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Film / The Terminator

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"I'll be back."
The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire.
Their war to exterminate mankind has raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.
It would be fought here, in our present.
Opening title card

The Terminator is a 1984 action/Science Fiction thriller film, the first film in the Terminator franchise and the second feature film directed by James Cameron. The film differs from its successors in its Action Horror angle, compared to the more strictly action-focused direction of later installments.

One night in 1984, two men emerge naked from two separate electrical storms in Los Angeles. One, played by Michael Biehn, stays low and out of sight to avoid the authorities. The other, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, picks up a phone book so he can find women named Sarah Connor — and kill them. When a young diner waitress also named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) hears that two people with her name have been killed within a day, she begins to worry about the killer coming for her next. As the killer murders two people in Sarah's home in an effort to find her, Sarah hides in a nightclub; the killer catches up with her there, but she is rescued by the other man, Kyle Reese.

Kyle explains his story to Sarah after they escape the killer: in the near future, the United States will transfer control over its strategic defense to SkyNet, an artificial intelligence system that will promptly turn 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 before its final defeat, SkyNet will send a T-800 model Terminator — an android 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.

A sequel with a much bigger budget and a marked shift towards action, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, came out in 1991.

Come with me if you want to trope:

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    Tropes A–F 
  • 555: The number at the nightclub that Sarah is hiding at, and the number of the motel where she hides with Kyle.
  • '80s Hair: The scene where Sarah and her roommate are primping at home could be put in a time capsule as the definition of 1980s hair. The crowd at Tech-Noir display a whole range of examples, from punk spikes to Madonna-clone to Miami Vice.
  • Abduction Is Love: Kyle Reese falls in love with Sarah and they become close — this being after she violently resists his rescue attempt at first.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Kyle Reece strokes the hair of a sleeping Sarah Connor, only to quickly snatch his hand away when the gesture wakes her up. This is after the flashback scene showing he kept a photograph of her as a treasured possession in the future.
  • After-Action Patch-Up: Sarah bandages Kyle after he gets shot, which enables the pair to bond further.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Skynet became self-aware, sentient, and nuked more than half the human race with their own nuclear weapons, and is sending robot units to finish off any survivors of the nuclear holocaust.
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: Dr. Silberman isn't for one moment going to take stories of time-traveling killer cyborgs seriously.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • In the novelization, Kyle deliberately shoots the Terminator's arm after it had its laser sight pointed at Sarah. If he'd shot it anywhere else, it would have killed her anyway. This shot is the one that resulted in the injured arm we see it repairing in a later scene. Further, this fact is actually included in the film but Kyle's amazing shot is very obscured by a Freeze-Frame Bonus. In slow motion, you can actually see the shotgun slug knock the Terminator's arm away just as it fires.
    • The series of Terminator that's targeting Sarah is never mentioned in the film—only its make and model. In the novel, Kyle ponders if the machine is a 700 series or 800 series, hoping against hope that it was the former. To his horror, he quickly realizes it's the latter.
    • The novel also states the reason that the Terminator runs away after the parking garage chase. Thanks to Reese shooting it in the eye, the Terminator was stunned and blinded enough to crash its police car at high speed. note  The impact was so powerful that it actually knocked the T-800 unconscious for a few seconds as its systems reset. By the time it awoke, the police were closing in and with the Terminator's eye and arm injuries (both of which, we'll remind you, were caused by a police-issue shotgun), the Terminator chose to run away and repair itself rather than risk fighting a battle it might not win.
    • Deleted scenes show that Sarah and Kyle were building pipe bombs to try to destroy Skynet, not attack the Terminator. A subplot had Sarah come to the realization that even if they managed to destroy the T-800, Skynet would just send another one after her and keep going until she was dead (although in the finished film Kyle says the humans were supposed to destroy the time travel equipment after he went through to prevent this). This marks a notable shift in her character, where she goes from frantically running and relying on Kyle to pressuring him to help her destroy Skynet once and for all. She planned to use the pipe bombs to blow up the Cyberdyne Systems facility that would eventually create Skynet. This also explains that her and Kyle ending up in the Cyberdyne robotics factory at the climax wasn't an accident, they were deliberately planning to blow the place to hell. This storyline would later be followed up on as a major subplot of the sequel.
    • While the hotel janitor is credited as the Cleaning Man in the movie, the novelization reveals his real name is Rodney.
    • At the end of the novelization, two techs discover the Terminator's CPU amongst the debris in the factory. Knowing they have made an exciting discovery, they decide to set up their own company, which becomes Cyberdyne Systems. A deleted scene in the movie reveals that the factory in the climax was actually Cyberdyne Systems.
  • Ammunition Backpack: Terminators in the future sequences wear a backpack to fuel their plasma guns.
  • Animals Hate Him: Dogs are shown to bark like crazy whenever a Terminator is present. It's not training, as dogs reacted this way to Skynet's machines even before the Terminators were built.
  • Ankle Drag: In the climax, as the legless T-800 keeps grabbing for Sarah's ankle as she crawls away from it, staying barely ahead.
  • 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.
  • Anthropic Principle: The film relying on an Idiot Ball or Contrived Coincidence (Sarah just keeps making unlucky phone calls!) to make sure the Terminator can stay on her tail. If the film is a cat-and-mouse chase not set in a small, confined space (ship, island, mansion, etc.), then there has to be something to keep the mouse from easily getting away. If the Terminator had an unerring way of tracking them there would be no way from Sarah and Kyle to temporarily hide and rest. If the Terminator doesn't have some special way of tracking them then the plot either has to set up contrivances to allow the chase to continue (as it does in the film) or the quarry escapes and the chase (and the film!) is over. So, eliminating these contrived plot devices would change the nature of the story, and not necessarily in a good way.
  • Artistic License:
    • May 12, 1984 was a Saturday, not a Thursday. This may be because the script was written in 1983, which did have May 12 fall on Thursday. 1984 was a leap year.
    • Averted with the pipe bombs Kyle throws at the T-800 during the Car Chase. While they don't seem to do much more than make a bang and cloud of smoke, it's in fact a very accurate portrayal. Besides the realistic visuals, the blast when a bomb is in direct contact with a target is shown to be realistically destructive, and fragmentation from a homemade device is also realistically uneven (failing to damage even the tires on the motorcycle the Terminator is riding). Modern grenades use notched wire or ready fragments for a reason.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The writers have admitted the whole "only things surrounded by living tissue can go back in time" rule has no scientific basis and was conceived purely as a Drama-Preserving Handicap. Without that rule Reese could just bring a BFG or two back with him to kill the Terminator and the movie would be over in five minutes.
  • Artistic License – Cars: 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 – Gun Safety:
    • In reality, very few gun stores keep live ammo within a customer's reach on the countertop for reasons that should be obvious even if you haven't seen the film and know what becomes of the gun shop owner. Some stores might have crates of ammunition for sales or special deals on the floor, but gun store employees would pull their own sidearms on any customer who grabbed a box of ammo and had a live weapon in their hands at the same time. Not that a mere sidearm would have any hope of intimidating, much less stopping the Terminator, of course.
    • Kyle steals a gun that has been left on the seat of an open and unlocked police car. While the cop who was this careless did unwittingly help save humanity by letting a shotgun fall into Kyle's hands, one sincerely hopes he was summarily fired for his gross stupidity.
  • Artistic License – Law: The T-800 obtains a fully automatic AR-18 and Uzi, which is also equipped with a 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-800 converted to full auto using tools stolen earlier.
  • Asshole Victim: The T-800's encounter with the three punks, its first human contact after it arrives in the present day. They start by making fun of the Terminator, but things turn deadly when one of them stabs it — to no effect. The cyborg responds by ripping the punk's heart out. This is the first hint that the Terminator is not to be fucked with, and no one will shed any tears for the dead punks.
  • A-Team Firing: Zig-Zagged. Like most '80s action films, most characters fire everything from the hip, and how effective it is depends on who they're shooting at. Reese, Vudovich, and several others hit the Terminator dead-on with hip-fire, but of course, it has little effect. The Terminator, meanwhile, both hip fires and uses proper aiming techniques, which works fine against the police, but is less effective against our heroes. Presumably a killbot should be able to calculate trajectories no matter which method it used.
  • Babies Ever After: At the end of the movie, Sarah Connor is pregnant with her son; preventing or ensuring this was the whole point of the plot.
  • B-Movie: A cybernetic assassin from the year 2029 arrives in the present day, on a mission to assassinate the mother-to-be of the child who will become the leader of the human resistance against the machines. A classic example of a B-movie done good: on a limited budget with one previously noteworthy star and an unknown director, it became a box office and critical hit, launched the career of James Cameron, gave Arnold Schwarzenegger his trademark catchphrase, catapulted Michael Biehn into his career as an action actor, and spawned five sequels, a bunch of novels, video games, a TV series, comics, and countless homages, parodies and imitations.
  • Bad Future: This film set the gold standard for apocalyptic nightmare future scenarios in film, with its smog-choked skies, cities turned to rubble and cramped, miserable underground hideouts. Interestingly, it's also something of an Unbuilt Trope, in that despite the seemingly Hopeless War and unfathomably bleak living conditions, humanity is still destined to win, and Skynet becomes so desperate as to resort to time travel in order to save itself. The bleakness of Kyle's dream-memory is partially down to just comparing our present to his "present" (an idea not fully explored in the final film) and having to hunt a T-800 bringing back memories of a particularly bad day when a different T-800 managed to break into the bunker he was stationed in.
  • Back from the Brink:
    • This is how Kyle Reese narrates the war between humans and machines:
      Kyle Reese: There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah...Defense network computers. New, powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination... Most of us were rounded up, put into camps for orderly disposal... Some of us were kept alive, to work, loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day — We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah — your unborn son.
    • When asked why Skynet went through all of the trouble of time travel instead of focusing on killing Connor in the future, Reese explains that they had in fact completely turned it around: "Skynet's defense grid was smashed. We'd won. Taking out Connor then would have made no difference."
  • Bait-and-Switch:
  • Ballistic Discount: The T-800 doesn't have any money to purchase weapons from the gun store, so it just murders the owner and takes them.
  • Ballroom Blitz: Tech Noir gets blitzed, everybody stops their eighties-style dancing and run 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: Detective Vukovich is blasted with a spray of rifle bullets and buckshot. The only evidence of his death is a split-second grunt.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Sarah retains immaculate hair throughout the entire movie, despite all the stressful and traumatic action she's subjected to.
    • In one of Kyle's flashbacks of the future, a fellow Resistance fighter removes her helmet to reveal that perfect makeup that hasn't been hindered by the apocalypse.
  • Beeping Computers: A machine doesn't really need to have an audible Dialogue Tree explicitly shown on its vision display during conversations, as it doesn't provide any real functional advantage and it's the kind of thing that gets processed internally. It's mostly for the audience's benefit; really cool and iconic.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: Lt. Traxler gives one to Det. Vukovich when he starts telling an unnecessary story to Sarah in the police station while they are explaining how the Terminator could have done the things she said it did.
