‘Terminator’ for Dummies: Everything Newcomers Need to Know Before Seeing ‘Genisys’

Wrap your head around the twisty time-travel conundrums in the megahit action franchise

Last Updated: July 1, 2015 @ 8:38 PM

Going all the way back to 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been tearing ass back and forth through time as the unstoppable death machine that is the Terminator.

With “Terminator Genisys” now in theaters, fans and newbies are in store for plenty of time-travel confusion.

But have no fear! TheWrap has you covered. Check out our breakdown of the entire franchise to date below.

The Terminator (1984)


Orion Pictures

Good guy(s): Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese

Bad guy(s): T-800

Story: The first T-800 (Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time from 2029 to kill the mother of human resistance leader John Connor. After killing the first few Sarah Connors he finds in the phone book (remember those?), he finally tracks down his intended target, Sarah Jeanette Connor (Linda Hamilton). But before he can kill her, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), one of John Connor’s best soldiers sent back from the future, steps in and saves her.

Sarah and Reese hide out from the Terminator, and in the process they conceive John. The two end up battling the cybernetic bad guy in a factory, with Reese mortally wounding himself in an attempt to blow the Terminator up. Though the machine is badly damaged, it is functional enough to attack Sarah one more time. She manages to crush it using a hydraulic press.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Good guy(s): T-800, Sarah Connor, John Connor

Bad guy(s): T-1000

Story: This time around, the T-800 fights on the right side. He’s sent back from 2029 to stop a newer model Terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), from killing a young John Connor (Edward Furlong). Young John and the T-800 also rescue Sarah Connor from a mental hospital before the T-1000 can get to her.

Sarah learns from the T-800 that an engineer at Cyberdyne Systems named Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) has been developing a new microprocessor based on technology salvaged from the Terminator Sarah destroyed in the first film. The microprocessor will eventually lead to the emergence of Skynet, an artificial intelligence that attempts to destroy humanity in the future. Determined to stop the coming robopocalypse, Sarah, Dyson, John, and the T-800 break into Dyson’s lab and destroy all his research. The group then battles the T-1000, destroying it in a vat of molten steel.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)



Good guy(s): T-850, John Connor, Kate Brewster

Bad guy(s): T-X

Story: John Connor (Nick Stahl), now about 20, has been living off the grid for years, convinced he and his mother averted Judgment Day. However, a highly-advanced new Terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), comes back through time and attempts to kill John and his future wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Luckily, a T-850 outfitted with nuclear power cells was also sent back by future-Kate to protect them.

It turns out that Kate’s father is Lieutenant General Robert Brewster (David Andrews), who has been supervising the development of Skynet after John and his compatriots destroyed Dyson’s research. Robert is being forced to turn over control of all military computers to Skynet as a computer virus is sweeping through their systems. The virus, however, is Skynet itself. John and Kate arrive too late and Skynet is activated. The machines begin to revolt and Kate and John take refuge in a bunker. The T-850 sacrifices itself for them, destroying the T-X with a ruptured nuclear power cell.

Terminator Salvation (2009)


Warner Bros.


Good guy(s): John Connor, Marcus Wright, Kyle Reese

Bad guy(s): Skynet

Story: Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convicted killer on death row, signs his body over to Cyberdyne Systems in 2003 on the eve of his execution. In 2018, Wright emerges from a Skynet base that was destroyed by a 34-year-old John Connor (Christian Bale) with no memory of how he got there. Wright eventually makes his way to the ruins of Los Angeles and runs into a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), but Reese is taken prisoner by Skynet.

Meanwhile, Connor learns that resistance leaders are planning an all-out assault on Skynet headquarters. Wright finds Connor, telling him that Reese is being held in the very base the resistance wants to destroy. Connor feels he cannot trust Wright after learning that Wright is a cyborg designed by Skynet. Wright, however, believes himself to be human. The two team up to infiltrate the base. Wright learns that he was designed to lure Connor into a trap. He clings to his humanity and helps Connor save Reese. When Connor is wounded in the assault, Reese offers his heart to save Connor’s life.