Adorkable: The T-800's every attempt at mimicking human emotions has it come across as an enthusiastic but naive Manchild; the stiff and literally parroted "I swear I won't kill anybody" scene in particular is an amusing example of this. Even more amusing when you remember what he looks like without his skin.
Angst? What Angst?: John Connor doesn't seem too disturbed or disheartened by the news of his foster parents getting killed by the T-1000. In fact, their deaths are forgotten as soon as they're revealed. That they were generally a pair of jerks mildly justifies it, but it doesn't make it less surprising.
Award Snub: James Cameron was so impressed with Linda Hamilton's performance and her dedication to the role (she lost twelve pounds during filming because of her aggressive training regimen) that he campaigned for her to get a Best Actress nomination. He was unsuccessful.
Draco in Leather Pants: Sarah gets toted as a paragon for feminism and an excellent role model by a lot of fans, but this ignores that she now has a Hair-Trigger Temper, has been sectioned because of how dangerous she is, repeatedly mistreats her own son, and is prepared to murder an innocent man over something he hasn't even done yet. She essentially borders on Villain Protagonist, and it is only a fortunate Heel Realization that she refrains from doing the last mentioned act (and she still acknowledges even a robot killer would be a better parent than her). James Cameron even said she wasn't meant to be a role model.
Even Better Sequel: The film is commonly held to be one of the best movie sequels of all time, and many fans prefer it to the original. Its tonal shift from horror to action made it much more appealing to a wider audience. Also, the story is seen as tighter, there's better Character Development, and the effects are better.
This film took the basic Terminator Twosome premise of the original but accelerated the action elements to the apex with mind blowing special effects with the T-1000. The resulting blockbuster success resulted in every subsequent part of the franchise trying to either up the ante or otherwise remind audiences of everything that made this film such a success, which had diminishing returns.
Although Cameron claims it was always his intention to do so, this film took the perfectly Stable Time Loop of the first film - where everything in the future is inexorable so everything in the past inexorably leads to it as well - and blew it wide open for fans questioning about paradoxes and future films having different takes on the timeline and time travel.
The It's the Same, Now It Sucks! aspects of the later movies, where others have criticized the sequels for recycling too many plot points and elements from the first two movies, were also present here, with many plot elements and even the same basic plot structure being reused from the original movie: To sum both films up, both the hero and villain arrive, get clothing and ammo, search for the target during the first act, finally meet at the end of said act and fight over trying to protect/kill the target. The hero saves the target, has another encounter with the villain at some sort of law or government sanctioned building (police station in the original; mental institution here), and eventually escape and go into hiding for a bit. The villain finally comes upon the heroes again and chases after them, eventually commandeering a tanker truck to do so midway through the chase. They eventually wind up in some sort of foreboding building structure with limited places to escape, where both the hero and villain die in the climax. So the film was recycling elements from previous films as early as this one. However, the noticeable difference is the Genre Shift from an action-horror film in the original to a straight action film here, so the recycled plot elements were done differently enough to not generate complaints of it being a rehash. Due to the later sequels keeping the tone as a straight up action-oriented one, the recycled plot elements became far easier to notice.
James Cameron first thought of casting Michael Biehn as the T-1000, but ultimately decided that Kyle's actor now being the Terminator would be confusing. Cue Terminator Genisys, and John Connor himself is forcibly turned into a shapeshifting Terminator.
As if the nuclear nightmare scene weren't bone-chilling enough already, try watching it in post 9/11 times. As if to prove this point, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Genisys, both of which were made after 9/11, would massively tone down their respective depictions of Judgment Day.
Terminator: Dark Fate turned this film into a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story by applying a Happy Ending Override by opening with a third T-800 gunning down John. Worst still, it's possible that if "Uncle Bob" hadn't decided to sacrifice himself, he could've stopped "Carl". Additionally, it's later confirmed that while John and Sarah did destroy Skynet, something else, Legion, replaced it. All of these mean that even if John were still alive, his and Sarah's efforts were for nothing.
Jeanette Goldstein, codifier of Vasquez Always Dies, gets killed off again here (and she would again in Titanic (1997)). However, her character (John's foster mom) is far more feminine than the butch, more hardened Sarah Connor of this film. So Vasquez always does die, even when she's not Vasquez.
