The original Terminator was an incredible blend of science fiction and slasher flick, and a film that influenced both genres for years to come. Then, seven years later, Terminator 2: Judgment Day came along and proved that sequels could be better then their predecessors. Both movies were able to do this because of their innate simplicity: while there was plenty of sci-fi technobabble sprinkled throughout, the core story was simple. Terminator and its sequel were about running from a giant, unstoppable Austrian robot from the future.

If the franchise had ended after Terminator 2, everything would have been fine. Unfortunately, it didn't.

Future installments all varied wildly in their quality, but one thing was certain: what had once been a mildly confusing story of one man sending his own father back in time to give birth to himself quickly became a mess of alternate timelines, way too many Terminators and Christian Bale yelling at people. So, with Terminator: Genisys currently proving that its terrible title is a reflection of the film's quality, we're going to try and simplify the Terminator timeline - at least before the robots take over and reboot the franchise.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the movies: SPOILERS AHEAD.

The 'Simple' Stuff, aka The First Two Movies

The first timeline represents what should have been: a tight-knit, self-resolving story of time travel and awesome explosions. This is the timeline that ends with the destruction of all Terminator technology, and the evil AI Skynet is never created.


• Sarah Connor is born. For the next 19 years, her life is a relatively happy one.

The events of The Terminator

• A Series-800 Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels back in time from 2029. He is naked.

• Kyle Reese, on orders from John Connor, also travels back in time. He is also naked.

• The Terminator starts hunting down Sarah Connor through use of a phone book, as Facebook didn't exist yet. Two innocent people die as a result.

• After being stood up by her boyfriend, Sarah goes out to a club. Kyle arrives just in time to save Sarah from an understandably frustrated Terminator.

• Sarah tries to hide from the Terminator at a local police station. It doesn't work.

• As Kyle and Sarah escape the city, the Terminator kills Sarah's mother (just because).

• After spending a lovely afternoon crafting pipe bombs, Sarah and Kyle hook up in a seedy motel room. Romantic!

• The Terminator arrives to interrupt post-coital snuggles, chasing Sarah and Kyle to the most ironic place available: the Cyberdyne Systems factory.

• After a prolonged battle, Kyle is finally killed by the Terminator. However, he damages the T-800 enough that Sarah is able to gain the upper hand and destroy it once and for all.

• Sarah escapes the factory, leaving a highly advanced, nearly indestructible killing machine just lying around for someone to find.

• Months later, Sarah has her picture taken at a Mexican gas station. Now pregnant with Kyle's child, she tries to figure out the logic behind time travel before riding off into the sunset.

Pre-Terminator 2:

• John Connor is born. For the next 12 years, his life is a relatively happy one.

• Sarah Connor is institutionalized after trying to blow up a computer factory.

• A 9-year-old John is placed into the most stereotypical foster home in the world.

The Events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day

• John Connor has grown up into the worst kid ever. Yuck.

• Another Series-800 Terminator, after being reprogrammed by the Resistance in the future, travels back in time to protect John. Once again, he is naked.

• A Series-1000 Terminator (also known as the Coolest Thing Ever) arrives to kill John. As is tradition, he, too, is naked.

• The greatest action sequence in all of cinema history takes place. John and the T-800 escape, and begin searching for an institutionalized Sarah Connor.

• The two manage to find her, and Sarah (understandably) freaks out at the sight of the T-800. Thankfully, she pulls it together long enough to escape the T-1000.

• John and the T-800 begin to bond over outdated '90s slang.

• Realizing that Cyberdyne Systems is the company responsible for creating the Terminators in the first place, Sarah, John and the T-800 travel to Miles Dawson's home to "get some answers" (aka kill him).

• After nearly killing Dawson, the gang learns that the Terminators are manufactured by an artificial intelligence known as Skynet, which was created by reverse-engineering the original Terminator's endoskeleton after the events of the first movie. Realizing that they both have a hand in humanity's destruction, Sarah and Miles have a bit of a breakdown.

• The gang then travels to the Cyberdyne Systems HQ, where they proceed to destroy all of the company's work on the Terminator technology. The T-800 destroys half of the local police force (without killing anyone), and Miles sacrifices himself to make sure that the Terminator research is destroyed.

• The T-1000 resurfaces. A prolonged battle between the Terminators, John and Sarah takes place in a smelting factory, and the T-1000 is finally destroyed.

• Upon realizing that it is the only remaining Terminator tech, the T-800 sacrifices itself and throws out the greatest thumbs-up in history.

• Sarah and John retreat into hiding, and the audience thinks that the Terminator franchise will end on an extremely high note. They are wrong.

The Not-So-Great Stuff, Part 1: The TV Series

After the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, many expected to see a sequel soon thereafter. Sadly (or not, depending on your point of view), fans wouldn't be able to return to the franchise until 2004.

We'll be saving that for later: for now, let's focus on the 2008 television series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The Events of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

The second of three timelines, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is noticeably incomplete due to the series' cancellation after season two.

• Following the events of Terminator 2, John and Sarah have settled down in Humboldt County, Calif. Sarah remains on the FBI Most Wanted list for allegedly killing Miles at Cyberdyne Systems headquarters.

• Sarah Connor becomes engaged to a paramedic, but is forced to leave when yet another Terminator (named Cameron) arrives to protect John.

• Cameron succeeds in protecting John from a T-888 (nicknamed Cromartie), after which Sarah, John and Cameron use a government-built time displacement device to jump forward to 2007.

