- MPAA Rating: R
- Runtime: 1h 47m
- 3CMR: Hall of Famer
An Austrian bodybuilder became governor because of this movie!
But why did this small-budget action film make such an impact?
Because it’s super good! And it’s super good because it has the 3 Count!
The 3 Count: the three features that make pro wrestling ultrapopular and megaprofitable also makes movies rewatchable and recommendable for more people.
Using pro wrestling terminology, I’ll review “The Terminator” for its 3 Count, and other pro wrestling concepts, to explain why it’s one of the greatest action movies ever made. SPOILERS AHEAD!
To begin, let’s look at the trailer’s Butts in Seats Gimmick, the marketing hook that’s supposed to make people say, “I’ve got to see that!”
The Butts in Seats Gimmick
The trailer advertises an R-rated, action-filled, loud-ass, sci-fi thriller. That still works as a Butts in Seats Gimmick now. But in 1984, it was gold.
Now, let’s look at the movie’s 3 Count.
The 3 Count
1. Babyface vs Heel
Babyface vs heel (good guy vs bad guy) is one of the most basic ingredients for emotional investment in any story. Does “The Terminator” have babyface vs heel?
The mother of humanity’s savior and her guardian vs a killing machine from the future. Yes, this movie has babyfaces vs a heel. Who are the babyfaces ?
Sarah Connor, the future mother of humanity’s badass savior in the war with robots, is a total jabroni when we meet her. She gets no respect at her waitressing job and is stood-up for her date.
She’s a total pushover! She lets people get heat on her without firing-up. She could really use a take-no-crap attitude, but nope. She’s totally unprepared for the challenge ahead.
All this means she’s got an integral quality of a babyface: she’s an underdog.
Thankfully, she partners with badass Kyle Reese.
Reese is a soldier from the future trying to keep Sarah alive. He’s trained, tough, resourceful, and experienced with Terminators. He’s got the knowledge and skills she needs.
He’s also selfless and fights to protect Sarah until his death. That’s a babyface.
Together, Sarah and Kyle do what babyfaces are supposed to do to keep us emotionally invested in them: sell and fire-up to fight back.
For most of the movie, Sarah sells while Reese fires-up and shoots the guns and throws the bombs at the Terminator. Together, they make a great babyface tag-team, which helps build the drama in their battle against the unstoppable heel.
In fact, let’s talk about him! Um, I mean, about it.
T-800 (The Terminator)
The T-800 is one of the best heels in movies.
It kills people like John Cena won world titles: over and over and over. The T-800 kills men, women, cops, punks. It just keeps squashing everyone in its way to accomplish its mission: kill poor Sarah Connor so she can’t give birth to her son. That’s disgusting! I feel weird typing it!
And, like Reese says of the T-800, “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop ever! Until you are dead.” The T-800 is basically Brock Lesnar.
So far, “The Terminator” is 1 of 3 in the 3 Count.
2. Top Talent
Top Talent wrestlers (and movie characters) stand out from everyone else by drawing the most attention and money from fans. Think of Macho Man and Darth Vader. They’re not normal. They’re better! Which characters in “The Terminator” are Top Talent?
If any character is Top Talent, it’s the T-800.
He’s been cosplayed, imitated, and quoted since 1984! Who hasn’t said this line to somebody while leaving a room?
That character became iconic immediately, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has been involved with the Terminator franchise ever since.
Probably because the Terminator is a super over money machine. He’s practically a walking ATM.
Let me say now, “I’ll be back” is my pick for the Most Over Gimmick of the movie. Although the movie is filled with memorable characters, scenes, and dialogue, that line is what everyone references the most. If a line can be imitated, it can get over. Arnold’s delivery of that line, followed by the chaos of the police station shootout, burned “I’ll be back” into the mainstream forever.
“The Terminator” is 2 for 3 in 3 Count so far!
3. Ring Psychology
Ring Psychology is the storytelling technique pro wrestlers use to create the emotional peaks and valleys in their matches while they fight for the story’s momentum. The more a movie’s storytelling resembles Ring Psychology, the better the movie.
“The Terminator” has excellent Ring Psychology.
Act 1: Entrances
Act 1 is like the entrances of a wrestling match. We figure out who to cheer or boo. We also learn how to win and what’s on the line in this match-up.
The ring: Los Angeles, 1984.
A freaking huge, mysterious guy enters and gets heat by killing a bunch of people, including two women named Sarah Connor. We’ve got our heel!
A smaller, mysterious guy enters. He steals pants from a homeless man, fights cops (but doesn’t hurt them), then steals their shotgun and goes looking for Sarah Connor. He seems like a heel, but the bar has been set high by the big guy. So, this dude is a tweener, for now.Babyface Sarah Connor enters on a motor scooter. Like geeky Kurt Angle.
She’s nice and all but, she has no fire. She’s in danger, for sure!Babyface Detectives Ed and Hal enter, hoping to tag in to protect Sarah from the Sarah-Connor-killer.
We’ve got our babyfaces and heel!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THIS IS A DEATH MATCH! THE ONLY WAY TO WIN IS TO EITHER ELIMINATE SARAH CONNOR OR ELIMINATE WHOEVER TRIES TO KILL SARAH CONNOR! THIS MATCH IS FOR THE FATE OF HUMANITY!
