TERMINATOR QUESTIONS: Explaining the Timelines of the Terminator film franchise!

Sometimes even the biggest Terminator fans can still have questions when it comes to the time-travelling universe they know and love.  And we are here to help!  It is our aim to provide answers to some of the most perplexing Terminator related questions around.  And who knows, even the most die-hard Terminator Fans might just understand the franchise they love… just a little bit more!


QUESTION : Can you explain all the timelines that exist in the Terminator films?

ANSWER : For some, deciphering all the timelines in the entire Terminator film franchise can seem like a daunting task. It’s often compounded by, when searching for answers, fans stumple upon videos that claim their video will explain the Terminator timelines to them (while their true purpose is to add confusion, and then poke fun at its complexity.)

While many timeline effecting, time travel theories can certainly be applied to the Terminator universe, we understand that the only right answer is what the creator of the Terminator universe James Cameron thinks.  His answer, is the only correct answer.

Luckily for us, James Cameron already recently revealed his time travel theories to Laeta Kalogridis.  Laeta, who previously worked with Cameron on films like “Avatar”, was the co-writer of the “Terminator Genisys” script, as well as Jim’s friend.  While writing Genisys, it was extremely important for Laeta to be respectful to Cameron (and the universe his two Terminator films established), so much so that she met with Jim several times to review everything Terminator (including the time travel aspect) to get it right.   And fortunately for us, she had relayed it to the fans.

We will first start with the films James Cameron himself recognizes as canon:

  • The Terminator
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Terminator Genisys 

…followed by the remaining two sequels:

  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • Terminator Salvation

So without further ado, the Terminator timelines:

The events in the original film “The Terminator” follows a different time travel paradigm than the other Terminator movies.  The events of the first Terminator film is a closed loop, so everything contained within that story repeats itself over and over again.

In this time travel theory, there was not a different future prior to this timeline. There was not an earlier time where John Connor did not exist.  Simply put, the time travel theory “The Terminator” uses is; anything that occurred in the past by a time traveler, will be revealed to have already occured in the past, before the time travel attempts it from the future.



The events that took place in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” operate on a branching timeline theory, where Sarah decides to try to change the future while never stopping to think that (if she’s in a closed loop) her son John Connor would cease to exist the moment Judgment Day is prevented (because a post apocalypse Kyle won’t time travel back to 1984 to father Sarah’s baby). So the events of T2 is a divergent timeline from “The Terminator”.

Simply put, with this theory, the moment a time traveller arrives in the past, the timeline immediately changes, it forks, and the time traveller now exists in an alternate timeline. And this is what happened when the T-1000 and the second T-800 arrived in 1995.

So did Sarah Connor live on, grow old, and never face a Judgment Day in this divergent timeline?  We can only imagine.

JUDGMENT DAY : Prevented


Considered to be the third film of the franchise by James Cameron, the events of “Terminator Genisys” is also a divergent timeline from “The Terminator”.  Actually, it diverges again from its own divergence, resulting in a total of two brand new timelines: one where Judgment Day occurs in 2017 – the other where Judgment Day is prevented.

Ultimately, even though they both start from the same closed loop of “The Terminator”, the events of “T2” and “Terminator Genisys” are separate divergences and do not exist in the same timeline. 



While both T2 and Genisys are divergent timelines from a closed loop timeline of “The Terminator”, the events of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Terminator Salvation” are different. They both fork from a single divergent timeline already caused by the events Terminator 2, when the T-X was sent through time to assure the rise of the machines.  So neither of these films spawned from the original timeline of “The Terminator”.

TIMELINE JUDGMENT DAY : 2003/2004 (debated due to conflicting facts)

We hope you enjoyed this explanation of the timelines in the Terminator film franchise.

We’ll be back!


4 thoughts on “TERMINATOR QUESTIONS: Explaining the Timelines of the Terminator film franchise!”

  1. T3 and Salvation should be just as canon as the rest. And why no mention of Sarah Connor Chronicles and the books and comics??


    1. Even though James Cameron only recognizes three of the movies as canon, we support and enjoy all five films!

      And if we included the show, the comics and books, our article would never end!

      Thanks for your comment!


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