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 race 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 leads a resistance against the machines. A human, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), is also sent back from the future to protect her.
The Terminator feels no pain, has no emotions and will stop at nothing to accomplish its mission. Time travel can only send living tissue or an object covered with living tissue back, preventing Reese from bringing any advanced weaponry, and 20th century small arms are not enough to destroy the Terminator's hard metal endoskeleton. With its disguise of real living tissue over metal, it is indistinguishable from normal humans, so no one will believe Reese's story.
After Kyle finishes his story, he and Sarah are attacked by the Terminator again, resulting in a chase that leads to the police stopping and capturing Reese. At the West Highland Police Station, Sarah is told by Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Detective Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) that Reese, who is being questioned by psychologist, Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), is crazy. Upon Reese explaining his mission, Silberman concludes that the story is merely a delusion, constructed in such a way that it requires no evidence, preventing anyone from refuting it. However, the Terminator arrives at the police station and asks to see Sarah, but the desk attendant denies it access. After examining the room and uttering the catch phrase "I'll be back", it leaves, then returns seconds later by plowing a car through the front of the building. The Terminator goes on a rampage through the building, killing 17 police officers. Reese manages to escape and rescue Sarah. They hide out in a motel, where Reese teaches Sarah to make pipe bombs from household supplies. Sarah asks Reese if she measures up to the stories about her and if he's ever been in love. After replying no to both questions, he confesses that he is in love -- with her. At first, Reese thinks he has made a fool of himself, but Sarah feels the same way, and they make love.
Later that night, the Terminator tracks them down and shoots Reese, wounding him. Sarah manages to knock the Terminator off its motorcycle. A tanker truck then runs over the Terminator. The cyborg, damaged, commandeers the tanker truck and drives it at them. Reese uses one of their last bombs to blow up the truck, seeing the Terminator collapse in a burnt heap. They think that it has been destroyed, but the bare metal endoskeleton is still functional and pursues them into a factory. In the ensuing chase, Reese jams a pipe bomb into the Terminator's abdomen, blowing its legs and one arm off, but also killing himself. The Terminator, still partially functional, drags itself by its remaining hand to pursue Sarah, until she finally crushes it in a hydraulic press, destroying it.
The end of the film shows Sarah pregnant, and traveling in Mexico on November 10, 1984. She records audio tapes which she intends to play for her son, John, at some point in his life. She reveals that John is Reese's son, conceived during their one night at the motel six months before (see Predestination paradox). While Sarah's gas tank is being filled, a young Mexican boy takes a picture of her, the same picture John will give to Reese in the future. Sarah pulls out of the gas station and drives into the distance where storms are approaching over the mountains. The end credits start to roll as her Jeep disappears.
|Arnold Schwarzenegger||The Terminator|
|Michael Biehn||Kyle Reese|
|Linda Hamilton||Sarah J. Connor|
|Paul Winfield||Lieutenant Ed Traxler|
|Lance Henriksen||Detective Hal Vukovich|
|Bess Motta||Ginger Ventura|
|Earl Boen||Dr. Peter Silberman|
|Rick Rossovich||Matt Buchanan|
|Dick Miller||Pawnshop Clerk|
|Bruce M. Kerner||Desk Sergeant|
|Franco Columbu||Future Terminator|
|Bill Paxton||Punk Leader|
Production was originally scheduled for Spring 1983 in Toronto, but after Dino De Laurentiis chose to option Schwarzenegger to film Conan the Destroyer, filming was delayed until March 1984 in Los Angeles.
Several scenes cut from the film are available on some DVD releases. One particular scene involving the destruction of Cyberdyne inspired a very similar plot point in the sequel. In this scene, Sarah suggests to Reese that they find Cyberdyne Systems and destroy it before they can invent Skynet, preventing the war. At the end of the film, when Sarah is being taken away by the ambulance, two factory workers find the remains of the Terminator and decide to turn it over to Research and Development, with the camera zooming out to reveal the name of the factory: Cyberdyne Systems. These two scenes set up major plot points in Terminator 2, where the CPU and arm from the Terminator in this film are reverse engineered and used to create Skynet, and where Sarah, John, and the Terminator blow up Cyberdyne to prevent the war.
James Cameron once said that what inspired him to make The Terminator were two episodes from the 1960s television science fiction series The Outer Limits - "Soldier and "Demon with the Glass Hand, both written by science-fiction author Harlan Ellison. According to E! Online, Terminator production company Hemdale and distributor Orion Pictures "gave veteran fantasy writer Harlan Ellison an 'acknowledgement to the works of' credit on The Terminator and a cash settlement lest he sue for plagiarism of two episodes he wrote for The Outer Limits in the 1960s and a Hugo Award winning sci-fi story (1977)".
The Definitive Edition
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