Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week’s question:
Q: In honor of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "The Last Stand," which film is better: "The Terminator" or "Terminator 2: Judgment Day?"
The critics’ answers:
"I once asked Glenn Kenny whether he preferred ‘Led Zeppelin III’ or ‘Physical Graffiti.’ I’ve always loved his reply: ‘Two different moods: ‘III’ is a hearthside fire with hot grog and leg of lamb, ‘Physical Graffiti’ an opium den orgy/sprawl.’ And Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ films have a different vibe each. The first film has a grimy immediacy, whereas the second one is a set of corporate fireworks. Both are good films (empirically speaking, the first one is probably a bit better)."
"’Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ has a superior story, better acting, vastly improved special effects, and the brilliant concept of reinventing the original film’s villain as its hero. ‘The Terminator’ was ahead of its time, but limited by ’80s conventions, namely transparent F/X and corny music. Seven years later, technology caught up with James Cameron’s imagination and his true vision was realized. Plus, ‘Terminator 2’ has, ‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ which automatically gives it the edge."
"In my younger days I wouldn’t have believed I would ever have felt this way, but I’m going to have to go with ‘The Terminator.’ While the glow of the cutting edge effects of the sequel has somewhat fallen by the wayside over the course of the past twenty years, the original film remains a solid, straightforward horror-sci-fi hybrid thirty years on."
"Besides an awkward Edward Furlong and some patches of cornball dialogue (especially from a very over the top Hamilton), ‘T2‘ is definitely the better film."
"They’re both classics, but if we have to judge which is better, ‘The Terminator‘ is the only answer. ‘Terminator 2’ extrapolates on the original in incredible ways, introduces unforgettable characters and concepts to the mythos and has one of those rare movie endings that even the manliest men cry over, but everything about it depends on audience familiarity with the original film. Every scene either compares or contrasts directly to ‘The Terminator,’ and while it works in a vacuum, it only excels as part of a unit. The original film is leaner, meaner, and emotionally chilling, and perhaps even less fun than the sequel, but it works on every intended level and set the stage perfectly for an unforgettable follow-up. Give credit where credit is due."
"’Terminator 2′ is terrific fun and has some stunning special effects that still hold up 20 years later, but its predecessor, the original ‘Terminator,’ is the better film. It’s as relentless and unstoppable as Arnold is in it, and is really the only picture James Cameron ever directed to showcase the influence of his one-time mentor Roger Corman, in the efficiency and economy with which Cameron maximizes his assets. From the grainy, dirty image, to the harsh, metallic industrial score, every last element of ‘The Terminator’ serves to keep the audience ill at ease and on edge; even the final shot of a pregnant Sarah Connor riding into the sunset features encroaching storm clouds. (Also, Arnold’s ‘Fuck You, Asshole’ villainy in the first plays better than his poker-faced nice-cyborg thing in the sequel, not to mention ‘I’ll be back’ wins out over ‘Hasta la vista, baby’ in a walk.)"
"I haven’t seen ‘T2’ since it came out, and have never had a strong enough interest in doing so. But I can watch and have seen the original over and over. That doesn’t make it better, I guess. And I can’t remember enough about the sequel to understand its acclaim beyond the effects breakthrough nor why it didn’t resonate enough for me. But I can say ‘The Terminator‘ is a brilliantly scripted and economically and practically envisioned paradoxical melodrama. It’s great for how it plays out with tremendous suspense every time, and each time it inspires a conversation about why that suspense makes no sense given the cyclical narrative."
"’Terminator 2‘ by a long shot. It essentially (but successfully) took the same movie as the first, totally retreaded it with a bigger, badder story and effects and no one cared because it was awesome. It was the stuff of legend to impressionable 12 year olds and continues to hold up after all these years. Love the first ‘Terminator’ film but ‘T2’ takes the cake any day of the week."
"It’s easily ‘Terminator 2‘ for me — in fact, it’s one of my all time favorite films. It takes the idea of the original — fate vs. free will, the loss of innocence, humanity’s reliance on technology — and expands on them, while also adding plenty of new ones (the duties of parenthood, the disintegration of the nuclear family, etc). On top of that it’s one of the best action films ever made, with special effects that still hold up today (unlike moments in the original), and one of the best villains — Robert Patrick’s chilling T-1000 — in cinematic history."
