"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."
— Kyle Reese
The Terminator (1984) is the first film in the Terminator franchise. It was the second feature film directed by James Cameron.Two men emerge naked from two separate electrical storms in Los Angeles and quickly go out to find supplies. One stays low and out of sight to avoid the police and other authorities. The other picks up a phone book so he can find women named Sarah Connor...so he can kill them. When a young diner waitress also named Sarah Connor hears that two people with her name have been killed within a day, she begins to worry that the killer will come for her next.While the killer murders two people in Sarah's home in an effort to find her, Sarah hides in a nightclub; when the killer catches up with her there, she ends up rescued by the first individual, Kyle Reese, who explains the backstory to Sarah after escaping from the killer: in the near future, the United States government will create SkyNet, an artificial intelligence that will promptlyturn against its masters and attempt to Kill All Humans in a cataclysmic event that will become known as Judgment Day. Mankind will eventually defeat SkyNet, but at the last minute, SkyNet will send a T-800 Model Terminator — an android assassin wrapped in human flesh to give it the appearance of a human — back in time to kill Sarah and prevent the birth of her son John (who will become the leader of the human resistance). John will respond by sending Reese into the past to protect John's mother and the timeline.
Agent Scully: Dr. Silberman. Even more so in T2, till he sees the T-1000 walk through the barred door. To be fair, he leaves the police station just as the Terminator walks in and is not witness to the sheer carnage that occurs next.
Animals Hate Him: Dogs hate the title cyborgs, even in human form. It's not training, as dogs reacted this way to Skynet's machines even before the Terminators were built.
Antagonist Title: Named after the now-famous killer cyborg who tries to kill Sarah Connor. Also the only film in the franchise to use this trope, since the later films divided the title's association between multiple Terminator models and made some of them protagonists.
Artistic License: The pipe bombs Kyle throws at the T-800 during the Car Chase don't seem to do anything more than make a cloud of smoke, even though they would have created tons of shrapnel that would have, at least, popped the bike's tires. Averted later on, as his last two destroy a tanker truck and the Terminator's legs, respectively, with the shrapnel injuring Sarah.
Artistic License - Cars: Due to Special Effects Failure; the pickup Kyle and Sarah steal (a Chevy C10 - 2WD - dressed up like an offroading K10 - 4WD - though this isn't unheard of), when it's flipped over, is missing its drivetrain - it clearly has no engine, transmission or driveshaft.
Artistic License - Law: Subverted. The T-101 obtains a fully automatic AR-18 and Uzi, which is also equipped with the short barrel. Neither could be sold over the counter, even in 1984. However, short dummy barrels were often installed in Uzi Carbines to entice buyers but were always sold with the legal 16" barrels, and as James Cameron explained in a letter to Soldier of Fortune (and later in the novelisation), they were a civilian AR-180 and a semi-auto Uzi Carbine which the T-101 converted to full auto using tools stolen earlier from a hardware store, and presumably cut down the Uzi's live 16" barrel.
Ballroom Blitz: Tech Noir gets blitzed, everyone stops their eighties style dancing and runs for the exits. Luckily Kyle was able to "Zero" the T-800 as a result, so it was worth the few dead dancers.
Battle Discretion Shot: The second cop with an M-16 is blasted with a spray of rifle bullets and buckshot. The only evidence of his death is a split-second grunt.
Big Badass Rig: The T-800 chases down the protagonists in an International Harvester Transtar fuel truck.
Billing Displacement: Kyle and Sarah are the main characters in the first film - The Terminator isn't seen that often, making it more effective.
Bittersweet Ending: The Terminator is defeated and Sarah survives along with her unborn son, but Kyle dies. Further, Sarah is a changed woman thanks to her experiences, and must live paranoid of the nightmarish future on the horizon.
Black Comedy: In-universe, one of Sarah's coworkers is cheered up by the news of the murder of another Sarah Connor and gleefully brings it to her attention. She is not amused.
Bodyguard Crush: Kyle's attraction to Sarah is what conceives John Connor in the first place.
Bottomless Magazines: Noticeably averted with reloading scenes or magazines running empty. An exception is the parking garage chase where sloppy editing caused Arnold to fire numerous times from a pump-action shotgun without racking the slide or inserting more shells. Or driving.
