‘The Terminator’ vs ‘T2: Judgment Day’: Which Is Better?

Drew Dietsch

The Terminator franchise has always been a fan favorite, but the first two films are often touted as some of the greatest sci-fi action films ever made. Still, arguments persist as to which film is the superior of the two. The FANDOM staff and Fan Contributors decided to get in on the fun in honor of Terminator 2: Judgment Day getting a brand new 3D release in theaters on August 25.

Colette Smith on That Playground Scene

terminator 2 playground

Sometimes, a single movie scene makes such an impression that it marks you like some kind of cattle brand seared into your soul forever. For me, Terminator 2‘s playground nuke scene was just that. Whether or not the effects hold up today is irrelevant. It’s the emotional impact and story implications that made it stand out.

Beyond that one scene, Terminator 2 was a sci-fi film we could relate to. It was Gen X condensed into just over two hours, and it tapped into the same fears of the future but the hope that change was in the winds. It might’ve been the dreamy Edward Furlong that got me in the door, but it was what felt like a prescient story set in a grounded reality that kept me compelled to the bitter end.

Lawrence Yee on Action and Visual Effects

terminator 2 action

I remember watching The Terminator as a child. I was awed by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unreal physique and shocked by the level of gun violence. It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated the messianic storyline James Cameron laid down — a storyline that would set the stage for the — in my honest opinion — better sequel.

1991’s T2: Judgment Day was able to tap into post-Cold War fears and uncertainties about technology (robotics and the internet were just starting to take off). The stellar action sequences (which still hold up today) and visual effects (liquid metal!) gave this film the edge over the original.

Danielle Ryan on Arnie as the Hero

terminator 2 thumbs up

The Terminator was a game-changer for hard sci-fi, but it was Terminator 2 that made me fall in love with the series. The first film’s serious tone and mature themes bogged it down, while T2 is simply a balls-to-the-wall action flick with one of the best villains in movie history. Terminator 2‘s T-1000 is stylish and terrifying. Robert Patrick imbues the murderous metal goo with so much menace that it’s hard to see the actor as anything but the T-1000 in other work.

T2 also has most of the franchise’s best lines, including “Hasta la vista, baby,” and “Come with me if you want to live!” Besides, Arnie’s just way more fun to root for as a hero, and seeing the Terminator battle the T-1000 is almost as cool as Ripley vs. the Alien Queen. Almost.

Graham Host on the T-1000

terminator 2 t1000

Possibly risking my professional reputation with my personal opinion, I have to side with Judgement Day over The Terminator. The first movie was ahead of its time to be sure yet the danger is somewhat lacking. Yes, Arnie is a deadly killer but Kyle Reese is trained to defeat other machines just like him. Judgement Day features the T-1000, capable of doing everything Arnie can as well as rebuilding itself, mimicking any living being and squeezing past any defenses. Of the two, the T-1000 is the more powerful villain and a deadly adversary that moves Arnie from perfect protector to plucky underdog.

Of course, Judgement Day also has the mini-gun scene and the ever iconic line. “Hasta la vista, baby.” That alone puts it on top.

Drew Dietsch on… Defending The Terminator, I Guess

the terminator endoskeleton

Well, looks like I’m the lone voice in the wilderness here. Who would have thought I’d be the only one sticking up for one of the best films of the 1980s? The Terminator is a genre mashup of utter perfection. Whereas T2 is a phenomenal action film, The Terminator is a jaw-dropping distillation of action, thought-provoking sci-fi, compelling character drama, and most importantly, horror.

Arnold’s doofy performance in T2 is lovable in a cornball way, but he is genuinely terrifying in The Terminator. He helped craft an unstoppable killing machine that took the best parts of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and turned them into something even scarier: a killer of humanity’s own creation. Arnie’s breakout performance still remains one of his best and trumps any of his schmaltzy charm from T2.

There is also a sleek simplicity to The Terminator that is awe-inspiring when you consider the complex time travel plotting and world-building it has to accomplish. It does all of that perfectly and with an hour less running time than its sequel. Also, T2 is somewhat lazy on the plot level by being a redo of the first film but just switching Arnold into the Kyle Reese role and adding a new Terminator to the mix. T2 is fun but it owes so much of what makes it work to The Terminator.

Speaking of Kyle Reese, people forget how fantastic Michael Biehn is in The Terminator. There is a boyishly sad and doomed quality to the character that makes him a unique kind of hero. And though everyone loves the hardass Ripley in Aliens ripoff version of Sarah Connor in T2, Linda Hamilton’s arc in the first film from meek waitress to robot destroyer is far more satisfying.

And that reveal of the Terminator endoskeleton! The first scene with the punks! The Tech Noir shootout! Arnie fixing himself up in wonderfully gory fashion! “I’ll be back.” “You’re terminated, f***er!” “Wrong.” “F*** you, a**hole.” The iconic moments of The Terminator and its overall power get overshadowed by the (admittedly well-crafted) spectacle and bombast of its sequel.

Give them both a watch again and form your own opinion. And let us know what you think by tweeting us @getfandom!