The TERMINATOR franchise has undergone some turbulent times of late. The first two films in the series can only be counted as classics, featuring some of the greatest action sequences, characters, lines, and concepts ever put to film. All the films since? Not so much.
So in some ways, it’s unsurprising that the upcoming TERMINATOR: DARK FATE – the first in the series to feature the direct involvement of original creator James Cameron – will ignore all the TERMINATOR films that came after the second one, relegating them to being set in an “alternate timeline”.
“Alternate timeline”, of course, being a polite way of saying “we don’t like these and we’d like to pretend they don’t exist”.
It remains to be seen whether DARK FATE will truly manage to reinvigorate the franchise or just ends up on the scrap heap with the rest of them. But what was it that went wrong with the other sequels, and what’s the best way to go about writing a sequel?
The best approach to take when writing a follow-up is to do the same thing again, but… different. What this means is that you need to keep the key elements that made the original so good, while also innovating to give people something new that they haven’t seen before.
In short, give audiences the things they love while also making it seem fresh! But how did this apply to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY do to make it such an effective sequel…?
Well, you had the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator – but turned from a villain into a hero, keeping the badass character but with new objectives, relationships, and dynamics. So it was something the same as the first film – but different.
And he was replaced as villain by Robert Patrick’s T-1000, a Terminator even more relentlessly unstoppable than the first thanks to being a liquid metal shapeshifter. Again, this was the same kind of antagonist as in the first film – but different enough that it felt fresh.
Similarly, the other TERMINATOR sequels didn’t work precisely because they got this wrong – particularly the most recent ones. TERMINATOR: SALVATION abandoned time-travel for a post-apocalyptic hellscape – but that was never what the series was about.
And the attempted reboot TERMINATOR: GENISYS just threw together a bunch of elements without any understanding of what made them work in the first place. Honestly, the less said the better.
So if you’re planning on writing a sequel, keep these things in mind. Remember exactly what it was about your first instalment so good in the first place, and don’t throw those things away. Just do the same thing again – but different!
Here’s hoping that TERMINATOR: DARK FATE does this too…