- Contested Sequel:
- While generally not considered up to the standards of the first film and definitely not as well-regarded as the second, the fanbase is split as to whether this is a Surprisingly Improved Sequel to the third film, whether that film was at least trying to be significant while this one comes across as largely inconsequential, or whether the third film and this film should both be buried in a deep, dark vault and never spoken of again. In the same way, some fans loved it for its thematic departure from the previous installments, while other fans hated it for exactly the same reason. The release of the fifth film only muddled the waters further, and it's not uncommon to find bitter arguments over which of them is worse.
- Similarly, there was a lot of nasty feuding between fans of this film and franchise fans who preferred the canonically incompatible Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, because of the two works' very different styles and competing claims to be the "legitimate" representative of the franchise at the same time.
- Critical Dissonance: Reviews were mixed to negative. Fan response has been more positive, with many fans complaining that Salvation has had lower scores in review aggregate sites compared to the third film.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: Several critics, who even if they did not otherwise care for the film, commended Anton Yelchin's performance as young Kyle Reese for matching Michael Biehn's original portrayal without feeling like an overt imitation.
- Faux Symbolism: Marcus is deliberately tied up in a cruficified position while receiving his lethal injection in the film's opening foreshadowing him as a sacrificial savior by the story's conclusion.
- Hilarious in Hindsight:
- Considering who the star of The Dark Knight Trilogy is, and Schwarzenegger's role in Batman & Robin, this film is therefore the second time Arnie has tried to kill Batman.
- The leaked alternate ending becomes this in spades in the wake of the massive plot twist of Terminator Genisys and the infamous Downer Beginning of Terminator: Dark Fate.
- There's a video game set in the future where humans co-exist with androids. The names of the two of three player characters? Connor and Markus.
- Moral Event Horizon: General Ashdown cements himself as an immovable object when he relieves John Connor of his command after the latter insists on saving Kyle Reese. To be fair, Connor knew that Reese was his father, and he didn't want to break it to Ashdown for fear of being totally disbelieved (given that Reese is actually younger than Connor and became his father thanks to a temporal paradox), but Ashdown, 404 as he may be, reacts rather callously to Connor's persistence. He even goes so far as to do it in front of his subordinates! To drive the point home, said subordinates stick with Connor anyway in solidarity, because they somehow have a hunch that Connor's further in the right than Ashdown.
- Signature Scene: The introduction of the T-800, who walks into the scene bearing the iconic likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger and with the opening notes of the Terminator theme playing. You can bet there were people in the audience cheering at this scene.
- So Okay, It's Average: Often seen as the most inoffensive and forgettable of the Terminator films, not being as universally beloved as the first two, nor as divisive as the third, fifth, and sixth films. Many people enjoyed the concept of a Terminator film centered entirely on the War Against the Machines, but simply felt the plot was too unambitious and/or the execution could've been better.
- Uncanny Valley: The T-800 at the end has a digital rendering of young Arnold Schwarzenegger's head. The effect is nearly flawless, the uncanny valley aspect comes because it looks exactly like 1984 Arnold and the soulless expression is appropriate.
- Vindicated by History: While the film got a tepid reception on its initial release, opinions toward it have warmed considerably in the years since, because it focuses on John Connor's story, has an After the End setting rather than the Terminator Twosome, and the most controversial aspect of the film being its behind-the-scenes issues rather than anything in the actual storyline. This leaves its flaws as relatively minor in the vein of being a sci-fi blockbuster rather than bungling Terminator as a franchise, and fans can watch it as an independent thing rather than having to be well versed in the Terminator lore.
- Visual Effects of Awesome: The digital rendering of 1984 Arnold was considered impressive at the time of its release, but the team at Industrial Light and Magic really outdid themselves with the T-800 endoskeleton in all of its motion-captured and photo-realistic glory with all the crazy camera work and lighting going on.
- What an Idiot!: Resistance HQ broadcasting the shutdown signal from its own location, rather than a buoy or an airplane.
YMMV / Terminator Salvation