Top 10 Terminator Moments

As Terminator Salvation opens, relive the series' most memorable scenes

by | June 1, 2009 | Comments

Finally, it is here. Plagued by fanboy outcries, rumoured script changes, one legendary on-set tirade and a rash of mixed-to-rotten reviews from critics in the US, Terminator Salvation arrives this week in Australian cinemas for audiences to make up their own minds. In the meantime, remind yourself why you still care, as we take a step into the flashing blue lightning and travel back through 10 of the best moments of the Terminator series.

10: The resistance begins

Terminator 3 may have turned James Cameron’s “no fate but what we make it” theme on its head — thanks for saving the future, Sarah Connor, but Judgment Day’s coming anyway — but whatever its faults as a story, it’s pretty hard not to be moved by the bleak final moments of the film that put John Connor right where he was doomed to be. As Skynet unleashes the missile attacks that will decimate the human population, Connor and future wife Kate hole up in an old underground bunker, their fate weighing heavily upon them. And then, the moment we’ve all been dreading. “Who’s in charge there?” a desperate voice crackles over the radio. Connor’s reply leaves the lump in our collective throats: “I am.”

9: Clouds on the horizon

The iconic photo of Sarah Connor has been a recurring motif across all four Terminator films, travelling through time, and between father and son. Moments after taking the fateful image that will send Kyle Reese across time, a young Mexican boy offers a telling portent of the future. “What did he say?” Sarah Connor asks the old man at the gas station. “He says there’s a storm coming in,” is the response. Cue Connor and unborn son on the open highway, driving toward an ominous vista of dark clouds — and a future that may well be in their hands.

8: “Come with me if you want to live”

The series’ enduring line gets its first — and best — airing in the terrifying showdown at the Tech Noir nightclub, as the T-101’s attack on Sarah Connor is narrowly repelled by Kyle Reese. Unsure whether this guy in the trench coat with the deranged look in his eyes is a lunatic, a killer, or both, Sarah has no choice but to accept his help — and, in that moment, the future changes forever.

7: “Hasta la vista, baby”

Arnie’s famous line from T2 has gone down among his most quoted moments ever, capturing the future Governator at the stratospheric peak of his stardom and heralding the Terminator series at its commercial high water mark. No matter that the gunshot that follows it fails to finish off the decomposing T-1000 (he quickly reassembles himself), this is all about action-movie quip-timing as art: dry, instantly memorable, and proof that the wisdom of John Connor’s teachings began early. But would it have been the same if he’d said “Chill out, dickwad”?

6: Liquid metal!

CGI’s so commonplace (and over-used) now that it’s easy to forget just how jaw-dropping T2‘s liquid metal morphing was to cinema audiences back in 1991. Incredible moments abound — the T-1000 emerging dazzling from the flaming wreckage of a truck, pouring itself inside a police chopper (“Get out!”, indeed), and reconstituting its shape from liquid droplets before the climactic showdown — but for wit and surprise, the scenes in the psychiatric institution are hard to top. The T-1000 ascending from through floor, like some primal digital ooze, to assume the form of a hapless security guard, is funny, scary and just about perfect — even all these years and advancements later.

5: Cybernetic surgery

Up until this point in The Terminator we’d only seen hints of what Cyberdyne’s T-101 was made of — including that priceless look that Arnie gives as his eyes strobe the road, turning in advance of his head — but this left the audience with no doubt as to the lethal technology buried beneath the living tissue exoskeleton. The queasy scene begins with Schwarzenegger slicing open his arm to reveal that cyborg limb (brilliantly executed by Stan Winston) and proceeds to have him remove his eyeball, at which time we see that eerie, glowing red iris for the first time — and Arnie donning his killer shades.

4: The canal chase

It begins with a kid on a trail bike blasting Guns N’ Roses and ends with an evil robot from the future striding through a raging fireball of wrecked metal — do we need to explain any further? Evidence of director James Cameron’s action talent at its finest, T2‘s best chase combines a breakneck pursuit through the sewers of Los Angeles with some incredible stunt work, all while establishing the emotional bond between John Connor and his unlikely protector. Terminator 3‘s magnificent construction crane carnage might have topped it for scale and spectacle, but this remains the series’ most compelling sequence of sturm und drang.

3: “I’ll be back”

Newcomers to The Terminator might be excused for wondering how this particular line came to assume such towering status in the series’ mythology. After all, it’s only three words, issued in the most monotone of voices — hardly the makings of one of the American Film Institute’s “Top 100 Movie Quotes” of all time (it ranked number 37, for the record). Yet it’s precisely Arnie’s deadpan delivery — offering no indication to the police clerk as to the absolute mayhem that will follow — that makes it so unforgettable. If you thought Schwarzenegger was no Brando, you’d better take another look at how deeply immersed in his character he is here.

2: Bad to the Bone

Not just the greatest introduction of any character in the Terminator series, it’s one of the all-time best meet-and-greets in movie history. Arnold’s reappearance is a textbook example of reacquainting the audience with a legendary character and setting the tone for his unlikely change of sides. The Terminator doesn’t hesitate in destroying a bar full of bikers, but the humour in the scene — “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle” — eases us in to Arnie’s repurposing and his almost-human moments that will follow.

1: “You’re terminated, fucker”

As hard as it is to choose a mere 10 great moments from a series (or at least two films) filled with so many, there’s something still so devastating about the tense, terrific seconds that bring the original movie’s factory fight to a crushing close. The creepiness of the T-101 as it crawls unrelenting, despite being only half a robotic skeleton, toward the trapped Sarah Connor is among the film’s most powerful images — the claw, scrape, claw of the metal hand inching closer, never stopping, unable to be reasoned with. But it’s the image of the previously helpless young woman suddenly asserting herself in the face of this mechanical monster that sears the series’ human-vs.-machines struggle into memory. If meek little waitress Sarah can become a badass mercenary and mother of the future of the human resistance, then maybe there’s hope.

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