Study Guide

The Terminator Summary

The Terminator Summary


The date is May 12, 1984, and on this day, two naked men arrive in Los Angeles.

Wow, now that we've written that out…

Okay, anyway.

One of these guys kills three street punks and steals their clothes; the other is chased through a convenience store by the police. Nothing too out of the ordinary for Los Angeles, really, except that these men are time-travelers.

Great Scott!

Both men secure guns and look up a woman named Sarah Connor in the phonebook. Hey, kids, remember phonebooks? No? Makes you wonder how two guys from 2029 knew about them, doesn't it? Anyway, the buff time-traveler visits the first Sarah Connor listed and murders her, expending more bullets than he does words.

Cut to the other side of town, and we see another Sarah Connor suffering through a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She's bad at her waitressing job, her customers are rude, and her date cancels on her because, like her bestie Ginger says, he's a bum, even if he does drive a Porsche. Preach it, sister.

Not one to let a bum ruin her night, Sarah goes out for a slice when she sees a news report that somebody is murdering Sarah Connors across L.A. Reasonably freaked, she goes to find a payphone (remember those?), and the smaller time-traveler stalks her all creeper-like. She ducks into a night club named, no joke, the Tech Noir. Seriously, this movie is so '80s.

Unable to contact the police, Sarah calls Ginger for a ride. At their apartment, the buff time-traveler murders Ginger and her boyfriend. He's about to leave, believing his job complete, when he hears Sarah leaving a message and telling Ginger exactly where she is. It's the worst example of poor timing since Juliet woke up from her cadaverous nap moments after Romeo took a hit of poison.

Sarah calls the police again, and Lieutenant Traxler, who has been assigned the Sarah Connor killer case, promises to send a squad car. She waits, but the buff time-traveler arrives and aims to kill her. She's saved by the smaller time-traveler, who pumps a bunch of shotgun shells into the big guy. He and Sarah run, but the buff time-traveler, undeterred by something as annoying as a chest cavity filled with 12-gauge slugs, pursues them.

They escape, and the smaller time-traveler gives Sarah the 411. His name is Reese, and he's been sent from the future to protect her from that other guy. Only the other guy isn't a guy: it's a cyborg, a machine dressed in human flesh whose sole purpose is to kill Sarah.

Why? Good question. In the future, the collective fear of all senior citizens has come true, and those gosh-darned gadgets and gizmos have risen up against humanity. But Sarah's future son, John Connor, will teach humanity to rage against the machines, and he will lead it to victory. The Terminator killing Sarah will ensure that John is never born.

After another car chase, Sarah and Reese are apprehended by the police. A criminal psychologist, Dr. Silberman, interviews Reese, determining the man is several Pokémon short of a full Pokédex. While Sarah rests and Reese is in lockdown, the Terminator arrives. It assaults the police station and kills every police officer in the building. Sarah and Reese only escape by committing a third act of grand theft auto, which has got to be a one-day record, even for L.A.

Sarah and Reese spend the night under an overpass. Reese elaborates about the dark, dystopian world of tomorrow, as well as Sarah's role in it. She doesn't believe she could possibly be the person he claims she is.

The next day, Sarah and Reese hole up in a hole of a motel. While Reese goes shopping for supplies, Sarah showers and calls her mother. She tells her where they are hiding, but the camera reveals to the audience that it's really the Terminator doing a spot-on Mom impersonation.

Sarah and Reese spend a romantic day making homemade explosives. That night, Reese reveals that he loves Sarah and came across time to protect her. They get busy between the sheets. Reese did shower and launder that homeless guy's pants beforehand, right? Right?

The Terminator busts in on the lovers, but Sarah and Reese escape after yet another act of grand theft auto. The Terminator gives chase and shoots Reese. Sarah crashes the stolen truck into the Terminator, causing her to flip it. Not a machine to be one-upped, the Terminator steals an 18-wheeler and tries to run them down. Although injured, Reese plants an explosive in the semi, destroying it in epic fashion.

Sarah and Reese embrace, thinking the battle is over. Guess they have never seen a horror movie—otherwise they would know that the monster always rises again. And rise it does. The Terminator strolls from the fire like a mechanized Grim Reaper and pursues our heroes into a factory.

After a deadly game of hide-and-seek, the Terminator traps Sarah and Reese on a walkway. Reese uses his last explosive to blow up the Terminator. The blast injures Sarah and, sadly, kills Reese. But the Terminator is still not done. Its upper half crawls after Sarah. After a desperate, crawling escape, she traps it under a hydraulic press and crushes it into sheet metal.

