Terminator (character concept)

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This article is about all "Terminator" characters. For the character portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, see Terminator (character). For the first film in the series, see The Terminator. For the series of films, see Terminator (franchise). For the comic-book character once named "Terminator", see Deathstroke.
A Series 800 terminator, a robot-only "Hunter Killer" version of the Model 101 cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the Terminator film series, a terminator is an autonomous robot, typically humanoid, originally conceived as a virtually indestructible soldier, infiltrator and assassin.

James Cameron introduced the first terminator character in the 1984 movie The Terminator, featuring a single cyborg simply called "The Terminator", portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. When later Terminator movies introduced additional models, some sources retroactively gave Schwarzenegger's character a model number, leading to multiple conflicting names.

Physical characteristics[edit]

Humanoid terminators[edit]

In the Terminator universe, a terminator is a formidable "cybernetic organism", robotic assassin and soldier, designed by the military supercomputer Skynet for infiltration and combat duty, towards the ultimate goal of exterminating the human resistance. Terminators are indistinguishable from humans, can speak naturally, copy the voices of others, read human handwriting, and even sweat, smell, and bleed. Because dogs are able to smell the difference, the human resistance uses dogs to help spot them.

A trait persistent throughout the series is the faint red glow of the "robotic eyes" when online, which dim to nothing when a terminator shuts down. In all four movies, the lack of the glow has been used to show when one is out of action. The trait is so characteristic that light-up eyes are often found on Terminator merchandise,[1] with some even replicating the dimming/reillumination effect that occurs during shut down or start up.[2]

Guardian terminator Cameron states to John Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "The Mousetrap", that terminators' densities deny them the ability to swim. T-888 Cromartie demonstrated in the same episode, however, that they can survive submerged and walk along the bed to the shore. The prototype terminator Marcus Wright in Terminator Salvation did demonstrate the ability to swim, though he is the only one of his type.


As seen in the movies, a terminator can withstand standard 20th century firearms, crash through walls intact, and survive explosions to some degree. Repeated shotgun blasts have enough force to knock it down and temporarily disable it, while heavy amounts of automatic fire are able to compromise the organic disguise layer. In the second film, the Terminator says he can run for 120 years on his existing power cells. In the finale to Terminator 2, his power source is damaged, and he is able to find an alternate source, described on the DVD commentary as heat sinks, harnessing the thermal energy from the hot surroundings. In the third film, the T-850 series terminator operates on two hydrogen cells and discards one of them early due to damage. It explodes shortly thereafter with enough force to produce a small mushroom cloud; the fact that many of them are powered by nuclear fuel cells is confirmed by the fourth film.

The endoskeleton is actuated by a powerful network of electric servomechanisms, making terminators superhumanly strong. For instance, in the third movie, Schwarzenegger's character was able to break through a cement wall, while being able to handle firing a machine gun from the hip with one hand, while holding a coffin containing John Connor and a heavy cache of weapons, showing no signs of the extra weight being any real concern; in the second film, Schwarzenegger's character was able to resist the recoil of firing a minigun without any noticeable difficulty. Late in the first film, the Terminator is stripped of its organic elements by fire. What remains is the machine itself, in James Cameron's own words "a chrome skeleton", "like Death rendered in steel." In the later Terminator films, armies of endoskeleton-only terminators are seen. They are visually identical to the one in the first film, and feature prominently in the "future war" sequences of those films.

Despite what Kyle Reese claimed in the first film of "cyborgs do not feel pain," in the second film it was revealed that they are capable of sensing injuries and "the data could be called pain", according to the Series 800 Model 101. In an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today," another cyborg, Cameron, revealed to have an intolerance to some degrees of temperature in its surrounding, as humans do. Unlike humans, however, being machines, they are capable of resisting or shutting off this sense of discomfort. In the following episode, "Complications", Cameron elaborates that terminators can appreciate physical sensations such as the wind blowing through its hair and toes, and process them in a psychological manner.

Synthetic terminators[edit]

CPU and programming[edit]

The terminator CPU is a room-temperature superconducting artificial neural network with the ability to learn.[3] In Terminator 2, The Terminator states that "the more contact [it] has with humans, the more [it] learns." In the Special Edition, he says that Skynet "presets the switch to 'read-only' when [terminators] are sent out alone", to prevent them from "thinking too much". Sarah and John activate his learning ability, after which it becomes more curious and begins trying to understand and imitate human behavior. This leads to his use of the catch phrase "Hasta la vista, baby." A line spoken by the Terminator at the end of the film: "I know now why you cry, but it is something that I can never do." Sarah muses in the closing narration that the Terminator had "learn[ed] the value of human life".

