The “Terminator” franchise is a confusing mishmash of time travel, altered pasts and adjusted futures. And in the latest movie, “Terminator: Genisys,” the entire timeline got rebooted and rewritten, making it even tougher to follow. Here’s a (somewhat) simplified look at all the “Terminator” timelines, arranged in true chronological order (as opposed to what a calendar would tell you).
Skynet goes online in 1997.
According to the people from the future, here's the gist of what happened before the movies: Skynet launches the nukes to create Judgment Day in 1997. Kyle Reese is born in 2002. John Connor eventually leads the Resistance against Skynet and seemingly defeats it in 2029. Skynet sends back the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to 1984 to kill John's mother, Sarah, and John sends Kyle after it to protect her from the merciless killing machine.
Timeloop A: The Terminator arrives in 1984 (“The Terminator”).
Arriving at the Griffith Park Observatory, the first Terminator steals clothes from some punk thugs (including Bill Paxton in a cameo role), then heads into Los Angeles to find Sarah Connor.
Kyle Reese arrives in 1984 (“The Terminator,” 1984).
Sent back by John Connor to protect his mother, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) finds himself in 1984 in an alley and takes some clothes from a bum. He’s committed a photo of Sarah to memory and seemingly knows where to find her.
The Terminator starts killing Connors (“The Terminator,” 1984).
Because he doesn’t know any information about Sarah Connor, the Terminator uses a phone book to hunt down and kill women with the same name. He kills two Sarahs before zeroing in on the real Sarah (Linda Hamilton), heading to her apartment.
Kyle saves Sarah (“The Terminator,” 1984).
Kyle follows Sarah to a nightclub, where she goes to hide from the killer. The Terminator tracks here there, revealing himself to Kyle in the process. A gunfight ensues and Sarah and Kyle manage to escape. While they’re hiding out, Kyle explains that he’s from the future and that Skynet, a sentient computer, turned on humanity in 1997 and launched a nuclear holocaust. Also, Sarah’s unborn son John will lead the human resistance to victory. That’s why Skynet sent the Terminator back to kill her. Sarah doesn’t know what to make of the story.
Sarah and Kyle are arrested (“The Terminator," 1984).
After another run in with the robot, the police nab Sarah and Kyle and take them in. Kyle tries to explain his story to them but they think he’s mentally disturbed, and Sarah doesn’t know what to believe. Eventually, the Terminator shows up (laying out the famous line “I’ll be back”), and annihilates basically everyone in the police station. Sarah and Kyle escape, but just barely.
Sarah and Kyle fall in love (“The Terminator,” 1984)
After everything they’ve witnessed, Sarah is starting to believe Kyle. Hiding out a motel, they wind up having sex, conceiving John Connor. Meanwhile, the Terminator goes to Sarah’s mother’s house and kills her, then impersonates her on the phone when Sarah calls. Sarah blows their cover by revealing their location to the Terminator.
The Terminator kills Kyle, and Sarah kills the Terminator (“The Terminator,” 1984).
After a protracted battle, Kyle manages to damage the Terminator with homemade pipe bombs, but is gravely injured in the process. He and Sarah lead the robot, now without its human skin, into a factory. Kyle succumbs to his injuries but Sarah manages to crush the robot in a pneumatic press, destroying it. The Terminator’s robotic arm, which was reaching for Sarah, survives destruction.
John Connor is born and Sarah trains him (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
In 1985, John Connor (Edward Furlong) is born, and Sarah is fully convinced about the future Kyle Reese explained to her. It's important to note that this is not the same John Connor who defeated the machines in the past version of the future, because Kyle Reese could not have been the father of the original John Connor. The "Terminator" franchise is a series of time loops that are change somewhat during each iteration -- in this particular loop, Kyle is John's father, but in the "past" someone else was his dad.
It's implied, however, that this time loop wasn't the first time Skynet had sent a Terminator to the past, as Kyle describes Future John's upbringing as being similar to what this John Connor experiences.
Speaking of which, Sarah spends John’s childhood training him in combat, self-defense and tactics. She’s eventually arrested for trying to bomb a computer factory and held in a state mental hospital. John is sent to live with foster parents.
Cyberdyne finds the Terminator (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
A company called Cyberdyne Systems finds the Terminator's remains — specifically, its undamaged arm, and the computer chip that acts as its brain. The technology is decades ahead of anything known at the time. An engineer named Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) works on reverse-engineering the Terminator tech -- and will eventually use it to create Skynet. This is another fun time loop thing, like Kyle Reese being John's father -- the original pre-time loop Skynet could not have been created using tech that Skynet itself created.
Judgment Day occurs in 1997.
This time loop sequence -- Skynet sending a terminator to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor and being foiled by Kyle Reese who becomes John Connor's father -- probably happens over and over until Skynet throws a wrench into the whole thing by sending another Terminator to 1995 to kill John when he's a child. Future John Connor follows suit by sending a reprogrammed T-800 to protect the younger John. Thus begins Timeloop B.
