- Ass Pull: See the franchise page.
- Awesome Music: The trailers gave us a pure post-apocalyptic banger in the form of Nine Inch Nails' "The Day The Whole World Went Away".
- Base-Breaking Character: The Harvester and the Moto-Terminators are either really cool for Skynet's usage of Giant Mooks and Cool Bike drones or hilariously feel like a out-of-place transplant from the Transformers films.
- 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 and sixth films only muddled the waters further, and it's not uncommon to find bitter arguments over which of the post-T2 films is the worst.
- 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. If anything, it's gotten even worse in the years since, with some fans of this movie accusing the show of derailing the franchise's focus away from John Connor and back onto Sarah.
- 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. While it has lower Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores than any other Terminator film outside of Genisys, an increasing section of the fanbase considers this to be the best entry in the series after the first two.
- 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.
- 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. What's more, many fans complained at the time that the producers should have gone with the original ending as otherwise most of the foreshadowing of John's death and Marcus' redemption arc ended up being meaningless — but now, in the wake of those two movies, the general viewpoint seems to be that the producers did make the right decision after all, even if the new ending could have been executed a lot better.
- 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.
- The Harvester and the Moto-Terminators have netted comparisons to the fight scenes against the Decepticons and whenever the fights are set during road pursuits in the Transformers... keeping in mind that at the time of the film's release, only the first movie was out (the second movie, Revenge of the Fallen, came out a month after Salvation).
- 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.
- Narm: During the dogfight after the escape from the gas station, the HKs get an advantage over the Resistance fighter jets, so John orders them "Evasive manuevers, now!", as if that weren't the obvious thing for the pilots to do.
- Overshadowed by Controversy: It's probably not hyperbole to say that the leaked three-and-a-half minute audio clip of Christian Bale flipping out at the DP on set is far more quotable and has had a significantly greater effect on pop culture than anything that happens in the movie itself. Many noted that once the controversy over the Bale incident — and also the reshot ending — passed, opinions on the actual movie started to become a lot more positive (albeit it probably also helped that the even worse-received Terminator Genisys came along at around that time).
- 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.
- To a lesser extent, the Harvester and Motor-Terminator fight scene for the coolness of Skynet utilizing the Giant Mook trope as well as the comparisons to the War of the Worlds 2005 film and Transformers films.
- 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 (which is doubly true considering the dire production process it suffered).
- Strangled by the Red String: While Blair's experiences with Marcus were admittedly intense and not devoid of some classically romantic overtones, they still amount to less than a day, and it can be difficult to believe that, after the revelation of Marcus as an advanced model of machine, she is still willing to trust him over Connor and the rest of the resistance, particularly to the point of committing high treason and risking to be gunned down as a result.
- 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 due to it focusing on John's story, having an After the End setting rather than the Terminator Twosome formula the franchise has usually, 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!: See the franchise page.
- WTH, Casting Agency?: A lot of people felt that Christian Bale had been miscast as John Connor, an opinion that was further vindicated after the aforementioned on-set rant was leaked to the public prior to the film's release.
YMMV / Terminator Salvation