    Lt. Traxler: [shows Sarah a Bulletproof Vest] Sarah, this is what they call body armor. Our tac guys wear these. It'll stop a 12-gauge round. This other individual must have been wearing one under his coat. Feel that.
    Sarah: [feels the vest] But what about when he punched through the windshield?
    Det. Vukovich: He's probably on PCP. Broke every bone in his hand and won't feel it for hours. There was this guy once, you see this scar...?
    [Lt. Traxler shoves the armor into Det. Vukovich's chest]
    Det. Vukovich: Thank you. [Det. Vukovich takes the vest and leaves]
  • Bested by the Inexperienced: Sarah Connor is able to beat an unstoppable death machine without any real training. Somewhat downplayed in that by the time she faces off with the Terminator alone, it has been seriously damaged (in fact it's been blown in half) by Kyle Reese, who is not only an experienced soldier but has faced off with terminators before.
  • BFG: The future Terminator's laser/plasma cannons.
  • Big Badass Rig: The T-800 chases down the main characters in an International Harvester Transtar fuel truck.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: After Kyle Reese dies, Sarah Connor is shown pregnant with their son, John.
  • 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.
  • Blown Across the Room: The disco scene. The Terminator, being an android with an armored chassis and probably weighing several hundred kilograms, is knocked about repeatedly by blasts from a 12 gauge shotgun. The impact should not have done more than mess up his skin a bit. If the Terminator weighs the same amount as a human, he still shouldn't have been thrown around the way he was.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Kyle's attraction to Sarah is due to John Connor showing a picture of her, which led to Kyle volunteering for the mission. This leads to Sarah conceiving John Connor in the first place, and it seems clear that John Connor knew who his father was and what he was doing in giving the picture to Kyle.
  • Boring, but Practical: The T-800 arms up just in case confrontation is unavoidable but at the police station, The Terminator simply asks to see Sarah Conor and by implication, get a clear chance for a melee attack or shot. The officer at the desk tells the robot that she is unavailable but doesn't find the inquiry suspicious, so the T-800 determines that prolonged battle is inevitable and resorts to ram-raiding the station to seek out Sarah with while armed.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Noticeably averted with reloading scenes or magazines running empty. An exception is the parking garage chase where sloppy editing shows Arnold firing numerous times from a pump-action shotgun without racking the slide or inserting more shells. Or driving. Also it's not clear where Kyle Reese got the spare shells to reload his shotgun, since he is not shown taking any spare ammo when he steals it from the police cruiser early in the film. One must assume that at some point between then and the shootout at the Tech Noir Reese must have found some way to acquire more ammo, perhaps by stealing it from a sporting goods store.
  • 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.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: An accidental version happens during the shoot-out in Tech Noir. The Terminator fires his Uzi at Sarah Connor as she flees the nightclub with the other patrons, but a woman behind Sarah catches the burst and her falling body knocks Sarah to the ground.
  • Buried in a Pile of Corpses: During the Tech Noir shootout, Sarah ends up trapped beneath a patron who was shot earlier by the T-800 and he's about to finish her off with his Uzi when Kyle appears and blows the Terminator out the window.
  • Burn Baby Burn: Sarah Connor's picture burns in a symbolic manner in one of Kyle's dreams/flashbacks.
  • The Cameo: The infiltrator terminator in Kyle's flashback of the future is played by Franco Columbu, Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding partner and longtime friend.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Only living tissue can survive being exposed to the energy of time travel which is why the Terminator needs an outer layer of flesh over its endoskeleton. It's also why it and Kyle Reese have to be Naked on Arrival.
  • Car Chase Shoot-Out: The chase between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor in a car and the T-800 in another in Los Angeles has Reese and the T-800 exchange pump shotgun shots while Sarah drives. The sound of the shotguns has been altered since the mid-2000s.
  • Car Fu:
    • Reese knocks down the Terminator with the pickup truck outside the hotel, giving them time to drive out of the carpark.
    • Sarah uses the pickup to knock down the Terminator on his motorbike but crashes it in the process.
    • The Terminator invokes this upon the police officer who kept telling him to go away and refused to let him see Sarah. This is what it meant when it said "I'll be back".
  • Car Meets House: The Terminator starts his epic rampage through the police station by crashing a car through the front desk.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Reese has a dream of combat against the machines.
  • Catchphrase: Arnold's famous "I'll Be Back."
  • Cat Scare: Sarah bumps into Matt (Matt Scare?) as she leaves her building, and later Ginger is startled by Pugsley the pet lizard.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: At the end, the police arrive only after Sarah has defeated the Terminator.
  • Central Theme: As stated by James Cameron himself...
  • Chase Fight: The finale is both a chase scene and a fight scene.
  • Checkpoint Bluff: How the Terminator attempts to get past the front desk of the police station where Sarah is. When the cop won't let it through, it resorts to its usual methods.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sarah accidentally presses the button to activate the hydraulic press. This draws the Terminator in their direction, but she remembers it later.
  • Cherry Tapping: The protracted way that the Terminator murders Matt (Ginger's boyfriend). By this point in the narrative, it has been established that the machine can kill a human with one punch, and it also had a pistol (which it even used to kill Ginger after it dealt with Matt). So this trope is being played straight when the Terminator insists on spending several minutes throwing poor Matt around like a ragdoll until it finally kills him.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The police dismiss Sarah's claims of the Terminator's abilities through mundane explanations, suggesting that PCP exaggerates strength and causes it to Feels No Pain while being able to shrug off gunshots due to body armor. This attitude leads to the Terminator conducting a raid on the police station, proving Kyle and Sarah's claims.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: Michael Biehn is not an especially small man (in fact, he's only two inches shorter than Arnold) and was in pretty good shape at the time of filming. Yet he spends most of the film running around in baggy pants and a long trench coat that's about two sizes too big, in order to make him look skinnier, both to make him seem even more like the underdog when facing off against the hulking Terminator, and also to make him look as lean, weak, and malnourished as someone living in the Bad Future would realistically be. His body language in the early parts — keeping his head down, crouching/crawling, leaning over, or ducking behind cover — really helps to sell him as a ratty-looking potential serial killer. The first time where we actually get to see how ripped Kyle is comes (naturally) when he and Sarah make love. Conversely, the first outfit the Terminator wears, stolen from those unfortunate thugs at the beginning, is visibly a size too small for Arnold, further emphasizing his bulging muscles and making him look even more hulking and enormous than he already is.
  • Clothesline Stealing: At the beginning, Kyle breaks into a building while running from the police in only pants (that he mugged from a homeless man). By fortunate coincidence, it's a clothing store, so he takes a trenchcoat and shoes before moving on to break into a police car to take an Ithaca 37 shotgun. The trenchcoat is long enough to hide the weapon entirely.
  • Clothing-Concealed Injury: The first car chase between the Terminator and the protagonists leaves the Terminator with a severely damaged left eye. It cuts out the eye and most of the skin around the socket, and uses sunglasses to cover up the injury.
  • Coconut Superpowers: The film 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 stretch this meager budget as far as possible, 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 multiple murdered Sarah Connors. When Sarah is fetched from the restaurant, the newscaster conveniently adds "To recap:" and then repeats the entire story.
  • Color Wash: Everything in the Always Night future apocalypse is tinted a cold mechanical blue.
  • Combat Breakdown: A very drawn-out example happens during the final encounter with the Terminator. Both it and the heroes begin with a car chase. Then both vehicles crash. Kyle was shot during the chase, and the Terminator is then hit and dragged by a truck, leaving both with a limp. The pair runs into a factory to try and lose the Terminator, but wind up trapped and forced to fight in close combat. Kyle using a pipe bomb against it leaves the Terminator blown in half, Kyle dead, and Sarah with a severely injured leg. Sarah and the Terminator are both reduced to crawling and the chase continues.
  • Come with Me If You Want to Live: The Trope Namer. Here, Reese says it to Sarah just before they escape from Tech Noir.
  • Compromising Call: Inverted. Sarah is the one in danger and tries to call her friend Ginger to warn her of the killer that's stalking her. Unfortunately for Sarah, Ginger is already dead and the voice mail Sarah leaves lets the Terminator know not only that it killed the wrong woman but exactly where Sarah is.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted, as during the Terminator's rampage through the police precinct, it 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 a man on PCP wearing body armor. 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...
  • Contrived Coincidence: In a case of really bad timing, Sarah calls Ginger, letting the Terminator know that it hasn't successfully killed Sarah Connor just moments after killing Ginger.
  • Cool Code of Source: The T-800 has 6502 assembly code scrolling on the Robo Cam. 6502 Assembly code, generally acknowledged as Apple II code originally taken from Nibble Magazine.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Tech Noir, absolutely filled with people dressed and dancing to the absolute height of (mid-80s) fashion.
  • Cop Killer Manhunt: The T-800 massacres an entire police station in an attempt to get to Sarah Connor. Radio reports later reveal that quite predictably, a national 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 that night.
  • Costume Inertia: The terminator does not seem to care much about what clothes to wear. He just takes what is at hand and that's all. Sure, why care even if it is a biker/street punk outfit that one would definitely not want to wear if the goal is about keeping a low profile and looking like an average Joe. It is clear that it is for the Rule of Cool but nevertheless... Really, changing the clothes would be just a sound and logical action.
  • Crapsack World: Future LA. You can't move by day at all, only at night. Even then, you have to be careful because the machines use infra-red. HKs hunt for any living thing to brutally and clinically murder. Humankind itself lives underground in squalid hovels. Hovels that from time to time get infiltrated by Terminators. A deleted scene shows Kyle suffering a Heroic Breakdown when he laments how beautiful the world used to be compared to the hellish Bad Future he came from. For short, Mechanical Abominations stalk the land and roam the skies, human skulls and destroyed buildings have replaced trees and grass as the dominant natural feature, and humanity itself has been Reduced to Ratburgers.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Co-writer William Wisher is the cop who tries to help the T-800 and gets knocked out for his efforts.
    • In a meta example, the police unit watching Sara's apartment is called away because of a robbery at the corner of Third (emphasized to sound like producer Gale Ann Hurd) and Cameron.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The shootout inside the police station. We later learn in Judgement Day that no less than seventeen police officers were massacred in their hopeless defense against the Terminator. By the time it is over, anybody who lived to tell about has already fled the scene.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion:
    • In the future war scenes, humans are typically on the receiving end of the beatdown, but Kyle does manage to destroy an HK Tank (and of course dialogue makes clear that by the time Kyle is sent back in time, humanity had won the war).
    • Each encounter with the Terminator results in demonstrating that it does have weaknesses. After the first time it chases Sarah and Kyle, it has to go back to its hideout to repair its arm and eye. After the second shootout, its skin disguise begins to malfunction and rot. After the third chase, it walks with a limp and its HUD has static.
    • While Ginger's hapless boyfriend Matt didn't have an icicle's chance in hell of beating the Terminator in hand-to-hand combat, he hung in a lot longer than anyone would expect, even managing to tackle the cybernetic killing machine hard enough to make it stagger back.
  • Darkened Building Shootout:
    • The Terminator shorts out the fuse box in the police station, as with his infrared vision he doesn't need light to see.
