The Terminator (movie, 1984)
We gotta watch Terminator 2 for my childhood movies list so I figured that was a good excuse to watch all of these including the two most recent ones which I haven’t seen yet. And I remembered there being a RoboCop vs. Terminator video game, turns out it was based on a comic book, kinda sad we never got a movie about that! But yeah, figured we might as well do all the RoboCop movies too given that tenuous, barely-there connection. Look, it works for Alien and Predator, leave me alone.
So, T2 is way better, huh? I remembered it being better but I hadn’t seen the first one in so long (and I’ve only seen it once or twice), so I forgot that the first one just really isn’t on its level. Pretty much all it has going for it is Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton and some decent action and Linda Hamilton. The second one has all that and more, so yeah. No contest, really. But the first one is still decent!! That last action sequence ruled. Just, you know. Onward and upward and all that.
RoboCop (movie, 1987)
Look, I know everyone wants to pat this movie on the back so hard, but you just can’t do a critique of capitalism where you read cops as just another group of workers facing the same problems as the rest of the working class and not as the traitorous bludgeon of our oppressors.
Cool-looking cyborg, though. Like, seriously, I think the only thing that makes me like these movies at all is that RoboCop himself is pretty awesome-looking, especially when they change his coloration to make him more blue. And yeah, I do enjoy all the pulpy action scenes, but the framing of them is so gross. And every time they have him fight a bigger, stop-motion robot, which is supposed to be the like money-shot of the first two movies, it’s just kinda awful-looking.
RoboCop (animated series, 1988)
This is an extremely late-80s cartoon. The stock sound effects, the hilariously bad dialogue–my favorite example of the latter being that RoboCop’s sergeant just kinda says… sports stuff? All the time? For no apparent reason?
My boyfriend said he’s choosing to read it as in-universe propaganda meant to make RoboCop seem less threatening, and honestly yeah that totally tracks. Coming on the heels of the imperfect but certainly graphic and confrontational first movie, seeing RoboCop being a good guy who’s nice to kids and OCP as a bumbling, well-meaning corporation is pretty hecking jarring.
The stories are also just so broad and… weird? In one episode RoboCop gets a cold, and his partner gives him some chicken noodle soup and like… how does that even work? He like, doesn’t have a throat or a stomach anymore? He also goes on a date with Lewis at one point??? There’s also extremely 90s attempts to address things like environmentalism and racism, and just… yeah, yikes. (The racism episode has some of those hilarious cartoon protest signs, like “Humans yes” and “Robots are stupid.”)
In Things That Matter to Me news, literally the first action scene in the first episode has an armed robbery on a blood bank (idk), and one of the robbers is unreasonably hot to me? The one with the sunglasses that look kinda like 3D glasses throws me hella enby vibes, and even if they’re not an enby they’re exactly my type. I’m kinda thinking I should start a side blog that’s just screenshots of random background characters I’m gay for.
RoboCop 2 (movie, 1990)
It’s… kind of just the first movie again but with even more viscerally uncomfortable stuff and a lot of just truly weird filmmaking choices. And even more awkward stop-motion, which is, you know… yeah. It sure is a choice!
On top of the continuation of the “cops on strike” nonsense, this one has an extremely straightforwardly Reaganistic War on Drugs message, and it marries that to an incredibly wrongheaded critique of “political correctness.” See, there would actually be a point to be had here if the critique were aimed at the harm that can be accomplished by putting a shiny coat of heroic and nonthreatening paint on your fascist murder-machine, but the movie is just rolling its eyes at the idea of him doing any non-murder things and explicitly shows it being a problem because it makes him not as good at doing murders.
Literally the only thing I enjoyed about the movie that wasn’t also in the first movie (aside from RoboCop’s more bluish tint) was the foul-mouthed little kid druglord. (Fun fact, that actor was a featured guest star in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode!)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (movie, 1991)
Wow I just had the biggest oblivious crush on John Connor as a kid, huh? Revisiting this, I’m noticing that he’s just an amazing protagonist for this movie. They try so hard to make him seem like a delinquent early on, but literally every time he confronts a difficult choice he chooses to do the right thing. And like, I highly approve of stealing money from banks, obviously.
I think a big part of the appeal as a kid was how freaking awesome the idea of being protected by an indestructible, time-traveling robot was. I think that’s a big part of why the ending hits so hard. This is the first time I can remember it not making me ugly cry.
Every time I rewatch this I’m somehow like… caught off guard by how good it is? It’s just so head and shoulders above anything else on this list, it really sticks out.