• Kyle Reese is born. He's not all that important here.

• Resistance fighters from 2027 arrive.

• John celebrates his 16th birthday, despite the fact that he's technically 24.

• Cameron is badly damaged, and her programming reverts to its original 'kill John' version. She is (somewhat obviously) unsuccessful.

• John gets a girlfriend. Nothing interesting happens.

• Cromartie tracks John down in New Mexico, then cements his title as the Worst Terminator Ever and is destroyed.

• Sarah's former fiancee (having long since remarried) dies protecting John.

• Sarah is arrested. It doesn't last, as John and Cameron soon break her out (though Cameron is left worse for wear).

• Cameron gives her CPU chip to an artificial intelligence named John Henry. 'He' and Cameron then jump into the future, and are then followed by John Connor and his new best friend Catherine Weaver (who is actually a Terminator).

• Both parties manage to jump forward to the year 2026, but anything that happens during the rest of the series (save for John sending Kyle Reese back to protect his mother) doesn't matter because the series was cancelled. Oh well.

The Not-So-Great Stuff, Part 2: The Other Movies

In 2004, the Terminator franchise returned to theaters with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Despite featuring characters with names like the "Terminatrix" and an absolutely awful ending, the main criticism of Terminator 3 was that it undid the majority of the first two film's stories, as well as contradicted the series' ultimately hopeful tone. But it made a lot of money, so who cares?

Also, Terminator Salvation happened, but ... we'll get to that.

The Events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

The third and previously final timeline includes Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation. It outright ignores the precedent set by the first two films, and Judgment Day is now an inevitability (which makes the previous films feel somewhat unnecessary.

• Several years after the events of Terminator 2, John Connor has reverted to be the Worst Kid Ever (only now, he's an adult, which just makes it worse). The only major difference is that John now has stubble, which is enough to woo his future wife Katherine.

• The T-X (a noticeabe downgrade from the T-1000 in most ways) arrives from the year 2032 - blatantly contradicting everything great about Terminator 2. Also, she's naked, because she's a pretty lady and the studios needed to throw a tease in there.

• The T-850 (which is totally different than the other Arnold-bots) arrives from 2033 to save John and Katherine. He, too, is naked, because he's a guy and the studios needed to throw a stripper joke in there.

• The T-X starts killing future Resistance members.

• The T-850 saves John and Katherine from the T-X at an animal hospital.

• Skynet is in the final stages of launch preparation (having magically survived the events of Terminator 2), and the AI is given full control over the U.S. military, for some reason.

• It is revealed that the T-850 isn't under orders from John, but from Katherine: in 2032, the T-850 manages to kill John before being reprogrammed and sent back in time. This ultimately means nothing.

• The T-X uses its built-in Bluetooth to control the government's T-1 units, killing anyone who represents a threat to Skynet (except for John Connor). Skynet is now free to begin planning Judgment Day.

• John and Katherine receive a set of codes that will supposedly prevent Judgment Day from happening, and flee to a safe haven known as Crystal Peak.

• The T-X incapacitates the T-850, though it's temporary. Arnold makes the exact same sacrifice as in the last movie, and both Terminators are destroyed. John and Katherine make it to Crystal Peak safely.

• Plot twist! John and Katherine learn that the codes were fake, and that Katherine's father was simply trying to protect her. Judgment Day was inevitable and Skynet wins, which results in one of the least satisfying endings ever.

Pre-Terminator: Salvation

• Terminator Marcus Wright is executed, then converted into a Hybrid - which is just like a Terminator, only with all of the emotional vulnerabilities of a regular person!

The Events of Terminator: Salvation

• Fourteen years after Judgment Day, Christian Bale (otherwise known as John Connor) leads a group of resistance fighters in an attack on one of Skynet's facilities, called the VLA.

• The attack awakens Marcus Wright. His infiltration program comes online, and Skynet uses him as a way to get John Connor and Kyle Reese to attack Skynet's central facility.

• Kyle Reese and an obnoxious child named Star are captured, but then freed by John and Marcus. They all become fast friends.

• The Resistance Headquarters are destroyed. Everyone is sad.

• John and Marcus find out that the latter is actually a Terminator. The previously established friendship is now in jeopardy.

• The attack on Skynet Central commences. Kyle is caught almost immediately (then manages to escape just as quickly), Marcus realizes that he's been a real boy the whole time, and John fights a CG-Arnold Schwarzenegger.

• Somehow, the attack on Skynet Central is a success, but at a huge cost: John is mortally wounded in the fight against the T-800. Marcus donates his heart (as he is magically a match for John, despite having no way of knowing), and the movie ends on yet another heroic sacrifice ...

• ... which is then undermined by the fact that John gets killed by a regular old Terminator a few years later, as established in Terminator 3. Isn't continuity fun?

And that's it for the basics. If, for whatever reason, you haven't seen the first two movies, go ahead and watch them: Terminator and its sequel are two of the best sci-fi horror/action movies ever made.

Unfortunately, the rest of the series just doesn't hold up. Terminator Salvation is basically a war movie with CG robots, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is just a bland movie. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it goes against everything that the prior films established just to eke out a sequel. And then there's the TV show. Let's put it this way: there's a reason it didn't last more than two seasons.

Sadly, it doesn't look like Terminator: Genisys will do much more to help the series' reputation. That being said, if you want to go out and see it anyway, Terminator: Genisys hits theaters on July 1.

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