In a post-apocalyptic future, a killer cyborg, encased in human flesh, is sent into the past to to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of a future rebel chief who will lead insurgents against 21st century mechanical hegemony.
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"The Terminator" has possibly the greatest delivery of exposition in any genre movie. Michael Biehn is spouting off about cyborgs and a future war but, first of all, you don't know if he's crazy or not; he's explaining all this while being hounded by the police AND the Terminator, and he's in the process of stealing a car; but Biehn's performance is so full of conviction, you're taken in by every word he says.
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.
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."