Miles Dyson hits in a very Dr. Serizawa from Godzilla 1954 place of like “wow imagine if the people building these doomsday weapons had a fucking ounce of moral conviction” wish fulfillment. T2’s vivid warning about nuclear annihilation is far too informed by misanthropy and riddled with other shortcomings (The thing that leads to the nuclear apocalypse is taking the button out of the ruling class’s hands? Really?), but it nevertheless had a profound effect on me that still resonates today.
It fucking sucks that “guy who engineered the apocalypse” is the only major role they could find for a black guy, that a heroic sacrifice was apparently the only way for him to atone in the filmmakers’ eyes, and that we got that unbelievably uncomfortable scene of a conventionally attractive white woman in combat gear holding his life in her hands, holy shit. (On a plus side this did give us one of the most blatant instances of John being an extremely good boy.)
RoboCop vs. The Terminator (comic book, 1992) by Frank Miller
Almost impressively unremarkable. Like, just completely what you would expect it to be–no more, no less. My biggest real complaint is that it gets a bit repetitive, though you get that a lot with Miller’s stuff.
It was also pretty disappointing to not see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 at all. I mean, when you hear “RoboCop vs. The Terminator,” you just kinda assume he’s the “The Terminator” being referred to, right?
RoboCop 3 (movie, 1993)
This is straight up propaganda, but it’s also the only time I unambiguously like Murphy, soooo.
So, this movie created a private security force called the “Urban Rehabilitators” (“Rehabs” for short) and has them going around evicting people from their homes and rounding them up and dragging them off the streets for the crime of being homeless. It then placed literally everyone who actually does or enables that shit in real life (cops, corporations, the media) in opposition to them. The idea of cops refusing to evict people is fucking rich.
(Oh, and the reason all this is happening is because Scary Japanese Investors bought the villain corporation and wow hi anti-Asian racism you sure are late to the cyberpunk party!!)
The Rehabs are also dressed in extremely unsubtle Nazi-adjacent khaki uniforms because this movie wants you to think that when the Nazis show up they’ll be really easy to spot and not, you know, literally the protagonists of this movie.
I loved the ragtag group of homeless rebels led by Bertha, but why is she the only person in this resistance who isn’t a crusty white guy? Have you seen any pictures or videos of the people in the streets resisting police oppression? They ain’t mostly white guys, folks! Oh and of fucking course she gets gunned down before the third act so literally every adult who’s left in the resistance is a fucking mayo on Wonder Bread white guy.
Oh, I also loved Remy, the kid with the ambiguous gender who hacked everything in sight. Remy and Bertha should have been the protagonists of this movie.
While the movie didn’t go in the direction I was terrified it would at the beginning of the movie (that these awesome rebels would be the bad guys), it did do the next worst thing by having the fucking cops ally themselves with the rebels and having the punk druggie criminals ally themselves with the Naz–I mean, Rehabs. Riiiiight.
It was pretty cathartic seeing all those cops rip off their badges, though, considering that my stance on cops has always been and will always be “have you tried not being a cop?” And that shit needs to be celebrated. Buuuuuut again the movie makes it hella explicit that these are the “good cops” and they still consider themselves cops even after they resign in anger, so what the fuck ever.
Like… I’m sorry, this is pretty easily the best of the three Robocop movies and it’s pretty telling that everyone is willing to swallow the first two but thinks this one is a bridge too far. It’s the only one with any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It’s still absolutely disgusting propaganda, but you know.
RoboCop vs. The Terminator (video game, 1993)
Full disclosure, since it’s the story I’m interested in I didn’t play these myself, I just watched longplays.
So, yeah, the Genesis version just tells the story through an opening crawl and postscript. The SNES version, by way of contrast, has a series of cutscenes many of which use dialog directly from the comic, and which are stylized to look vaguely like comic panels. They … also … have … a … very … deliberate … pace … such … that … the … Genesis … version’s … lack … of … cutscenes … is … probably … actually … preferable. (And I’m saying that as someone who almost always prefers more story.)
The Genesis version also has slightly more vibrant art, and I think I read somewhere that it’s meant to be more evocative of the movies whereas the SNES has more muted tones which again I think are meant to be more like the comic.
I didn’t really get a whole lot out of these, storywise. They’re both basically a stripped-down version of the comic’s story. But it is pretty cool that we got a video game out of this crossover, I just kinda wish we had gotten a movie.