Terminators, being machines, do not have human emotions. According to Reese, terminators "can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with and [don't] feel pity or remorse or fear." Terminators also do not value life, and pragmatically kill in keeping with their programming, i.e. to fulfill their mission. In Terminator 2, when John Connor realizes that the T-800 was about to kill a man they encountered, he responds "of course, I'm a terminator." Conversely, when discussing a variation on the Blade Runner 'tortoise test' in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode, "Complications", Cameron states that a tortoise did not pose a threat and "We are not programmed to be cruel," implying that terminators would right an overturned tortoise. Terminators in the films and TV series have displayed ruthless brutality in achieving their goals, but because they do not have emotions, they are not needlessly sadistic. Terminators can torture humans, but these are interrogations for information, used as a means to an end. Moreover, this means that Terminators are not very experienced at complex forms of interrogation: for example, the T-1000 stabbed Sarah Connor through the shoulder and demanded that she call to John, but this was a simplistic application of pain. Terminators can be taught more complicated torture tactics by humans, who are more familiar with sadistic torture - for example, the engineer/criminal Charles Fischer - as shown in "Complications".

Terminators appear incapable of "self termination", in Terminator 2 the badly damaged Terminator states this to Sarah before asking her to lower it into molten steel (so that his chip cannot be used to help create Skynet). To prevent the possible reprogramming of defeated terminators, as the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "The Tower Is Tall But The Fall Is Short" reveals, Skynet coats later chips with a phosphorus compound which cause them to self-destruct when they contact oxygen.

While a terminator apparently cannot commit "suicide" as such, its programming does not stop it from sacrificing itself if the success of its mission is thereby ensured. Thus, in the third movie, the T-850 deliberately ruptures its own fuel cell next to its antagonist (the T-X Terminatrix), causing an explosion destroying them both. Apparently this did not count as self-termination; the T-850 would have foreseen its own destruction, but could regard it as incidental collateral damage as long as the enemy was wiped out by its action.

Nanorobotic terminators[edit]

Liquid metal nanorobotics[edit]

Mimetic polyalloy is a fictional type of "liquid metal", described as an amorphous alloy that is twice the strength of titanium, and composed entirely from microscopic nanites. It uniquely combines the strength of forging with the ability to mold intricate and complex parts in one step. This allows some Terminator models (such as the T-1000, T-1001, T-X, and T-1000000) to rapidly recover from damage, to quickly shapeshift camouflage, or to achieve near-perfect mimicry.

The T-1000 and T-1001 models, which are composed entirely of the substance, can quickly liquefy and assume forms in innovative and surprising ways, including fitting through narrow openings, morphing their arms into solid metal shapes or bladed weapons, walking through prison bars, and flattening themselves on the ground to hide or ambush targets.[4] It can also extrude small, simple items from itself (such as a pair of sunglasses). It can change its color and texture to simulate flesh, clothing, and other nonmetallic materials. They are effectively impervious to mechanical damage, such as being dismembered, shot with bullets, or attacked with explosive devices. Wounds close almost immediately, and any detached parts simply flow back into the terminator's body.

Extreme temperatures can degrade or inhibit its ability to maintain a disguise, movemet or shapeshift. Molten steel are capable of disassociating its molecular structure and permanently destroying it. Freezing may have lasting negative effect on its ability to shapeshift. In Terminator 2 - The Extended Special Edition, there are additional scenes that show the T-1000 partially losing control of its morphing ability after it has recovered from being frozen by liquid nitrogen. One of its hands stick to a railing and while walking its feet unintentionally assume the texture of the floor.

No indication is given on where, if at all, the CPU is located in these models, nor where the components needed for other sensory functions are located: for example microphones for hearing, speakers for the creation of speech and other noises, or cameras for vision. Given that these kind of terminators are completely fluid, it could be implied that those systems have been implemented as some sort of nanomachines capable of interacting with the rest of the liquid metal devices.

The T-X model is covered by the mimetic poly-alloy, providing it the ability to mimic humanoid forms while enforcing the endoskeleton beneath.

