In the year 2029 a conflict has been raging for years where the machines that mankind created rose up and took over after a nuclear war, leaving the battle lines drawn between the humans and the technology they created. But there is a chance the machines can win just as humanity grasps victory by sending back one of their number, who looks and sounds like a real person - a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) - to hunt down an individual crucial to the fight with the people. The humans find out and send their counterpart, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to stop him - back into time to the year 1984...
Yes, watch out the Sarah Connors of Los Angeles in 1984, someone's coming to get ya, although "something" might have been more appropriate. From these humble beginnings, a low budget science fiction movie that hardly anybody had any faith in, came a multi-million dollar franchise, the whole genre of sci-fi action set in the modern day (and there's been a lot of that), and the movie, and subsequent political career, of its star Schwarzenegger. He had already made his name as a body builder and was thought ideal to play Conan the Barbarian, which he was, but this movie proved he could carry a film by sheer weight of presence alone.
From Schwarzenegger trailblazing came any number of musclebound he-men for the cinema audiences of the world to look up to, but more interesting was the Sarah Connor character (Linda Hamilton). Women had been the centre of horror movies, in the leading roles, for some time, indeed shockers were almost the sole area of genre films where they prospered, especially during this era, but the creator of The Terminator, James Cameron, saw he could do the same in sci-fi and action by combining them to transform all the strength of femininity into a power for vivid role models and heroines in the best sense. Little wonder he went on to make the Sigourney Weaver character from Alien into a Sarah Connor figure from this.
It was a method which served Cameron very well over his career, realising that male viewers liked to see these strong women in their blockbusters (and would-be blockbusters) as much as the female viewers. Here, in his first directorial effort of significance, it's as if in Sarah he found a person waking up to her possibilities, as after all most people would like to find out they were important in some way, and while some of them are, the rest of us make our way through life without the pressing destiny of humankind to worry about. So Sarah starts out this film as a nobody, and ends up the current most vital somebody in the world, not bad for a waitress who woke up one morning with the daily grind to look forward to when suddenly there was a news report that said someone with her name had been murdered.
She shrugs it off as coincidence, but when it happens to another Sarah Connor in the city hours later, she worries, and with good reason. Stuck in a nightclub to use its phone, she doesn't realise that her housemate has been murdered by the cyborg and is now on its way to wipe her out, having heard her message on the answer machine (technology has spread like a rash here). Just as he catches up with her, a knight in shining armour (or a long mac anyway) appears and saves her - the chase is on. Barely pausing for breath for the rest of the running time, the film makes good on Reese's claim that The Terminator absolutely will not stop, as it brought new meaning to the word "relentless", and Cameron, though influenced by an initially uncredited Harlan Ellison, knew that stopping for exposition as Sarah finds out about her role in the future was better served by being sandwiched between car chases and shootouts. Not only rich thematically, but also in humour and boundless energy, this deserved its position as a key trendsetter, a lot like its heroine. Music by Brad Fiedel.
Canadian director and writer responsible for some of the most successful - and expensive - films of all time. Cameron, like many before him, began his career working for Roger Corman, for whom he made his directing debut in 1981 with the throwaway Piranha 2: Flying Killers. It was his second film, The Terminator, that revealed his talents as a director of intensely exciting action, making Arnold Schwarzenegger a movie star along the way. Aliens was that rare thing, a sequel as good as the original, while if The Abyss was an overambitious flop, then 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a superbly realised action epic featuring groundbreaking use of CGI.
Cameron teamed up with Schwarzenegger for a third time for the Bond-esque thriller True Lies, before releasing Titanic on the world in 1997, which despite a decidedly mixed critical reaction quickly became the biggest grossing film of all time. His TV venture Dark Angel wasn't wildly successful, but ever keen to push back the envelope of film technology, 2003's Ghost of the Abyss is a spectacular 3D documentary exploring the wreck of the Titanic, made for I-Max cinemas. After over a decade away from fiction, his sci-fi epic Avatar was such a success that it gave him two films in the top ten highest-grossing of all time list.