"’Terminator 2,’ without a doubt. One of the finest action movies ever created."
"Going to have to go with ‘Terminator 2. Judgment Day.’ One of the finest sequels ever made and an example of what a sequel should do. ‘Judgment Day’ takes the set-up from the first film and completely flips it on its head, concurrently rejuvenating and widening its story. A grander film in scope and ambition than its predecessor, it is not merely the presence of such elements that makes ‘T2’ a superior film, but rather the fact that such scope and ambition results in a more memorable and emotional experience. On a story front, the strengths of this film rely on set-up done in its predecessor, but technically and emotionally ‘T2’ is the film that comes into my head more and that I have rewatched more. The original ‘Terminator’ is not a bad film, it is great one without which this arguably better film wouldn’t exist."
"’Terminator 2‘ is way better for my money, and probably my favorite action film. It benefitted from a much bigger budget to mount amazing sequences and use groundbreaking special effects. The last 40 minutes or so is wall-to-wall action and breathtakingly staged."
"While it’s hard to go against Schwarzenegger’s first effort as the T-800, it’s both the advances in special effects and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 that makes ‘T2: Judgment Day‘ the superior film. All you need to do is match up the heroes and villains between the two efforts, and ‘T2’ comes out ahead. Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed Terminator is much more entertaining to follow than Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese, as it allows Schwarzenegger to be front and center throughout much of the movie, something the audience wanted at that point, as opposed to this stalking menace who just knows destruction but not a hell of a lot of personality. I’ll take the T-800 learning modern slang and trying to compute human emotion over the desperate mission of Reese any day. And, for those very same reasons, that’s why Patrick’s T-1000 beats out the original T-800. The shape-shifting liquid metal version of a Terminator makes for some pretty exciting action set-ups, and Patrick always following closely behind in that cop uniform is badass. The first ‘Terminator’ may have set the bar for the series, but James Cameron was able to take it to the next level with his story telling the second time out. Throw in a ripped Linda Hamilton and the morality involved with Miles Dyson and it’s one compelling film that works as more than just a cool action flick."
"Truth be told, I haven’t seen either of the ‘Terminator’ films since I was a wee lad (I say ‘either’ because, as we all know, there have only been two Terminator films), and I can’t possibly understand what appeal this franchise holds for its legion of fans (I love Arnold as much as the next guy, but the overwhelming majority of my favorite Arnold moments can be found elsewhere), so now that I’ve totally invalidated whatever response I have to give I’m going to go with ‘The Terminator,’ if only because it left a much larger scar on my childhood psyche. I understand that ‘T2’ hogs the epic scope and mythos (and scores crucial bonus points for the ubiquitous arcade game it inspired), but ‘relentless killing machine Arnold’ stalked my nightmares much more than the sequel’s occasionally liquid villain, ‘beefy cop Alex Mack.’"
"It’s been years since I’ve seen either of these films, so I admit my memories of them aren’t terribly fresh (I caught up with them late; neither were staples of my cinephile upbringing or anything). But a part of me prefers the relatively rough spectacle of seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a purely villainous killing machine in the original low-budget ‘Terminator‘ over becoming the hero (however mildly ambiguous, being that he’s a machine and all) in the more thematically ambitious, more impressively high-tech sequel. Maybe I’m just perverse that way. Anyway, the original gets my vote."
"’Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’ Adventure, drama, comedy and great special effects."
"I wanted to be all contrarian here and pick the first ‘Terminator,’ but I just can’t. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ is one of the rare sequels that manages to not only be bigger, but better. All the themes of humanity and technology return but in a more clear and powerful way, which ends in the most tear-inducing thumbs-up in human history. And there’s a really cool bad guy robot. ‘T2’ wins."
"It’s been quite some time that I did a close comparison (or seen either film, frankly) but my gut is going with ‘T2.’ In my recollection it has some of the most propulsive pacing out there. It just doesn’t let up. As it happens, I was working in a movie theater in autumn of 1991. Back then, when a movie was a hit, it stayed in the theaters forever. (‘Aladdin’ played at our theater for one full calendar year.) As such, it was still there despite its July opening and I watched it over and over and over. There were always parts that were thrilling, no matter how many times I’d seen it. The special effects were unlike anything we’d ever seen (the whole T-1000 silver gloopy guy jumping into the helicopter bit) and Ahhhhnold was at his most quotable here. So it gets my pick. Plus, the first one was maybe a little too dark for universal fun, no? Wasn’t it originally marketed as a horror film of sorts?"
