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How to Watch the Terminator Movies in Chronological Order

How to Watch the Terminator Movies in Chronological Order

“I’ll be back” is one of the most iconic lines in movie history and it’s all thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the team bringing it and the Terminator franchise to life in 1984. Since then, the franchise has grown to six films, a TV series, web shows, video games, comics, and so much more.

While the future of the Terminator film franchise is unclear, there’s never a bad time to watch or rewatch these legendary sci-fi movies that see humanity rising up against Skynet to prevent their extinction. However, there is a lot of time traveling and timeline resetting that happens in the films, so it can be hard to know how to watch them in the correct order.

There are a few different ways you can, but it’s impossible to watch them in a full chronological order as the time traveling nature of them makes that too confusing. That being said, we’ve listed below the best way to watch the films in as close to chronological order as possible. We’ve also listed a couple other ways to watch it below that, including in release order.

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The Terminator Movies in (Chronological) Order

The Terminator Movies in Chronological Order (Sort Of)

The Terminator (1984)

Where to Watch: Prime Video

The Terminator is the first film in the legendary franchise and it introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic human-disguised cybernetic android known as Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, T-800, or simply The Terminator. Schwarzenegger’s character was sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 with a mission to kill a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in Los Angeles. Luckily for Sarah, a human soldier named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) was also sent back in time to stop the Terminator from completing his mission.

As it turns out, the Terminator and Reese come from a future where an artificially intelligent defense network known as Skynet became self-aware and started a global nuclear war to bring an end to the human race. Sarah’s son John would be a key figure in the Resistance against Skynet, so the network sends the Terminator back in time to prevent his birth by killing his mother.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Where to Watch: HBO Max

While Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese may have stopped Skynet’s time-traveling plan in the first film, that pesky self-aware network had no intention of stopping in its quest to preserve a future where it was the winner by making sure humans are no more.

This time, Skynet sends the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), an advanced Terminator that is made of nearly-indestructible liquid metal, to 1995 to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong) when he was a child. As was the case for Sarah, John has luck on his side when the Resistance sends back a reprogramed version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 to stop this T-1000 from killing him.

As for Sarah, she finds herself incarcerated at Pescadero State Hospital for her violent attempts to stop Judgment Day. This day – August 29, 1997 – will be the day Skynet will gain sentience and begin its quest to start a nuclear attack and end the human race for its part in trying to shut it down.

Read our review of Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Where to Watch: Rent or Purchase

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the part of the list where the timeline gets a little fuzzy. While Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a sequel to Terminator 2, so is Terminator: Dark Fate. This means you can jump ahead to see a divergent timeline, or continue here to see the story as it was originally told. As a reminder, we will have the timelines broken down at the bottom of the page for you!

Terminator 3 is mainly set in 2004 and exists in a world where 1997’s Judgment Day never happened due to the events of the last film. John Connor (Nick Stahl) has been mostly living as a nomad following the death of his mother as a way to hide from the ever-present threat of Skynet. As it has been known to do, Skynet once again sends an advanced Terminator (Kristanna Loken) back from 2032 to kill John, his wife Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), and his resistance allies. This time, it is a T-X, a shape-shifting Terminator that is made out of virtually indestructible liquid metal. The Resistance also follows suit and sends another one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed T-800 to protect John and his friends.

Read our review of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Where to Watch: Rent or Purchase

The End of Terminator 3 saw John and Kate discovering that Crystal Peak was not Skynet’s core, but a nuclear fallout shelter, and the resulting events led to Judgment Day and a nuclear attack that killed billions around the world. Terminator Salvation, which is the only film not to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger picks up years after the events of the third film in 2018 and begins with John Connor (Christian Bale) leading an attack on a Skynet base.

However, before Connor’s attack, we are sent back to 2003 to meet death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). He was convinced by Cyberdyne Systems to donate his body to science, but he didn’t realize he would become the first human-terminator hybrid after his death.

Back in 2018, Wright emerges from the destroyed Skynet base after John and his crew destroy it, and his path will eventually cross over with John and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Yes, the same Kyle Reese that will one day go back in time to save Sarah Connor in the first film and become John’s father.

Read our review of Terminator Salvation.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Where to Watch: Rent or Purchase

As we previously mentioned, Terminator: Dark Fate ignores everything that happened after Terminator 2 and takes place in a timeline where Sarah Connor was successful in stopping Skynet. Unfortunately, a T-800 from the future that never happened made it back to kill John Connor in 1998.

Dark Fate then shifts forward to 2020 where humanity is threatened not so much by Skynet, but by another AI called Legion. This AI sends back a new, advanced Terminator known as Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) from 2042 to 2020 to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Luckily for Dani, the Resistance is still doing its thing and sends back an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to protect her.

We won’t spoil anything else here, but know it is the first time Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator share the screen in 23 years.

Read our review of Terminator: Dark Fate.

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Where to Watch: Paramount+

Just as Dark Fate erased everything post-Terminator 2, Terminator Genisys is a fresh start that changes the entire timeline for the franchise. Genisys starts in 2029 with the Resistance gearing up to send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from the T-800. Things go wrong and he ends up in an alternate timeline that finds Sarah Connor and a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) known as “Pops” working together. As it turns out, an unknown party sent this T-800 back to 1973 to protect Sarah when she was nine after her parents were killed by one of Skynet’s T-1000s (Lee Byung-hun).

What follows is a time-traveling adventure that sends our heroes to a 2017 San Francisco where Skynet is called Genisys and is ready for its big debut. As you can imagine, that is not a great thing and Kyle, Sarah, and Pops have to stop new and familiar foes if they wish to save humanity from extinction.

Read our review of Terminator Genisys.

The Terminator Movies in Release Order

  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • Terminator Salvation (2009)
  • Terminator Genisys (2015)
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

The Terminator Movies Original Continuity

  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • Terminator Salvation (2009)

The Terminator Movies Dark Fate Timeline

  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Terminator: Dark Fate

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.