'Terminator 5': Can this franchise (and Arnold Schwarzenegger) be good again?


Image Credit: Everett Collection

Here’s something you might not remember about Terminator 2: It was practically the last good movie Arnold Schwarzenegger made before exploring a career in politics. Consider: In the five years before Judgment Day, Schwarzenegger made Predator, The Running Man, Twins, Total Recall, and Kindergarten Cop; post-T2, he had one legit film (True Lies), but there was a lot more of Junior, Eraser, Jingle All the Way, the historically awful Batman & Robin, and the arguably-more-awful Last Action Hero. Meanwhile, the Terminator franchise also struggled to repeat the historic highs of the first two films. The James Cameron-free Terminator 3 descended into fluffy self-parody, and not even the presence of a Schwarzenegger digital-puppet could rescue the laughably gritty Terminator Salvation. As EW reported last night, Schwarzenegger is currently slated to revisit the franchise in a new film, pending his approval of the script. So, the question is: Can a Schwarzenegger-Terminator reunion return the film series (and its star) to onscreen greatness?

Purely from an economic perspective, it makes sense for the star to revisit one of his most iconic hits. Fellow Planet Hollywood investors Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis scored their biggest hits in years when they refurbished their Rocky and Die Hard franchises. (Heck, Stallone basically turned himself into a walking monument for retro-action, with another Rambo movie and the ’80s-gasm known as The Expendables.) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have made Temple of Doom look like Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that didn’t stop it from grossing almost $800 million worldwide. Heck, you could argue that Schwarzenegger, always a canny businessman, practically invented the whole notion of revisiting a sainted action franchise with Terminator 3, which grossed over $400 million globally. I’m a huge Arnold fan, and I know that I’d go see Terminator 5 even if it were directed by Uwe Boll.

But let’s put aside financial considerations, and really ponder here: How could you make Terminator 5 an actual good movie? I think the series needs to go back to basics. The best part about the first two movies is the apocalyptic mood — you feel as if the fate of the world rests on every decision the characters make. The second two movies didn’t get the joke — they actually decided to show the apocalypse, at which point Terminator basically became Mad Max with lamer cars. The films also fell victim to excessive continuity, a natural outgrowth of a narrative filled with time-traveling plot holes. (This was especially obvious when the franchise transformed into a TV show that might as well have been called Terminator: Ow, My Space-Time Continuum Hurts!) I say: Reboot the whole damn thing into the present day. Cut down on the digital effects. And above all, make Schwarzenegger the villain again. As silly as Terminator Salvation was, there was something undeniably fascinating about seeing a villainous Schwarzenegger again, even in digi-pet form.

Fivequels tend to have a horrible, horrible history in Hollywood, so there are reasons to be skeptical. But with Fast Five director Justin Lin reportedly attached to the new Terminator, there are also reasons to be hopeful. PopWatchers, how would you make the new Terminator better? Want to see Schwarzenegger play a villain again, or do you prefer the heroic Terminator? And is this new film further evidence that Skynet has already begun its takeover of the world?

Follow Darren on Twitter @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
Arnold Schwarzenegger eyeing return to ‘Terminator’ franchise, but he needs to see a script first
Joss Whedon on his $10,000 bid for ‘Terminator': ‘It’s all ridiculous, but it comes from love’
Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office today. Does he still have a film career?

Comments (99 total) Add your comment
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  • tracy bluth

    As a huge fan of the first two, I’m conflicted. I mean, I was SO excited for Terminator: Salvation (Christian Bale as John Connor? His on-set rant somehow made me like that casting even more) but aside from Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese and Sam Worthington the flick was awful. I honestly debated leaving after the first hour.

    • Rick Gershman

      Darren, you hit it right on the head when you referenced Batman and Robin. After that disaster, Warner Bros. had the good sense not to follow the same path with a fifth film. It handed the keys to Chris Nolan, who followed through with the very good Batman Begins and the amazing The Dark Knight.

      This fifth Terminator idea is playing it safe, which amounts to playing it dumb. Let’s go back to Arnie because he’s an icon. Let’s get Justin Lin because he’s done big, silly action well. It’s like gluing another sequel onto Batman and Robin.

