The Terminator Franchise: What You Need To Know Before Seeing Genisys

The first two Terminator films are widely regarded as some of the most badass, user-friendly and all-around beloved sci-fi movies in the history of the genre. The last two entries are a bit more polarizing among fans and critics alike, but with years since the last entry and a whole host of new stars joining the franchise, the excitement is building for round 5!

Next month, the upcoming Terminator Genisys will arrive to offer both an intriguing new storyline and a larger wrinkle that will quite literally rewrite a portion of the franchise’s timeline. From what little we know about the plot and story, there is a lot going on, and with that in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide of information that you need to know heading into Terminator Genisys.


The Characters You Need To Know

If you’re familiar with the franchise, especially the first two chapters, you’re already acquainted with the primary players. Granted, with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, once again playing a mechanical killing machine from the future——these old characters are all played by new actors. Though they’ll look different, you will likely have at least a rough understanding of who they are and their personalities.


Terminator/ Guardian/ Pops

Above all else, Genisys is perhaps most notable, because it marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the franchise he helped launch back in 1984. We first saw him as a time travelling robot assassin in Terminator and he then took a more protective role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, serving to keep John Connor safe from an even more advanced threat. Though we don’t have all the specifics, we know that he will serve a similar function in this film. A version of the T-800 has been sent back in time, once again as a protector, to watch over Sarah Connor from the time she was a child. We also learned that he is known as Guardian, and she calls him Pop, at least once in the film.


Sarah Connor

After Arnold, Sarah Connor is the true icon of the franchise. Hell, she even had an awesome TV series named after her (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). In Genisys, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke takes over the role made famous by Linda Hamilton (and also played by Clarke’s GoT costar Lena Heady on the small screen). When we first meet Sarah in 1984, she’s a frightened waitress, confused by why this hulking punker in bitching shades wants to kill her, and overwhelmed by the knowledge that she’s going to birth the last hope of humanity. By the time we see her again in the second film, however, she has become one of cinema’s greatest badasses, male or female. What we’ve seen of Clarke’s Sarah makes her look damn tough, but she certainly has some sizeable shoes to fill.

kyle reese

Kyle Reese

Time-hopping baby daddy/Sarah Connor watch dog, Kyle Reese, shows up from time to time throughout the franchise, but was most notably played by Michael Biehn in Terminator, which is where he had the biggest role. Not only did he arrive in 1984 in the nude, he was also tasked with protecting Sarah, and, unbeknownst to him, would become the father of the father of the human resistance to Skynet. Aussie Jai Courtney takes over the role in Genisys, and with the altered timeline, he still shows up in 1984, but the Sarah he finds is in need of significantly less protecting than he expected. But don’t shed too many tears for Kyle Reese, there are new threats to contend with that will give him ample opportunity to show off his action chops and impress his future sex partner.

john connor

John Connor

John Connor is the reason for all of this time travelling ruckus, but we don’t even meet him until the second movie when young Edward Furlong brought the savior of the human race to life in the guise of a pint-sized hooligan in Judgment Day. He’s subsequently been played by Christian Bale in Salvation, and Thomas Dekker in Chronicles, but it’s angsty teen, John, we know the best. Jason Clarke takes over the mantle of full-grown-man, leader-of-the-resistance John, but as we’ve seen in trailers for Genisys, there are some interesting new developments. In this iteration, John Connor, leader of the forces opposing the machine takeover, is himself a machine. We don’t know how or why—and we hope that it’s an early reveal—but we’re super curious to find out.



As if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leather-clad, Gargoyle-wearing killer robot from the future wasn’t enough of a hazard, Terminator 2: Judgment Day—not to be confused with Judgment Night, which is a totally different thing—introduced us to the shape-shifting upgrade, the T-1000. Made from cool looking liquid metal that gave the nefarious creation the ability to transform into anyone or anything, , handsome South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, takes over the part of the relentless hunter. From everything we’ve seen, he remains a similarly formidable adversary.


Miles Dyson

You know you’re kind of a failure when something you create goes on to doom the whole of the human race. That’s the situation Miles Dyson finds himself in. He didn’t mean for Skynet to become self-aware and destroy civilization, but that didn’t stop it from happening. Or at least it will happen. Courtney B. Vance takes over the role of creator of the neural-net processor, which led to the creation of Skynet, the automated defense system that became self-aware and decided the human race was a threat. Joe Morton was the first to play this part in Judgment Day, and we’ll have to wait and see how big a role the character plays in Genisys.


