James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the rare big-budget sequel to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way. It expanded on the mythology established by the original while introducing compelling new characters and cleverly flipping the allegiance of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800; along the way, it helped to establish CGI as a valuable tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal (although many of its more surreal moments were actually accomplished with practical effects). It was the most expensive film ever made at the time, and it delivered on its budget by giving audiences a rollicking, original adventure. Its ending — in which our point of view traverses a dark, mysterious road while Sarah Connor’s voiceover muses on the ambiguity of the future — was the perfect coda, with our weary protagonist finally allowing herself a glimmer of hope. Cameron’s original ending, however, was slightly less ambiguous.
In it, we see an elderly Sarah sitting in a park while an adult John Connor plays with his daughter. Speaking into her ever-present recorder, Sarah states flatly that “August 29, 1997 came and went. Nothing much happened… there was no Judgment Day.” Her bored, detached narration concludes with the heavy-handed observation that “if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life… then maybe we can, too,” before cutting to black and rolling credits. It’s far too tidy an ending for the mind-bending film we’ve just seen, although it wouldn’t have left much room for sequels, which may have been a good thing.