Break the Cutie: The entire point to Sarah's Character Development. Note how she goes from being so meek as a waitress to delivering a Pre-Mortem One-Liner to a killer cyborg. But, even more, note how she is so completely wrecked at the end of it all that even touching the dead Terminator's arm is almost too much for her.
Bullets Do Not Work That Way: There's a take that averts this trope and ends up cooler because of it: when the T-800 is killing its way through the police station, one doomed Officer Red Shirt hits it with a revolver shot that passes right through and spiderwebs the glass partition behind it.
Burn Baby Burn: Sarah Connor's picture burns in a symbolic manner in one of Kyle's dreams.
The Cameo: The infiltrator terminator in Kyle's flashback of the future is played by Franco Columbu, Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding partner and longtime friend.
Chase Fight: The finale is both a chase scene and a fight scene.
Clipped Wing Angel: By the time the heroes have reduced the Terminator down to its naked metal skeleton, the Terminator has incurred some actual damage, including a limp. In the very end, it's reduced to a crawling, one-armed torso.
Coconut Superpowers: T1 was originally conceived as a Robot War film set in The Future. Cameron was a nobody at that time, so he got a measly budget for the production. In order to save the little money he had, James clad the robot in human skin (so he could use a live actor) and moved the action into the present. Awesomeness ensued.
Coincidental Broadcast: After the Terminator kills several victims, the police make sure that there's a news broadcast about the killed Sarah Connors. When Sarah is fetched from the restaurant, the newscaster conveniently adds "To recap:" and then repeats the entire story.
Concealment Equals Cover: Averted, as during the Terminator's rampage through the police precinct, he can be seen killing officers by shooting through walls and desks with high-powered, automatic assault rifles and shotguns. Exactly as it would happen in real-life.
Contagious Cassandra Truth: In the middle of the film, Sarah Connor seems happy to accept the psychologist's explanation that Kyle Reese is a paranoid schizophrenic, and the Killer Robot is just on PCP. By the beginning of the second film, she's locked up in a mental asylum for insisting that Reese's story about the impending apocalypse is true - as well as acting on that belief...
Cop Killer: The T-800 massacres an entire police station in an attempt to get to Sarah Connor. Radio reports later reveal that quite predictably a nation-wide manhunt was started for the mysterious gunman. The cops are still looking for the shooter in Terminator 2: Judgment Day to get justice for the officers who were killed on that night.
Cyborg: Kyle Reese explains: "The Terminator's an infiltration unit: part man, part machine. Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis, microprocessor-controlled. Fully armored; very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue: flesh, skin, hair, blood - grown for the cyborgs." This makes it quite an unusual depiction of this trope, which tends more towards "organic being with various parts — up to and including the entire body — replaced with cybernetic fascimiles". Instead, the T-800 (and subsequent T-850) Terminator is a fully-functional Skele Bot — later films even show them operating without their "skinsuits" — that can wear artificially grown epidermal tissue as a disguise.
Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Silberman mocks Reese in a very straight, clinical way; he remarks that Skynet is attempting some kind of retroactive abortion and wonders why Reese didn't bring ray guns from the future with him.
Dialogue Tree: Seen from the T-800's POV in one scene, when it considers its response options to someone inquiring about the smell in the apartment it's hiding out in. It eventually decides on "Fuck you, asshole", a phrase learned from the punks.
Drives Like Crazy: Kyle Reese, justified in that he learnt to drive After the End. He also instinctively drives cars at night without the headlights on, as doing so in the future would draw Aerial Hunter-Killers.
Drone of Dread: A frightful metallic-sounding droning theme plays as the Terminator prepares to shoot Sarah Connor in the night club.
The Dulcinea Effect: Kyle Reese volunteers to go back in time to protect Sarah Connor, who he fell in love with only from stories and a picture he was given by John Connor, knowing there is absolutely no way back and that going up against a Terminator programmed to kill Sarah will most likely result in a violent death. The line in question: "John gave me a picture of you once. I memorised every line. Every curve. I came across time for you, Sarah." Though considering the alternative in the future... and John Conner gave the picture of Sarah to Kyle specifically to elicit this effect... Kyle being his Father thanks to time Travel, and all.
