You know what always gets me a lot of strange looks? Whenever I say that I think The Terminator is better than T2: Judgment Day. I know, I know. Terminator 2 is the more beloved film by a mile. It’s like saying you prefer the original Street Fighter that nobody ever talks about over the groundbreaking Street Fighter II that everybody talks about. It’s just unheard of.
But I honestly think that the two movies are so different, and yet, similar enough to be compared, that there really could be an argument made about which movie is better. I’m well aware that I’m not going to convince you that the first Terminator movie is better than the second one (I do think we’re all in agreement that The Terminator is better than all the sequels after 2). But I do believe that you might appreciate the original a bit more after reading this article. We'll see. Now just wait here for a moment. I’ll be back.
The Terminator is Scarier Than T2: Judgment Day
T2: Judgment Day is an action movie, through and through. While other movies in the series have tried to lean more into the time travel aspects, T2: Judgment Day is an action movie first, a sci-fi movie second, and maybe a light-horror movie third.
The first Terminator is mainly a horror movie first, due largely to Linda Hamilton’s and Michael Biehn’s fantastic performances. The Terminator is about John Conner’s father, Kyle Reese (Beihn) going back in time to protect Sarah Connor from the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that makes it a man vs. machine story, which is already terrifying in itself. Add in the fact that robots are being sent from the future to hunt people down and kill them, and you raise the scare factor up to 11. Yes, it’s kind of the same thing in T2 since the T-1000 is hunting John Connor, but T2 is more about machine vs. machine, which isn’t nearly as scary as man vs. machine, which could, I don't know, maybe happen one day?
The Terminator Makes For a Better Chase Movie than T2: Judgment Day
I’ll never forget when I saw T2: Judgment Day in the theater with my dad. The scene that sticks out the most is probably the same scene that sticks out in most people’s minds, which is when Arnold’s on his bike with John Connor, and Robert Patrick comes barreling off the bridge with the truck as the T-1000. I remember thinking, wow, it doesn’t get much better than this.
But here’s the thing. It kind of does with the original Terminator. Because while T2 never really lets up, and it’s scene, after scene, after scene of memorable moments, The Terminator actually takes its time more, lending itself to the horror elements I mentioned earlier. For a portion of the movie, Sarah Connor doesn’t even realize she’s being chased at all, so you have that suspense element involved where the audience knows something that the characters don't. So once the chase does actually begin, it truly is more gripping since we’re along for the ride with the characters.
The Skeletal T-800 is Way Creepier Than the Skeletal T-1000
The CG in T2: Judgment Day still blows me away, even today. And that movie came out in 1991! How does T2: Judgment Day look better than movies that came out only last year? I’ll never know, but we can thank James Cameron for always trying to revolutionize how movies look. He’s a genius in that regard, no question.
Still, I would argue that the limited special effects in the original Terminator actually lend itself better to the series since it makes it that much more uncomfortable to watch. Especially once the T-800’s skin is melted off, and we get that super creepy stop motion metal terminator that is all janky and eerie with its movements. The T-1000 looks a bit too refined. Sleek, even. But the T-800 is the stuff of nightmares, just by the way it moves.
The Tone is Better in The Terminator
I mentioned earlier that T2: Judgment Day is an action movie to its heart, and it is. In that way, the tone replicates that, as it’s a bombastic, big budget spectacle. And in no way am I saying that that takes anything away from T2. If we’re talking about what an R-rated summer blockbuster should look like, then I would likely say that it should look like T2: Judgment Day. It will always get the blood pulsing and the heart pumping.
But I much prefer the “tech-noir” (as the club is called in the movie) approach in the original. It adds to the unsettling nature, and it has its own kind of pulse to it that definitely sets it apart from all the sequels. And as much as I’d hate to say this, It’s the only movie in the series that actually feels fresh and different. Love T2 as much as I do, the tone of that film comes second to the action. In The Terminator, the dark tone is everything.
Arnold Makes For a Better Bad Guy Than Robert Patrick
You know, if you see T2: Judgment Day before you see The Terminator like I did, then you miss the major plot twist when you see Arnold’s character for the first time. If you did see The Terminator first, then you would think that Arnold's the bad guy again like he was in the original, but nope, it’s Robert Patrick, a much smaller, more intense Terminator. The T-1000 has more of a personality, which makes sense since he’s a later model. And yes, even Arnold’s character was given more to say and do this time around since he was mostly the main character in the sequel.
That said, I find the emotionless monster in the first movie to be a much better bad guy, if only because it’s so much scarier when your killer shows no feelings or remorse for trying to kill you. Arnold’s straight-to-the-point Terminator makes for a more compelling villain in the less is more category. He’s like Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers, but a machine. Something humankind created. I just find that a lot more intimidating than the robots with personalities in all of the sequels.
And those are my five reasons for why I think the first Terminator is better than the second. But what are your thoughts? Are there any other people who agree that the original Terminator is the better movie? Let me know in the comments.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.