While the Terminator franchise has been struggling for some time now, the success of M3GAN could prove that the series can return. The Terminator series started strong with 1984’s The Terminator, a hard-R sci-fi horror movie. However, after the success of that original outing, subsequent sequels moved into the action-forward territory, with Terminator 2: Judgment Day playing down its horror elements while Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines jettisoned the darker side of the franchise almost entirely.
This tonal shift was set in stone by Terminator: Salvation, which wasted a great villain in the sequel’s quest to move the Terminator franchise away from action-packed chase thrillers and toward a post-apocalyptic war movie. While later Terminator sequels did bring back the chase thriller formula, none of these critically maligned outings succeeded in reviving the Terminator franchise’s horror roots. However, the success of M3GAN, a satirical sci-fi horror about a killer robot, could be proof that the Terminator franchise can still be salvaged by a reboot that takes the series back to its origins and offers a straightforward horror interpretation of the Terminator story.
M3GAN Rebooted Robot Horror
Like The Terminator, M3GAN is a sci-fi horror about an obsessive android that turns on its human creators and attempts to kill them. Like The Terminator, M3GAN is a huge box office success, with the low-budget horror movie earning almost $40 million in its opening weekend alone. This proves that robot horror still has a place in the multiplex and that viewers are still threatened by the thought of an unstoppable cyborg hunting them down almost forty years after Arnold Schwarzenegger first played the implacable, terrifying T800. M3GAN’s storyline diverges considerably from The Terminator’s plot, but this doesn’t mean that the Terminator franchise can’t take inspiration from its success.
As a low-budget horror movie, M3GAN relies on slow-burn suspense and a playful, goofy tone rather than big-budget action set pieces. In much the same way, the original Terminator made the most of the movie’s limited budget by keeping Schwarzenegger’s killer villain offscreen for much of its runtime. The slasher roots of the Terminator franchise meant that the original film kept the T800 and Sarah Connor apart until the movie’s thrilling climax. The Terminator didn’t even reveal the iconic skeletal form of the T800 until minutes before the movie’s ending. While this was partly due to budget limitations, the approach was successful and could be again.
M3GAN Proves A PG-13 Terminator Could Work
The worsening critical fortunes and dwindling box office of the Terminator franchise have been blamed on a wide variety of culprits, but one frequently cited problem was the decision to move the series toward a PG-13 rating. This infamously anodyne rating limits the amount of blood, gore, and swearing that can appear in a Terminator movie. The PG-13 classification of Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys was blamed for the failure of both sequels. However, Terminator: Dark Fate’s problems prove that an R rating alone wouldn’t save the Terminator movies, and conversely, M3GAN’s success proves that a PG-13-rated Terminator movie could succeed.
M3GAN gets away with some surprisingly brutal kills (including an animal and a child) because the horror movie keeps most of its gore offscreen and lets darkly comical implications do most of the dirty work. For the most part, M3GAN’s kills happen offscreen, with viewers hearing the sound of a car hitting a victim as M3GAN walks away, hearing the whimper of a dog that she has dragged offscreen, or (in one memorable instance), seeing her swing a copier blade but never seeing the aftermath of its impact. This approach would work even better in a Terminator reboot since the imposing T800 doesn’t need to kill onscreen for viewers to know it’s a threat.
M3GAN’s Box-Office Success Shows The Terminator’s Best Future
The best path forward for the Terminator franchise is to focus on low-budget, horror-centric reboots/sequels rather than a fifth disastrous mega-budget, action-forward blockbuster reboot. In recent years, Terminator: Rise of the Machines proved that simply recreating Terminator: Judgment Day’s story wouldn’t work, while Terminator: Salvation proved reviewers didn’t want a post-apocalyptic take on the Terminator franchise. Terminator: Genisys confirmed that the Terminator movies weren’t meant to be quippy, PG-13-rated action adventures, while Terminator: Dark Fate showed that a grim, action-forward reinvention of the series wasn’t right either.
Instead, as Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller noted a low-budget Terminator movie that returns the series to its roots is the only promising potential future for the franchise. This has been reinforced by the success of M3GAN, which proves that small-budget sci-fi horror movies can be big box-office hits. As such, the Terminator movies need to follow M3GAN’s lead to revive the franchise.