Michael Biehn nearly got brought back as the bad guy. He was normally typecast as villains, and his roles with James Cameron were the rare times he got to be heroes. In his next collaboration with Cameron - The Abyss - he would indeed be the bad guy.
The T-1000's interest in the police motorcycle ("Say, that's a nice bike.") is this ever since Robert Patrick turned out to be a huge motorcycle buff.
It Was His Sled: The idea that the Terminator - at least, the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 version portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger - was the hero of the movie was meant to be a surprise on its first release, as advertising still played him up as the bad guy. Now, any Terminator played by Schwarzenegger is assumed to be the good guy, and it's commonly known that this is where it started.
Jerkass Woobie: Sarah Connor is not exactly the most pleasant person in this film. A harsh, militant woman who barely gives the son the affection he needs and nearly murders an innocent man over something he hasn't even done yet. Given everything that she'd gone through before, it's easy to see where all of that came from.
The T-1000 can also be considered this to an extent. Although he is the villain who killed many people and had his sights set on killing a 10 yo, he has different ideas of morality and in his eyes, killing the one who would lead to the downfall of his people is the right thing to do. When this is considered, it can make the T-1000's death seem quite harsh.
Did you know the scene where the T-1000 walks through the bars is unscripted? Originally it called for the T-1000 to simply cut open the door and walk through, but Robert Patrick was so committed to the role that he walked through the jail door bars as if he really was a liquid metal machine, and the filmmakers loved it so much they left it in.
John's friend for lying to the T-1000 about if he knows John and later trying to stall him, prompting jokes that he unknowingly saved the human race. Also helped that he's played by Danny Cooksey in a case of Retroactive Recognition.
This movie is legendary online for being one of those films that can make men cry without shame. A common joke goes something along the lines of: "There are two times in a man's life when it is acceptable for him to cry in public. The first is at the birth of his child, the second is at the ending of Terminator 2".
T-800 asking John Connor's foster mother a pop culture question on the phone, with their answer being either of Fandom Heresy or one to expect of a non-fan, verifying John's foster parents are dead.
Likewise, the above scene has also garnered jokes that the T-800 should have thrown off John's "foster mom" by telling her that "John" is going to Mt. Everest/the Arctic/Chernobyl/some other faroff, remote, and deadly location or that he's going to kill himself or that he's not going to be home for an hour to stall it while the T-1000 proceeds to do house chores (including cooking that stew) in the meantime. Another joke from the same scene is what if John's foster dad wanted to get it on with his "wife" in the kitchen.
That the scene of the T-1000 killing Max was removed to appease John Wick.
Slipping through bars, especially if the gap is small, is often compared to the T-1000 melting through the bars at the hospital. Most popularly, a gif of a small fluffy dog squeezing through a penned door in a hallway edited in place of the T-1000's scene has circulated around the Internet.
That nowadays, John Connor would spout off modern-day memes/phrases for the T-800 to take after.
That any scientific discovery involving liquid metal is another step towards the T-1000 happening, not helped that a lot of news articles report these discoveries as being part of the process in someday making some technological advancement like robots. For instance:
A lightweight liquid metal alloy that is less dense than water could be used to make exoskeletons and transformable flexible robots.
"THE GALLERIA?" for the T-1000's confused reaction to the girls telling him that John went to the mall.
The T-1000 tag trending a couple of times on Twitter in 2020 prompted jokes that 2020 was going to go From Bad to Worse because the T-1000 was sent back to 2020 to kill humanity's savior.
Misaimed Fandom: Sarah's transformation into an Action Girl in this film was shown at several points to be a result of her PTSD after the first film, she became a domestic terrorist put into a mental hospital, and had John taken away from her. Her breakout from the hospital is especially violent and shows some misandric attitudes talking with Dyson. But seeing that transformation into a badass falls right into escapist fantasies, plus her Cassandra Truth, which helped create Sarah as an iconic female action hero all while ignoring just how fundamentally unstable she is.
Moral Event Horizon: If murdering John Connor's foster parents didn't send the T-1000 over, then torturing Sarah Connor as bait for John did. The T-1000 is a special case, because unlike other Terminators, the T-1000 is a fast-learning model both sentient and fully capable of human emotion, to the point where even Skynet was scared away from mass-producing it.
The T-1000's wide-eyed confusion to the girls telling him that John went to the Galleria seems a bit narmy for how weird he reacts, but it makes sense since Uncanny Valley is his Character Tic (especially since his true nature isn't revealed until a little later), and a deleted scene that continues from there has him ask the girls where the Galleria is since he doesn't know.