In Terminator Genisys, the new T-5000, portrayed by Matt Smith, is made entirely from nanorobots.

Biological terminators[edit]

The flesh-covering that is used on the majority of terminator models has similar qualities to real human muscle fiber and dermis, including soft tissue and skin, as well as the ability to sweat, simulate breathing and produce realistic body odor.[5] Although terminator flesh does contain blood, it only displays minimal bleeding when damaged and has never been shown to experience any kind of profuse bleeding, even from massive lacerations and dozens of gunshot wounds.

Organic camouflage[edit]

It is unknown what manner of circulatory system, if any, is employed, nor what biological processes take place to sustain the flesh covering since T-800's do not eat food. At least some terminator models can consume sustenance. Cameron eats a corn chip in the Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot, and later a piece of a pancake. The liquid metal T-1001 is also shown to have this capability. The T-888s presumably consume food, given Vick Chamberlain's ability to maintain a human cover for years while married to a human woman. The organic covering was developed for the 800 series, and was its unique feature when first introduced. In the first film, Kyle Reese states that the 600 series were covered in rubber skin, which proved unconvincing and made them easy to spot.

Under 2007-era analysis terminator blood is shown to be similar to human blood, using a synthetic oxygen carrier rather than human red blood cells, as terminator endoskeletons contain no bone marrow.[6] Terminator flesh heals by itself,[7] and at a much faster rate than normal human tissue[8] and has never been shown to bruise or discolor from trauma, even after several days. However, a terminator's flesh covering can die if it sustains adequately massive damage, at which point it takes on a waxy, corpse-like pallor and begins to decompose.This process is seen in the later scenes of the original film where The Terminator, holed up in his hotel room, is attracting flies and draws an inquiry from the janitor as to whether the smell is coming from a dead animal. More advanced flesh used on T-888s appears to not suffer the effects of age or deprivation, as shown in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode, "Self Made Man," where a T-888 known as Myron Stark is able to maintain his organic covering while sealed within a wall for eighty years; no explanation for this ability was provided. Terminator flesh lacerations can be repaired; the T-800 and Sarah Connor closed each other's wounds with sutures in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Cameron sealed her wounds with heavy duty staples in The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "Samson and Delilah".

Although clearly not the normal procedure, a bare T-888 endoskeleton was able to grow itself a new flesh covering using 2007 technology (with the assistance of a geneticist and its own knowledge of future formula) by submerging itself in a blood-like bath.[6] This improvised process resulted in a deformed covering that had the appearance of a burn victim and lacked its own biological eyes, requiring it to steal those of the geneticist and subsequently undergo cosmetic surgery to produce a more normal appearance.[8] The theft of the scientist's eyes suggests that terminator flesh is capable of accepting some degree of organ grafts from ordinary humans, that it can circumvent transplant rejection, and is capable of sustaining the life of the grafted tissue via its own unknown biological process.

It has been shown that terminators' flesh coverings are somehow grown identically, producing many multiple copies of exactly the same physical appearance, indicating the use of specific physical templates for different variations of a model or series. The most well known is that worn by multiple Model 101/T-800/850 units portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as a T-888 model known as "Vick Chamberlain" having a memory of facing a room (presumably in the factory where it was created) of several dozen units sharing an identical template to itself, naked and moving in unison.[9] Some terminators' outer coverings are custom-designed to copy the appearances of humans whom they are intended to kill and replace. Three such examples in The Sarah Connor Chronicles include Carl Greenway in "Automatic for the People", James Ellison in "Brothers of Nablus" and Cameron's pattern, Allison Young, in "Allison from Palmdale".

I-950 series[edit]

Unlike the T series Terminators, the I series Infiltrators are bred, and not factory built machines. Skynet decided that the best way for one of its terminators to act human was to start out with a human and add technological enhancements where necessary. The I-950 starts out as a genetically engineered baby with a neural net processor attached to its brain, providing an up-link to Skynet. To condition it physically, it is coaxed with holographic toys to crawl until it is exhausted. After four years, it is given an injection that rapidly ages it to maturity to finish its training. In an effort to blend in better with humans, the I-950 is allowed to feel emotions, but the range is limited by one of its cybernetic implants. Because it is far more human than machine, dogs are not alerted to its presence, and the infiltrator can go undetected for extremely long periods of time inside a resistance base.