'80s Hair: The hair, dear sweet Lord the hair. The scene where Sarah and her roommate are primping at home could be put in a time capsule as evidence of 1980s hair.
Establishing Character Moment: The T-800 punking three punks during one of its first scenes when they don't comply and become confrontational. It comes across them naked, displaying a decidedly non-human behaviour, it is unaffected by a knife thrust and then delivers a gruesome blow to one with its bare hands.
Averted; Sarah and Kyle have probably the most plot-critical sex scene of all time.
Also played straight, though, in the form of male Fanservice. Watch the opening scenes of that movie (both Kyle and the T-800 are naked, courtesy of their time transport. They are both very, very well-built, and Kyle particularly stays at the least shirtless for a good long while) and tell me that wasn't intended as fanservice, on some level.
Finger Twitching Revival: Reese shoots the Terminator several times with a sawed-off shotgun when it tries to move in on Sarah in Tech Noir. Shortly after it hits the floor, its fingers twitch, offering the audience their first clue that the big scary guy isn't human.
555: The number at the nightclub that Sarah is hiding at, and the number of the motel where she hides with Kyle.
Feet-First Introduction: The Teminator and Reese when they come from the past. Of course, it's a James Cameron movie.
Florence Nightingale Effect: Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Reese gets shot in the preceeding scene and Sarah notices it after what must have been an hour or so seeing as how they drove until they ran out of gas. Cue Major Injury Underreaction from Reese. Sarah flips out of course and proceeds to bandage up his arm, apparently oblivious to the obvious Male Gaze she's getting. It's a pretty important scene for their relationship, as Sarah finds out Reese's first name. Bonus points for hissing sound, btw.
Guns Akimbo: The T-800 with a shotgun in the left hand and a fully automatic assault rifle in the right. Both weapons that are not even supposed to be shot one-handed. Justified in that he's a cyborg from the future with computerized targeting and superhuman strength.
Hand Wave: Kyle Reese's general ignorance regarding how he was sent back in time. This is invoked twice; once when he is discussing how he got there with Sarah ("one possible future...I don't know tech stuff") and when he is being analyzed by Doctor Silberman ("Something about the bio-filters...I didn't build the fucking thing!"). Also averts As You Know.
The novelization makes a point to mention that Ginger's performance during sex is...enhanced by whatever she's listening to, which is why Matt, in the movie, can be seen turning the volume up on her Walkman.
When the gas tanker explodes, supposedly taking the T-800 with it, Kyle and Sarah embrace and triumphant music swells all around them...until the Terminator rises from the flames and they realize that the killing machine is still coming.
Happens again after Reese's Heroic Sacrifice. Sarah gets a few seconds to mourn his death...and then the top half of the Terminator sits up and reaches for her.
The titular character had to run over some children's toys to establish that he is evil. Never mind that he'd already killed (at least) two people in exceptionally ruthless fashion. It becomes a bit of foreshadowing, since the toy semi is the same model as the real one the Terminator will drive later in the movie.
There's also a very literal example, as the humanoid Terminator in Kyle's future flashback uses his machine gun to mow down the guard dogs who detected him, although there's a Gory Discretion Shot.
The Kindnapper: Kyle Reese kidnaps Sarah Connor to save her from the titular character.
The Load: Sarah Connor, being a relatively airheaded fast food waitress.
Love Before First Sight: Reese claims to have fallen for a photograph of Sarah. The photo was in fact taken of Sarah while she was thinking of what to tell John about his father...Reese.
Lowered Monster Difficulty: Justified Trope; it made sense that the Terminator was getting weaker by the end, due to all the damage it has slowly been accumulating throughout the movie. The suspense lay in the fact that the heroes had been getting hurt and killed too.
Silberman scoffs at the prospects of the Terminator, and he leaves just as the Terminator arrives at the station. He's looking at his pager when it first walks in.
In Tech Noir, Sarah knocks over a bottle and bends down behind a table to pick it from the ground just when the Terminator is looking at her direction, missing her.
Monster Munch: The three punks at the beginning, with a touch of Asshole Victim. The fate of the less antagonistic one is ambiguous. The novelization has him killed too after he gives in his clothes.
More Dakka: The T-800's assault on the police station.