RoboCop (television series, 1994)
Full disclosure: I did not watch the entire series. I watched the first six episodes, and then a few recommended/well-reviewed episodes or ones whose premise sounded interesting.
This was a pretty well-produced series, I gotta say. Some of the episodes did drag a bit, but for the most part they were at least entertaining. Like, the average one is a more interesting watch than the first two movies if I’m being completely honest.
As is traditional for this franchise, the propaganda in the live-action show is thick. The CEO of OCP is depicted as a bumbling but ultimately good-natured guy who, wouldn’t you know it, just keeps ending up with evil masterminds as VPs of various departments! And every time his company does something heinously evil it’s either because he didn’t know it was happening or because someone is trying to take over the company or both.
Don’t worry, though! The show is willing to take a stand against *checks notes* … radical feminists? Huh, that’s probably not right. I’m sure the … evil vice president of scriptwriting is responsible for that one, let’s look for a different example. Oh hey there’s one where the bad guy is … uhhh … poor people who take to the streets against the cops.
Huh. Hey but there’s also one where the evil welfare providers pass a law where you can’t work if you’re on welfare but people really, really want to work so they start fighting for their *flipping through notes loudly* … right … to … work … right to work. Why do those words sound so familiar all together in that order…
You know what? I know what happened. I just watched the bad ones! That’s what it is. I just watched the bad ones. I’m sure there are some I didn’t watch that we can tell from the summary alone did a much better job let’s just take a look at one of these. Let’s see. Here’s one. “The city is being rocked by anti-corporate violence as RoboCop and Officer Madigan are assigned to bring in a charming ex-terrorist, but a corrupt union leader and his sultry secretary have other plans.”
I mean, okay, this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from any RoboCop media, I just heard for years about its supposedly amazing political commentary so it’s always just kind of hilarious to me how consistently awful it actually is.
Anyway, the episodes I actually enjoyed were “RoboCop vs. Commander Cash” (just exactly the silly toyetic fun it sounds like) and “Sisters in Crime” (its politics are awful, but it has some strawfeminists forcefemming a CEO and forcing him to do housework for them, soooooo). Also, there were a few episodes I checked out because I heard they had some awesome bondage in them, and wow I was not disappointed with any of them. (And one of them even had an explicitly kinky lady villain.)
RoboCop: Alpha Commando (1998)
I watched the three-part pilot and then just sorta skimmed for episodes that sounded fun, and they mostly were. This was a lot more harmless fun and less overt copaganda than the other cartoon. It has basically nothing to do with the movies and other shows. So all you really have to contend with is the usual awful writing and loud dumbness of your average kids cartoon that doesn’t even slightly respect its audience. Oh, and some rather cartoonish racism against a nonexistent country in the pilot.
(But the pilot ALSO had an femdommy lady who captured RoboCop and said stuff like “once your defenses are broken down your delicious powers will be reprogrammed to serve ME” and “stop fighting your reprogramming” and “how dare you touch MY RoboCop” and planted a post-hypnotic suggestion in him, so who can say if it’s bad or good.)
I can’t really complain about this too much considering it gave us plots like “an evil arcade owner kidnaps and brainwashes kids” and “terrorists take over a moon colony and threaten the earth.” And the bondage situation was acceptable.
Superman vs. The Terminator: Death to the Future (1999-2000)
You look at the title and think “huh, how’s that supposed to work” and then you finish reading it and think “huh, how was that supposed to work.” You probably figure Cyborg is gonna be involved and Lex is gonna hear about Sky Net and think “hey that sounds dope, lemme get in on that” and yep exactly those things happen. (Though, the latter is just foreshadowed on the last page which again you could’ve probably guessed as soon as it wasn’t part of the main plot.)
These two worlds just kinda don’t go together at all and trying to pretend they do results in this really weird, sterile nothingness. And this period of time wasn’t exactly a nadir for either one of these franchises on their own, so seeing them combined into something so thoroughly unimpressive was kind of sad.
RoboCop: Prime Directives (miniseries, 2001)
This could have been okay if it weren’t 8 hours long. And even then I probably prefer it to the first two RoboCop movies but that isn’t saying much.
Whenever this has Something To Say, it’s bad (actual example: “cops not being able to shoot people would be Bad, Actually”). And it’s just so unnecessarily long and repetitive.
The bones of the story (the backstory, the creation of RoboCable, RoboCop vs. RoboCable, RoboCable’s redemption) would make a pretty great two or maybe even three-episode miniseries but stretching it to four just resulted in way too much filler and repeating every plot point two or three times until you get bored of keeping up with who’s on whose side.