"’Terminator’ has a quality, mostly derived from the time and its reputation as extreme action cinema, that endears itself to me a bit more than ‘Terminator 2.’ However, the slick excesses of ‘Terminator 2‘ overwhelms my synapses, forcing me to call it a better film despite the fact that I don’t believe in better, just different."
"What? You’re asking me to plug my Arnold Schwarzenegger essay that’ll be running in this week’s Village Voice? Very well, Matt. If you say so. Between ‘The Terminator’ and ‘T2,’ I’d have an easier time telling you which one of my eyes I prefer. I guess I have to give the modest edge to ‘T2‘ for the way it broadened the canvas and upped the stakes of the original, in the same way ‘The Godfather Part II,’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ and Cameron’s own ‘Aliens’ all do (sorry, but there are few enough examples of this that they’re all very familiar). ‘T2’ is basically the ‘Poetics’ of how to do a grand sci-fi action blockbuster for me. Given the chance to remake the pulpy, sharp-witted $6 million B-movie that was ‘The Terminator’ on a then-historic budget, Cameron manages to duck the excesses that would define him later — ‘T2”s overwrought homilies are confined to the extended director’s cut and/or the deleted scenes, where they belong. He delivers beautifully on the T-800 and Sarah Connor’s role reversals (Linda Hamilton, where have you gone?), on Sarah’s transformation into a militant survivalist, and even on the T-800’s relationship with middle-school aged John Connor. Robert Patrick was so perfect as the shape-shifting T-1000 that it’s a miracle he’s managed to have a reasonably varied & successful career after this film instead of being typecast as Edward Liquidknifehands. And two of the greatest chase sequences in cinema history both reside within this one little (very, very large) movie, so ‘T2,’ but it’s close. Pick up the Village Voice this week. That is all."
"’The Terminator.’ (I actually think it’s a very smart treatise on abortion)."
"Truly a Sophie’s choice. Let me take the cop out: ‘Judgment Day’ is the more polished, more refined, and better structured film. ‘The Terminator’ is perhaps the film that has had a larger influence on cinematic history and simply more interesting to discuss."
"’The Terminator,’ no question. I know the popular opinion is to say ‘Judgment Day’ is superior, and while it is true that the sequel has a greater scope, more characters, and more in-depth story on both narrative and character fronts, it is not as cohesively effective and well-built a film as Cameron’s original movie. ‘The Terminator’ is a lean, razor-focused, tonally-sharp horror film with a great but subtle character arc for Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, fascinating suggestions of a larger mythology, and a truly terrifying, seemingly unstoppable villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger (one could argue that the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is theoretically a better villain, but to be honest, the stop-motion effects on the T-800 have held up way better and remain more awe-inspiring than the early CGI used on the T-1000). ‘The Terminator’ gets in, gets out, and does not a waste a single second gripping the audience or telling its tight, imaginative story. It is, though few choose to view it this way, the greatest slasher movie ever made, and a low-budget masterpiece. Sarah Connor hears that there is ‘no fate but what we make for ourselves’ in the first movie, but there seemingly is fate in the ‘Terminator’ universe, as the order of events — Kyle comes back in time, impregnates Sarah, dies — always has to happen for John Connor to be born, or for John Connor to save the world and send Kyle back in time, etc. Thus, by quantum scientific reasoning, there must be a sort of fate, or else time travel would not function. It is this missing element of fate that solves the film’s tricky ‘chicken and egg’ scenario of chronological impossibilities. But ‘T2’ breaks the internal logic of the series by suggesting that there is a way to change the future, and the fact that John Connor does not disappear in a puff of logic-colored smoke once the T-1000 and T-800 are destroyed at the film’s conclusion (if there is no Skynet, there is no need for John Connor to fight Skynet and send his Dad back in time) indicates that Sarah and John either failed, thus rendering the movie pointless, or succeeded, creating massive, distracting, sloppy plot holes. ‘The Terminator’ has no such problems. It is the better movie."