    • The Smoke and Fire Factory at the conclusion of the film.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Sarah delivers one to the Terminator when she finds a way to finally destroy it: "You're terminated, fucker!"
  • Death by Irony: The Terminator is ultimately destroyed by an unstoppable, remorseless machine. In this case, a large pneumatic press that Sarah lures it into.
  • Destination Defenestration: This is what the Terminator does to nearly everyone it fights. Sometimes it picks someone up and looks around for window to toss them through.
  • Determinator: Both Kyle Reese and, of course, the Terminator, the latter being a big-time Trope Codifier (if not the partial Trope Namer).
    • Kyle wasn't kidding when he said the T-800 absolutely will. not. stop. until it completes its mission. During the climax, Kyle manages to plant a pipebomb that blows the T-800 all to hell sadly killing himself in the process. But then, the 800's upper-half, still intact, was able to regain function and continue after Sarah. It took a hydraulic press to finally stop the damn thing at the last second.
    • Kyle himself will never stop either. It took a pipe bomb explosion to put him down.
    • Humanity itself in the Bad Future. Notice how horrible, desperate, and outgunned the survivors are in the future. Now remember that the reason Skynet sends the Terminator is because the humans still win.
  • Dialogue Tree: Seen from the T-800's POV in one scene, when it considers its response options to a janitor inquiring about the smell in the motel room it's hiding out in. It eventually decides on "Fuck you, asshole", a phrase learned from the punks.
  • Door Handle Scare: Subverted. When the T-800 assaults the police station, Sarah hides in a room under a desk. Then we see a shadow approaching the door, the camera closes up on the door handle getting turned. Then the window gets smashed in. It's not the T-800 but Reese.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: During the climax, the blast from Reese's last pipe bomb blows the Terminator's legs off, but also knocks Sarah off a ladder she was climbing and drives a piece of shrapnel into her leg. Even after pulling it out, she can barely crawl away from the Terminator's upper body once it starts chasing her again.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock:
    • Reese does one after sawing off the stock and barrel of his shotgun. He pumps the shotgun three times: Once when he cuts the barrel off, once when he wakes up from his dream, and once in Tech Noir before he starts blasting. It would seem that he pointlessly ejected two good shells, or he was walking around with it empty and was, ahem, pumping it for fun. Or he had the chamber empty for safety reasons. A good precaution if you have nightmares that make you rack the action of your shotgun.
    • In Tech Noir, right before he attempts to shoot Sarah Connor, the Terminator cocks the pistol. (Since his .45 is a "single-action automatic", meaning the hammer must be cocked in order to fire, this is justified.)
  • Drone of Dread: A frightful metallic-sounding droning theme plays as the Terminator prepares to shoot Sarah Connor in the nightclub.
  • 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 memorized every line. Every curve. I came across time for you, Sarah." Though considering the alternative in the future... and John Connor gave the picture of Sarah to Kyle specifically to elicit this effect... Kyle being his Father thanks to time travel, and all.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The time jump is depicted by only blue lightning and doesn't include the sphere which instantly destroys whatever it touches nearby. Safe to say that had the sphere been there, Kyle would likely have had more luck convincing Dr. Silberman of his story. When Terminator Genisys recreated these scenes, they showed the spheres forming.
    • Ginger's boyfriend Matt brawls with the Terminator when he bursts into their house. It is, of course, a Curb-Stomp Battle, but he somehow manages to keep the Terminator occupied for a good half minute or so, even managing to shove the Terminator backwards a few steps at one point. In later Terminator media, any human going up against a Terminator in hand-to-hand would get killed instantly.
    • Similarly the T-800's mass and sheer resistance to injury was not set; the script wasn't originally written with Arnold Schwarzenegger in mind and allowed for a "smaller" Terminator. It's not until T2 that the walking tank that's always the police station massacre unflinching toughness is truly codified.
    • The zombie-like decay seen on the Terminator over the course of the film as he takes damage isn't seen again in later films or media, and some Terminator media such as The Sarah Connor Chronicles even mention that Terminator living tissue has a moderate capacity for self-regeneration, and by Terminator Genisys an entire missing arm's worth of flesh can grow back, given enough time (several years). Possibly justified that, according to Reese (at least in the original timeline), Terminators with real skin are relatively new, so Skynet presumably was unable to create regenerative skin by the time it is defeated.
    • Arnie has more facial expressions than in later movies, where there's more emphasis on a Terminator's emotionless facade, with the reactions evolving as they interact more with humans. Justified, as this Terminator's CPU is in read-only mode.
    • The climax looks like something that you would usually see in a horror movie. While later films are similar in that they have a Terminator cornering the protagonists in an enclosed space, their climaxes are more action-oriented than this movie's.
    • So far, this is the only Terminator film where a T-800 from the future isn't portrayed by Arnie, but his friend Franco Columbu. Every disguised T-800 is portrayed by Arnold after this film.
    • The film itself is also unusual compared to its successors in the sense that it's played much closer to a horror film than an action film, even following some Slasher Movie tropes; Wikipedia even used to classify it as a horror movie, to boot.
    • On a production quality scale, this was an independent film with a lower budget, to the point that Cameron had no permit to film the final shot, and had to lie to the police that he was doing his son's film school project in order to get the work done. This was in contrast to the big-budgeted, visual effects-laden studio sequels.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: This is how we get the first look at the Terminator's real body.
  • 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.
      "Wash day tomorrow, nothing clean!"
    • Kyle Reese's arrival, by contrast, shows him in pain from his time travel trip, stealing the pants from a vagrant, and running from the police. At the same time, he spares the officers he confronts and manages to escape them while finding clothes, establishing clear inferiority to the T-800, but also Reese's quick wits, and more importantly, his humanity.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Reese is able to blow up a parked car with two shots from his shotgun outside the Tech Noir. Though the trope is justified due to Kyle specifically aiming for the gas tank.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: The metallic bangs in the main theme were done by Brad Fiedel hitting the microphone with a frying pan.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Dogs are shown to bark like crazy whenever a Terminator is present.
    • The Resistance uses dogs to screen survivors attempting to enter human refuges, and a pack of them go wild in the flashback scene where a T-800 gets in and starts slaughtering people.
    • A pet dog barks madly as the Terminator walks up to the home of a wrong Sarah Connor. Even as the robot leaves the premises after killing her, the dog is still woofing.
    • While hiding out in the motel, Kyle and Sarah are alerted to the T-800's presence by a German Shepherd's loud barks.
    • Near the ending, Sarah brings a dog with her for good measure, wondering if the next human is actually a Terminator.
  • Evil Is Bigger: Michael Biehn is not an especially small guy (in fact, he's only two inches shorter than Schwarzenegger) but he looks like a skinny teenager next to the hulking, musclebound Terminator, who in turn looks like it could snap the petite Linda Hamilton in half with one hand.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The T-800's flesh takes a lot of damage both due to combat and its own surgery to repair damage. Late in the movie, one scene shows that the flesh is discolored and has begun to rot, attracting flies. A janitor asks if there's a "dead cat in there", but the robot responds rudely and resumes its chase against Sarah.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie's plot takes place over 2-3 days, apart from an epilogue set a few months later; the story begins on a Thursday night, and the last shot before the epilogue takes place on Sunday morning.
  • Eye Lights Out: The sign that the Terminator is finally destroyed after it is crushed in a hydraulic press is its red eyes going out.
  • Eye Scream: The T-800's "self-repair" scene starts with the Terminator turning on the light in its hotel room, revealing that its left "eye" is badly damaged. Since this would obviously draw attention if left uncovered, it uses an X-Acto knife to cut out the dead "eye" and the eyelids, leaving a hole that exposes the endoskeleton's eye underneath, and puts on sunglasses to cover the hole.
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • One of the cops searching for Reese in the department store walks right past the novelty photo booth Reese is hiding in without even giving it a glance.
    • A big guy matching the description of the Sarah Connor killer walks into a police station and asks to see Sarah Connor, and the police officer at the front desk doesn't seem the least bit suspicious. Not that he would have been much of a deterrent to the T-800 either way.
  • Fanservice:
    • Averted with Sarah and Kyle, who have a noticeably plot-critical sex scene, with it being how John Connor comes to exist.
    • Shown 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). Arnie also goes above and beyond. In his scene with the punks, he really is fully nude. No conveniently placed fabric over his junk, even if it's visible on screen for only a second.
  • Fantastic Romance: Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect the mother of future human resistance leader John Connor and ends up fathering him as well.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The Terminator and Reese when they come from the future. Of course, it's a James Cameron movie.
  • 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.
  • First-Episode Twist: The fact that its title-character is a time-traveling cyborg and its reasons for targeting all women named Sarah Connor, to prevent the birth of her future son, John Connor. Then there's the entire Stable Time Loop that the first and second film sets up regarding Kyle Reese being John's father and the Terminators being both the precursors to Skynet (both directly as agents and indirectly when Cyberdine builds upon their remnants) as well as things Skynet invented in the future.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Kyle Reese frequently had nightmares relating to the war against Skynet as well as his hiding from the various HKs and Terminators.
  • Flies Equals Evil: As the T-800's disguise starts rotting due to repeated damage, the odor has started attracting flies.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Reese gets shot 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the beginning of the movie, the Terminator drives over a toy semi truck. Towards the end of the movie, it is run over by the same model of semi truck.
    • When Sarah asks Kyle about John Connor, Kyle tells her that John is about his height but has her eyes. When she asks who the father is, Kyle tells her that he doesn't know much except that he died before the Robot War. But Sarah doesn't want to know. All of this foreshadows that Kyle is John's father, and that he won't survive the film.
    • Not strictly time-travel related—deleted scenes show that Sarah was starting to become the tough, determined woman that the future knew her as after she, on her own initiative, tracks down Cyberdyne Systems HQ and talks Reese into going with her to blow it up (and threatening to leave him behind if he won't).
    • When Kyle exits the clothing store, he walks past a sign that says "Save on women's quality shoes", with the words "save women" visible under the streetlights, hinting that he's the one tasked with saving Sarah.
    • Just before that, he opens the door to a cop car to steal a shotgun, revealing the police slogan "to care and to protect".
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": Played for Drama when Sarah Connor is trying to call the police from Tech Noir. When she finally gets through to Detective Traxler, she begs him not to put her on hold or transfer her to another department.
  • From Bad to Worse: Almost stated word for word by the narration of Reese's thoughts in the novel. Reese was expecting that the model sent to kill Sarah was a T-700, which would have been bad enough. But when he saw how fast it got up after being shot through a window, he knew that he was fighting something much, much worse than a 700.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The T-800 does this to a bunch of punks at the start of the film. It ends pretty quickly after he tears the heart out of the chest of one of them...
  • Funny Background Event: When the T-800 breaks the bouncer's hand to gain access into Tech-Noir without paying the cover, as he walks past the desk, at least one person can be seen sneaking in behind him to do the exact same thing, with a man in a black dress shirt jumping to the side of the room and backing himself against the wall as he moves towards the inner dance floor.
  • Future Copter: The Hunter-Killer Aerials are of the ducted jet engine VTOL type.

