“Come with me if you want to live.”
“Best action movie of all time” is a hotly-debated title, but it would be hard to argue that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not in the top three. Directed by James Cameron (Aliens, Avatar) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, this follow-up to the competent 1984 original was an ambitious endeavor. When it was made, it was the most expensive film in history, with a budget over ten times its predecessor. And it paid off in a big way. It made back double its enormous production budget and held the world record for highest opening-weekend gross of an R-rated film until 2003. This was the first sequel to receive and Academy Award when the previous installment had not even gotten a nomination, and it’s one of the most iconic and memorable action movies ever made.
The plot is set over ten years after the events of the first movie. In a dark future, robots have risen up and threaten to kill off mankind. The first attempt to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the leader of the resistance, in the past has failed (the first movie), so the robots sent a second robot assassin back in time to kill John Connor when he was a boy. An adult John Connor sent a reprogrammed robot assassin back in time to protect himself. These two unstoppable terminators fight over the life of a young John Connor, while Sarah Connor hatches a scheme to sabotage the creators of the technology that would lead to the robot uprising.
Hasta la vista, baby.
Terminator 2 falls right into that sweet spot when action movies were big and fun but not yet ridiculous and outlandish. The chase sequences and shoot-outs have just the right amount of tension and excitement without losing their grounding in reality. The terminators are, of course, efficient killing machines, but Sarah Connor has also spent the time since the last movie turning herself into a living weapon and she has some pretty badass scenes as well. Linda Hamilton’s performance as the driven and borderline-crazy Sarah Connor is outstanding, especially when compared to the first movie where she was a pretty standard young woman. It also helps that the special effects were revolutionary for their time.
Though there are plenty of fun moments, the overall theme in Terminator 2 is very dark. Cameron originally shot a happier ending for the film, but cut it when he realized that a film like this shouldn’t have a neat, bright, and cheery ending. There are several signs of what’s at stake if the main characters fail in their mission, including a graphic nightmare sequence, and it’s not pretty. The terminators themselves have extremely limited emotions, and John Connor is not fully aware of everything that’s at stake, but Sarah Connor’s desperation serves as a stark reminder of how worried everyone should be.
Terminator 2 is one of the best action films of all time (actually #1 in my book) and excels where many other action movies stumble: intricate setting, human characters, and a great tone throughout. Anyone who enjoys action films or high-energy sci-fi needs to see this. For others, it may be hit or miss. The violence, while not frequent, is graphic, and the tone can be very bleak at times. Still, this remains a triumph of what the action genre is capable of producing and earns its spot on this list of classics.
Director: James Cameron
Genres: action, sci-fi