(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
One Sentence Plot Summary: In one of the most important films ever made as far as cinematic technology goes, two terminators are sent from the future (Don’t think about it too long) and engage in a battle for John Connor.
Why It’s on the List: This is one of my favorite science fiction movies ever, and it was created by someone who now sadly only lives in the world of Avatar (not the good one either). James Cameron crafted an incredible story, channeled Arnold Schwarzenegger toward an unironically great performance, elevated his ex-wife to an action icon, and even got a great acting performance out of a child.
So much with this movie should have gone wrong. Seven years earlier, the original was a solid B-movie with some truly horrendous special effects. There was Arnold Schwarzenegger though and he became huge star in the time between sequels. James Cameron also elevated himself by directing Aliens and then The Abyss, the former of which is also regarded as an amazing sequel in its own right and the latter of which also had some amazing special effects in the context of it being the late 1980s.
What we have learned in recent years is that it’s easy to get lost in technology. Avatar has some great moments, but unless you watch it on the biggest, best possible screen, it doesn’t mean much. This is a movie that has a ton of heart to it. Schwarzanegger might be a robot, but he plays it straight. Cameron only allows for a few key sprinkled one liners. Linda Hamilton got herself into incredible shape and is the emotional centerpiece of the film. Edward Furlong is someone who has a lot of legal issues as an adult, but here, he excels. I love Steven Spielberg as a director, but the child actors in his movies are generally terrible. Between this, Aliens, and even True Lies, Cameron has a much better knack for getting great performances out of kids.
I think another reason this movie works is the tremendous set-pieces. Cameron always does a great job with geography and allowing the audience to understand where they are at all times. I think this is especially true for the mental hospital. I don’t know how many modern directors would have a 20-25 minute sequence that builds to just a couple minutes of action followed by a chase as opposed to just getting into the action. Cameron shows incredible patience, and this has become an iconic piece of soft science fiction.
I also can’t discuss this movie without mentioning Robert Patrick. The decision to dress him as a police officer the whole time was a work of genius, and given the tumultuous time this came out, it probably was fitting. In 2020, a Proud Boy looking dude in a cop uniform works a little too well.
*Mental institutions aren’t portrayed well, but I don’t believe they’re all that great anyway.
ILM is an institution that probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I could have gone with James Cameron, but the way this movie is visually represented, not just the T-1000 but even the way a lot of the action is done, credit should go to this group. I think one of the more impressive aspects of the movie is the opening scene where they show a war between the robots and humans ever so briefly and show us what the robots look like. The opening credits with the flames in the playground…it’s kind of cheap emotional heat but it works and has a payoff in Sarah Connor’s dream later on.
Best Performance: This was a hard one. I wouldn’t say these three lead performances are Oscar worthy or anything, but they’re all good for this movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger gets the award based on his ability to be charismatic, deliver a lot of exposition, and somehow find a way for people to actually care about a robot. A strong argument could be made for Furlong and Hamilton though.
Best Quote: “We’re not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.” – John Connor
Is there a sequel? There have been four sequel movies and a television show. To call them a mixed bag would be an understatement.