"One image from the second film clearly makes the case for the first ‘Terminator‘ being superior to its sequel — a cyborg giving a ‘thumbs-up’ whilst being lowered down to meet its fiery, molten demise. While ‘Terminator 2’ is recognized for its groundbreaking effects work and sharp storytelling (and rightly so), the fact remains that with Cameron making the film more accessible to a wider audience, that darkness which was intrinsic to the original film’s success, was ultimately lost."
"I probably haven’t seen either as many times as most (especially not Arnold aficionados), but I’m partial to ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’ They’re both exciting and high-quality entertainment, but the sequel is just more fun than the original. That’s not a knock on the first flick, but this one just gets the slightly higher thumbs up from me."
"It’s not even close. ‘The Terminator’ is a great movie, but ‘Terminator 2‘ is landmark. The sequel took everything that worked in the original and kicked it up to a higher level. In addition to a deeper, richer story and better character development, ‘T2’ also had groundbreaking special effects, well-used in service of the plot. I remember seeing the movie when it first came out. I sat in my theater seat watching the ‘morphing’ effect and wondering how on earth they possibly created those visuals. (Back in 1991, the concept of ‘computers did it’ was still fairly new.) The relentless pacing of ‘T2’ also raised the bar for action movies in its wake. In fact, the only negative thing I can say about ‘Terminator 2’ is that it was so good and so successful that it inspired more sequels, which of course turned out to be the inferior ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ and ‘Terminator Salvation.’ Still, it remains an all-time classic in both the sci-fi and action genres."
"’I know now why you cry, but it’s something I can never do.‘ ‘Nuff said."
"I’ve always been partial to the original ‘Terminator‘ simply for the ’80s action vibe it exudes. Its one of the gold-standards of ’80s action and therefore one of the gold-standards of action in general."
"Oh man, both movies are great but if I had to pick one I would choose ‘The Terminator.’ It’s grittier, scarier, and darker. The original ‘Terminator’ is also more of a sci-fi/horror genre film than a broad action blockbuster. I prefer Schwarzenegger as the villain instead of the hero."
"The original ‘Terminator:’ Cleaner, simpler, not gummed up with Big Themes or superfluous voice-overs. Pure, kinetic narrative, and Schwarzenegger’s first and best catch-phrase."
"I have to go with ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day.’ It may be a nostalgia factor, but it was the first Cameron film I watched and easily the most impressive action film of its time, with CG that still holds up today."
"I don’t have the nostalgic attachment to ‘Terminator 2’ that most people my age do — I caught up with it way late — so it’s always been an impressive but not particularly meaningful blockbuster to me. But when I finally saw ‘The Terminator,’ I was totally blown away. It’s so bare and compact but crammed with big ideas, and the chemistry between Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton is sexy in this way that Cameron seemed to be trying to recapture the rest of his career. I love watching ‘The Terminator’ and watching all these hints at the filmmaker he’ll become. And, more in line with the theme, Arnold is a better bad robot than good one."
"Neither movie’s better. There’s been a frustrating tendency to pit ‘The Terminator’ against its sequel, but in truth they have very little in common besides their star and the mythology. (That ‘mythology’ is basically stupid, as seen in the increasingly convoluted, frustrated attempts to expand the franchise ever outwards, into more and more complicated backstories.) The first film is a lean, mean, and ’80s-time-stamped action movie that’s so impressive that the now-incongruous appearance of stop-motion animation doesn’t compromise the movie fatally. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is compromised by many things — Linda Hamilton’s vacuous final voiceover, the idea that a blockbuster can act as an earnest Trojan Horse against nuclear apocalypse (‘The Abyss’ is similarly dogmatic), Edward Furlong — but its CGI is still wildly impressive and imaginative (contrary to what many people think, I don’t think stop-motion’s inherently handcrafted aesthetic somehow makes it inherently superior), the action setpieces invent the ’90s blockbuster and preemptively dominate the field, and it’s equally exhilarating at the end. Both movies are also so iconic and much-quoted they’re hard to see fresh, but both have virtues that transcend the long arm of influence. It’s a draw."
"’The Terminator‘ is the better film. It’s an ‘Alien’ versus ‘Aliens’ argument. One is a much better genre film and the next is a balls to the wall action movie. All falls into your preference, and for me ‘Alien’ and ‘The Terminator’ win every time."
