The next installment in the Terminator franchise is about to hit theatres.

Terminator: Dark Fate, which releases in cinemas on 1 November, sees the return of Linda Hamilton in the lead role and James Cameron in the producer's chair. Only true Terminator fans will know how significant that is; the rest of you will need to hurry up and watch all five films, plus the TV show, to catch up. To help you out, we're breaking down the best way to watch all-things Terminator.

However, it's hard to chronologically arrange the Terminator series, due to the complexity of time travel in the films (and because there are fractured timelines). But, we're giving it our best shot, so that you can watch, in order of the events that happen. If you'd rather keep things simple, we've also included a release date order. Spoiler-free, bulleted-list versions of everything are at the bottom.

The Terminator chronological timeline

Note: There are spoilers below.

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Terminator: Genisys (2015)*

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The Terminator series doesn't squeeze into a typical chronology, because it's premise is about changing the past to shape the future. But if we strictly stick to an order starting from the earliest events, then this film opens with John Conner (Jason Clarke) having defeated Skynet in 2029 and sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to 1984 to save John's mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke).

However, it's not the past Reese expected: Sarah has spent her entire life preparing to fight the machines. It's important to know this film is a reset for the entire Terminator universe. It changes events from the first Terminator film - when Sarah didn't have time to prepare. But that’s the point of the franchise; if something doesn’t go Skynet’s way, it'll send killer robots back to change it.

*Note: You can watch this film first in your rewatch, if you'd like to see a brief look at how things might've happened before the original start of the series, with 1984's The Terminator. But since it actually has scenes from the future, and is part of a rebooted timeline, you could also watch it last as a standalone film. Either way, it shows how the franchise goes full-circle. 

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The Terminator (1984)

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The Terminator series kicks off with the original film starring a robot killer known as Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). He's been sent to 1984, from war-ravaged 2029, to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the savior of the human race. Humanity also sent back another soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who ends up fathering Sarah's son, John Conner.

It's revealed that a computer defense system, called Skynet, became self-aware in 1997 and views humanity as its greatest threat. It's up to Sarah and Kyle to defeat the Terminator and stop the extinction of humankind at the behest of Skynet.

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Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

This is a sequel to the first Terminator film. It picks up 11 years after the original, in 1995. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has been imprisoned for the attempted bombing of a computer factory, while her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), is a teen who lives with foster parents in LA. Two terminators - an identical model of the original T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a new T-1000 liquid metal terminator (Robert Patrick) - have arrived from the future with opposing missions. One of them, of course, has come to do Skynet's bidding.

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)*

The Terminator franchise gets really complicated here. This TV show is yet another divergent timeline. It should follow Terminator 2 because Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker) are shown in 1999, but they're on the run from a new terminator (Garret Dillahunt). There's also a resistance terminator (Summer Glau), who helps them time-jump to 2007 to try to stop Skynet once and for all.

*Note: Since this is a divergent timeline, you could watch it after all the movies, or not at all. But if you'd like to imagine what Sarah Connor and her son could've gone on to do after Terminator 2, this TV series will help you scratch that itch.

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Terminator 3 starts a decade after the events in the second Terminator film. The late Sarah Connor delayed Skynet’s awakening, but John Connor (Nick Stahl) lives in fear of the computer system finding him, causing him to live completely off the grid. Skynet is forced to target him by moving on to other members of his resistance group, and, of course, by sending back a new terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken).

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Terminator: Salvation (2009)

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Salvation was intended to be the start of a second Terminator trilogy (the first consisted of Terminator, Terminator 2, and Terminator 3), but the sequels were canceled, leaving this to be our only look at what life was like for John Connor (Christian Bale) and the rest of humanity in a very dystopian 2018. We see Connor learn that the resistance is planning an all-out attack, thanks to intelligence that suggests Skynet will kill the entire resistance command in mere days, and the No. 1 name on its list is John's father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).


Spoiler-free Terminator viewing orders

The first list below is the same exact chronological one that is detailed above, only free of spoilers so you can read at a glance. As for the second list, it's all the Terminator films and the show - again, listed spoiler-free - but in order of release.

It's up to you which order to follow.

List 1: Terminator chronological timeline

  • Terminator: Genisys (2015)*
  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  • Optional: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 to 2009 - TV show)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • Terminator: Salvation (2009)

*Note: You can watch Genisys first or last in your re-watch.

List 2: Terminator in order of release

  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • Optional: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 to 2009 - TV show)
  • Terminator: Salvation (2009)
  • Terminator: Genisys (2015)
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