    Tropes G–L 
  • Gaia's Lament: A deleted scene shows Kyle and Sarah getting into a fight and rolling into a wooded area. Kyle suffers a bit of a Heroic BSoD, and starts to cry when he sees how beautiful the world used to be.
  • Gender Is No Object: Kyle mentions that the women in his timeline are "good fighters", confirming that even females are drafted into the war against Skynet.
  • Get Out!: After getting run over, the T-800 says this to a truck driver. He quickly obliges.
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns:
    • Reese initially steals a police officer's Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver and a stolen pump-action police shotgun, classic "good" weapons, though he does saw off the shotgun's barrel for easier concealment. Later, after escaping the police station, he uses Lt. Traxler's police revolver, another "good" gun.
    • The T-800 gets a collection of "bad" guns via Ballistic Discount at a gun store. Included are a tactical black Armalite AR-18 assault rifle, an Uzi, and an AMT Hardballer .45 Longslide (with a laser sight), all fitting "bad" guns. He also gets a shotgun, a tactical Franchi SPAS-12 with folding stock, which is a semi-auto in contrast to Kyle's pump.
    • When the T-800 assaults the police station, the cops initially fight back with their revolver sidearms. When these prove futile, a few, including Traxler and Vucovich, grab "good" M16s. These are still no match for the Terminator, however.
    • At the end of the movie, Sarah, now pregnant and believing Kyle's warning of the future, has a Ruger Security Six in her lap, a stainless steel revolver.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: Because Skynet has little information about Sarah Connor's 1980s whereabouts other than that she lived in Los Angeles at the time, as soon as he arrives to the past era the Terminator simply looks up "Sarah Connor" in the phone book and goes down the list killing anyone with that name - it even gets him labelled the "phone book killer" by the media.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The machines versus the humans. Nobody expects one side to surrender.
  • Gun Porn: When the T-800 purchases firearms at a gun store, the owner compliments its knowledge of weapons, and adds that all that heavy weaponry is ideal for home defense.
  • Guns Akimbo: The T-800 with an SPAS-12 in the left hand and an AR-18 in the right, neither of which is even supposed to be shot one-handed. Being a cyborg from the future with computerized targeting and superhuman strength, the T-800 even uses both his AMT Hardballer Longslide and Uzi 9 mm one-handed at the Tech Noir scene with his other hand free.
  • Gun Struggle: After Kyle knocks down the T-800 in the Tech Noir with a series of shotgun blasts, a bar patron lunges at him and the two start grappling over the shotgun. This man winds up being gunned down with a hail of bullets when the T-800 draws his Uzi.
  • 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 ("You go naked. Something about the field generated by a living organism. Nothing dead will go. I didn't build the fucking thing!"). Also averts As You Know.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire:
    • Arnold's Terminator never hotwires anything, he does one better. He smashes and rips away the steering column cover, along with the lock cylinder, and then turns the ignition lock shaft with his fingers. Incidentally, due to its strength the whole process literally takes it 5 seconds, about as fast as most people take to start a car with a key.
    • Kyle Reese easily hotwires a car as well.
  • Head Crushing: A desperate Sarah Connor manages to activate a hydraulic press, which crushes the relentless killing machine that's been pursuing her the whole time. While the evil robot's power supply is in its thorax, its "brain" is in its head, which is shown being Squashed Flat until its Red Eyes, Take Warning go dim to indicate that it has permanently deactivated.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation:
    • Sarah's roommate Ginger is so busy rocking out on her headphones that she doesn't hear her lover being beaten to death by the Terminator in the next room. What does that tell you about the quality of their sex? 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 detectives are trying to call Connor's apartment; Matt turns up the volume on Ginger's Walkman in response as they're having sex.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The movie's soundtrack has, according to the DVD release, a "robotic heartbeat".
  • Hollywood Darkness: All the future war scenes are set at nighttime mainly to contrast with the bright lasers fired by Skynet's machines and the Resistance soldiers at each other, and most of the main story set in 1984 takes place at night. The Terminator proves it is programmed to be adapted to stay in the dark, as it doesn't bother turning the lights on in any dark room it enters and kills the power in the LAPD police station.
  • Hollywood Silencer: The AMT Hardballer the Terminator uses until the Tech Noir shootout noticeably sounds silenced even though the gun isn't fitted with one.
  • Hope Spot:
    • 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.
    • When Kyle shoves the pipe bomb into the Terminator's torso, he rolls backwards and away quick enough that audience members might have hope he survived the blast. No such luck. It's not clear if it was the blast or the bullet wound that killed him, but he's dead regardless.
    • 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.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: The humans in Kyle's flashback, huddling underground hiding from the HK's and Reduced to Ratburgers.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Averted; Ed Traxler drinks a cup of coffee that's been cold for hours, and doesn't react when Vukovich tells him he put a cigarette out in it.
  • I Can Change My Beloved: In deleted scenes, Sarah begins to fall for Reese right when cracks in his tough soldier exterior begin to show. For the first time, she realizes what kind of Hell it must be to grow up in a world where all the current comforts of life—green plants, good food, plentiful entertainment—are all gone and your every waking moment is fighting to survive and to strike back against relentless machines. She tries to get him to open up several times, to no avail, and decides that stopping the future and giving Kyle the life he never had is the best way to bring out the human in him.
  • Immune to Bullets: The Terminator. The LAPD's vault of police-standard weapons are all a No-Sell against it, while Kyle's Ithaca 37 with an extended magazine tube can knock the Terminator away by several feet and leave holes in its human flesh, but can't kill it. Flashbacks to the future war shows the human Resistance using plasma weapons against the machines, but Kyle doesn't have access to such technological innovations in 1984.
  • Impeded Communication:
    • Sarah Connor tries to issue a warning to her roommate Ginger by phone, but the T-800 has already killed her. Instead, Sarah's message to the answering machine reveals to the T-800 that he's killed the wrong target, and that she is at a downtown dance club.
    • Sarah is hiding out at a motel and decides to phone her mother (of course). Sarah is careful not to divulge her location and leaves only a phone number. The Terminator has already visited the mother's house and slaughtered the occupants, anticipating Sarah's call. It mimics the mother's voice, then calls back to learn where Sarah called from.
  • In-Camera Effects: Traditional matte paintings are used in the last shot when Sarah drives off into the desert and A Storm Is Coming.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: Reese is very clumsy when tailing Sarah. Makes sense, as he's probably never done anything like this before, plus having grown up in a war zone, and is unfamiliar with typical pre-war behavior.
  • Indy Ploy: Everything Kyle does. He's up against an unstoppable robot killer with nothing but a shotgun (and later, some pipe bombs), so he doesn't have any grand battle plan.
  • Inhuman Eye Concealers: After a chase gone wrong, the T-800 removes one of its synthetic flesh eyes, exposing the Glowing Mechanical Eyes beneath. To conceal this, it wears Sinister Shades for the remainder of the movie up until it loses them and a sizeable chunk of its disguise during the climactic road pursuit.
  • Insistent Terminology: Kyle objects to Sarah calling the Terminator a robot.
    Reese: Not a robot. A cyborg. Cybernetic organism.
  • Intimate Telecommunications: Sarah's friend Matt calls the house and Sarah answers, but Matt thinks it's his girlfriend Ginger (who lives with Sarah) and tries to have phone sex with her. Sarah decides to mess with him at first and then seriously asks who this is. Matt, clearly embarrassed politely asks for Ginger, to which Sarah obliges. Then when Ginger is on the phone he repeats the exact same following line in the exact same tone.
    Matt: First I'm gonna rip the buttons of your blouse one by one.
  • Irony: After the Terminator kills Ginger and her boyfriend, Sarah phones home but obviously only gets the answering machine, and the Terminator overhears the message she leaves for her late friend. The message Ginger recorded on the machine starts with "Hi there... fooled you! You're talking to a machine. But machines need love too."
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Kyle Reese tries this, collapsing from his gunshot wound after Sarah Connor has dragged him into the factory. By this time in the movie Sarah has Took a Level in Badass, so she isn't buying it.
    Sarah: Move it, Reese! On your feet soldier! ON YOUR FEET!
  • Jump Scare: When the half-blown apart T-800 jolts up and starts pursuing Sarah again. Complete with Scare Chord.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The titular character when he runs over a children's toy 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.
    • A literal one in Kyle's Flashback Nightmare. The Terminator that infiltrates the resistance's base kills the Evil Detecting Dogs; you can hear the dogs' dying whimper during the scene.
  • Kill All Humans: What Skynet intends to do. It launched a nuclear war to eliminate most of humanity, then designed HKs and Terminators to finish off the survivors. Those who weren't being killed outright were herded into work camps and "orderly disposed of."
  • Kill the Lights: The Terminator goes hunting for Sarah Connor through the precinct station when he notices the electrical closet. When he arrives at the police station, the Terminator switches off the power, plunging the building into darkness, a tactic to make it harder for Sarah to escape, and easier for the Terminator to massacre the police opposition. However, the Terminator's method of killing the power generator by sabotaging it with electricity caused a fire to happen, and the Terminator doesn't even put out the fire. The fire spreads out and helps Kyle and Sarah see while escaping from the police station.
  • Killed Offscreen: When Sarah calls her mother to tell her she's alright, after the call is done the camera cuts to the Terminator sitting in a wrecked house, speaking in Sarah's mother's voice.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Despite its reputation as a, well, Determinator... The Terminator knows when it can't win a fight. An injured Terminator escapes from the police when it, Sarah and Kyle crash their cars and goes back to its hideout to perform repairs and get more powerful weapons.
  • Laser Sight: "The .45 longslide, with laser sighting." At the time, laser sights were nowhere near as common as they are now, and Arnold had to hide the battery up his sleeve. It gives a cool Impending Doom P.O.V. when Sarah Connor's vision goes red as the Terminator puts the laser dot right between her eyes.
  • Last Day of Normalcy: Even as we're shown the titular Terminator systematically eliminating everyone who shares the name of our heroine, the audience is shown the life of Sarah Connor, waitress, as she goes about her daily life, interacting with customers and co-workers, chatting with her roommate, and playing a mild prank of said roommate's boyfriend when he tries to do a bit of foreplay over the phone. Then she has a close call with the T-800, and her life is never the same again.
  • Last Note Nightmare: As the Terminator homes in on Sarah for the kill at Tech Noir and the action goes into Slow Motion, the driving dance number "Burning in the Third Degree" slowly fades to a metallic Drone of Dread.
  • 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.
  • Low-Speed Chase: The T-800 loses the ability to run after it gets hit by the semi, and pursues Sarah and Kyle on foot at a reduced speed after the semi is blown up while Sarah and Kyle are injured. Then the T-800 gets reduced to a torso and crawls after Sarah, who's now too injured to stand up and crawls as well to escape the robot.