Act 2: Ring the Bell!
Act 2 is like the start of a wrestling match. Momentum moves! Intensity escalates! And emotions flip, flop, and fly!
The pacing is crisp. Each Rest Hold scene between the boom-boom-boom gives us a couple minutes to rest before the T-800 comes crashing through another wall to get heat again.
This means the babyfaces rarely have the momentum. That’s a great way to build sympathy and tension. For example…
While hiding in a public garage, the smaller, mysterious guy smartens up Sarah that his name is Reese, the big guy is a robot, and she’s gonna be a mom. Swerve!
Cutoff and Get Heat
BOOM! The T-800 does a run-in, leading to a badass car chase with lots of close calls.
But the T-800 takes a huge bump as he smashes his car head-on into a wall! Hoora-
Cutoff and Get Heat
The cops arrive, arrest Reese, and the T-800 is missing. DAMN IT!
Maybe this is a good thing for Sarah. What if Reese is crazy? Detectives Ed and Hal are nice, and she’s in a police precinct filled with cops who can protect her. What could go-
Cutoff and Get Heat
Freaking BOOM! The Terminator hits the ring on the cops! The T-800 squashes every cop in the building.
He can get to Reese and Sarah absolutely anywhere!
The T-800 keeps ripping the momentum from the babyfaces in increasingly worse ways. Like a dastardly wrestling heel, he’s breaking the rules and getting away with it. Because he can!
The babyfaces are at a huge disadvantage because they’re always playing defense until it’s finally time to make the comeback in Act 3.
Act 3: The Go-Home
Act 3 is like the Go-Home of a wrestling match. The back-and-forth is furious! False Finishes! The Fire-up! The Comeback! And someone finally gets their hand raised in victory!
I think “The Terminator” has one of the best third acts in action movies. The Go-Home has only three characters but does so much with so little. For example…
After Sarah and Reese have spent the night in a motel and given their relationship a push…
Cutoff and Get Heat
The T-800 BURSTS through the door! A chase scene starts with the babyfaces fighting defensively, speeding away in a truck and throwing pipe bombs, while the heel shoots at them from his motorcycle. Then the Terminator shoots Reese! Reese is alive, but he’s hurt. And the T-800 is closing in!
Fire-up and Comeback
Sarah fires-up for the first time in this match-up! She smashes the Terminator’s motorcycle into a guardrail, and he takes a huge bump. Hooray!
Cutoff and Get Heat
But Sarah’s truck flips over! It’s a double down.
A semi-truck hauling a gasoline tanker smashes into the Terminator and drags him along the ground. That’s it! It’s gotta be over!
But the T-800 kicks out! It’s damaged and selling by dragging its foot. The T-800 steals the big rig and speeds it toward the babyfaces. They powder. Eventually, Reese gets a lit pipe bomb on the tanker. Then…
The tanker and the semi-truck explode into pieces! That’s gotta be it! Sarah and Reese embrace! Yay!
But the Terminator kicks out of that too! It stands up. Its skin has melted off, fully exposing its shiny, metal skeleton. It limps at the babyfaces, still on the chase.
Reese pulls a desperation maneuver, lighting a pipe bomb that explodes the T-800 into pieces but also kills Reese. That’s known as a Dusty Finish!
Sarah’s leg is injured, but she crawls to Reese and sees he’s finished. She weeps, but at least the T-800 is-
HOLY CRAP IT KICKED OUT! The top half of the Terminator slowly drags itself toward Sarah while selling all the damage it’s taken. Each False Finish has taken a physical toll on the babyfaces and the heel, and it shows.
Seconds from death, Sarah says her new catchphrase and hits the T-800 with her finisher, The Hydraulic Press! (NSFW video)
Later, a pregnant Sarah heads south to raise John and prepare him for the coming war by making him super tough in the deserts of Mexico. John will learn about firearms, tactical engagement, and lucha libre!
That’s 3 for 3 of the 3 Count! Let’s finish off this review.
The Blow Off
The legacy for “The Terminator” is wild.
- Launched Schwarzenegger’s movie career. (Yes, he did “Conan: The Barbarian” first, but nobody cares.)
- Launched director James Cameron’s movie career. (Yes, he did “Pirahna 2: The Spawning” first, b-… wait, he did what?)
- Launched a franchise. Yes, most of the sequels suck, but…
- that mostly-sucky franchise grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide.
- “I’ll be back” is easily one of the top movie quotes of all time.
- Arnold nicknamed himself “The Governator” in reference to this movie. And he freaking won.
“The Terminator” is a movie everyone should see, regardless of their taste. Over 30 years after its release, Hollywood is still cashing in on it.
And why has this movie made such an impact after all these years? Because the 3 Count, the fundamentals of pro wrestling, are integral to the story “The Terminator” tells: babyfaces vs heels, a super over Top Talent character, and great Ring Psychology. That means you care about the characters, it doesn’t drag, and it’s entertaining!
“The Terminator” is a Hall of Famer!
P.S. Obviously, since “The Terminator” impacted pop culture, it also influenced pro wrestling. Even though “Terminator Genysis” was a big pile of crap, the Terminator-themed entrance HHH got out of it for WrestleMania 31 is still sweet.
Then, WWE put the T-800 in their successful WWE 2K video game franchise. Over, over , over!