It’s fitting that The Terminator was supposedly inspired by a dream (or, more accurately, some Harlan Ellison stories) because it plays like a nightmare. From the dreams of a future past holocaust that infects everyday machines to the insanity of Reese’s story and the impossible, unstoppable mechanical man, none of it should be happening if Sarah is awake. But it is and the film is a classic because it doesn’t let up and nothing feels like a waste.
The next two movies didn’t have the life on show here; the first sequel is a bloated affair and the second feels unfinished although the ending is great. They have their share of moments but neither is as smart or interesting as the original and both suffer from Arnie’s need to recast himself as a father.