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(Pocket-lint) - 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). The latest entry in the series doesn't help matters, as it ignores all but the first two Terminator films.

Terminator: Dark Fate 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 six films, plus the TV show, to properly be in the know. To help you out, we're breaking down the best way to watch all-things Terminator.

We're giving it our best shot, anyway.

The Terminator chronological timeline

This guide presents the Terminator movies in a timeline, by order of the events that happen in the franchise.

If you'd prefer to keep things simpler, we've also included a release date order of all the Terminator movies at the bottom of this guide. A spoiler-free bulleted version of the Terminator chronological timeline is also listed at the bottom. 

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 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: 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: 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).

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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

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The latest entry in the Terminator Franchise released in 2019, but the film is actually set in the near future of 2022.

Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2, where we see what happens to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). She and her son John Connor (Jude Collie) take on the evil artificial intelligence known as Skynet. While you could say this film ignores the events of the later films in the series, it's easier to think of it as the culmination of all the other events in the timeline.

Sarah and John successfully defeated Skynet in Terminator 2 and prevented the Judgement Day that was supposed to happen in 1997.

The events of all the other films and series, even the ones that take place in the future, are showing events that occurred in a timeline when that apocalyptic event happened in 1997. Terminator: Dark Fate shows what actually came next for Sarah and John after they stopped the apocalypse, and how their victory over Skynet only postponed the threat of AI.


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.

Terminator franchise in chronological order

  • Terminator: Genisys (2015)*
  • 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: Dark Fate

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

Terminator franchise by order of film releases

  • 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)
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Did you like this?

Then maybe you'll like our other movie order viewing guides:

We also have these rumour round-ups on upcoming movies:

Writing by Maggie Tillman. Originally published on 1 October 2019.
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