The I-950s carry Model 101 CPU's in case they are needed, as well as power cells. Once the "living" portion of the I-950 is dead, the CPU then takes control of the body, but can only do so for a short time. They can reproduce with other 950s but not humans. If the female I-950 decides that the pregnancy would stop them from carrying out their mission, they could fertilize their eggs in vitro and would be implanted in human surrogate wombs. They are also able to clone themselves.

Non-humanoid terminators[edit]

As seen in the "future war" scenes from various Terminator media, Skynet employs robots not designed to appear as humans even while having access to those who are. This page primarily discusses the Infiltrator subfamily of Humanoid Hunter-Killer branch. Simple Humanoid Hunter-Killers (HKs) share the endoskeletons and combat characteristics with Infiltrators, but not the living tissue sheath. Instead, they serve as general infantry.


Non-humanoid Hunter-Killers are robotic versions of various vehicles, built with roughly the same technologies as the contemporary terminators. The original film introduced a VTOL gunship (HK-Aerial) and an HK-Tank. Terminator Salvation also adds an armed motorcycle, a much larger transport aircraft, the massive Harvester walker and a small recon drone; other media introduce a plethora of other designs.

Development of the terminators[edit]

According to the films, the terminators were created by an artificially intelligent computer, Skynet, to wipe out the remains of humanity. Some models are designed to look exactly like humans in order to infiltrate their bases, progressing from fake rubber skin, to artificially grown human flesh over their electronics, to mimetic polyalloy able to mimic any person or object.

According to the first two films, terminators were Cyberdyne Systems models created after the war between man and machines started. In the altered timeline of T3 created by the destruction of Cyberdyne in T2, terminators were created by the Cyber Research Systems division of the U.S. Air Force to replace soldiers on the battlefield prior to Judgment Day, starting with the T-1.

In the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cameron Phillips establishes that modern terminators are made of coltan for heat resistance, while previous models were made of titanium.

Classes, Models and Series[edit]

The first terminator model shown, simply called "The Terminator", was introduced in the first film, with a new model terminator added for each subsequent film. In addition to those models shown on screen, other spin off sources have introduced more, including T-800s with different appearances from Schwarzenegger, the T-70 from T2 3-D: Battle Across Time and the female I-950 from T2: Infiltrator.

Model Actors Portrayed by Appearances
  • Practical remote controlled aerial robot with guns and missiles
  • Practical remote controlled aerial robot with guns and missiles
  • Series 800
  • Series 850
  • Cyberdyne Systems Model 101
  • Resistance Infiltrator Prototype
  • computer-generated imagery
  • practical effects
  • other cast members
  • computer-generated imagery
  • practical effect
  • computer-generated imagery
T-H / Hybrid human[15]
  • Marcus Wright
  • Jik
  • Nathan Oxley
  • Hope Preston
  • Susan Valentine
  • computer-generated imagery
  • practical special effects
TOK715/Template Of Kill
  • practical effects
  • computer-generated imagery
I-950 enhanced human


  1. ^ Example product with simple light-up feature[dead link]
  2. ^ "T-800 Endoskeleton". Sideshowtoy.com. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  3. ^ Tarisa: "It's a neural-net processor. It thinks and learns like we do. It's superconducting at room temperature." (Terminator 2: Judgment Day Script)
  4. ^ "Terminator2: Judgement Day". Scifiscripts.com. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  5. ^ As mentioned by Kyle Reese in The Terminator.
  6. ^ a b Episode 3: "The Turk", Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  7. ^ According to the Terminator, when asked by Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  8. ^ a b Episode 4: "Heavy Metal", Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  9. ^ Episode 8, "Vick's Chip", Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
  10. ^ "Creator/Producer Josh Friedman's Blog, February 25, 2008". Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  11. ^ "The Turk recap". Fox. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  12. ^ "The Demon Hand recap". Fox. Archived from the original on 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  13. ^ Identified in Cameron' "Termovision" screen when viewing his photograph in "Self-Made Man".
  14. ^ Identified in dialogue as Triple-8s in "Automatic for the People", "Goodbye to All That", "Alpine Fields", "Brothers of Nablus", and "Adam Raised a Cain".
  15. ^ Terminator Salvation: Trial by Fire
  16. ^ In "Heavy Metal", Carter is identified as having a different endoskeleton type than Cromartie, who is a T-888.

External links[edit]