It may have led to a series that is absolutely lousy aside from the outstanding first sequel, but you can hardly blame The Terminator for that. Arguably James Cameron's greatest achievement as a director, it's as relentless in its entertainment as the machine is with its murdering people.
Watching the film, it's no surprise why "The Terminator" is a classic amongst action lovers. However, what did surprise me is how well-crafted it is. It has a smart script by Cameron and Hurd, and they create such a vivid universe and strong characters (especially its "Halloween"-level sculpting of the titular villain). It's a film that fully deserves the designation "often imitated, never duplicated."
Well, it's no Terminator 2, but... Gah! The opening credits, the low-angle shots, that moment of intimacy when the Terminator is tending its wounds and our empathy is raised only to be skewered, like its eyeball on that scalpel, by its complete lack of humanity. That relentless robot torso... And watching Sarah Connor grow into the badass role model she'd soon become for little-girl me. 3.5. Fair and square.
I do not get the cult around terminator. Did watch it, then, when it came out, with boredom. And the sequels, with some interest, to see how the story would end. But it doesn't work for me. The theme (the singularity) is interesting, but there are better movies about. Even recent ones. Maybe the credit should be given for bringing the human/machine war theme to mainsstream, for that pioneering. But it's still boring.
3.5 Beautiful images and sooo thrilling. The narrative is tight. Cameron said in a 1985 interview with Film Comment: "It's a sense of larger-than-life meaness, almost like Darth Vader. It's not like some guy running up and shooting you in the stomach to get 25 bucks out of your wallet. Some people have said they found it silly, but I hope it's silly in the good sense of not taking itself too seriously."
Every once in awhile a Hollywood movie comes along and hits straight at the sweet spot where fear and pleasure meet: The Woman in the Window, Inv. of the Body Snatchers, Rear Window...in the 80s there was this, an allegory of the birth of the Saviour amid the stomping and bullet-spraying of a cyborg hitman. As an "action movie" it's fine, but it really deserves to be known as an exceptionally deft suspense thriller.