    Tropes M–R 
  • Machine Monotone: The Terminator always speaks like this, even when mimicking someone else's voice.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: Evil cyborg gets sent back in time to kill the mother of the leader of the human resistance.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: There's a brief but clear shot of Arnie's "hard drive" as he walks naked over to the punks.
  • Man Bites Man: Sarah bites Kyle's hand to little effect when she tries to escape from this "madman" raving about killer robots from the future. It does hurt however, as he testily points out, and Kyle wears a bandage for the rest of the film.
  • Match Cut:
    • Used to great effect in the scene where Reese has the dream about the future. The scene first shows a crane in the present and then zooms in to show what look like the crane's treads, until you notice they are running over human skulls...
    • Also used where the future T-800 attacks Reese's base, and the picture of Sarah catches on fire. The scene goes from a closeup of the burning picture to the real Sarah's face. Also the barking of the dogs in the future were replaced by a barking of a dog far from where Sarah and Reese are.
      Sarah: [waking up] I was dreaming about dogs.
      Reese: We use them to spot Terminators.
      Sarah: Your world is a scary place.
  • Media Scrum: A horde of journalists is pestering the detectives at the police station.
  • Mirror Character: Kyle Reese and the Terminator both take broadly the same actions early on in the film, right up to the Tech Noir shootout where the exposition begins. They both arrive naked in balls of lightning, they quickly steal clothing to blend in, they arm themselves and then they both commence a search for Sarah Connor, using the same tactic of looking her up in the phone book. This is done to leave the viewer unsure as to which of the characters is the good guy, assuming that either of them are. However, there are a few clues dropped in the differences between how Reese and the Terminator accomplish the same goals. Reese mugs a man for his pants, then lifts the rest of his clothing from a shop, then he arms himself by stealing a shotgun, so he prepares without killing anybody. The Terminator, on the other hand, remorselessly kills both a gun store proprietor and a gang of punks to obtain its guns and clothing. We are also clued in by the fact that the Terminator remains completely stoic, whereas Reese seems to be on the verge of completely losing his shit, and by the fact that the Terminator arms itself rather more heavily than Reese does.
  • Missed Him by That Much:
    • The police car parked outside Sarah and Ginger's apartment leaves in response to a radio call, and the Terminator arrives a moment later. Not that the officer could have been much of a deterrent in any case.
    • 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 turns to look in her direction. He sees her shortly after, so the trope only serves to draw out the suspense.
  • Monster Munch: The three punks at the beginning exmplify perfectly the lethality of The Terminator with their encounter.
  • Monster Threat Expiration: 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. The Terminator also loses the ability to run after it was hit by the semi, and pursues Sarah and Kyle on foot at a reduced speed.
  • More Dakka: The T-800's assault on the police station, accomplished by Dual Wielding a semi-auto shotgun and full-auto assault rifle at the same time. It's Enuff Dakka to kill (as Terminator 2 reveals) seventeen police officers, who themselves have Enuff Dakka for anything short of a cyborg assassin from the future.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Reese and the Terminator. The size-fitting problem is averted; the punk is wearing a jacket too big for him, while Reese is shown checking the size on his shoes before putting them on, and selecting the correct size jacket, when stealing them from a clothes store.
  • Murder by Mistake: Happens to two of the Terminator's victims who were unfortunate enough to share the same name with Sarah Connor. Sarah's roommate Ginger is also killed because the T-800 doesn't know what Sarah looks like.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Surprisingly nuanced for a movie named "The Terminator" with an epic body count. The T-800 is programmed to kill the target. It would prefer to not waste time doing anything else, including unnecessary fights. However, if it calculates a fight is necessary, it will do what it must. And as Reese lays out, it has no thought process about being excessive.
  • Naked on Arrival: As a result of the whole "nothing dead will go" rule of time travel, both the T-800 and Kyle Reese are naked when they appear in the present day.
  • 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: The machines in the future are systematic in their genocide. Kyle 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, first missing her by pure chance, then 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. If the viewer pays close attention, the Terminator actually fired and missed Sarah due to the impact of Kyle's shot throwing off his balance by a few inches.
  • Neverending Terror: This is the nightmare Sarah Connor faces. Now that she has this unstoppable Killer Robot after her, she must live in fear for the rest of her life. She has to be careful of every action, every person she meets, every little detail, or it will find and kill her. Even the hero of the story, Kyle Reese, believes that there's no hope of destroying it, and that even if they do, in the original script, he knows that it's possible There Is Another. Deleted scenes have Sarah come to realize this problem and decide that, if she has no hope of outrunning this thing forever, she's at least going take its creator, Skynet, down with her by blowing up the company responsible for creating it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Sarah looks up Cyberdyne Systems' address in a phone book, which was actually filmed but not used in the film, though it can certainly be speculated that it happened after watching the sequel. Together, she and Kyle concoct a plan to blow up Cyberdyne and stop the rise of SkyNet, thus prevent the war. The Terminator follows them. The Terminator's remains, including the chip, are found at Cyberdyne, where they are taken to be studied, which leads to the development of Skynet.
    • What is in the film is Sarah calling her mother to pass on the motel number where she can be reached, despite Reese's instructions not to tell anyone where she is. Sarah is unaware that the Terminator is already impersonating her mother, and can now discover her location with a phone call of its own. Ooops.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: The Terminator hunts down everyone it can find named Sarah Connor. Ultimately, John Connor wouldn't have even been born if it weren't for Skynet's attempts to kill his not-yet-mother, as the Resistance sent back the man who would be his father to protect her from. Whether it was a Stable Time Loop all along or the Timey-Wimey Ball is at play is iffy.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Had the Terminator not attacked the police station, Kyle would have been carted off to jail (or at least an asylum) and Sarah would have gone home with her mother, where the machine could have found and killed her easily. By attacking the police station, it instead handed Reese a chance to rescue Sarah in the chaos and take her on the run. Oh, and the massacre is also roughly the point where Sarah begins to believe that Reese is telling the truth.
  • No Name Given: The only way anyone would know the name of the janitor or the female soldier fighting alongside Reese is from the novelization.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: There's a lot of crossover with Implacable Man, but Reese's description of one in this film, both to Sarah and the police, nails this trope as squarely on the head as possible:
    Reese: That Terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with; it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, EVER, until you are DEAD.
    Reese: You still don't get it, do you?! He'll find her! That's what he does! That's all he does! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat, and pull her fucking heart out!
  • 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. Lampshaded by Sarah, who comments, "I don't wanna ask where you got it."
    • Detective Vukovich's explanation of how someone acts on PCP.
      Det. Vukovich: There was this guy once, you see this scar...?
    • We never learn exactly what was going on in Reese's first flashback/dream. In particular there is a female soldier fighting alongside Reese who seems to know him personally, although she dies before she gets any dialogue. It also ends with Reese being trapped in a crashed, burning car, and we never find out how he escaped, as he wakes up right at that moment.
  • 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 futuristic Crapsack World he comes from. And knowing it was all doomed just made it worse.
  • Nothing but Skulls: The opening 'Future War' segment features an apparent carpet of Nothing But Skulls, seemingly specifically so Skynet's mecha can symbolically crush them beneath their feet and treads as they engage Resistance troops in yet another bitter firefight.
  • 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.
  • Novelization: The film had two novelisations, one by Shaun Hutson and one by Randall Frakes and Bill Wisher.
  • Now I Know What to Name Him: The Trope Namer occurs after Kyle tells Sarah about John, her future son.
  • Obfuscated Interface: T-800 does this with assembly code pulled from a hobbyist magazine.
  • Oblivious Janitor Cut: Although the hotel janitor inquires about the odor that's coming from the T-800's room, he isn't aware of the source, and the Terminator's response was likely selected to drive him off.
  • Obscured Special Effects: The movie has the title character wear his iconic Cool Shades in part so the movie doesn't have to use the practical effects to portray his exposed red robot eye in the latter half of the movie. Though it's subverted at times as the animatronic head from the eye removal scene is used in some shots afterward, such as during the truck chase.
  • Off the Grid: Sarah Connor is doing this at the end of the movie, getting out of the US and heading to the bottom of South America. One, because the southern hemisphere is much safer than the northern hemisphere when it comes to surviving a nuclear war, and she needs to leave as few traces of her existence as possible so Skynet can't know where to send another Terminator to try and kill her. Even though she didn't know it, Kyle does make this clear to the cops when being questioned, saying so many records were destroyed in the war that Skynet only knew her name and the city she lived in.
  • Ominous Clouds: At the end of the film, as Sarah Connor is preparing to head into Mexico to prepare for the coming war and raise her son, John, she's informed that A Storm Is Coming. She agrees, and then drives off into the mountains, where a thunderstorm is gathering.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor only spend one night together and conceive the future savior of the human race. They probably would have stayed together longer if Kyle had lived long enough. John, their son, confirms that it was only one night in the second film, remarking that his mother is still in love with Kyle and often cries about his death.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted; there were three Sarah Connors. Our Sarah was fortunate to be the last in the phone book.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Kyle gets shot by the Terminator while escaping from the police station, but manages to keep driving until their car runs out of gas. Later, he and Sarah hide under a bridge and when she finds out he's shot, he refuses medical attention and says it's "not bad". He's shot again later on, but this one is far more serious, as it slowly saps his strength and possibly contributes to his death later.
  • Open Air Driver: The movie only does this temporarily as the Terminator punches a hole through the window trying to kill Sarah Connor. Since the vehicle is easily identified, the heroes switch cars to another one.
  • Outrun the Fireball: The movie has a rare, if not unique, theoretically realistic version of the trope. Sarah is able to get away from the exploding truck as it explodes because the truck doesn't go up in only one explosion but a progressive series of them from back to front. You still have to assume that for some odd reason the truck would do that in the first place but no laws of physics appear to be violated. It could be that fuel truck's tank usually comprises of many smaller compartments (to counter the effects of inertia during acceleration and braking) hence could explain the progressive explosions. Almost all fuel trucks do indeed have several compartments in the fuel tanks for safety.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Invoked by Kyle Reese during his interrogation by the LAPD, when he explains frantically and vainly that the title character is unlike any threat they are familiar with:
    Reese: You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her! That's what he does! THAT'S ALL HE DOES! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat, and pull her fuckin' heart out!
  • Parking Garage: Reese and the T-800 have a couple of gunfights in one.
  • Pet the Dog: A small hint that Kyle isn't just a dedicated soldier, but a genuinely decent man, comes in one of the future flashbacks (flashforwards?) when a kid pops up with a toy gun and makes "pew, pew" noises at him, and Kyle playfully points his gun at the kid and pretends to take cover.
  • 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 plasma weapon that the Terminator was asking for.
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Kyle wears a blue jacket that goes with Sarah's pink shirt.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Downplayed. The police are shown to be highly intelligent, figuring out the pattern of the killings almost immediately (though that was a gimme), take advantage of the power of the press to warn Sarah Connor, and can readily explain the mysterious gunman's seeming 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. After the police station massacre, a radio newscaster reports that a state-wide manhunt for the Terminator was underway.
    • Played straight when a terrified Sarah tries to contact the police from Tech Noir. She calls the LAPD emergency line and is put on hold. After trying for a while to get help she gives up and calls Ginger, explaining, "I tried the police and they keep transferring me around." And this is after Lt. Trexler made getting in contact with the last Sarah Connor in the phone book a top priority since she's almost certainly the killer's next target. (Of course, the Irony here is that the police are likely transferring her because they're too wrapped up in trying to find the person out to kill her as well as attempting to contact Sarah herself.)
  • Poverty Food: In a flashback to the future, when Reese returns to the resistance base, we see a woman eating some undefinable mushy substance out of a tin can. We also see a child catching a rodent, clearly intending to eat it.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • One of the punks whom the Terminator meets gives him this reply: "Fuck you, asshole." That punk meets a gory demise. The Terminator records this line and later delivers it to a janitor when he complains about the stench of his room.
    • When Sarah finally has the T-800 right where she wanted in order to kill him, she delivers him this line: "You're terminated, fucker!"
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Reese and Sarah Connor made love a few hours before their final confrontation against T-800 (which leads to Kyle's death), and their son was created because of it.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "You're terminated, fucker!" So says Sarah after luring the Terminator into a hydraulic press.
  • "Psycho" Strings: There's a squeaky violin motif when the T-800 is moving in for the kill.
  • Pure Is Not Good: Kyle Reese explains to both Sarah herself and to the police just how dangerous the titular T-800 is by describing it at pure single-minded determination with nothing else in it. It has no sense of good or evil or morality, and has no wants, needs, feelings, or anything else beyond the pure single-minded purpose of "kill Sarah Connor."
    Reese: [to Sarah] Listen and understand. That Terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

