- A human soldier is sent from 2029 to 1984 to stop an almost indestructible cyborg killing machine, sent from the same year, which has been programmed to execute a young woman whose unborn son is the key to humanity's future salvation.
- Sent back from a dystopian 2029--where the cold machines have conquered the entire world--to 1984 Los Angeles, the indestructible cyborg-assassin known as the "Terminator" commences his deadly mission to kill humankind's most important woman: the unsuspecting Sarah Connor. However, from the same war-torn post-apocalyptic future comes a battle-scarred defender--Kyle Reese, a brave soldier of the human Resistance Army--bent on stopping the cybernetic killer from eliminating the world's last hope. But, the Terminator has no feelings, he doesn't sleep, and above all, he won't stop until he carries out his grim task. Does our future lie in our past?—Nick Riganas
- A cyborg is sent from the future on a deadly mission. He has to kill Sarah Connor, a young woman whose life will have a great significance in years to come. Sarah has only one protector - Kyle Reese - also sent from the future. The Terminator uses his exceptional intelligence and strength to find Sarah, but is there any way to stop the seemingly indestructible cyborg ?—Colin Tinto <email@example.com>
- In the future, Skynet, a computer system fights a losing war against the humans who built it and who it nearly exterminated. Just before being destroyed, Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah. The terminator can pass for human, is nearly indestructible, and has only one mission. One soldier is sent back to protect her from the killing machine. He must find Sarah before the Terminator can carry out it's mission.—John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- A cyborg assassin called "The Terminator" is sent back through time to 1984 to kill the seemingly innocent Sarah Connor--a significant woman in a bitter future war with a race of machines. If the Terminator succeeds, mankind is doomed. Sarah's only hope is a soldier from that post-apocalyptic war, who has chased the Terminator back through time. The future of the human race depends on which one finds her first.—Ed Martin <Yeti67@bookham.demon.co.uk>
- Over an apocalyptic battlefield in the year 2029, the ruins of the city of Los Angeles are dominated by robotic war machines, some like tanks, others are hover-crafts, a title card tells us that in the future, humans will wage a long war against an enemy known as the Machines. The "final battle" however, will not be fought in this future world, but in the past, specifically our present... tonight.
The year switches to Los Angeles, May 12, 1984 at 1:34 am. At the Griffith Park Observatory overlooking the city, lightning emanates from above a garbage truck, knocking out power. The driver sees a naked and heavily muscular man (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The man stands up and starts walking toward the city where he is spotted by three young punks. The man gives several indifferent answers to a series of sarcastic questions they punks ask him and then orders the men to give him their clothes. The punks produce knives in response. The man swats two punks aside, the third stabs him, but the man impossibly tears open the punk's body with his bare hands, and kills him. The third punk, seemingly the only one left alive, immediately begins to remove his coat.
In a downtown alley, a homeless man sees a bright, circular light just above the ground, similar to the one at Griffith Park. A scarred, naked man, muscular but much smaller in size than the other man who arrived in a similar fashion, is forced through the portal and lands in the alley, in obvious pain. This is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Reese takes the homeless man's pants, just as a police car pulls up and two cops yell at him to freeze. Reese is able to hide and attacks one of the cops, taking his pistol and demanding the cop tell him the date and year. The cop becomes puzzled by Reese's question. When the cop's partner arrives, Reese runs into a department store. He steals several items, including a pair of Nike sneakers and a long coat and escapes the store. In another alley outside, he steals a shotgun from an unoccupied squad car. Finding a phone book nearby, he looks up the name "Sarah Connor."
Elsewhere a young woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), lives the life of a lonely waitress. Sharing an apartment with her friend Ginger (Bess Motta), Sarah is living out a boring life that seems to go nowhere.
The muscular man steals a car and goes to a local sporting goods store where he has the owner (Dick Miller) show him several assault weapons and a pistol with laser sighting. He flatly asks for a "phased-plasma rifle"; the owner tells him "Only what you see, pal". The owner tells his customer that he can take the rifles right away but the pistol has a waiting period. As he explains the process, the man casually loads the shotgun and shoots the clerk. Shortly after, the man finds a phone book and looks for the name "Sarah Connor" finding three listings in the Los Angeles area. He goes to the address of the first listing; as he walks to the front door, a small dog barks at him. When this Sarah Connor opens the door and acknowledges her name, the man forces his way inside and shoots her with the pistol he acquired. Not long after, at the diner where she works, Sarah's co-worker drags her to the television where she sees a news report about a woman sharing her name having been murdered by an unidentified assailant.
