The Terminator is a 1984 science fiction action film directed and co-written by James Cameron and distributed by the independent film studio Orion Pictures. It features Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. The film was followed by three sequels. The franchise has evolved to include video games and a television series.
The film takes place in 1984, introducing the concept of a “Terminator”, specifically the titular character (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a seemingly unstoppable cyborg assassin who has been sent back from the year 2029 by a collective of artificially intelligent computer-controlled machines bent on the extermination of the human race. The Terminator’s mission is to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) whose future son, John Connor, leads a resistance against the machines. A human, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), is also sent back from the future by John Connor himself to protect her.
In 2008, The Terminator was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.[
In a post-apocalyptic 2029, artificially intelligent machines seek to exterminate what is left of the human race. Two beings from this era are transported back in time to 1984 Los Angeles: one is a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a cyborg assassin programmed to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The other is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter sent to protect her. The Terminator stalks Sarah by killing all of the Sarah Connors listed in the telephone directory one by one. Hearing of the “phone book killer”, Sarah seeks shelter in a nightclub and phones her roommate to warn her, leaving a message on their answering machine indicating her whereabouts. However, the Terminator has already killed her roommate and tracks Sarah to the nightclub after hearing her message. Kyle also tracks Sarah to the club and saves her from the Terminator’s attack.
Kyle explains that in the near future an artificial intelligence network called Skynet will become self-aware and initiate a nuclear holocaust of mankind. Sarah’s son John will rally the survivors and lead a resistance movement against Skynet and its army of machines. With the Resistance on the verge of victory, Skynet has sent a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah before John can be born, as a last-ditch effort to avert the formation of the Resistance. The Terminator is an emotionless and efficient killing machine with a powerful metal endoskeleton, but with an external layer of living tissue so that it resembles a human being.
Kyle and Sarah are again attacked by the Terminator, leading to a car chase and their arrest. Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) tell Sarah that Kyle is insane. Kyle is questioned by psychologist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), who concludes that he is paranoid and delusional. The Terminator attacks the police station and kills many police officers in its attempt to locate Sarah, but she and Kyle escape and seek refuge in a motel. Kyle confesses that he has long been in love with Sarah, having been given a photograph of her by her son John. Sarah and Kyle then have sex.
The Terminator tracks them to the motel and wounds Kyle. In the ensuing chase the Terminator is caught in the blast of an exploding gasoline tank truck. With its external flesh burned away, it pursues Sarah and Kyle into a factory. Kyle jams a pipe bomb into its abdomen, blowing off its legs and one of its arms, but Kyle himself is killed. Still partially functional, the Terminator drags itself toward Sarah by its remaining arm. She leads it into a hydraulic press, which she uses to crush it, causing it to deactivate.
Some time later, a pregnant Sarah is traveling through Mexico. Along the way she records audio tapes which she intends to pass on to her unborn son John. She debates whether to tell him that Kyle is his father. A young Mexican boy takes a photograph of her which she purchases — it is the photograph that John will later give to Kyle. She drives on towards approaching storm clouds.