    Reese: [to the police] Shut up! You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her. That's what he does! That's all he does! You can't stop him! He'll reach down her throat and pull her fucking heart out!
  • The Quincy Punk: The movie opens with three stereotypical punks smashing up the Griffith Park Observatory... and then they try to attack the T-800.
  • Rapid-Fire Nail Biting: Sarah Connor is chewing her nails while watching a police video of Kyle Reese's interrogation.
  • Rasputinian Death: The eponymous Terminator is burned to a crisp, bisected, but only dies crushed.
  • 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 the shotgun. note 
    Gunshop Owner: You can't do that.
    Terminator: Wrong. BOOM
  • 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.
  • Red Shirt Army: The first of Reese's future flashbacks has a female soldier fighting alongside him who dies, while the second has a whole bunker full of human survivors get wiped out when a Terminator manages to sneak in.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: In the most elaborate of Kyle's future flashbacks, showing how wretched life actually is for the surviving humans, we briefly see children catching a rat, clearly intending to eat it.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Sarah's roommate Ginger thinks poorly of Sarah's pet iguana.
  • Rescue Introduction: Kyle introduce himself to Sarah by extricating her from Tech Noir just as the T-800 closes in for the kill.
  • Rescue Romance: Kyle saves Sarah from being killed by the Terminator, and while it doesn't last due to Sex Equals Death they do develop a relationship over the course of the film.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • When Sarah asks Kyle what her future son looks like, Kyle replies that John is about his own height but with Sarah's eyes. This becomes rather sweet when you realize that Kyle is John's father.
    • In Sarah's dream/Reese's story of the future, at some point the background radio chatter starts repeating itself. This makes sense if Skynet's forces have already eliminated the radio base as well as the patrol, and are just retransmitting their chatter as they set up the Terminator's attack on the resistance hideout.
  • Ripped from the Phone Book: To find Sarah Connor's address, both the Terminator and Reese go to a payphone. Reese rips out the page containing the listing of the three addresses of women named Sarah Connor, while the Terminator merely memorized the addresses.
  • Robo Cam: The Terminator's POV, tinted entirely in red with a prominent target crosshairs and assorted code and data scrolling along as the Terminator analyzes its environment.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The Terminator locates and kills two Sarah Connors from a phonebook, with the third one being the actual Sarah Connor that it was sent to terminate.
    • We think the Terminator is dead once, then twice, then finally it sticks when Sarah remembers to deliver a simultaneous Pre-Mortem One-Liner and Precision F-Strike.
  • Run or Die: Definitely how the T-800 is treated — attempting to take it in a straight-up fight is suicide.