RoboCable himself is pretty dang cool. Though I think it’s pretty funny that his black armor is a dead ringer for RoboCop’s in the 2014 reboot. It’s black so you know he’s eeeeevil! Also he has the only power that’s cooler than RoboCop’s power of Gun: Two Gun!
There’s a supercut in here that would make a pretty good movie or miniseries, maybe. But in its current form it’s just much too bloated for me to not get bored by it, and I’m the kind of idiot who likes 3 to 4-hour long movies as long as they are actually interesting.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (movie, 2003)
If you’re going to bother watching this I would highly (heh) recommend doing it the way we did: getting drunk or high and having people to snark at it with.
Like… it’s not a complete chore to watch, but it’s just kind of… nothing? Like, if Skynet sent a Terminator back in time to stop this movie from being made it would change literally nothing. So being extra primed to enjoy the unintentionally hilarious moments really, really helps.
My favorite moment of this movie is when the bad Terminator crashes a helicopter in a tunnel to get to John and Kate, but before she can attack them the good Terminator crashes another helicopter into hers in a virtually identical shot. As it happened, time seemed to slow down as I realized I knew the perfect thing to say: “Because the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a helicopter is a good guy with a helicopter.”
Seriously, being lit enough to take this kind of joy in a movie’s badness is way, way better than just being bored or disappointed (if you haven’t seen it before) for an hour and forty-five minutes.
Painkiller Jane vs. Terminator: Time to Kill (comic book, 2007)
This is way better than Superman vs. The Terminator. I can only imagine how much I would’ve liked it if I actually knew anything about Painkiller Jane. But even without knowing anything about one of the two franchises in this crossover, I loved it. And it was even kinda gay!! Plus I was kinda gay for that Terminator and her punk rock look, especially when more and more of her metal skeleton started getting revealed, holy shit she was badass.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (television series, 2008-2009)
Yeah this is pretty easily the best post-T2 Terminator content, and it’s super bingeable. (Source: I just watched the whole show in a matter of days.) I’m not saying it’s on T2’s level, there isn’t anything on this entire list that is, but it’s still the only really worthy successor. And it was kind of a pleasant shock to actually watch a good, engaging TV show after the procession of RoboCop shows earlier in this review that uniformly put me to sleep.
It really doesn’t hurt that it stars Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker. The latter name probably isn’t as familiar to most, but he played Claire’s best friend in the first season of Heroes and was blatantly supposed to be gay but they eventually chickened out at the last minute. I had a huge crush on him because this was around the same time I was coming to terms with my own sexual orientation, I think he was my LiveJournal avatar for a minute, and one of my first gay boy crushes, so yeah. Maybe that’s the common thread that determines whether I’m going to like Terminator media or not, whether or not there was an age-appropriate John Conner for me to crush on.
I kinda wish that at the time I had followed him by switching over to watching The Sarah Connor Chronicles to crush on him in an actually good show instead of watching the next two awful seasons of Heroes, but oh well.
It’s kinda wild that Lena Headey didn’t dye her hair or wear a wig or anything? And kinda ironic considering she ended up doing so for her most famous role a few years later. Still, I super buy her version of Sarah and Dekker’s version of John, and that’s probably one of the biggest reasons this series is the only truly great post-T2 Terminator content.
Oh one thing that does need to be said is there is one episode with a trans woman, and it’s not… I mean, it’s definitely transphobic by today’s standards, but it was probably about the best we got on mainstream TV around 2008? But it was… yeah, it was very, very 2008. So, just be aware of… that.
Terminator: Salvation (movie, 2009)
My memory of this from the only other time I saw it (in theaters in 2009) was that it was… fine? And pretty unmemorable. Revisiting it, I found it… fine? And immediately forgot almost everything about it.
Like. I think it’s pretty damn easy to make a movie set in the war-torn future suggested by The Terminator and T2. It’s not a bad idea on the face of it. But this is so a product of its time. Monochromatic. (Okay, fine: dichromatic. It’s got brown and gray!) Morose. Lots of yelling and indistinct dialogue. Everyone hates everyone and everything and themselves. Christian Bale is there for some reason.
This didn’t put me to sleep, but that’s about the best I can say for it? That, and there was just enough good shit in here that they were able to make a pretty great trailer out of it, but you can honestly skip the movie and just watch the trailer and get most of what’s worth seeing. Like that pretty awesome shot of the helicopter landing on a terminator skull and John stepping over it. That was genuinely pretty cool.