Danny Dyson

Danny Dyson is, you guessed it, related to Miles Dyson. He’s the son who we briefly meet in Judgment Day as Sarah, John, and Arnold terrorize the family, but about all he has to do is look worried in that scene. He shows up in Genisys, however, played by Dayo Okeniyi, who you may remember as Thresh in The Hunger Games. The biggest difference with this Danny is that he’s older, at least a teenager, but given when the new film is set, it’s unclear if a timeline has been altered or he’s older than he looks or what. That’s likely something the film will explain.


Tim/ Matt Smith

We don’t know much about the role of former Doctor Who star Matt Smith. His character is listed on IMDb as "Tim," and there have been rumblings that he could be a villain, perhaps even a personification of Skynet. IMDb does list Skynet as a character, and from the picture, a kid who looks an awful lot like a young Matt Smith plays the part. But we’ve also seen images of Smith decked out in garb similar to what Kyle Reese and John Connor wear, though he has been noticeably absent in the footage released. What this means, we’re not sure, and this is all supposition and conjecture, but perhaps he, Tim, turns out to be one of this new breed of being (not quite man, not quite machine), like we’ve seen from John in the trailers.


Detective O'Brien

Out of all the characters, at least the ones who appear to be important. Detective O’Brien may be the one we know the least about. We know he is a detective, we know his name is O’Brien, we know he hasn’t appeared anywhere else in the franchise, and we know the Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons plays the part. To be honest, that last bit is all that really matters. Simmons is fantastic in every role he takes, and we will watch him do anything, and enjoy it, even those insurance commercials. What we’ve seen from him in the previews for Genisys shows that he’s easily flustered by what he encounters—admit it, you would be, too, even just meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger would send most of us into a tizzy, let alone killer-robot-Arnold-Schwarzenegger-from-the-future. It also appears that he aids our heroes in some way in their quest to save the world, which is way cool of him.


The Backstory You Need To Know

Since the beginning we’ve been told that Terminator Genisys intended to go back and revisit key moments in the history of the Terminator franchise, and what Paramount Pictures has released, marketing wise, backs this up. But while they revisit important incidents, they play out drastically different in the new film. So far we’ve seen two prime examples of this revisionist history in the trailers.

First is the scene from Terminator when Schwarzenegger’s T-800 first arrives back in 1984. In the original, he kills a bunch of punks, including a young Bill Paxton, and steals their clothes. I bet they smell wonderful. As we all know too well, the main drawback of travelling through time is that you can’t take anything with you and you arrive wherever you’re headed with nothing but a smile and a your birthday suit.

In Genisys, however, things don’t go down quite the same. Before the murderous visitor from the future can off a bunch of wayward youth, Old Arnold shows up on the scene with a 12-guage, loaded for bear. There have been rumors that what follows is an epic, knock down, drag out kind of affair, though we have yet to see much to back that up. Still, we can’t wait to see an Arnold vs. Arnold throw down. That’s one for the history books.

We know this happens first because of the second incident of rewriting history we’ve witnessed. Like in James Cameron’s original film, Kyle Reese shows up in 1984, also nude, breaks into a sporting goods store, and scores some sweet kicks, artillery, and a shady trench coat. Unfortunately, he’s not alone, and Lee Byung-hun’s new T-1000 is also on the scene, disguised as a cop. Lucky for Reese, however, Sarah knows he’s coming and barrels through the store in an armored truck, pulling his ass out of the fire for what is likely not the last time.

This is not the Sarah that Reese expected to find. He anticipated a meek, frightened young woman confused by all of these tales of men and machines from a ruined future. She is certainly none of those things. And we know this happens after the first incident because, as they make their getaway, we’ve seen footage of the older Terminator in the back of their getaway vehicle next to the lifeless corpse of the 1984 T-800.

All of these changes are the result of continual tinkering with the past. The timeline is no longer a static straight line. When the machines first sent an agent back to kill Sarah, ensuring that John would never exist, that action caused an endless ripple effect. Sure, they didn’t succeed the first time, but it’s a sound theory, and they have obviously made subsequent attempts. And the more they go back and alter, even if John Connor never dies, the more things change down the line.

What this really does is muddy the waters, time wise. This is a tangled mess of timelines and causality running in an endless loop. For instance, we learned in Judgment Day that without the remains of the original T-800, Dyson wouldn’t have originally been able to create the neural-net processor, hence no Skynet. But even after they destroy it, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, life found a way. "No fate but what we make for ourselves" is a common refrain, but you can’t help but think there is a certain level of inevitability, of destiny in play, like how John sends his own father back in time to impregnate his mother, creating a paradox.

With all of these changes, Genisys really serves as a soft reboot of the Terminator franchise. It exists in this familiar world and makes use of your already extant knowledge of what they’ve set up over four previous movies, but they can make alterations where they need or want to.