That evening, Sarah and her roommate, Ginger, prepare for separate dates. Ginger's boyfriend, Matt (Rick Rossovich), will be coming over to spend the night. Sarah gets a message from her date, who cancels. Sarah decides to go out for pizza and sees another news report where the police announce the death of another woman sharing her name. Sarah becomes worried, and when she sees she is being followed (by Kyle Reese), she ducks into a small dance club called Tech Noir. She tries to call Ginger, however Ginger and Matt do not hear the phone as they are having sex. Not long after Sarah's call, the killer attacks and fatally shoots Ginger and Matt, before hearing Sarah's voice on their answering machine saying where she is. Sarah then phones the police department and is connected to Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Sergeant Vukovich (Lance Henriksen), the detectives investigating the Sarah Connor killings. Traxler tells Sarah to stay put until he can get a squad car to her. The killer arrives at the club, dispatches a bouncer, and wades into the crowd.
In the meantime, Reese has also entered the dance club. Sarah is finally spotted by the killer, which aims its laser-sighted pistol at her. Reese fires on the killer, hitting him with several blasts, and knocking him to the floor. Sarah sees the killer impossibly rise to its feet and open fire on Reese with the Uzi it stole. He advances on Sarah again, shooting the woman behind her, the woman's body pinning her to the floor. As the killer advances on her and prepares to shoot her, Reese appears again and hits the killer with several more shotgun blasts, blasting him out the front window of the club where he lands on the street. He tells Sarah "Come with me if you wanna live" as the killer arises again and chases them out the back of the club.
Reese and Sarah run through an alley behind the club as the killer chases them. From the killer's perspective, we see that he is a robot of some kind who sees them through a computerized form of night vision. Reese blasts the gas tank of a nearby car which explodes. The killer is unfazed, and jumps on the hood of Reese's car, smashing its fist through the windshield and grasping at Sarah. Reese maneuvers his car in reverse and throws the killer off. Reese speeds off while the Terminator subdues a cop (screenwriter William Wisher) and takes his squad car. During the chase, the killer listens closely to the police reports on the car's radio and responds in the cop's voice.
During the chase, Reese frantically identifies himself as a sergeant with a serial number and explains that Sarah has "been targeted for termination" and that the killer chasing them is not a man but a machine called a "terminator"; a metallic combat chassis covered with living human tissue to make it appear human. They race through several alleys, finally stopping in a parking garage. Reese tells Sarah that the first and larger 600 Series Terminators had rubber skin, but the newer 800 Series are very hard to identify which is why he followed Sarah and waited for the Terminator to make its move so he could identify it. Incredulous, Sarah panics and begins to scream for help, biting Reese on the hand. He tells her not to do it again.
In the parking garage, they leave behind Reese's car and find another unlocked one. Reese explains further that a nuclear war will be initiated by a new, powerful computer system (referred to as "Skynet" in the first sequel) that is going to be tasked with controlling all defense systems. Reese himself has not seen the ensuing nuclear holocaust but was born and grew up destitute and starving in the ruins. He was enslaved and marked with a bar-code and was forced to work loading bodies into incinerators. The human race, he says, will be on the verge of extinction when one man, John Conner, is able to organize the remaining humans into an effective resistance movement that, by the time Reese will be sent back to the present day by Connor himself, had actually defeated Skynet. John Conner is Sarah's future son.
In desperation, Skynet has sent the Terminator to the present day to murder Sarah and eliminate John Connor's existence. Reese also explains that the Terminator pursuing Sarah, is a new model, one that appears infinitely more human than its predecessors. Reese tells her the android will bleed, sweat and even has bad breath to enhance the disguise. Reese is uncertain that he can defeat the android without having the advanced weaponry of the future.
The Terminator finds them there and the chase resumes. Reese has Sarah take over driving and is able to hit the Terminator with a few blasts from his shotgun. Sarah stops their car and the Terminator crashes into a wall. As the police close in, Reese is ready to shoot at them but Sarah stops him, saying they'll kill him. When she and Reese are arrested, she sees that the Terminator has escaped the scene.
At Traxler's police precinct, Sarah is told that Ginger is dead and that Reese has been given to a criminal psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen). His story about the Terminator is treated as the babbling of extreme delusion. While watching the videotape of the interview, Silberman eagerly says that a case like Reese's could be career-making. During the interview, Silberman asks Reese why he didn't bring weaponry from the future with him, to which Reese replies that only living material will go through the time portal. Reese quickly becomes agitated and begins to scream into the camera that the Terminator must be destroyed or it will not stop until it kills Sarah.
The Terminator goes back to a shoddy hotel room where it hides out. It removes one of its eyes that had been damaged when it was shot by Reese. Under the human eye is a sophisticated robotic eye that glows red. It dons a set of sunglasses, changes into different clothes and marches out to resume the hunt for Sarah, taking a pump-action SPAS shotgun and an AR-18 automatic rifle.
At the police precinct, the Terminator arrives in the foyer just as Dr. Silberman is leaving and asks to see Sarah. The desk sergeant refuses to let the Terminator in. The Terminator looks menacingly at the desk sergeant, then up and around and simply states "I'll be back." The Terminator goes outside and one minute later crashes a car through the front door. It marches through the precinct, ruthlessly shooting every officer in its path. The Terminator gets to a circuit panel and after ripping out a main circuit cable, shoves the live wire into the fuse box creating an electrical surge that blows out all lights in the building, leaving the policemen at a disadvantage. In the battle, Traxler and Vukovich are hit by gunfire and Reese escapes confinement. He finds Sarah and the two escape the precinct.
