Why Terminator 2: Judgment Day's Opening Scene Is My Favorite Movie Introduction Of All Time

 A T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day
A T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I’ve gone on record saying that I believe The Terminator is better than Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and I do think that…Overall.

But, when it comes to which movie has the better introduction, it’s definitely T2. In fact, even though we also see the future war in the first movie, it just seems like an appetizer of what’s to come. In a sense, I can barely even remember what the war looked like in the original movie.

That said, I can tell you scene for scene what happens at the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s my favorite introduction of all time, after all, and I have five reasons why.

Destruction in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Destruction in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

No Introduction Has Better Set Up The Stakes For A Movie Than Terminator 2’s

I’ll try to set up the scene in words, but honestly, it’s really better if you just see it. The first thing we see are some cars, and the first thing we hear is some unsettling synth music. People are walking about, and it cuts to a little girl on a swing. She goes forward at normal speed, but when she swings her legs, it slows down as she throws her head back in a sense of freedom. She then goes unnaturally high (almost as if she’s soaring right into the future), and the light fades to white while we hear the air being sucked away.

We’re then transported to a destroyed car with a skeleton inside of it. The sky is an ominous dark blue, and the camera pans past a series of empty, destroyed vehicles. A title card at the bottom reads: Los Angeles 2029 A.D. Now, I’m going to stop right there, because as a ‘90s kid, 2029 didn’t seem all THAT far away. Yes, I saw the movie when it first came out in 1991 with my dad, but I did a little mental math, and I realized that I SHOULD still be alive by then. But, I’ll continue.

We then get a shot of a playground (we’re to assume it’s the same one from before), and there are literal skulls littering the ground. (Are they children’s skulls?!) Then there's narration from a woman (we’d later learn that it’s Sarah Connor) that “3 billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997” (To which I thought, "1997?!? That’s right around the corner!"), and that the survivors of the “nuclear fire” only lived to face “a new nightmare,” which was the “war against the machines.” And, then we hear a terrible crunching sound as a metal foot steps on a skull.

The camera pans up and we see one of these “machines,” and let me tell you. That right there was NIGHTMARE FUEL for me in 1991. Soon, we're actually shown the war against the machines itself, and, well, by this point, I was 100% engaged. To this day, I still don’t think I’ve ever seen ANY other movie set up stakes like that. Yes, there are definitely OTHER great opening scenes in movies, like The Lion King and Star Wars, but nothing that quite sets the stakes like Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The fate of all humanity is right there in the first three minutes!

One of the robots in The Terminator.
One of the robots in The Terminator.

It Is Scary As All Hell And Pretty Much Defines The Entire Series

In a way, those first three minutes completely define the entire Terminator series (yes, even the first movie, retroactively, since we see WHY John Connor was so necessary to survive). They are also, unfortunately, where the horror aspects of the franchise seem to end.

You see, one reason why I prefer the first movie to the second is because the first movie is more of a horror movie, while the second is more of an action movie. This is actually kind of similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien juxtaposed with James Cameron’s Aliens, as I would definitely put Alien on the list of best horror movies of all time, but wouldn’t put Aliens there, since it's an action movie. The same goes for T1 and T2. The first is horror; the sequel is action.

That said, the first three minutes of T2 ARE horrific, and terrifying. Here is A.I. gone completely amok, and in a lot of ways, I think the terrifying aspect that's at the heart of all of the Terminator movies is right there in those first three minutes of T2.

That’s why It’s a shame that, when ranking the Terminator movies, you see that none of them truly match the terror of this one scene, as not even the movie that features aspects of the war – Terminator Salvation – seems all that scary. So, yeah, the other movies pull from this war against the machines, but none of them actually match this look at it.

A skeleton in a car
A skeleton in a car

The Sound Effects Are Bone Rattling And Super Effective

I mentioned earlier how the crunching of that skull by the robot foot terrified me as a child, and you know what? It STILL terrifies me. The idea of A.I. killing us all someday seems to be getting closer and closer by the second, and to hear that robot crush a human skull like a paper cup couldn’t be any more horrifying.

It’s not just that sound that makes the intro super effective, a it’s also the rumbling of the explosions, and all of that laser fire. I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi in my day (with some of my favorites coming from Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Total Recall), and the one thing that always leaves an impression on me is the sound.

Let’s take Star Wars for example. The SCHWOOM of the lightsabers is super iconic, but is it scary? No, not really. What about the laser fire? Naw, that’s not scary, either. It’s more like, pew, pew, pew, if anything. It looks great, sure but I never thought it sounded powerful.

The same goes for most laser fire, really. But, not so in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the laser fire has a slightly darker tone to it, almost like rifle fire, but with more propulsive force. I’ll tell you, hearing that on a big screen in surround sound only added to my anxiety. Add in the caterpillar treads of robot vehicles, and it was WAY too much for my then 8-year-old brain to process at the time.

The Terminator 2: Judgment Day arcade game
The Terminator 2: Judgment Day arcade game

The Intro Was So Good They Made An Arcade Game Based On Just A Few Short Minutes

I often talk about movies based on video games for this website, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the opportunity talk about video games based on MOVIES before. Well, the Terminator 2: Judgment Day arcade game is freaking AWESOME.

It’s a light gun shooter where you get machine guns and basically blow away T-1000s…For the first four levels. You see, a VAST majority of the game focuses on the war at the beginning of the film, but actually stretches it out for several levels. Once you pass the first four stages, you then go back through time and have to save John Connor.

What’s fascinating about this game, though, is that the first three minutes of the movie were SO awesome, that it was enough to fill four whole levels of an arcade game, while the last three levels of the game were based around the rest of the movie. How’s THAT for an intro?

A terminator in T2: Judgment Day
A terminator in T2: Judgment Day

The Intro Still Looks Better Than 99% Of The Movies That Are Coming Out Today

Lastly, can we just give a hand to James Cameron’s effects team for just how good this introduction looks? I am not even lying when I say that the intro to this 1991 movie looks better than probably 99% of the movies that are coming out today. I’ll even compare the director’s own work against itself, as I think T2’s special effects look even better than the world of Pandora in his Avatar movies.

Yes, I know, completely different aesthetics, but I think that one problem that modern movies have is that they’re set in these mythical worlds that are almost completely done in front of a blue screen. I’m not sure if T2’s were done in a similar fashion, but I will say that the robots look both surreal and also possible, and that the backdrop of a darkened, ravaged Los Angeles looks VERY REAL, which makes it all the more disturbing.

I’ll tell you, if the intro didn’t look so authentic, I don’t think it would be so effective, but it does, and for that reason, I deem the intro to Terminator 2: Judgment Day to be the very best in the business, even today.

What do you think? Do you also consider it one of (if not THE) greatest intros of all time? For more news on all things Terminator, make sure to swing around here often.