Sometime later, we see Sarah driving through Mexico. She is pregnant, and it's revealed that Reese was John's father the whole time. It's time-travel, people. Just don't think about it. A boy takes a picture of her, the same one Reese had in the future. Sarah goes into hiding to prepare for the future she knows is coming.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We begin our story in the year 2029 C.E. Not much has changed in L.A. during that time—except that killer robots are roaming the cityscape.
    • An intro text informs us the machines took over after a nuclear holocaust, but that the battle for the future of humanity will be fought in the past. Cue the title card.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • A mysterious electrical phenomenon surges across the screen. A naked man emerges from the storm and looks over 1984 Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory.
    • Three street punks are messing around with a coin-operated viewer because…that's what people did before the internet and Nintendo? The naked man walks up and demands their clothes.
    • A punk stabs him with a switchblade. The naked guy punches him straight through the gut and throws another punk against the gate.
    • The surviving punk undresses.
    • In a dark, trashy alley, another electrical storm rages. Another naked man falls out of it, shaken about the experience.
    • A homeless man asks this naked guy if he saw a big, bright light.
    • We cut to the police as they see the no-longer-naked guy stealing the pants off the homeless man. They go to apprehend him, but the man bolts.
    • The guy leads a policeman into an alley and gets the jump on him. After disarming the officer, the naked guy demands to know what year it is.
    • More police arrive on the scene. Must be a slow night.
    • The man dashes into a department store. Police search for him while he sneaks through the store selecting a chic homeless ensemble.
    • Fully clothed, the man gives the police the slip—but not before stealing a shotgun from the empty, unlocked police car.
    • The guy finds a phonebook—remember those?—and rips out the page listing the Sarah Connors in L.A.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Sarah Connor begins her day of waiting tables at Big Jeff's.
    • Elsewhere, the buff guy—now decked out in the latest punk finery—goes all Grand Theft Auto on a suburban station wagon.
    • Sarah has a rough day at work. She gets orders wrong, has customers complain at her, and even suffers a kid putting rainbow sherbet in her apron pocket. With a job like that, bring on the killer robots.
    • The buff guy goes to a gun store and orders a militia's worth of firepower. When the store clerk isn't looking, he loads the shotgun with a shell and, blam-o, blows the clerk away.
    • The smaller guy is in an alley, modifying his shotgun so he can carry it stealthily under his jacket.
    • The buff guy locates a phonebook and rips out the page with the listings for Sarah Connor.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • The buff guy drives to a house in an L.A. suburb and knocks on the door. A woman answers it and confirms she is Sarah Connor.
    • The buff guy kicks in the door and shoots this Sarah Connor in the head. Then he shoots her two more times for good measure. Then another time. Just 'cause.
    • One Sarah Connor down.
    • At the restaurant, Sarah's friend pulls her into the breakroom and makes her watch a news broadcast. The news anchor relays the story of how Sarah Connor, mother of two, was brutally murdered in her home.
    • The friend jokes to Sarah about how she is dead. Murder: it's hilarious. Apparently.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • The smaller guy hotwires a car. He observes some construction equipment and has a recurrent memory of the future.
    • In it, the smaller guy and another soldier sneak through a desolate future landscape. They sneak up on a robot tank and toss bombs to destroy it.
    • The partner breaks cover and is instantly torn to shreds by the Hunter-Killer's firepower.
    • The smaller guy jumps into a getaway car. A flying Hunter-Killer tracks the car while taking potshots.
    • An explosion flips the car, trapping the guy inside as fire consumes the vehicle.
    • The small guy wakes up in the present cradling his shotgun.
    • Meanwhile, Sarah and her roommate, Ginger, glam it up when Ginger's boyfriend calls. We won't get into the details here, but it's sufficient to say he embarrasses himself really bad.
    • We cut to the police station. Detective Hal Vukovich hands Lieutenant Ed Traxler a picture of a dead girl. And then another one. Vukovich points out they are both named Sarah Connor.
    • Sarah's date calls and cancels. Not one to pine, she decides to go to a movie.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Members of the press hound Traxler about the Sarah Connor murders. He ignores their questions. In his office, he has Vukovich try to call the next Sarah in the phonebook.
    • At Sarah's apartment, Vukovich leaves a message, but Ginger and her boyfriend are too busy, um, getting busy to hear it.
    • Back at the station, Traxler decides to make a statement, hoping that if Sarah Connor sees the news, she'll call them.
