Ranking the James Cameron Films

Films to Re-Watch: The Abyss, True Lies

Films Still Need to Watch (But will I bother? Unlikely): Piranha II: The Spawning


James Cameron mostly makes big spectacle films that I find compelling if not wholly satisfying. Here is how I rank them.


LAST: Avatar [2009]

Just as I felt back in 2009, my 2022 re-watch of Avatar left me feeling underwhelmed and decidedly unenthused by the prospect of watching more sequels. Like, my god, this movie is so goddamn boring. Besides all the very valid broad and specific criticisms of this movie that are out there, I honestly just cannot get past just how dull the whole thing is. It drags and drags, and there is such minimal fun let alone excitement. And I do not think the visuals were all that impressive despite what I imagine was just an insane amount of work to make it happen.


5. Titanic [1997]

James Cameron directing Leonard Dicaprio during his last period of being a heartthrob in a young adult historical fiction in retrospect seems like a pretty good candidate for one of the biggest movies ever made. And that is also why I do not really care about the film in any way as an adult beyond a broad appreciation for filmmakers “Going for it.” There is just not much there for me in any way beyond finding the existence of Billy Zane pretty amusing.

The only times in my life that I liked this movie were when I was a child. The first time was when I was 8 years old, and my father took me to see this deep in its run and I cried a lot at the end. Then when I turned 12 I had a sleepover for my birthday party. We put the movie on and paused the scene where Kate Winslet was naked. And then we all just stared at her for a good few minutes. This is my analysis of the film, Titanic.


4. Aliens [1986]

While in many respects, this film is in of the least interesting of the Alien series, two things carry the day to make it extremely successful. First of all, as is essential for all Alien films, it feels quite unique compared to what came before it. James Cameron has wildly different sensibilities compared to Ridley Scott, and he managed to do a truly extraordinary job of being true to himself but also building on what Ridley had started off. Secondly, the work of Sigourney Weaver here is just out of this world. A world class performance and characterization of one of cinema’s best protagonists ever.


3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day [1991]

Seven years after the initial film, James Cameron came back for the final Terminator film that he would direct. Cameron never being one to rest on his laurels, did what he was wont to do and went bigger with this film in every way. The advantage of that strategy is that the film feels completely unique and fresh compared to the first film, and there is no sense of feeling too repetitive. The downside of this strategy of going bigger is that Cameron’s instincts also call for going broader. And that removed all the grimy rawness of the first film. T2 is fun and ages relatively well despite the outdated computer effects, but the sequel is missing a key feature that the original had. This film is not cool.


2. Avatar: The Way of Water [2022]

The Way of Water is in many ways the most impressive thing that James Cameron had ever done up until this point in his career. Way of Water is Cameron using all his gifts and all his skills to make an absolutely spellbinding epic that **should** cause an emotional impact similar to something like Star Wars. It should leave filled with feelings of hope and wonder and inspiration. And instead the world of Avatar just makes you feel icky and gross. There is just no getting around the inherent problems with the origins of this premise, and I am not sure if it is possible for me to get past. (Nor am I sure I wanted to get past them.) But man. At the same time. What a picture. The contradictions of life make it worth analyzing.


1. The Terminator [1984]

Watch a lower budget James Cameron film back after all these years was sincerely fascinating. Because while Cameron was always able to go bigger with his films in some way, here, he is restricted in what he **can** do but still is going for epic in some ways that makes his film feeling very raw in a way that none of his future films would ever be able to recreate. It makes me wonder if Cameron’s natural mass appeal instincts led him down a lesser path. While the concept of this film is a great combo of cool yet simple. His future films would rarely feel this cool again. There is a John Carpenter quality to this film if not (entirely) in theme then in feel.  This movie just kicks ass and is all sorts of fun. Cameron films would only get bigger from here, but they would never get better.


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