The T-1000 trying to catch up to the bike-riding John on foot can look a bit silly, but it's still a tense scene. Plus, Robert Patrick was actually running that fast, having trained with a sprinter for his role.
The T-800 giving a thumbs-up as he sacrifices himself should be incredibly cheesy and saccharine but the way it's directed and the music make it a genuinely emotional moment.
Nightmare Retardant: The T-1000's glitches in the Special Edition. In fact, this trope was the entire reason Cameron left it out of the original theatrical release, as he felt that it distracted from the tension of the film. Part of the draw of the movie, as many professional critics noted, was that audiences weren't able to figure out—right up until the end—what could actually hurt the T-1000.
No Problem with Licensed Games: The arcade game based on the film, which was and still is a pretty well-regarded shooting game. The home console ports of the arcade game have more of a mixed reception, but are usually seen as okay.
Older Than They Think: Jody Watley's 1987 song "Looking for a New Love" already used the catchphrase "Hasta la vista, baby."
Michael Edwards has less than a minute of screentime and no lines, but his appearance as the adult John Connor in the prologue has remained a favourite of fans, one that the three actors to portray him in future movies (Nick Stahl, Christian Bale, and Jason Clarke) still have not lived up to. It may be because the prologue frames the future John as a mythic figure, whose commanding, war-hardened, scarred yet soulful countenance was simultaneously enigmatic and self-explanatory: one could easily accept that this was the legendary savior of humanity, despite his lack of screentime and dialogue. The later films attempted to flesh him out and have him be much more involved in the plots, but he lost much if not all of his mystique as a result.
When the T-1000 clings onto the getaway car of John, Sarah, and the T-800 during the escape from the hospital, the guard that T-800 kneecapped earlier can be briefly seen pulling in his legs when the car suddenly rams through the gate.
During the climatic highway chase, the T-1000 grows an extra pair of arms so that it can both pilot the helicopter and take shots at our heroes.
Minor example, but a good eye can spot when Leslie Hamilton-Gearren is being used as a double. In contrast to the military-esque training routine Linda Hamilton was on, Leslie only had to "hit the gym for a few hours a week". So the difference in body types is noticeable. It's also quite obvious during the Drain scene that there are stunt doubles on the motorbike.
Schwarzenegger's metal facial prosthetics are pretty obvious, especially the unmoving robot eye.
When the wrecker crashes into the overpass at the climax of the canal chase, the dummy behind the wheel is incredibly obvious.
While the T-1000 effects still look pretty good, it's really not hard to tell when it's CGI and when it's Robert Patrick wearing silver blast holes on his body as the CGI looks appropriately shiny compared to the significantly duller look of the prosthetics.
Tough Act to Follow: None of the movies that followed Terminator 2 were as well received and successful. Even its canonical sequel, Terminator: Dark Fate, produced by James Cameron himself, while receiving higher ratings than the previous sequels, is still considered inferior.
"The Terminator films are not really about the human race getting killed off by future machines. They're about us losing touch with our own humanity and becoming machines, which allows us to kill and brutalise each other. Cops think of all non-cops as less than they are, stupid, weak, and evil. They dehumanise the people they are sworn to protect and desensitize themselves in order to do that job."
Visual Effects of Awesome: The T-1000 completely blew the audience's minds when Terminator 2 came out and still looks amazing today, to the point it barely looks different from the new T-1000 from Terminator Genisys despite 24 years having passed between both films. There's a reason Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park are credited for the CGI revolution.
The Woobie: Try, just try, not to feel even remotely bad for Miles Dyson. A nice and loving family man, Miles was hoping to use the discovered technology from the previous T-800's remains to create a better life for humanity. He's nearly murdered in front of his family by a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and then receives an extra Gut Punch when he immediately discovers that the technology he creates will, rather than help life like he was hoping, end up causing the worst case of human genocide in history. Then he does his best to help the T-800 and Sarah destroy all traces of his work to ensure the threat of that scale never happens, and ends up getting killed for it. And if you take any of the sequels into account, it means his sacrifice still ended up being for nothing.
Woolseyism: The famous line "Hasta la vista, baby!" became "Sayonara, baby!" in the Spaniard dub. It became just as popular in Spain as the original in America.