    • At a pizzeria, Sarah Connor hears the news report about the two dead Sarah Connors.
    • Quick on the uptake, Sarah grabs a phonebook and pieces together that she's next in line.
    • Leaving the pizzeria, Sarah notices the small guy creeping on her.
    • Freaked out, Sarah ducks into the Tech Noir nightclub. Using the payphone, she calls the police, but all the lines are busy.
    • Meanwhile, the buff guy arrives at Sarah's apartment. He throws Ginger's boyfriend through the bedroom door before shooting Ginger in the back.
    • Too bad Ginger and her boyfriend didn't realize they were in a horror movie, otherwise they would have spent more time running than getting busy.
    • Just as the buff guy's about to leave, the answering machine plays Sarah's message. She tells Ginger she is at the Tech Noir and asks her to come and pick her up.
    • The buff guy finds Sarah's university ID, which comes with a handy-dandy photo.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Sarah finally gets through to the police. Traxler warns her to stay visible: he'll have a car come and pick her up.
    • The buff guy enters the club.
    • Sarah notices the small guy bellied-up to the bar. At the same moment, the buff guy notices her.
    • The buff guy draws his sidearm and slowly approaches Sarah…or maybe that's just the slo-mo.
    • The buff guy aims his reticle squarely at Sarah's forehead. A shot rings out—but it's the small guy blasting the bigger one.
    • Sarah runs.
    • Unfazed, the buff guy gets up and starts unloading his Uzi all spray-'n'-pray style.
    • The small guy comes from behind to fire even more shotgun shells. One. Two. Three. He blasts the buff guy straight out the window.
    • The small guy tells Sarah, "Come with me if you want to live!"—easily in the top five pick-up lines of all time.
    • Sarah and the small guy run through an alley. The buff guy gives chase.
    • We receive an odd P.O.V. shot in which everything is red and there is computer script splayed across the screen. (Sure, today we all know this guy's a Terminator, but in 1984, that must have been a "What the huh?" moment for the audience.)
    • The small guy shoots a car in its weak spot. It explodes through the alley.
    • The buff guy leaps through the flames and onto smaller guy's car hood. He punches through the window and tries to pull Sarah out.
    • The small guy floors it out of the alley and emerges just in time to smash into a police cruiser.
    • The buff guy is tossed like a ragdoll off the hood. The officer reports the hit-and-run over the radio, but the buff guy kills him and takes his vehicle.
    • The small guy weaves through traffic—not to mention crazy-lucky pedestrians.
    • Sarah panics and tries to leap out of the car, but the small guy pulls her back and orders her to do exactly as he tells her.
    • Sarah begs the small guy not to her hurt her. He says his name is Reese, and he's here to protect her, as she's been scheduled for termination.
    • It's real close to a breakdown moment.
    • Sarah wonders how a guy could get up after being shot so many times. Reese informs her that it isn't a man: it's a Terminator—Cyberdine systems model 101 to be precise.
    • Reese sideswipes a few pursuing cop cars, knocking them off the road.
    • Reese drives into a parking garage to hide.
    • Reese informs Sarah that the Terminator is an infiltration unit. Underneath, it's a metal alloy robot, but on the surface, it looks human: sweat, blood, skin, hair, bad breath—all the disgusting stuff.
    • Sarah argues they can't make stuff like that, and then Reese drops the mind bomb: he and that thing are from the future, where they can totally make stuff like that.
    • Deciding she's spent enough time in crazy town, Sarah tries to leave, but Reese pulls her back into the car. He tells her the Terminator will not stop until she is dead.
    • Sarah asks if the small guy can stop it. He doesn't know.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • On the scanner, the Terminator hears that Reese's vehicle has been spotted in a parking garage and flips a U-ey.
    • In said parking garage, Reese hotwires another car.
    • Sarah asks the small guy why the Terminator wants her.
    • Reese lays down a history lesson.
    • A few years from now, a defense network computer will gain super intelligence and decide that humans aren't so great, after all. It will begin a nuclear holocaust that will wipe out most of humanity. The survivors will join together under one man, who shows humanity how to fight back. His name will be John Connor, and he's Sarah's future son.
    • Whoa.
    • Reese gets the car going just as the Terminator drives by.
    • The Terminator chases Sarah and the small guy out of the parking garage. Reese drives while taking shots over a terrified Sarah.
    • Reese rams into the Terminator's police cruiser. It smashes headlong into a concrete wall and is demolished.
    • Reese's car stalls because…plot point? The police arrive and arrest Sarah and Reese.
    • The police slowly approach the wrecked cruiser, but the driver's seat is empty. The Terminator is gone.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • At the police station, Sarah is shaken up over hearing that Ginger and her boyfriend are dead.