Timeloop B: Two new Terminators arrive in 1995 (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
When John Connor is 10, a new kind of Terminator, the T-1000, arrives from the future to hunt him down and kill him. It takes the identity of a police officer and tracks John to a mall where he’s hanging out. Meanwhile, one of the Arnold models of Terminator, a T-800, arrives and saves John, having been reprogrammed by the Human Resistance in the future.
John and the T-800 rescue Sarah Connor (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
John insists the T-800 help him save Sarah from the mental hospital. Sure enough, the T-1000 is there, attempting to kill Sarah and use her identity to ensnare John. They manage to rescue Sarah and escape the T-1000, heading to Mexico to lay low.
The trio decides to try to stop Skynet's creation (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
The T-800 reveals that Miles Dyson is responsible for creating the computer that will become Skynet. Sarah leaves, planning to assassinate the engineer in order to save the future, and John and the T-1000 head to stop her from committing murder. They find Dyson at home, and John convinces Sarah not to kill him. With the T-800’s help, the three explain to Dyson the future he’s helping to create.
Dyson, Sarah, John and the T-800 try to kill Skynet (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
With Dyson as an ally, the group heads to Cyberdyne to destroy his research and the components from the original Terminator from 1984. The hope is that will change the future and stop Judgment Day from occurring. The police arrive and lay siege to the building. Dyson is killed, but Cyberdyne is destroyed. Sarah, John and the T-800 escape, pursued by the T-1000.
Battle at the steelworks (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991).
The T-1000 chases the group into a steelworks, where it nearly destroys the T-800 before Sarah and the Terminator knock it into a pool of molten steel, destroying it. They also destroy the 1984 Terminator components, before lowering the T-800 into the steel to destroy all the robot components that might give rise to Skynet. For the first time since 1984, Sarah is hopeful about the future.
Sarah Connor dies in 1997 (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” 2003).
Sarah is diagnosed with leukemia in 1994 and battles the disease for three years. She survives through Aug. 29, 1997, the date the T-800 told her Skynet would go online, and dies soon after believing she and John had prevented the nuclear holocaust. John Connor goes off the grid for the next seven years to make himself impossible to locate by any Terminators.
Skynet goes online in 2004 and Judgment Day occurs.
The future is altered by time travel again. Kyle Reese is born in 2002. The 1997 Judgment Day is prevented, but the U.S. military brings Skynet online in 2004, and Judgment Day occurs then instead. John Connor eventually leads the Resistance against Skynet and seemingly defeats it in 2029. Skynet sends back the original Terminator to 1984, and John sends Kyle, restarting the time loop. At some later point, Skynet sends the T-1000 to 1995, and John sends the T-800 back to stop it. Again, this sequence is likely repeated a few times before Skynet tries yet another new tactic, messing things up by altering the past through time travel.
Timeloop C: Cyberdyne convinces Marcus Wright to sign his body over to science (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
Everything through “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” occurs. Sarah Connor dies in 1997. Kyle Reese is born in 2002. In 2003, Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham-Carter) convinces death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to donate his body to science after his execution.
The T-X arrives in 2004 (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” 2003).
Unable to locate John Connor in the past, Skynet dispatches a new, more powerful Terminator to hunt down his future lieutenants while they’re young, triggering this third timeloop. After crashing his motorcycle, John (Nick Stahl) breaks into a veterinarian office to steal antibiotics to deal with his injuries, and runs into Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). The T-X arrives and attempts to kill Brewster, but she is saved by a reprogrammed T-800 that arrives from the future to protect her.
The T-800 explains this timeloop's version of Judgment Day (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” 2003).
According to the T-800’s explanation of the future timeline, Judgment Day wasn’t prevented in 1995, it was postponed, and that Kate is John's wife and second-in-command in the future. The T-800 takes John and Kate to Sarah Connor’s grave, where they find a weapons cache she hid in case Judgment Day still occurred. After fighting the T-X, the plan is to take the pair to Mexico to survive Judgment Day’s nuclear fallout. Instead, John and Kate convince the T-800 to take them to where Skynet is being brought online by the U.S. military to stop it.
Skynet goes online (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” 2003).
John and Kate arrive too late to stop Skynet’s activation. Kate’s father, the general overseeing the Skynet program, is wounded by the T-X and dies, but not before giving John and Kate the location of the Skynet system core at Crystal Peak. Escaping the T-X, John, Kate and the T-800 set out for the base.
The T-800 kills the T-X (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” 2003).
John, Kate and the T-800 make it to Crystal Peak, where Skynet is said to be located. They’re pursued by the T-X, which tries to take over the T-800’s systems, but he manages to kill it and himself. Inside Crystal Peak, Kate and John realize the location is actually an old fallout shelter and not Skynet’s central core. Judgment Day occurs; the pair survive but are unable to stop it.