While we’ve had clues about what this new world will look like, the bulk of it remains up in the air. Just in the build up, we’ve seen evidence of three distinct times. There’s the future, where humanity battles the machine menace; there’s 1984, where Kyle, Sarah, and Pops battle their mechanical enemies; and we’ve seen footage of young Sarah being rescued by her Guardian.

In addition to these times, there are indications of even more. There were rumors floating around that we could revisit events from Judgment Day, which could be where Dyson comes into the narrative again. We see them in Los Angeles, but also the San Francisco Bay Area, which has always been a hub of technological innovation. It’s possible this is also 1984, but perhaps it is a different era. And if you examine the IMDb credits closely—admittedly, this isn’t always the most reliable information, but it’s a start—there are listings for young Kyle Reese and young Detective O’Brien, which indicate at least two additional time frames.

We don’t know the extent of the time hopping that we will see onscreen on July 1, 2015. We don’t know when or where or who, but one thing is clear, Terminator Genisys is going to have its hands full keeping all of the timelines, plot threads, and cause and effect straight. It’s a really complicated world, but it’s one the franchise has had quite a bit of success playing in.


What We Know About Genisys

Obviously, the biggest thing we know about Terminator Genisys is that it rewrites the timeline. The core of the story involves characters we are already familiar with and care about, but it will present them in a new light, potentially even in drastically different manners. We’ve seen Sarah as a badass, but not for the same reasons; we’ve seen the T-800 as a protector, but not like this; and we’ve seen Kyle Reese travel back in time, but now his mission takes a sharp left turn.

The basic premise of the story is the same: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor, from a machine sent back to kill her and ensure he is never born. From that familiar logline, however, everything gets thrown for a loop. The 1984 Kyle visits is not the same 1984 from the first movie. Rescued by the Pops T-800 as a young child, Sarah Connor has been raised in relative isolation, and while she’s handy with weapons, she’s not as good with human interaction. Living with an unfeeling machine your whole life will do that do you. In earlier movies, like Judgment Day, her actions are to save the life of her son, to teach him the skills he’ll need to fulfill his destiny, whereas this time her focus appears to be on stopping the apocalypse. That certainly plays into her arc in T2, but her main driving force is John.

There are new Terminators to contend with, the causal string of events has been tugged so familiar events play out differently, and there are as yet unknown threats to contend with. For everything we do know about Genisys, there is even more that we don’t.

We’re going to visit eras that the franchise has already been to, that much is clear, but we are also going to new times. Even if it’s just a quick flashback, we’ll get a view of Sarah Connor’s childhood and see at least a few of the pieces that go into making her the woman we meet later; 1984 will play a key role in the action; and as we’ve seen in trailers and TV spots, we’ll spend some time in the future as well.

But are likely to be more. We’ve heard reports that we’ll revisit moments from Judgment Day, which takes place in 1995. As far as we know, we haven’t seen this in any of the marketing. There’s also the older version of Danny Dyson to consider. As he was born in the late 1980s, and is being played by a 26-year-old actor, though admittedly a young-faced one, that puts the action at least in the 2000s, if not later. And if you examine those scenes on the Golden Gate Bridge in the footage that’s been released, those cars look to be relatively current (someone who knows more about cars could probably identify make, model, and year). We could hop between a number of different times before the credits roll.

One of the hot topics of discussion in recent days has been a big twist revealed in the marketing. Because of the trailers and what not, we know that John Connor, at some point, becomes a machine. Or a machine mimics him. Or he’s something in between a man and machine. What exactly is going on isn’t entirely clear, but there is something massive in play. He also appears to travel back in time, as new John Connor definitely encounters new Sarah Connor.

Okay, so we know he’s a robot, or whatever, but this leads to even more questions. How does John become a robot? Is it his choice or is he somehow captured, forced, or otherwise coerced into it? Does he have some kind of endgame in mind? Is it even John? We get the impression that it is, but we can’t be sure. Is this new being simply some kind of shape shifter? Between Terminator and T2, there were obviously huge leaps in cyborg technology, so perhaps this new creation is simply another step forward in the continuing machine evolution. Again, there appears to it than that, but we can’t be sure at this stage.

You also have to wonder if this is as big a deal as people assume. Robot John Connor showing up in the trailers isn’t an accident, no one made a mistake, and no one skulked into the editing bay and added the footage last minute before it hit the air. If this is the big twist, that John is a machine, that’s like The Sixth Sense making a trailer that says Bruce Willis is a dead, which is just not going to happen.

So if this is what they’re willing to give away up front, you have to wonder what they’re keeping in reserve? The film should pack a punch, and if you have all of the aforementioned information down, you should really enjoy yourself.

The above article was sponsored by Paramount. Check out the new Terminator when it hits theaters.

Brent McKnight