    Tropes S–Z 
  • Same Content, Different Rating: In the UK, the movie had its rating downgraded from 18 to 15 in 2000.
  • Save This Person, Save the World: Kill Sarah Connor, and her son will never grow up to lead the human resistance and defeat Skynet.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Reese makes one from a pump-action shotgun he steals out of a police car.
  • Scannable Man: Reese and his barcode "disposal unit" tattoo.
  • Screw Destiny: In deleted scenes, there was a sub-plot about Sarah being obsessed with this, after she comes to trust Reese. The final film makes it seem like the two of them wound up at Cyberdyne completely by accident during the Final Battle, but in the original movie, that was their intention. She and Reese planned to use their pipe bombs to blow Cyberdyne up, but were forced to use all of their explosives fighting the Terminator.
  • Self-Destructive Charge: The T-800 exoskeleton has the lower half of its body blown off when Kyle Reese plants explosives in its chest. It then follows Sarah Conner by dragging itself with its arms, and is trapped under a hydraulic press and squished.
  • Sensory Overload: When Kyle and Sarah run into Cyberdyne, he creates cover for their movements by turning on every machine in the automated factory. When the Terminator pursues, it initially can't find them because there's too much movement to get a fix on them. Unfortunately, Sarah ruins it by accidentally activating a machine the Terminator knows isn't automated.
  • Sequel Hook: Reese explains the history of SkyNet and Cyberdyne. The Smoke and Fire Factory at the end of the climax is revealed as a Cyberdyne building in a deleted scene.
  • Serendipitous Survival:
    • After being stood up by her Friday night date, Sarah decides to leave her apartment and go to a movie. This ends up preventing the Terminator from killing her when it inevitably turns up. Unfortunately, it also results in the death of Sarah's roommate/best friend Ginger Ventura and her boyfriend Matt Buchanan when the Terminator mistakes Ginger for Sarah.
    • Dr. Silberman leaves the police station just before the Terminator arrives and massacres the place, and the only reason he didn't glimpse the killer robot is because he looked down to turn off his pager.
  • Serial Killer: The film starts with the Terminator systematically killing any woman in a given area with the name "Sarah Connor".
  • Sex for Solace: Sarah Connor ends up having sex with Kyle Reese while they're on the run from a killer cyborg, and she had witnessed it murder not only multiple people that she knew, but a whole police station.
  • Sex Signals Death:
    • Sarah Connor's roommate Ginger and her boyfriend have just finished making love when the Terminator breaks in looking for Sarah.
    • Kyle Reese makes love with Sarah before the climactic fight. He even says that John's father, i.e. him died before Judgement Day. This is foreshadowing.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese go at it and good, even though there's a killing machine hunting them down that absolutely will not stop until Sarah is dead, with the purpose of keeping John, the future Resistance leader, from being born. At least it has a justified reason: if you want a Stable Time Loop, you need to somehow find a way for John to be conceived.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Kyle Reese, obviously, given that he was in a SkyNet work camp complete with a tattoo before he was liberated by John Connor and even afterward spent all of his time either fighting against SkyNet's machines or hiding from them.
    • Everyone in Kyle's flashback has varying degrees of Shell-Shockedness.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: The Terminator shoots out a door lock with his SPAS-12 during the police station assault. Could count as Early-Installment Weirdness, as in later movies, a Terminator can knock steel doors off their hinges. Perhaps it's because he had his hands full at the time.
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: Kyle Reese crouches down and fires his shotgun at the gas tank underneath a car in a vain effort to slow down the T-800.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Kyle Reese's primary weapon in the first half of the film is an Ithaca 37 shotgun with an extended tube magazine and a sawn-off stock tied to his shoulder, allowing him to conceal it under a trenchcoat. It is able to temporarily disable the Terminator, while other firearms have little effect. The Terminator itself also makes use of a SPAS-12 stolen from a gun store, as well as an Ithaca 37 shotgun taken from a hijacked police car.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • 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 great moment, 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.
  • Shout-Out: The scene of the Terminator sticking a blade into its own eye recalls the famous opening scene of Un Chien Andalou.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": As the T-800 enters Tech Noir, the robot crushes the bouncer's hand with relative ease to gain access without paying. It's another sign the muscular man isn't human.
  • Sinister Nudity: As such, the heroic Kyle Reese has his humanity emphasized by his hurry to find clothes as soon as he arrives, while the Terminator's inhuman nature is brought home not just by his gigantic musculature, but by his robotic lack of shame over arriving nude and his willingness to murder two people while still in the buff.
  • Sinister Switchblade: The three punk hoodlums at the start pull switchblades on the Terminator when he threatens them. Obviously, since they're really Underestimating Badassery, he doesn't even flinch from getting stabbed.
  • Slasher Movie: A textbook example of this genre. This movie is fundamentally the story of a implacable Serial Killer who stalks his young female victims by picking their addresses out of a phone book. It's atypical of its kind in that the killer primarily uses guns rather than the bladed weapons typical of slashers.
  • Slave Brand: Kyle Reese has a barcode on his arm that was laser-burned from a robot concentration camp.
  • Slow Laser: The infamous "phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range" that we see in one of the future-flashbacks. Weirdly enough, the way it's portrayed is somewhat inconsistent: in closeup shots of the Terminator firing, we see and hear standard bullet sounds and muzzle flashes, in shots of the panicked people running for cover we hear the classic "pew pew" sounds as lasers fly by.
  • Soft Glass: Played with. One of the questions Sarah asks the police is how the Terminator (whom they believe to be an ordinary, albeit very strong and tough, human) was able to punch through a car's windshield without any injury. The police think that he was hopped up on PCP, and did injure himself quite badly, likely even breaking every bone in his hand, but the drugs prevented him from feeling any pain from it. Naturally the real reason is that the Terminator possesses a steel skeleton that is much stronger than any glass.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: John is this for Sarah and Kyle. Though the fact he's also the destined saviour of the human race and there's a Stable Time Loop involved makes it a more complicated case than usual.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: This exchange:
    Sarah: So is Reese crazy?
    Dr. Silberman: [a psychologist] In technical terminology... he's a loon.
  • Squashed Flat: Sarah finally destroys the T-800 for good in a massive industrial press, turning it metal junk.
  • 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.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Zig-Zagged Trope; crazy-eyed Kyle is following Sarah about like a nutty stalker, then we discover it's his mission to protect her. After they become Fire-Forged Friends, Kyle reveals that it's actually played straight, as he'd volunteered for this one-way mission because he really does have a creepy obsession with her. Fortunately by the time he blurts this out, Sarah is entirely receptive to his plight.
  • Standard Police Motto: The motto on LAPD cars is shown as "To Care and to Protect" at least twice. But after the Terminator crashes and abandons a car whose motto we've already seen as the preceding, the empty car's motto has inexplicably changed to "Dedicated to Serve."
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Kyle is shown frantically trying to restart his car after making the Terminator crash into a wall, but when he's arrested and the police advance on the stolen cop car, the Terminator has vanished.
  • Stealth Pun: The Tech Noir club, where the first meeting between Reese and Sarah and their first confrontation with the Terminator happens, could not have been more ironically named.
  • Stop Motion: Terminator's fully mechanical form at the climax is portrayed in this manner, with effects by the incomparable Stan Winston. It's some of the best stop-motion ever, but still unmistakably stop-motion (though at least some of that can be excused by the damage the Terminator had taken up to that point).
  • 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."
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: The movie provides a glimpse of the future where humanity is being hunted down by SkyNet.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Justified, because the Terminator uses them to hide his exposed robotic eye.
  • Symploce: Reese describes the terminator to Sarah with these words: "It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with."
  • Take My Hand!: Kyle Reese offers his hand to Sarah Connor, saying to her, "Come with me if you want to live."
  • Take the Wheel: Reese to Sarah twice, once while while the Terminator is pursuing them in a police car and once while it's riding a motorcycle.
  • Technically a Transport: During Reese's dream/flashback, he and another Resistance fighter use a car armed with a jury-rigged laser cannon to shoot down one of Skynet's flying hunter-killer drones.
  • Temporal Abortion: The goal of the T-800 is to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to her son John, who will eventually lead the uprising against the genocidal AI known as Skynet.
  • Terminator Twosome: A robot is sent back to kill Sarah Connor before she even gives birth to John Connor, and a Badass Normal human is sent back to protect her.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: This entry is the only one in the franchise that starts with "The". Interestingly, the working title was simply "Terminator".
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: A staple of the franchise. When he kills the first Sarah Connor, for example. The Terminator gets blown up twice, run over at least twice, and shot God knows how many times, and is still chasing after Sarah. It takes her luring it into a massive industrial press that flattens it into paste before it's finally dead.
  • This Just In!: Following the shootout in the police station:
    Radio Newscaster: Top story — the largest single law enforcement mobilization in California history is currently underway. Police in five counties are engaged in a massive manhunt for...