Oh, and I liked John’s radio broadcasts. And how he either started or ended all of them with “if you’re listening to this, you are the Resistance.” I don’t super love the way the Resistance is characterized for the bulk of the movie, but that part squares more with what I’m looking for.
Honestly, if they wanted to make Christopher Nolan’s version of Terminator I really feel like they should’ve just gone out and gotten Christopher Nolan. I still don’t think I would’ve loved it, but it might’ve at least been more memorable.
Terminator/RoboCop: Kill Human (comic book, 2011)
This isn’t amazing or anything, but it is definitely better than Frank Miller’s RoboCop vs. The Terminator. If nothing else it has the Ahnold T-800 squaring off against RoboCop, which has to be what everyone has in mind when they hear “RoboCop vs. Terminator.”
I’m not trying to argue this is a masterpiece or anything, it’s honestly pretty mediocre. The characterization of Sarah and John is fairly weak and having RoboCop win at one point thanks to a CEO Ex Machina is eyeroll worthy. I’m just saying it’s noticeably better than its more well-known predecessor.
RoboCop (movie, 2014)
Yeah this was exactly as mediocre as I remembered but even boringer. I checked out halfway through.
I have two (2) nice things to say about this. I think how sterile the rest of this movie was actually made the (much tamer) body horror more uncomfortable? Like, I kind of had to look away from the screen for all of it? I fully realize that the stuff in the original was much gnarlier, but this nevertheless got to me more, and that’s the only explanation I can come up for as to why.
The other thing is those Samuel L. Jackson segments were better and more well-intentioned satire than anything in the original movies. So, there’s that at least?
This is still boring as fuck, though. And not anti-cop enough.
Terminator: Genisys (movie, 2015)
I’ve been hearing since this came out that the first half of it was actually kind of great and the second half is a heaping trashfire, but I didn’t realize how literal y’all were being! It’s literally at the one hour mark of this two-hour movie that this nosedives from “hey this is actually pretty good so far?” to “this is SO stupid, what the fuck, what the FUCK how is this SO stupid???”
I mean, it’s probably better than Terminator 3 or Salvation because at least half of it is good and the half that isn’t is bad in a hilarious way that’s fun to yell at.
I mean, I didn’t even have to be high to enjoy this one.
Mortal Kombat 11 (video game, 2019)
Okay this isn’t a “review,” per se, since I just watched gameplay footage on YouTube, but yeah. The Terminator (the Arnold T-800 one) and RoboCop are both DLC characters for MK11, and they have some special dialog in their intro scenes when they fight each other. It’s honestly more satisfying to watch this than it is to read the comics.
Terminator: Dark Fate (movie, 2019)
So, follow me on this for a second. When it came out Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was the best Terminator movie since T2 simply by virtue of being the only Terminator movie since T2. Then came Terminator Salvation which was the best Terminator movie since T2 thanks to not being Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. You could probably have a pretty good argument about whether the uniform blandness of Terminator Salvation is better than Terminator Genisys being half pretty good and half a heaping trashfire, but I’m going to come down on the side that Genisys is better because at least half of it is genuinely good.
Terminator: Dark Fate is the first actually good start-to-finish Terminator movie since T2, easily the best post-T2 Terminator movie… and it continued the pattern! So if they keep making these things and they keep getting incrementally better, eventually they’ll be as good as T2, right?
In all seriousness, the best way forward for the series would be to pick up on what was established here and just keep going instead of reboot after reboot after reboot, but given that all signs point towards no sequels given Dark Fate’s disappointing box office performance, if there is a next Terminator movie it’ll probably just be yet another reboot.
Given that, I kind of hope they just don’t make another one. They had something here, they really did, but just… enough with the endless reboots already.
Transformers vs. The Terminator (comic book, 2020)
At least we get to end on a good note!
This is pretty easily the best of the various “Terminator vs. [X]” comics on this list. I admittedly don’t know a ton about Transformers aside from what was in the movies, and I’ve seen a handful of episodes of the various TV shows, but I thought these two worlds meshed together surprisingly well! Everyone seemed in character (and the biggest characters you’d expect to see from both franchises made appearances), and they actually told a new and interesting story. The idea that Skynet and humans would end up on the same side in the face of another threat is something that just never occurred to me.
I really think this is about as good as any of these silly crossovers possibly could be. It’s nice to see one of these finally actually deliver.