminator 6 ignores Terminator 5, Terminator 4 and Terminator 3

She’ll be back. Linda Hamilton looks suitably cool in ‘Dark Fate’ (credit: 20th Century Fox)
She’ll be back. Linda Hamilton looks suitably cool in ‘Dark Fate’ (credit: 20th Century Fox)

According to James Cameron, Dark Fate “is a continuation of the story from Terminator 1 and Terminator 2. And we’re pretending the other films were a bad dream. Or an alternate timeline, which is permissible in our multi-verse.”

This might actually be the understatement of the decade.

Still, the early signs are that this could actually be the first decent Terminator movie since 1991, with cool images, and a very enthusiastic reaction to the first footage from CinemaCon, starting to build hype.

Linda Hamilton is back, and prepared to slag off all the films she wasn’t in. And Tim Miller (Deadpool) has proven himself a competent director.

Will this be a fresh start, or yet another false dawn? Only time will tell.