    • Traxler introduces Sarah to Dr. Silberman, a criminal psychologist. Sarah asks if Reese is crazy, and he says they're going to find out.
    • Elsewhere, the Terminator sneaks into a hotel room. All banged up, it sets about repairing itself. The scene is somehow mechanical and visceral all at the same time.
    • Silberman interviews Reese. When he asks why the machines don't kill John Connor in the future, Reese notes that they had already won by that point. Skynet had no choice but to wipe out Connor's pre-existence.
    • Silberman wonders how Reese is supposed to get back. Reese says he can't: it's a one-way trip, and John destroyed the time machine afterward. It's just the two of them—until the sequels, of course.
    • Back at the hotel, the Terminator repairs its eye in a scene that is one part eye exam, one part Saw film. We don't wanna play that game.
    • The Terminator arms itself with the guns from under the mattress and heads out.
    • Meanwhile, Sarah, Silberman, and the police watch the video of Reese's interview. Silberman says Reese's delusions are so intricate that he could make a career out him.
    • On the video, Reese tells Silberman to shut up. Looking at the camera, he pleads with whoever is watching that the Terminator will find Sarah.
    • Silberman confirms Reese is "a loon."
    • Traxler offers Sarah the couch to sleep on. He assures her she'll be safe. They have thirty cops in the building. What could possibly happen?
    • Silberman leaves the police station, passing the Terminator on his way out.
    • The Terminator tells the front desk that it is a friend of Sarah's. The officer says it'll have to wait to see her.
    • The Terminator drops the famous "I'll be back" line. It returns moments later, driving a car through the front desk.
    • Sarah wakes up to the noise.
    • The Terminator makes its way through the police station. The police shoot it, but the machine doesn't even pause. It just shoots any officer in its path.
    • The police begin to run and take cover, but the Terminator kills them, too.
    • Finding a power box, the Terminator short-circuits the fuses, and the entire police station is draped in darkness.
    • Traxler tells Sarah to stay in his office.
    • Reese knocks out the officer watching him and takes the handcuff keys.
    • The Terminator continues its murderous rampage. Traxler shoots it with an assault weapon, but the machine turns around, all business-like, and kills him. An enraged Vukovich goes after it and meets a similarly fatal fate.
    • Sarah hides in Traxler's office. She hears someone approach the door and open it. She closes her eyes in fear.
    • Reese calls out to Sarah, and the two unite.
    • Together, Reese and Sarah run into the parking lot and steal a car, escaping the police station just before the Terminator catches them.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Reese pulls to the side of the road. He and Sarah grab a first-aid kit and a flashlight from the trunk and push the car off the road.
    • Reese and Sarah take shelter under an overpass and huddle together for warmth. Sarah asks Reese his first name. He says it's Kyle.
    • Sarah dresses Reese's gunshot wound. To keep her mind occupied, Reese tells her about John.
    • Reese reveals that he volunteered for the mission to meet the legendary Sarah Connor, who taught her son how to fight and organize.
    • Sarah gets upset: she isn't that person, and she doesn't want the "honor."
    • Reese gives Sarah a message from her son and compliments her field dressing. She admits it's her first time doing it.
    • Sarah asks Reese to tell her about his world as she falls asleep.
    • Reese's story takes us to a flashback. Or is that a flashforward? Because it's his past, but it's also our future, so…?
    • Anyway, we see Reese and his squad returning to a resistance base. Children and the sick live in squalor, draped in ragged clothing, with dirty faces. TV sets are used as fireplaces, and one kid even kills a rat for dinner.
    • Reese takes a rest and looks tiredly at a picture of Sarah.
    • The dogs start barking like mad as a Terminator breaks in and starts killing everyone.
    • Reese and other resistance members fight back.
    • Reese is knocked down by an explosion. Weak, he lies on the floor, watching on as the picture of Sarah burns in the flames.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Sarah wakes up in Reese's arms. They walk off into the morning.
    • The Terminator's slumlord knocks on his door, complaining about the smell. The Terminator selects from a list of responses and chooses the proper human rejoinder for any slumlord's request.
    • Sarah and Reese hitch a ride to the Tiki Motel and rent a room.
    • After Sarah is settled in the room, Reese goes out for supplies. He gives Sarah a gun just in case. (In case of what? The Terminator has proven itself resistant to bullets so far, buddy.)
    • Sarah calls her mother and gives her a phone number she can reach her at.
