Today, the Terminator franchise resembles nothing more than the T-800 towards the end of the original 1984 classic. Once powerful, sleek and unstoppable, it’s now battered, damaged, failing after multiple attacks – but somehow, some way, it just keeps dragging itself along to take more punishment.
So no, Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest attempt to revive the franchise, hasn’t gone down too well. While critics (including me) were positive, the reunion of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mild-mannered machine in a stripped-back story that closely followed 1991’s fan-favourite Terminator 2 still wasn’t enough to tempt fans to the multiplexes, with the movie flopping in the US and China.
Apparently, the appropriately ill-fated Dark Fate could lose as much as $120 million dollars against its large $185million budget, and given that Linda Hamilton told RadioTimes.com that the film would need to be a big success to get a sequel? Well, we’d say this is one time the Terminator WON’T be back – at least not for a while.
So what went wrong? Well, it seems fair to say that the Terminator franchise hasn’t produced a good movie in quite a long while. It’s been nearly three decades since T2 was released, after all, and 16 years since Terminator 3 – and to be brutally honest, that film was only just OK anyway. Terminator Salvation continued the downward trend in 2009, and follow-up Terminator: Genisys was so dire it’s become almost legendary.
And given that the prime movie-going audience may not have even been alive the last time there was a good Terminator movie in cinemas (again, T2 was 28 years ago), is it such a surprise they wouldn’t bother coming to see a new one? Frankly, after such a severe poisoning of the well over the last couple of movies it’s a miracle this film had enough positive brand recognition to make a dent at all.
Of course, maybe this trend could have been reversed if Dark Fate had been a big and fun enough movie to counteract this issue – after all, Jurassic World broke box office records despite the fact that The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are nothing on the original – but frankly, while it was a massive improvement on the other Terminator movies, Dark Fate wasn’t that good.
It was fine! I enjoyed it! There were some really good bits! But really the film wasn’t out there enough, funny or imaginative enough to reverse the rot that had already set into the Terminator franchise. Maybe if this film had come out in place of Salvation, or even Genisys, we’d be telling a different story. But with things as they are, Dark Fate clearly didn’t excite people enough to make a change.
So is there a way back from the brink for the Terminator? Well, it’s hard to see one. If doing a nakedly nostalgic reboot like Genisys failed and an artistically relevant, gritty direct sequel (a la the 2018 Halloween follow-up) like Dark Fate failed, it’s hard to see where 20th Century Fox will take the characters next. I mean, they brought back James Cameron as a producer, and got the director of Deadpool to rev it up. Where else will they go with it?
Maybe a few years resting the franchise and reviving it with a genuinely new take is the answer, or maybe they need to re-frame the discussion and consider another Terminator TV series. The Lena Headey-starring The Sarah Connor Chronicles is fondly remembered, after all – who’s to say Fox’s new masters couldn’t find a home for something similar on Disney+, or Hulu (another streaming service Disney has a controlling stake in)?
Whatever happens, given how popular the earlier films were, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving this franchise alone for good. After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from these movies it’s that no matter how many Terminators you put down, they’ll always send more eventually.
Terminator: Dark Fate in in UK cinemas now