John Connor discovers the Terminator program in 2018 (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
Years after Judgment Day, John Connor (Christian Bale) is a soldier in the Human Resistance fighting Skynet. During one mission, he discovers a facility where humans are being harvested by the machines for experiments, which are the early stages of the Terminator program. The base is destroyed, with only Connor surviving. In the aftermath, Marcus Wright emerges from the facility and heads toward Los Angeles.
The Resistance plans to eliminate Skynet (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
On the Resistance’s hidden command submarine, Connor learns that Skynet has a kill list that includes Kyle Reese, indicating that Skynet has learned he is John Connor’s future father. The Resistance has a plan to attack Skynet, using a hidden signal it has discovered that shuts down Skynet machines.
Marcus Wright meets Kyle Reese (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
In Griffith Park, Wright stumbles across a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). They’re soon attacked and Kyle is captured. Not long after, a Resistance airplane is shot down by Skynet robots and Wright finds and helps the pilot, Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood). She takes him back to a nearby Resistance base, but Wright is later wounded by a mine. In trying to save his life, the Resistance discovers that Wright is a cyborg, a fact Wright didn't know.
Wright and Connor cut a deal (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
Connor and Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard) believe Wright is a Terminator sent to assassinate them and want to kill Wright, but Williams helps Wright escape. Connor pursues him, and during the course of trying to stop him, Wright saves Connor’s life. The two cut a deal: Connor will let Wright live if he’ll help the Resistance save its human prisoners, including Kyle Reese.
Wright and Connor attack Skynet (“Terminator: Salvation,” 2009).
Disobeying orders, Connor and loyal elements of the Resistance attack Skynet with Wright’s help. It turns out that the disabling signal the Resistance thought it had discovered was actually a ruse to pinpoint the command submarine, and Skynet kills the Resistance leadership. Connor and Wright manage to save the humans and defeat Skynet’s plan to eliminate Connor, but he’s wounded in the process. Wright donates his own human heart to save Connor, sacrificing himself.
John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time in 2029.
John Connor eventually leads the Resistance against Skynet and seemingly defeats it in 2029. Skynet sends back the original Terminator to 1984, and John sends Kyle, restarting the time loop. At some later point, Skynet sends the T-1000 to 1995, and John sends the T-800 back to stop it. After that, Skynet sends another T-800 to kill John in the future and succeeds, but Kate Brewster captures and reprograms it. Skynet sends the T-X back to 2004 and Kate sends her T-800 to stop it.
Timeloop D: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time but gets Terminated (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
Everything through the first four movies happens. In 2029, John Connor leads the Resistance against Skynet, then sends Kyle Reese back to 1984. But a new Skynet tactic disrupts the loop: As he’s getting zapped back in time, Kyle Reese watches as a Terminator robot attacks John, turning John into some kind of quantum Terminator. Kyle then has a vision of himself as a child, looking into a mirror and saying that Skynet comes online in 2017.
After all that, someone sends a T-800 known as Pops back to Sarah Connor’s childhood, further altering the loop.
Timeloop E: A Terminator goes back to Sarah Connor’s childhood (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
Unknown folks in the future send a Terminator back to try to kill Sarah Connor in her distant past. Her parents are killed, but she’s saved by a T-800 she dubs “Pops,” who informs her about the future and her role in it.
Pops and Sarah build a time machine (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
Knowing that another Terminator will show up in 1984, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and Pops prepare for it. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) arrives as well as a T-1000, and the pair intercept and save him as well. They kill the original T-800 and use it to complete a time machine they’ve constructed. The plan is to jump directly to 1997 to destroy Skynet, but Reese tells them about a vision he had when he traveled through time that makes him believe they should instead travel to 2017 to stop Skynet there.
Sarah and Reese go to 2017 (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
Now in 2017, the trio learns Genisys, a computer operating system about to launch throughout the world, is really Skynet. They run into John Connor (Jason Clarke), who has been infected by Skynet, turned into a Terminator and sent back from 2029 to protect the computer system. Pops fights Connor and the trio escapes.
Sarah, Pops and Reese blow up Genisys (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
After fighting the Connor Terminator some more, the group gets into the Genisys headquarters and sets bombs to blow it up. The Connor Terminator destroys Pops before being destroyed himself, but winds up tossing him into a vat of the experimental liquid metal that creates T-1000s. Sarah and Reese blow up the building, stopping Genisys from coming online, and Pops appears to help them escape, newly upgraded with T-1000 abilities.
Kyle tells Kyle to do a time loop thing (“Terminator: Genisys,” 2015).
Just in case, the older version of Kyle meets with the younger and tells him to repeat some information while looking into a mirror, creating the vision the older Kyle saw when he was traveling through time that revealed the group needed to travel to 2017. In a mid-credits scene, it’s revealed Genisys’ core survived the explosion. From here, we're not sure how the future plays out.