Mugging the Monster: A trio of hoodlums decides that it's a good idea to pick on a Herculean naked man walking around at night. While it's generally not a good idea to start fights with crazed weightlifters, the punks probably would have been at an advantage had their intended victim not been a killbot from the future. Also played with, in that the Terminator is essentially mugging them (of their clothes, that is) before they decide to take out their knives.
Naked People Are Funny: The punks in the beginning are amused by the nakedness of the T-800 and tease it a little; "Nice night for a walk, wash day tomorrow, nothing clean, right?". It gets gruesome afterwards.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: Kylr Reese has a barcode tattoo that is similar in vein to the numbered tattoos given to those imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.
Near Villain Victory: The Terminator comes insanely close to murdering Sarah Connor in the Tech Noir club and accomplishing SkyNet's mission. He scours the club, and when he finally spots Sarah, the scene shifts to slow-mo with a droning metallic theme in the background. He calmly walks over and targets his gun's laser sight directly at her head, as Kyle grabs his shotgun from across the room and frantically tries to get the other people out of the way. The Terminator is less than a second from blowing her brains all over the floor when Kyle blasts him.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Sarah looks up Cyberdyne System's address in a phone book. together, she and Kyle concoct a plan to blow up Cyberdyne and stop the rise of skynet. The Terminator follows them. the Twerminator's remains, inclujding the chip, are found at Cyberdyne, where they are taken to be studied.
Noodle Incident: How DID Reese get that big wad of cash he used to pay the motel room? It's a fair assumption he spent the day stealing what he needed, but it's not really addressed.
No Place for Me There: A deleted scene had Kyle Reese breaking down in tears as he laments that he doesn't belong in the world of 1984, which to him feels like Paradise compared to the Hell Hole future he comes from. And knowing it was all doomed just made it worse.
Nothing Is Scarier: Intentionally filmed to invoke this. Apart from when he rescues Sarah at "Tech Noir" and his death, Reese otherwise never appears in the same frame as the Terminator at any other point of the film, instead having the camera focus on either him or the Terminator.
Our Zombies Are Different: Although strictly speaking not undead per-se, the T-800's increasingly decayed and putrified form, not to mention its increasingly robotic and shambling gait as its form is punishingly pulverized by speeding vehicles clearly invokes the image of a murderous living corpse.
Out of the Inferno: The famous scene where the T-800 rises from the wreckage of the fuel tanker, all of its artificial skin having been burned off in the explosion, straight from the fever-induced nightmares of the director himself.
Parking Garage: Reese and the T-800 have a couple of gunfights in these.
Pay Phone: To find Sarah Connor's address, both the Terminator and Reese go to a pay phone and rip out the page containing the listing of the three addresses of women named Sarah Connor. See also the item on Fridge Logic.
Pet the Dog: Reese instinctively allows the dog at the roadside hotel to sniff him. They use dogs to sniff out Terminators where he comes from.
Plasma Cannon: While ordering guns the T-800 asks for a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range. Presumably the ray guns seen in the future sequences are the plasmacannon the Terminator was asking for.
Police Are Useless: Downplayed. The police are shown to be highly intelligent, figuring out the pattern of the killings almost immediately, take advantage of the power of the press to warn Sarah Connor, and can readily explain the mysterious gunman's seemingly superhuman invulnerability. They're just Wrong Genre Savvy. Furthermore, their armament in the precinct station (up to M16 rifles) demonstrates they're definitely ready for most disturbances. Unfortunately, the Terminator is just too tough for them.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Lieutenant Traxler is quite competent and unlike his fellow officers, he doesn't laugh at the possibility that Reese may not be lying or crazy. He even comes to believe Reese in a deleted scene when he's dying, telling him to protect Sarah, and even gives him his revolver.
Reckless Gun Usage: Intentionally invoked in the gun shop scene. Artistic License - Gun Safety is partially averted, with the owner telling the T-800 he needs to wait two weeks to purchase the handguns, and getting alarmed when he starts loading them. note He still makes some really dumb mistakes, though, see Too Dumb to Live below.
Gunshop Owner: Hey, you can't do that!
Red Eyes, Take Warning: The T-800, once its red optical sensors are exposed. Made even more chilling with the red-tinted display when the T-800's perspective is shown.