      You hit it on the head: Start fresh. Cut down on the digital and go hard, dark and heavy. Hire a director with a true artistic vision. And remember that the first Terminator, despite its heavy action and sci-fi elements, was at its heart a horror film, and it works perfectly as that. The first terminator we experienced was a truly unstoppable killer, and it was damn scary. Let’s go back to those roots and make a good FILM for the first time in a long time.

      • Samantha

        Another horrible article by this insiped simpleton manchild, Franich.

        Blaming Arnie for the disgrace that was Batman & Robin is absurd. He played a minor character.

        Rambling BS from a typical hack EW writer.

      • Samantha

        HE’s 62 for God’s sake.

      • Dtak

        first off i disagree with the blah blah about the movies sucking big. I guess it depends on how you look at them. I went nerdy when i heard about T3 and even more so when Terminator Salvation came out. And in my opinion both were awesome. But mostly only because of the visual effects. You gotta admit the giant robot with terminator/motorcycles is pretty inventive. But I also agree though that they have defiinitly fallen from grace as far as the setting and the mood of the first two terminators. The first was no doubt a scary film cause it was based mostly on the cat mouse game and how do we kill it. I think T2 was awesome because it was the same thriller suspense just hey more advanced terminator this time and he’s got kind of a blood thirsty nature and will do whatever however to kill john connor(stabbing sarah connor through shoulder and telling her to call him). I think that they do definitly need to get more to the thriller run for your life kind of setting than a computer world of robots here and there. so i do and don’t agree but like i said it depends on how you look at it.

    • Amber

      I’m right there with you with the post-Cameron movies, but The Sarah Connor Chronicles was surprisingly awesome. It’s sad it couldn’t pull an audience on TV. It got a bit weird at the end, but I wonder how much of that was “Oh crap, we really are getting canceled, so let’s wrap these 4 years worth of plot lines up in a few episodes!”

  • Mr. Holloway

    Slightly off-topic but…I have to stand up for “Last Action Hero.”

    That was a pretty funny (on purpose!) flick.

    • Bubba

      Agreed. I actually liked it too.

    • therealeverton

      Not sure how that’s put in the same class as Batman &~ Robin at all.

    • Jewel

      I actually only came in here to comment on this very thing. Glad you beat me to it! “Last Action Hero” was great fun…didn’t take itself too seriously (as you mentioned)

      • Skip182

        agreed! the only reason i came here was to comment and i’m glad i’m not the only one. i spent 3 weeks trying to find this film at a used dvd store and am glad i put in the effort. very fun movie!

    • Kevin

      Really? When people ask me, “What is the worst movie you have ever seen?” I answer without hesitation, “Last Action Hero.”

      • therealeverton

        You’ve seen Batman & Robin, Godzilla (US), Plan 9 from outer Space, The LAst Airbender, The Happening and Clash of The Titans, but Last Action Hero is your worst movie of all time?

      • Mr. Holloway

        @ Kevin

        I’ll admit that I didn’t like “Last Action Hero” first time I saw it. I mean, it’s a sneakily weird movie (I can’t think of another big-budget action movie that had meta joke about “Amadeus” off the top of my head), but that’s what I like about it. I’m also not entirely sure that people realize that everyone in the movie is in on the joke.

        Basically, if the worst movie you’ve ever seen is “Last Action Hero” I think you’re incredibly lucky and I’m jealous.

      • Dtak

        last action hero was one of arnies really good movies. i think you people are crazy not to like it.

    • Squints

      Agreed! Last Action Hero is one of my favorite movies.

    • lettergirl

      agreed! it’s bad on PURPOSE! come on…’you just got iced’ when he kills the guy with the ice cream cone? that comic GOLD, baby!

    • Squeeks

      Took me watching it on cable to realize, it was bad on purpose. Arnie already had True Lies in the can by then.

  • Hugo Hefner

    I was hoping they only make another Terminator film if the script was good and that they hopefully conclude the movie series.
    When they announced that Helena Bonham Carter was playing the main villain in Terminator: Salvation, I was expecting her to be the Skynet equivalent of the Borg Queen from Star Trek. I was so disappointed in the end when I saw the film and it was a wasted opportunity to have a really iconic and memorable villain in the franchise. They should have had a confrontation between her, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington towards the end like with Picard, Data and the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact’s climax.
    Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to do more dramas rather than just doing huge action blockbusters because he pigeonholed himself as an actor who just did action movies. He is an underrated actor. So, I hope that he does more dramas, tries to reach his full potential as an actor and tries to win an Oscar.

