The Terminator franchised tried to launch a new trilogy three times, and it failed in all of them. Given the pop culture impact of Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), it is surprising that the Terminator franchise has struggled so much since the first two films. From sequels to reboots, many were the attempts to either continue or reinvent the James Cameron sci-fi story. With no Terminator 7 currently in development, the last three Terminator films show how tricky it can be to get Terminator right.


After helming Terminator and Terminator 2, James Cameron did not direct Terminator 3. 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines failed at capturing the magic of the first two films, seemly ending the Terminator saga on a low note. Since then, there have been three attempts to reignite the Terminator franchise on the big screen, all of which were meant to kick off a new trilogy.

Terminator: Salvation’s Canceled Trilogy Plans & Why They Didn’t Happen

Terminator salvation sam worthington christian bale

After the disappointing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the Terminator franchise would return to theaters in 2007 with Terminator: Salvation. Leaning heavily into the sci-fi aspect of Terminator, McG’s Salvation was both a prequel and a sequel to the Terminator films. Starring Christian Bale as a version of John Connor that the first three films only hinted at, Terminator: Salvation went for an action-packed storyline set during the height of the war between humans and machines. In addition to finally showing the post-Judgment Day word teased in the original films, Terminator: Salvation introduced new characters and concepts that could have led to a trilogy.

The idea was for Salvation to be the first of three movies centered on Christian Bale’s John Connor. McG’s plans for Terminator: Salvation’s sequel involved having John Connor travel back in time to 2011, just before the battle against Skynet’s army began. Terminator: Salvation 2 would also have seen a new Skynet time travel tech, which would have allowed the machines to send multiple Terminators to the past at the same time. Salvation was a box office failure, grossing $371 million on a $200 million budget. The Halcyon Company, producers of Terminator: Salvation, filed for bankruptcy shortly after the film’s release, killing any chances of a sequel.

Terminator Genisys’ Canceled Trilogy Plans & Why They Didn’t Happen

A Terminator and Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys

Terminator: Salvation’s box office bomb and behind-the-scenes drama led to six years without a Terminator movie. Alan Taylor’s Terminator: Genisys premiered in 2015, promising a new beginning for the Terminator franchise with the endorsement of James Cameron. Despite Cameron having some level of input in the film and the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800 for the first time since Rise of the Machines, Genisys also failed in reigniting the franchise. Like Salvation, Genisys was designed as the first entry in a potential trilogy of films. The film featured recast versions of original Terminator characters such as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, now in a different timeline.

Terminator: Genisys takes place in a completely different timeline from the ones tackled in previous Terminator movies. By following a version of Sarah Connor who was raised and trained by Schwarzenegger’s T-800 since the age of 9, Genisys rebooted the Terminator saga in-universe. Other changes included John Connor becoming a Terminator in the future and Skynet, now known as Genisys, having a physical manifestation. Terminator: Genisys made $440, 6 million at the box office on a $155 million budget. While this was not exactly a box office flop, it was just not enough to justify multiple sequels as originally planned.

Terminator: Dark Fate’s Canceled Trilogy Plans & Why It Didn’t Happen

Sarah Connor and the T-800 in Terminator: Dark Fate

After the failures of Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys, it seems like the Terminator franchise’s only hope was James Cameron’s return. James Cameron did not helm Terminator: Dark Fate, Tim Miller did. However, Cameron was now directly involved with a Terminator film for the first time since T2. To move away from the failed sequels and reboots, Terminator: Dark Fate was designed as a direct continuation of Terminator 2. Therefore, Dark Fate ignored Rise of the Machines, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Salvation, and Genisys. Instead, it picked up the story 30 years after Judgment Day, revealing that John Connor was killed by a T-800 shortly after T2.

Similar to Salvation and Genisys, Dark Fate could have been the start of a new Terminator trilogy. This time, however, the new films would be closer to “Terminator 3, 4, and 5,” as it would only consider Terminator and Judgment Day as canon. Despite the returns of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, Dark Fate repeated Genisys’ problems and failed in launching a new franchise. The planned Terminator: Dark Fate sequel would have explored an alternate timeline, where Mackenzie Davis’ Grace would still be alive. The Dark Fate sequel would have been similar to Terminator: Salvation in the sense of actually showing the war between humans and machines.

Terminator: Dark Fate made $261 million on an estimated budget of $185 million, making it a massive box office bomb. Dark Fate’s box office failure meant that a sequel would not happen, and it put the future of the Terminator franchise in check. More than three years after Dark Fate, a new Terminator movie remains to be announced. While Terminator 7 will likely happen at some point – the Terminator IP is just too valuable not to continue – the next installment will likely have to start from scratch, again.

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