Arnold Schwarzenegger underwent weeks of weapons training before starting the film and wound up garnering a compliment from Soldier of Fortune magazine for his realistic handling of the weapons on camera (also something of a minor Moment Of Awesome, because Soldier of Fortune usually ridicules movies for their unrealistic weapon handling). Also, Schwarzenegger served in the Austrian Army (he actually went AWOL at one point to win his first bodybuilding competition), so he already had some knowledge of firearms.
Also seen when cars are hot-wired realistically.
Serial Killer: The film starts as a variation of this genre of film.
Sarah Connor, again. Though John has some of this in his character as well, due to being raised the way he has.
Not forgetting a certain Kyle Reese, are we?
Everyone in Kyle's flashback has varying degrees of Shell-Shockedness.
Slasher Movie: A textbook example of this genre. It is fundamentally the story of a (literally) Made of IronSerial Killer who stalks his young female victims by picking their addresses out of a phone book.
Stable Time Loop: The events of the first movie set up a simple, self-contained time loop with Sarah and Kyle. Compared to the rest of the series as a whole, it's very straightforward, as evidenced by the photograph of Sarah Connor which Sarah gives to John to give to Kyle to describe to Sarah.
A Storm Is Coming: In the final moments of the film, while Sarah is waiting at a gas station, a Mexican child takes her photo (the same one that Kyle later sees and falls in love with her from). Right after, the child mentions the incoming storm in Spanish, which the gas station attendant translates to Sarah as a storm is coming; the pregnant Sarah replies "I know."
The owner of the gun shop leaves a box of shotgun shells on the counter where the Terminator can just take them. The Terminator does wait until the owner's attention is on getting the paperwork together for all these guns to load the shotgun that it's holding, but he's not at all suspicious of a guy dressed like a street punk (in a time when dressing that way stereotyped you as a violent thug to begin with...) buying that many high-powered firearms in one sitting, not even when the guy asks for a plasma rifle, a gun that doesn't exist.
The street punks whom the T-800 mugged for their clothes. Provided they did not know he was a killer cyborg from the future but still... see Mugging the Monster.
Deliberately invoked by Arnold's make-up artists. Not only is his face given a thin coating of some kind of shiny goop to give his skin a faux-artifical appearance, but his eyebrows were shaved to subtly creep out the viewer even more. In-story, the Terminator gets his eyebrows removed when Reese blows up a car and it runs through the flames anyway. That's also when Reese makes The Reveal about the Terminator's cyborg nature.
How the survivors identified the 600 series, what with their rubber skin and such.
Unintentional Period Piece: The entire sequence at Tech Noir, a nightclub that could not be more '80s if it tried. Most of the movie, actually. The Honda scooter. Oh, the technology, including the old answering machine and gigantic video tape recorder in the police station...Plus, of course, the hairstyles and clothes on all of the actors.
Unwitting Pawn: It's strongly implied that John Connor deliberately manipulated Reese into falling in love with his mother by giving him her picture. And then he had to send his own father back in time to certain doom, just to make sure he would exist to save the world. Reese never knew his true role in the bigger picture, never realizing he was fighting for his own son. Must have been heart breaking for John.Pretty heavy...
Villains Blend in Better: The T-800 knows exactly how to find his target, disguise, weapons etc., while Reese seems to be simply lucky.
What Happened to the Mouse? : Sarah had a pet iguana, good for a Cat Scare in the first film. What happened to it? And was the dog at the end of the first film Max in the second film (he'd be pretty elderly)?
What Year Is This?: Appears, although questioning under gunpoint is required to receive the (incomplete) answer. The questioned police officer, whom Kyle Reese has just disarmed, gives him the date and day of the week, but balks and looks confused when Kyle demands to know the year.
Wrong Genre Savvy: The police believe themselves to be in a standard Slasher Movie. To their credit, they would have done very well against, say, Jason Voorhees. As soon as they receive the death certificates of the first two ladies named Sarah Connor, they send out a news bulletin to warn any other Sarah Connors that might be out there as well as their friends and family, and they keep officers on the 911 lines just in case one of the Sarahs calls in. Then they bust open a crate of M16s and hide Sarah behind a wall of guns. If the titular Terminator wasn't Immune to Bullets, the movie would have been over in about 25 minutes.
You Shall Not Pass: Reese blows up the endoskeleton in his last action and tries to jump to safety, but to no avail.