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The Terminator Timeline Explained


So, what’s this about a pre-“Terminator” timeline? Well, in James Cameron’s 1984 film, the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, sends Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) back from a dystopian 2029 to 1984. This is because Skynet, a self-aware superintelligence, has sent a T-800 Terminator back to the same year to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton). The idea here is that Skynet wants to eliminate the possibility of John Connor ever existing, so as to rob the human rebels of their future leader. In the film, not only does Sarah survive, she and Kyle Reese conceive John Connor himself, revealing Reese to be the father of his future friend.

If you’re being meticulous about the Terminator timelines, you have to imagine there was a series of events that transpired before Skynet ever sent the T-800 back in time. This timeline saw John Connor and Kyle Reese’s birth, the creation of Skynet, and the nuclear war that led to the apocalyptic future in which the battle for human survival is waged. Before anyone could start sending cyborgs and protectors back through time, then, there had to be an original timeline. This is the fourth Terminator chronology.

Unfortunately, things get even more confusing. The story of 1984’s “The Terminator” creates its own paradox wherein John Connor is seemingly only born because Kyle Reese is sent back in time. As such, “The Terminator” could be seen as its own, closed timeline, in which John Connor is born, grows up, sends his own father back in time to ensure his birth and thereby starts the infinite loop over again. For the sake of simplicity (and sanity), though, it’s easier to think of the three aforementioned chronologies, and the “original” pre-Terminator timeline.

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