‘Terminator: Dark Fate’: Could the Sixth ‘Terminator’ Film Be the Series’ First Great Sequel Since ‘T2’?

Terminator: Dark Fate is nearly here. So let’s take a brief Terminator history lesson.

James Cameron created a startling vision of the future with 1984’s The Terminator. That film developed such a cult following that it spawned a beloved sequel seven years later. But Terminator 2: Judgment Day didn’t just deliver a satisfying follow-up; it changed cinema history forever.

Ever since T2‘s 1991 release, however, the Terminator franchise has struggled to get back on track. Three subsequent sequels attempted to continue or reboot the series, with mixed-at-best results. Yet, studios keep rolling the dice, and fans remain interested in seeing how the Terminator series will falter next. Can Terminator: Dark Fate finally break this pattern?

The cast of 'Terminator: Dark Fate' and director Tim Miller | Han Myung-Gu/WireImage
The cast of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ and director Tim Miller | Han Myung-Gu/WireImage

What is different about ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’?

Perhaps the biggest thing Terminator: Dark Fate has going for it is its creative team. Although Cameron doesn’t return to direct, he is back onboard the franchise for the first time since T2. With a producer and “story by” credit, the filmmaker is finally able to influence the series’ direction once again.

Similarly, original star Linda Hamilton returns to the iconic role of Sarah Connor. With Hamilton back, Terminator: Dark Fate serves as a direct follow-up to T2, ignoring everything in the series since. This “selective canon” approach was also used in last year’s Halloween and is growing in popularity.

By all accounts, the new Terminator succeeds at recapturing the formula that once worked so well. Ahead of the film’s release, Alamo Drafthouse hosted a series of fan screenings, and attendees universally praised Terminator: Dark Fate as a worthy successor to T2. Of course, we’ve yet to discover whether general audiences will react similarly.

The series made several attempts to follow ‘Judgment Day’

With the first two films, Cameron created a complete story. Of course, nothing truly ends when there’s money to be made. So Hollywood forged ahead without Cameron for a while.

First, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines — the last R-rated film in the series — chronicled Skynet’s awakening and revolution against humanity. The film served as a capable, albeit underwhelming, end to a trilogy. Then Terminator Salvation tried to explore the post-apocalyptic future war led by John Connor (Christian Bale). Unfortunately, the most memorable aspect of that one was Bale’s on-set meltdown.

After Salvation, some fans speculated that the reason Terminator Salvation fell flat was the absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Terminator Genisys proved that theory wrong, nearly killing the franchise for good with its convoluted story and wooden performances. As it turns out, the series’ reliance on Schwarzenegger may have been misplaced.

If ‘Dark Fate’ works, what’s next for the ‘Terminator’ franchise?

Although he is its marquee star, Schwarzenegger has never been the focus of the Terminator story. As a machine, his character’s development is minimal at best, save for perhaps T2. By placing so much emphasis on the T-800, the series may have consistently been doing itself a disservice.

Terminator: Dark Fate aims to correct that approach by focusing on the humans struggling against impossible odds to survive. If the film does prove to be a hit, the series would be wise to bear this in mind going forward. In this regard, the franchise works as a technological twist on The Walking Dead.

Right now, the best genre storytelling — whether its The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones — is on television. So perhaps Terminator will be ideally suited for another jump to TV if Dark Fate resurrects the franchise. The last thing fans would want is to see the series struggle again on the big screen.

Terminator: Dark Fate arrives in theaters on November 1.