    • We cut to a cabin. The camera pans over a scene of carnage: a kicked in door, bullet-ridden walls, and knocked-over furniture. The camera finally rests on the Terminator pretending to be Sarah's mother.
    • Dialing the number, the Terminator discovers where Sarah is holed up.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Reese dumps the supplies on the table. Sarah asks what's for dinner, and he says they are making explosives.
    • The Terminator drives to the Tiki Motel.
    • Reese and Sarah spend quality getting-to-know-you time making homemade dynamite.
    • That night, Sarah asks Reese if he is disappointed in the "legendary" Sarah Connor.
    • Reese admits to Sarah that John gave him a photograph of her. He fell in love with her through it and traveled through time for her.
    • Oddly enough, Sarah finds this temporal stalking endearing.
    • Reese and Sarah hook up that night.
    • The two are getting ready when they hear the dog barking viciously outside.
    • The Terminator breaks into their room and starts shooting, but they have already sneaked out the back.
    • Reese pulls a guy from his truck and drives away—but not before giving his pursuer a little chin music with the truck's hood.
    • The Terminator follows.
    • Sarah drives as Reese lobs explosives. The Terminator weaves through the explosions while taking shots at the truck.
    • Reese is gut shot.
    • Sarah slams the Terminator between the truck and guardrail. She overcorrects and flips the truck.
    • A semi-truck runs over the Terminator—all 18 wheels just going to town on the machine's face. The driver goes to see what he ran over, and the Terminator kills him.
    • The Terminator hijacks the semi-truck. It sets its sights on the flipped truck.
    • Sarah struggles to free Reese from the wreckage. The two slip out of the truck just as the semi demolishes it.
    • Reese yells at Sarah to run. As the semi passes him, he plants an explosive on it. He takes cover in a dumpster.
    • The truck barrels down on Sarah, getting closer and closer.
    • Sarah ducks into an alley just as the semi explodes.
    • A fireball consumes the semi. The fiery figure of the Terminator stumbles from the wreckage, takes a couple steps, and collapses.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Reese and Sarah embrace in success. Yeah, a tad premature.
    • The Terminator's endoskeleton rises from the fire like something from Army of Darkness and gives chase.
    • Sarah breaks into a nearby building. She pulls an injured Reese into a giant assembly floor and struggles to shut the reinforced metal doors as the Terminator closes the distance.
    • Sarah shuts and locks the doors just as the Terminator reaches them. The Terminator begins kicking down the door, smashing it into scrap.
    • Reese turns on all the machines to prevent the Terminator from tracking him and Sarah and collapses from exhaustion.
    • Sarah begs for Reese to move, but he can't manage it. Screaming at him like a drill sergeant, Sarah gets Reese to his feet just as the Terminator breaks in.
    • The Terminator stalks Reese and Sarah. They crawl silently through the assembly floor.
    • Sarah accidentally turns on a machine, alerting the Terminator to their whereabouts.
    • The Terminator jump-scares Sarah and Reese on the walkway. Reese tells Sarah to run before going José Canseco on the Terminator with a lead pipe.
    • The Terminator smacks Reese around and turns to Sarah—but not before Reese places his last explosive in its endoskeleton.
    • The explosion blasts the Terminator clean in half while throwing Sarah and Reese apart.
    • Sarah rises from the explosion, disoriented and in pain.
    • Like a boss, Sarah pulls shrapnel from her leg and crawls to Reese.
    • Reese is dead. That explosion turned him into a bunch of Reese's Pieces.
    • What? Too soon?
    • The Terminator's upper half enjoys the opportunity for a cheap jump-scare to let us know the machine is still kicking.
    • The Terminator crawls after Sarah. She ducks onto the assembly line. Her injuries prevent her from running, and the Terminator draws ever closer.
    • Thinking quickly, Sarah crawls under a hydraulic press. The Terminator follows.
    • On the other side, Sarah activates the press just as the Terminator's skeletal fingers close around her throat.
    • The press crushes the Terminator. Its blood-red eye flickers, dilates, and then fades out.
    • A hard cut shows paramedics rushing an injured Sarah to the hospital as she watches them zip up the body bag on Reese.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • Several months later, a pregnant Sarah drives through the Mexican desert. She dictates a journal for her soon-to-be son. She's got a dog in the backseat and a revolver on her lap.
    • Sarah pulls into a gas station and orders gas from the attendant.
    • Sarah continues to dictate the message, deciding that she will tell John that Reese is his father.
    • A boy takes a Polaroid picture of Sarah and tells her his father will beat him if she doesn't buy it for 5 bucks.
    • Admiring the kid's hustle, Sarah buys the photograph. It's the same picture John gave Reese in the future.
    • The boy warns Sarah that a storm is coming. Sarah says she knows it—before driving toward the dark clouds in the distance.