    • Monty

      With that accent, he’s already a full blown character. Imagine ‘Ahnald’ as the dad in “Ordinary People”, or King George in “The Kings Speech”. It doesn’t work! He’s not a dramatic actor. He plays the character that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. It can be in a SciFi movie like Total Recall or a military man in Predator, all of his (good) characters are degrees of himself. Unless you did some sort of meta like JCVD film or put his weird character in a drama that makes sense like The Wrestler did for Rourke, Arnold is going to be Arnold. And I don’t really think thats a bad thing…just don’t expect his movies to take home any oscars that arent for mixing or special effects.

  • Brock

    Eraser was not a bad movie.

    • Sally


  • Buddymoore

    I don’t like the idea of Justin Lin being attached to this. Sure, he can make a popcorn worthy action flick in which you must check your brain at the door, but that is not what I want out of a new Terminator.

    • therealeverton

      The guy has to be given a chance though? I get what you’re sayng the last thing we need is another brainless Terminator, but remember he Directed Better Luck Tomorrow and is a very capable “dramatic” director.

  • Screenwriter Abdullah H. Erakat

    I agree that it would be cool to see him as the villain! But what if Mr. Schwarzenegger played both: the protagonist and the antagonist? The story should outweigh the special effects. As you said, the way T5 can succeed is to go back to the original roots. And when the first one was done, it was done from the heart. With that said, can we say James Cameron, anyone?

    • jk

      First, you don’t want Cameron; it would an over the top effects laden extravaganza. Second, I was thinking the same thing: Have Arnold play dual roles, one terminator good, and one bad. You don’t need a fancier killing machine, just a good story.

      • JohnDoe

        Yeah, why would anyone want the guy who created the franchise in the first place, and made two of the most recognizable, classic sci-fi films ever?

      • therealeverton

        What a strange comment. The only two good Termonator movies were written and direced by Cameron. I find it odd that when the man goes on to become the world’s favourite director (the numbers don’t lie people) he’s suddenly some kind of hack.

        Terminator had all the effects he could fit in, and they all served the story, which was key. Terminator 2, same thing. As much as he could afford, story was key. Same with Aliens, The crininally underrated The Abyss, True Lies Titanic and Avatar.

        Cameron is NOt and never will be an effects first, story second writer or director. You may not like his films (although it seems you liked at least 2 befre you joined the antis, but you have to give a reasonable, logical critique and what you said is not that.)

      • therealeverton

        What JonhDoe said but that’s at least 3 of the most recognisable AND critically respected Sci-fi films of all time.

      • jk

        I like Jame Cameron, and totally recognize his body of work. That being, said he isn’t the same film maker he was when he made T2. Avatar is proof the visual artistry is more important than an original script. Debate that all you like.

  • jk

    McG and Justin Lin are pretty much cut from the same pleather. You want new and different? Get fresh, creative blood involved. Aronofsky, Cuaron, maybe Zack Snyder or Christopher Nolan, once they’re done with Superman and Batman.

    • jk

      Joss Wheddon, too. Somebody with a different slant on things.

      • JohnDoe

        Yes, let’s get Nolan, so he can bastardize the Terminator franchise and turn into some sort of overrated pseudo-intellectual piece about whether it’s all “real” or not…

      • jk

        Not into thinking much, are you?

      • ferryfray

        I would watch the crap out of a Aronofsky or Whedon Terminator film.

      • steve

        Jos Whedon??? yeah cause thats what everybody was thinking during a terminator movie ‘needs to be more like buffy’ lol.

        plus still havent forgiven him for Alien Resurrection

    • therealeverton

      Which of Lin’s non Fast & Furious movies have you seen that make you think he’s akin to McG?

      • jk

        But Luck Tomorrow was a good movie, but I haven’t seen anything noteworthy since.

