The Terminator at 25 years-old is considered by many to be a classic work of science-fiction. It spawned a financially successful franchise that continues to grow in every direction. However, the number of fans and profit are not measurements of quality. After 25 years it is time to accept that The Terminator is not good science-fiction
While the definition of good sci-fi is a subjective one there are universal concepts that establish objectively good science-fiction. The first of those elements is the address of contemporary problems through allegorical metaphor. The Terminator makes no attempts to address any current problems, at least not in any way that could ring-true to an audience. Instead what it does is address a speculative and entirely fictitious problem in a bludgeoning manner. In doing so the film squandered the potential value of social commentary in its entirety.
The second objectively good feature of science-fiction is a narrative that attempts to leverage intellect to overcome a threat or problem often caused by technology. In The Terminator both opposing forces attack their problems with the biggest hammer they can come up with. It makes for terrific action, but brute force versus brute force is the antithesis of good science-fiction. There is no battle of wits, if anything it is unintentionally hilarious that the hyper-intelligent artificial intelligence, Skynet, is just as stupid as the humans it is fighting. Are we really supposed to believe these machines that invented a time machine could not figure out how to sneak back into the past to implant an IUD into Sarah Connor or leave a box of condoms in the nightstand? Skynet did not need a T-800, just a box of Trojans delivered at an opportune moment in time.
There is no attempt in The Terminator to address the paradoxical repercussions that can result from time travel. Skynet is supposedly the most advanced artificial intelligence with access to the entirety of human knowledge, and it never worked out the time paradox problem?
Nothing in The Terminator is handled or addressed with the slightest nuance, the characters are weakly constructed and two dimensional. The Terminator is to Science Fiction as Snickers is to food. Sure, it’s satisfying, but it does nothing for you in the long run.
That said, the influence this bad sci-fi film has had is staggeringly disproportionate to its quality. Perhaps that is owed in part to the fact that it is inherently unsatisfying leading countless better storytellers to take up the cause and fill in the gaps. In an attempt to fill the void left by a bloodthirsty time-traveling artificial intelligence that somehow forgot that latex is a thing.