"’The Terminator‘ is a much better film. Part of it is its funky visual sensibility (both dated and futuristic and using both creatively), but there’s also not a sense of portentousness barreling the viewer over. ‘T2’ began the whole tradition of James Cameron’s current film being the most expensive movie ever made, using its effects as a wedge and not a cushion."
"’The Terminator‘ is by far the better film. It’s got a brilliant B-movie premise (futuristic killing machine gets sent back in time to kill the mother of humanity’s as-yet-unborn savior), expertly staged action, and Schwarzenegger’s most iconic performance. Though ‘Conan the Barbarian’ made Arnold a star, he could’ve easily become his generation’s Steve Reeves — i.e. an actor whose skills began and ended with his impressive physique. But ‘The Terminator’ demonstrated that Schwarzenegger could be both a terrifying onscreen presence and, most importantly, in on the joke. Though ‘T2’ is a watershed moment in visual F/X, it’s also bloated, preachy and almost completely undone by an interminable second act that finds Arnold’s cyborg being turned into a catchphrase machine by a young John Connor (who, as portrayed by Edward Furlong, makes an excellent case for Skynet’s war on humanity). Give me the briskly paced original any day."
"’Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’ Maybe you could argue that James Cameron’s mawkish sentimentality appears in full force in this 1991 sequel to ‘The Terminator,’ thus dampening its impact. Maybe you could argue that it’s a bit too long, certainly compared to its predecessor. I can’t dispute that, but every time I see this movie, it hits on such a visceral level. I wish more action movies were this intense, this relentless, this single-minded. The T-1000-related special effects were revolutionary at the time, and frankly, they’re still pretty damn impressive after two decades. What I love most about ‘T2’ is the lengthy, captivating setpieces, as well as the work from the two Terminators, Schwarzenegger and the deceptively normal-looking Robert Patrick. I like the original ‘Terminator’ as a dark, pulpy bit of science fiction, but because ‘T2’ tops it in terms of scale and action, it’s my pick, no question."
"’Terminator’ is a great, taut sci-fi thriller that does wonders on its budget and tells its story with crack efficiency, but ‘Terminator 2‘ is one of the greatest movies ever made. I prefer the longer cut, though, which explains the T-1000’s erratic behavior at the end. And I like ‘T3’ as well — each part of the Arnold Terminator trilogy reflects the mood of its own decade, with Clinton-era optimism replacing Reaganite Cold War paranoia, only to all be undermined again in a post 9/11 world where threats never go away. I guess you could say ‘Terminator Salvation’ represented hope and change, but not in any competent way."
"What, I can’t chose ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines?’ Well, I guess if that one is out of the realm of consideration I will go with ‘Terminator 2‘ — a film I hold on high and consider to be one of the most timeless ever made. Films that were released last week already look dated and yet the now 22-year-old masterpiece from James Cameron (with a little help from ILM and Stan Winston) is still a pinnacle of groundbreaking visual effects and filmmaking. I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘T2’ and the effect it had on me. To this day, every time I watch it I still get all Miles Dyson."
"’Terminator 2: Judgement Day.’ It was made when filmmakers started experimenting with CGI for realistic human features and movements. The CGI and practical effects both still hold up today. Being 22 years old in July, that’s pretty goddamn impressive."
"Well, as much as I like ‘T2’ as a breezy piece of summer entertainment, I think ‘The Terminator‘ is a damn near perfect motion picture. The thing I notice more and more on subsequent viewings is how Michael Biehn, as Reese, worships Sarah Connor. From her (and the audience’s) point of view he is the strong one sent to protect her. But from his point of view she has all of the strength, and she is the one carrying them both through their journey together. Add on top of that Ahnuld, who wanted to play the hero but is absolutely perfect as the robotic villain. Finally, note that ‘Star Wars’ cost about $10 million to make in 1977; seven years later, James Cameron spent just $1 million to make this picture. His budgets may have ballooned recently, but the man knew how to get quality for his dollar even with his first film."
"’The Terminator‘ is the better film. It lacks the budget of its sequel, yet it introduces a terrifying villain within an intriguing premise. Both movies are suspenseful, but the original accomplishes more with limited means."