      • TheRealEverton

        So you’ve seen alll of his films then? You can only direct what you’re given as well as possible. Fast Five is ridiculous, but it’s well directed. His other films show that he is more than capable of the dramatic stuff too.

  • Monty

    With that accent, he’s already a full blown character. Imagine ‘Ahnald’ as the dad in “Ordinary People”, or King George in “The Kings Speech”. It doesn’t work! He’s not a dramatic actor. He plays the character that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. It can be in a SciFi movie like Total Recall or a military man in Predator, all of his (good) characters are degrees of himself. Unless you did some sort of meta like JCVD film or put his weird character in a drama that makes sense like The Wrestler did for Rourke, Arnold is going to be Arnold. And I don’t really think thats a bad thing…just don’t expect his movies to take home any oscars that arent for mixing or special effects.

    • Monty

      supposed to be a response to an above comment. my bad…

  • Bubba

    Arnold needs to be good.

  • Scribe

    I rather liked the TV show actually, even more so Brian Austin Green’s amazing turn as Derek Reese. Until that point, I’d never seen an episode of 90210 so I was surprise. I think Arnie can do a Terminator film but I rather see it based on the character the T-800s was modelled after. Did he survive J-Day? What would he have thought of his image being used to the Terminators?

    • therealeverton

      Ypu, we were gutted when it got cancelled. There was something really good building there and they got that the drama beneath the action and sci-fi was what made the first 2 work.

      Of course the downside was that Cameron’s film’s got all of the drama and tension and subtext on the go; whilst people were running, driving, chasing. The nature of the TV show slowed it all down and that wasn’t good enough for many people.

  • DavidJ

    I’m not sure there really IS another story to be told here(which is why Cameron is no longer interested), but if they do make one I agree Schwarzenegger needs to at least be the villain again.

    • JohnDoe

      Nope, no story to be told, just money to be made by studios and lesser filmmakers.

    • therealeverton

      I think it’s more that he doesn’t have the rights and doesn’t really do the ‘Director for Hire’ thing anymore.

      there’s a lot of story to tell, most of it bad, but the main story is the war, how it’s fought and won, that’s where the mixture of first class action with solid human drama, are the soldiers just machines themselves, how does man cope without tech, what’s happened to the ecosystem etc. What does a desperate, sentient machine do when it knows it is going to lose? Surrender or take everything with it as it goes?

  • Dr. No

    T3 wasn’t that bad. It was a decent continuation of the story, they really had no where else to go , except explain how and why “Skynet” would still prevail. I thought it was a nice chapter to the story.

    • therealeverton

      I have to disagree there. I think the story was weak, there’s was virtually no subtext at all. ?Worst of all it was children’s mindless Sci-fi. Suspension of disbelief is one thing but you have to obey the rules.

      All of that nonsense about her being able to control machines. Well so what, if she somehow takes over the highly advanced (bah) chips in my TV it doesn’t mean she can make it jump off the wall and try cave my head in does iit? No, so how the **** is she supposed to be controling cars and such? There’s no motors o those vehicles that can change the gears and turn the wwheel etc. Almost as bad as the giant robot nobody hears until it rips the rook off.:)

  • Chris

    First off, Last Action Hero is a badass film and ill give a couple of acres to any man that says different. Second, True Lies, Jingle All the Way, and End of Days are all good, solid films, better than alot of the crap Hollywood is dishing out theses days……..

  • will g alvira

    Is Arnold Schwarzenegger going to play an evil Republican assassin robot out to kill all non- republicans?

  • jordan

    There are tons of people who loved Last Action Hero. I don’t know what this person is talking about. Another person who thinks everyone has his taste. True Lies was my favorite movie he did along with Terminator 2. I like Eraser. Not great but good. And Terminator 3 was good to me. Not great like the first two but definitely not bad. Now Terminator Salvation stunk. And I always liked Temple of Doom. Now Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was awful.

    • therealeverton

      Temple of Doom is Indian Jone’s Return of The Jedi.

      There weren’t tons of haters when Tempke of Doom came out, but over the past few years it’s as if the film was made by serial killers. People loved Ewoks too, oh yes they did.

      • Skip182

        I’ve never understood the problem with the ewoks. I think they work just fine. Granted everything after that was terrible, but they don’t deserve the hatred they’ve gotten.

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