  • Time-Travel Romance: Kyle volunteers for the mission to protect Sarah because he in fell in love with her from a picture that her son showed him. She then falls in love with him Rescue Romance style and they conceive said son.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Sarah has a problem with Reese telling her of all the things she hasn't done yet. It can make a person go crazy.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The owner of the gun shop hands the Terminator an unloaded SPAS-12... but also leaves a box of loose shotgun shells on the counter where the Terminator can just take them and pull a Ballistic Discount. He's also 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 a large number of high-powered firearms all at once. As Gun Safety notes, someone buying a huge variety of firearms simultaneously is a huge red flag for a possible spree killing; the average firearm buyer doesn't need a pistol, submachine gun, assault rifle, and shotgun all at once. The owner should have been a lot more wary about this customer from the get-go.
    • When Sarah and Kyle are on the run, Kyle repeatedly informs Sarah not to contact anyone she knows because the Terminator will find a way to use that to track them down. Sarah is understandably worried about her mother and calls her anyway, vaguely warning her to get out of her house. But, that's not the dumb part; concern for her mother is natural. Where it becomes outright dumb is when Sarah calls her mother again and allows herself to be guilt-tripped into giving out the phone number of the motel she and Kyle are staying in. Then it turns out that the voice on the other end is the Terminator, and he immediately hangs up and calls the motel to get an address. Oops.
  • Trashcan Bonfire: While Sarah is dreaming of the post-apocalyptic future, several can be seen in the underground area where the humans are hiding.
  • Trauma Button: Kyle gets triggered of painful war memories when he sees heavy equipment at work, particularly their rubber tracks, while he's hiding in a construction site, since it reminds him heavily of the killer machines Skynet built to wipe out the dwindling numbers of humans left and when those machines' tracks ran through piles of human skulls. A deleted scene shows Kyle lamenting to Sarah that he doesn't belong in the present day, which to him feels like paradise compared to the futuristic Crapsack World he comes from.
  • Truth in Television: When Reese knocks out his guard during the Terminator's rampage through the police station, he's knocked out instantly when Kyle rushes him and hits him in the chest with his knee. This might seem far-fetched, but this is possible with a technique called a liver shot. Although it's notable that Kyle was trained to fight against machines, not humans, so it's unclear if he truly knows this move.
  • Twisted Ankle: Both heroes and villain experience this in the climax. Kyle has a gunshot wound that slows him down; fortunately the Terminator has also damaged a leg, slowing down its pursuit. Then Sarah catches a piece of shrapnel in her thigh in the same explosion that blows the Terminator's legs off.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • This film set the gold standard for depictions of a chillingly bleak Robot War post-nuclear Bad Future, with its mountains of human skulls, flattened cities patrolled by mechanical horrors, and human survivors living in painfully squalid holes in the ground. In spite of this, it also tempers this seemingly impossible vision of Hopeless War with an unusually optimistic message. The whole point of the movie is that, despite how far they've fallen and how little they have to fight back with, humanity still wins and has Skynet on the ropes so bad that the seemingly invincible machine intelligence gets desperate and has to resort to time travel to save itself.
    • The film retroactively feels like a deconstruction of the Screw Destiny time-travel plots the franchise would become famous for, as the ultimate result of its Terminator Twosome isn't a better timeline, but a Stable Time Loop: John Connor only exists because Kyle Reese went back in time and ended up becoming his father, and the remains of the Terminator are implied to become the inspiration for the robots that later end up warring with humanity.
  • Uncanny Valley: Deliberately invoked by Arnold's make-up artists. Not only was his face liberally sprayed with vaseline to give his skin a faux-artificial 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.
  • Uncertain Doom: It is not sure if either the blue-haired punk leader or the one who ends up giving his clothes to the T-800 get killed or not. The former was merely tossed against a gatekeeper with no apparent deadly force, and the scene cuts when the third punk undresses and throws his clothes at the T-800. The novelization has him killed too after he hands over his clothes.
  • Uncommon Time: Due to a mistake Brad Fiedel made when syncing the tracks manually, the main theme is in 13/16 time.
  • Underestimating Badassery:
    • A trio of hoodlums think 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 killer robot 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.
    • The police officer who kept telling the Terminator to go away as he kept demanding to see his "friend" Sarah.
  • Unorthodox Reload: During the police station shootout, the Terminator flips two tied-together magazines upside down, swapping a spent mag for a fresh one.
  • Unsafe Haven: Lt. Traxler assures Sarah Connor she'll be safe in the police station since more than 30 officers are on duty inside. Unfortunately, he doesn't know (or rather, doesn't believe) the assailant pursuing Sarah is an armored cyborg from the future that is virtually immune to small-arms fire, and he's able to blast his way through the police quite easily.
  • Updated Re Release: The Special Edition DVD, which included, in addition to the original mono soundtrack, a remastered 5.1 soundtrack with improved sound effects taken from the sequel.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Early in the film, the T-800 has a much easier time securing a disguise, weapons, etc., while Reese seems to be simply lucky. This is because A) Reese, having grown up after the war, knows little about pre-apocalypse society, while the Terminator can presumably draw on files given to it by Skynet and B) the Terminator can simply take what it wants due to being unstoppable by 20th Century standards. Averted later on, as Reese slowly regains some humanity (better highlighted in deleted scenes) while the Terminator loses its humanity, with even its flesh starting to rot.
  • Voicemail Confusion: Sarah Connor's voicemail greeting. Subverted in that no one is fooled by it, and played for irony in that the message's joke is that "you're talking to a machine" when the Terminator is standing in the room when she's trying to call (the just-murdered) Ginger and hears her.
  • Wake Up Fighting: Kyle is shown drawing his shotgun the moment he wakes up.
  • War Is Hell: You definitely get this impression of soul-crushing gloom in Kyle's future-flashbacks.
  • We Will Meet Again: After being told in the lobby of the police station that Sarah is busy making statements, T-800 tells the receptionist "I'll be back". One minute later, he's back... by making a grand entrance while driving a vehicle to run over the receptionist and cause his shootout.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?:
    • Detective Traxler tells Sarah, who's hiding in a crowded disco, to stay out in a public area where she'll be safe until they get there. The Terminator then tries to murder her in front of several dozen witnesses.
    • Detective Traxler assures Sarah that she'll be safe from the Terminator as long as she remains in the police station. "There's over 30 cops in this building. You're perfectly safe here." Turns out she isn't.
  • 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)?
  • Wham Shot:
    • For viewers who didn't know anything about the film going in, the exact nature of the Terminator is not initially clear. You know that the mysterious stranger is big, emotionless, kills mercilessly, has inhuman strength and (after getting up from multiple shotgun blasts) apparently bulletproof, but exactly why he's this way is unclear. But when he's chasing Sarah and the other mysterious stranger who rescued her down the alley behind Tech Noir, the camera cuts to his Murderer P.O.V. for the first time in the film- and it's a Robo Cam.
    • At the end of the movie, while Sarah's at a gas station in Mexico, a boy takes a picture of her with an instant camera. After she gives him four bucks for it, she takes a look at it; it's the same picture John Connor will eventually give Kyle.
  • 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.
  • Who Needs Their Whole Body?: The T-800 continues to pursue Sarah after Kyle blows its legs off with a pipe bomb.
  • With My Hands Tied: Averted; Kyle knocks out a policeman with his hands cuffed behind his back, and apparently takes off the cuffs that way too, using the keys on the policeman's belt.
  • 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, you know, itself, they may have made a major difference.
  • You Already Changed the Past: The movie follows this exact method (the second movie and on go for different rules of time travel). It also gives a rare example of the good guys directly benefiting from the immutability of time. The machines sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor before her son John Connor was born, in response, the rebels send back... the guy who becomes John's father. Also, in a deleted scene, it turns out that Cyberdyne, the company that built SkyNet and the original Terminators, acquired the remains of the Terminator. The sequel shows that they'd begun reverse engineering the Terminator, which would presumably have led to the creation of the Terminators had the events of the sequel not occurred, so it happened on both sides.
  • You Do Not Want To Know:
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: T-800 after collecting all the (non-plasma) guns he can acquire from the gun store owner uses the latter as target practice with his SPAS-12.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Played for Drama when Reese loses his patience at Silberman and starts Suddenly Shouting and Spiking the Camera.
  • Zipping Up the Bodybag: Done to Kyle Reese after the climactic battle.note 
  • Zombie Gait: As its robotic armor begins to take on horrendous amounts of punishment, the T-800's gait becomes increasingly stiff and stilted, more befitting of the rods-pulleys-and-levers that it really is than the human that it tries to masquerade as. Being repeatedly crushed by speeding vehicles, especially a tanker that it later commandeers, shows the abuse the robot is getting to its frame. Even after Reese jams a pipe bomb to its frame, it's still determined to go after Sarah and do the job. As mentioned above, it takes a hydraulic press to stop the T-800's rampage.


Video Example(s):


Police Station Assault

In this iconic scene, the Terminator demonstrates what a dangerous killing machine he is when he massacres an entire police station with nothing but an assault rifle and a shotgun.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / OneManArmy

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