Monday, December 11, 2023


 by Adam Riske

Nominated for “Best Action Sequence” at the MTV Movie Awards. It lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

• Best Scene/Moment: The surprise ending with Judgement Day happening. It’s the only interesting thing about this movie and almost makes the rest being so generic seem like a misdirect.

• Best Song: It feels lame to pick “The Terminator” theme by Brad Fiedel so I guess by default I’ll go with “Macho Man” by the Village People even though it plays over what might be the lamest scene in any movie from 2003.
• Best Merch: A “2003 Terminator Skull Movie Silver Promo T3 Silver Ring Size 9 Rare” for only $2,499.99. This is way more expensive than my Wishmaster Djinn ring I bought straight from Andrew Divoff. Also, why does the robot look more like The Creeper from Jeepers Creepers than a Terminator? I like that the ring comes in a Skynet level secure box that’s nicer than my first apartment.

• Director Grade: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was directed by Jonathan Mostow. My first Mostow was 1997’s Breakdown, which I thought then (and think now) is a creepy, very effective thriller. It’s his best film. On the promise of Breakdown, I saw his next movie, the submarine thriller U-571 during opening weekend in theaters and thought it was good at the time, but I haven’t revisited it since then. Following in the footsteps of James Cameron is a fool's errand but I understand why Mostow chose to direct Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines since it felt like a natural level-up from his previous genre movie successes. The reception to the movie seems to have cooled his feature directorial career since the only other films he’s made since are 2009’s Surrogates starring Bruce Willis (which I remember being forgettable.... wait, does that make it not forgettable if I remember it was forgettable?) and something called The Hunter’s Prayer starring Sam Worthington. I’m probably being too hard on Jonathan Mostow. Two out of four ain’t bad, especially when one of those two is great. Overall Grade: B-

• Double It with This 2003 Movie: The Matrix Revolutions

• Year 2003 Movies to Trailer Before It: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
Draft Day or Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? Draft Day

• Mall Movie? Yes. The Terminator franchise’s gravitas was gone by the time of this movie’s release. I remember the consensus seemed to be that the movie was a disappointment even before opening day.

• Only in 2003 (tie): Someone saying, “Talk to the hand” and expecting anything other than an audible groan & eye roll and a Kristanna Loken showcase role.

• Scene Stealer: Does Arnold Schwarzenegger count? You could argue Nick Stahl and Claire Danes are the leads. If not, I guess the rolling and flying robots in the third act after Skynet takes over.

• I Miss: Terminator movies directed by James Cameron.

• I Don’t Miss: The Terminator franchise. May it rest in peace once and for all.

• 2003 Crush: Claire Danes.

• 2023 Crush: Kristanna Loken.
• What I Thought in 2003: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was an enormous letdown. Holding any movie to a standard as high as Terminator 2: Judgement Day is a tough task but Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines felt more like an expensive Sci-Fi Channel movie than a premiere blockbuster. Jonathan Mostow was a good director up to that point, but his treatment of the Terminator franchise felt pretty pedestrian. If you’re going to continue the franchise after T2’s perfect closing, you need to have a good reason and Terminator 3 did not. I also didn’t like the surprise ending of Rise of the Machines. I remember walking out of the theater mad saying “So it’s just Planet of the Apes now?”

• What I Think in 2023: Other than me changing my mind about the ending (because at least it’s something), there’s very little I like about this movie or any of the Terminator sequels that came after. They’re just unnecessary. The three leads (Stahl, Danes and Schwarzenegger) are solid and Loken is okay as the T-X, but everything about Rise of the Machines feels like an RC Cola version of Terminator 2.


  1. This is the only Terminator movie I saw in theaters (I know, I know) so I'm happy to read a write up about it. I don't remember a ton but mostly it made me want to revisit the first two movies of the franchise. I also want to rewatch all the movies you suggest trailering before it.

  2. No love for the end credits tie-in song "The Current" by Blue Man Group, featuring Gavin Rossdale of Bush? It's not my usual music genre, but I think it's pretty rad, and the music video has clips from the movie and everything.

    FWIW, in the commentary, Mostow claims the humor and gags that permeate the movie's first half were very much intended as a misdirect, so the audience would feel the movie was being lighthearted and safe until the ending walloped them. I once watched a fan edit with nearly all the humor removed, and the remaining movie was so grim (the movie has a lot of murder, including the T-X killing a kid) that the ending didn't feel unexpected at all.

    I've always liked T3, and thought of it like a classic rock cover band at a county fair. Sure, they're playing other people's old hits, but they're doing it pretty well. None of the T2 sequels are in any way essential, but, unlike Salvation and Genisys, T3 is R-rated, and it doesn't star Jai Courtney as a comically buff Kyle Reese. It's also 20 minutes shorter than Dark Fate, and though the action gets a bit cartoony, it doesn't turn into a full-on superhero flick in the third act, and it has Earl Boen in one helluva cameo. It also isn't a network TV show in which a major recurring question is "will John Connor and his sexy robot friend smooch?" So, IMHO, T3 is easily the best of an unnecessary, mediocre-to-awful bunch. (And Stahl and Danes are just great, to boot.)

    On a personal note, I first saw the movie between my junior and senior years of high school, where John's plight of having no idea what to expect from his future resonated with me big-time. That fall, I watched low-res previews over and over, devoured speculation of an extended cut on, and counted the days until the DVD release.

    1. This is a great point about the movie being about: what do you do when you were supposed to be the future savior of humanity and now you just another guy trying to pay the rent.

      If they could have focused on that for 30 minutes before introducing any terminators it could have been a decent movie. But it was doomed to be the “it’s a failure if it doesn’t make $500 million” over-budgeted, everything-to-everyone box office bomb.

    2. T3 more than doubled its budget at the box office, so it certainly wasn't a bomb, even if it wasn't a smash hit. But it also doesn't much lend itself to an immediate sequel, with the Arnold-Terminator destroyed again, and only a handful of machines making their way into the world. It's a lot like the ending to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in that way - killer concluding montage, but, um, exactly where does one go from there?

      And while I'd definitely be interested in seeing more character scenes with Stahl and Danes, the plot is one giant contrivance on top of another (John and Kate were old middle school friends, John just happens to break into her vet clinic when she's the only one there, which just happens to be when the Terminators show up, Kate just happens to be the daughter of the guy in charge of Skynet), and more quiet scenes would probably only make that even more glaringly obvious. So, maybe a mindless, disposable popcorn flick is the best thing T3 (or any other T2 follow-up) could have been.

      That said, anyone who likes Stahl in the role and would like to see more of him trying to prevent the apocalypse should absolutely check out the excellent HBO series Carnivàle.