While hiding out in a sewer tunnel, Sarah realizes that Kyle's story is true. Reese tells her more about the future where humans barely survive amid the wreckage of cities and the predating of the Terminators. Initially, Skynet's vehicles, "hunter-killers" or HKs, would use infrared technology to find and kill humans. Kyle mentions that John Connor's talent for strategy helped the Resistance to defeat them. Later, the new Terminators, "infiltrators" like the one he and Sarah are on the run from, appeared and began to find hidden bunkers where humans hid out. Sarah lapses into sleep and has a nightmare of a firefight where Terminators break into a human sanctuary and massacre scores of civilians. Kyle himself is there; after finding a place to rest after a Resistance patrol, he takes out a Polaroid photo of Sarah and admires it. Alerted by dogs (who can sense a Terminator) at the entrance to the bunker, Reese joins the valiant fight to destroy a Terminator that has gotten in. The Terminator, carrying a heavy plasma gun, slaughters everyone and causes an explosion that cripples Reese. Reese sees the picture of Sarah being burned nearby.
Meanwhile, the Terminator is back in its seedy motel room hideout looking at an address book that it took from Sarah and Ginger's apartment and sees a list of names including that of Sarah's mother who lives upstate. After harshly dismissing the hotel owner, the Terminator then leaves its room and gets on a stolen motorcycle and takes off on the road.
Later, the two reach a roadside motel, where Kyle goes to purchase chemicals needed to make explosives. While he is shopping (using "borrowed" money) Sarah showers and phones her mother, telling her the phone number where she is, unaware that the Terminator is on the other line and recreating the voice of Sarah's mother. Sarah's mother is nowhere in sight, but the appearance of the cabin's knocked down front door with a large shotgun blast hole in it suggests that the Terminator forced its way in and probably shot Sarah's mother and waited for Sarah to call. The Terminator then phones the motel and, using its real voice, asks the desk clerk to give him the motel's address.
At the motel, Reese returns with a bag full of unusually matched items like ammonia and corn syrup. Sarah and Kyle make a stockpile of pipe bombs filled with plastique, a compound that Kyle had learned to make and teaches Sarah to make as well, also showing her the cautious process involved to make the bombs. When Sarah asks Kyle if he has ever had a lover, he replies he has not, a fact that touches Sarah. Kyle then mentions having a photo of Sarah and how he has fallen in love with her. Realizing he has gone too far, he furiously begins loading explosives, but Sarah stops him and kisses him. The two lose their inhibitions and have sex. Their consummation results in the conception of Sarah's (and Kyle's) son, John.
That evening, the Terminator tracks them to the motel and the two flee again in a stolen pickup truck (alerted by a tenant's pet dog barking at the sight of the approaching Terminator). As they race down a wide highway, Reese makes a valiant effort to destroy the Terminator with the pipe bombs he and Sarah made, however, he is hit by gunfire. Sarah manages to knock the Terminator off its motorcycle and her truck flips over.
The Terminator recovers and is immediately struck by a semi-tanker truck and dragged for a short distance. After the driver stops, the Terminator kills him and takes control of the truck, (ordering the truck driver's partner to "Get out!") attempting to run down Sarah. Sarah is able to get Kyle out of their wrecked pickup before the Terminator runs it down.
Near a factory, Kyle uses another pipe bomb to detonate the truck's tank trailer, which explodes. As Reese and Sarah embrace, the Terminator emerges from the wreckage, its flesh completely burned off. Reese and Sarah retreat into the factory, which is automated. Reese switches on as many of the machines as he can, making tracking more difficult for the Terminator. They are finally cornered and Reese places his last bomb in the endoskeleton of the Terminator, which explodes, scattering pieces of the android. Sarah, nursing a severely injured leg, finds Reese, but he's dead.
She is suddenly attacked by the top half of the Terminator's skeleton. She desperately crawls away, finally luring the Terminator into a giant hydraulic press. She traps it there and, as it mindlessly tries to break her neck, pushes the button activating the press. The Terminator is crushed until its red glowing eye fades.
Sarah is taken to an ambulance and sees the paramedics loading Kyle into a body bag. Later, she is driving a Jeep in the desert, a large dog in the passenger seat, seemingly towards Mexico, stopping at a gas station. She is more visibly pregnant with John Connor and has been recording her voice using a cassette player; the tapes are for her son. One of the questions she poses is whether or not she should tell John about Reese being his father and if that will affect his decision to send the warrior back in time to meet and save Sarah. While the Jeep's tank is filled, a young boy takes her picture with a Polaroid camera (it is the same picture that John will give Reese in the future). She and the boy bargain over the price and she buys it. The boy says something in Spanish and the gas station owner tells her he said that a storm is coming but she is aware of this. Sarah sees the storm approaching and she drives off into an unknown future. The ending credits roll.
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