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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

All of James Cameron’s movies, ranked

All of James Cameron’s movies, ranked
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.
Orion Pictures

At the 1998 Oscars, James Cameron infamously declared that he was “king of the world” while picking up the awards for Best Director and Best Picture for Titanic. As much as that line didn’t go over well at the time, it’s kind of hard to argue against Cameron. In the last 42 years, Cameron has directed nine feature films, three of which are among the highest-grossing movies of all time. He’s not just one of the top directors in Hollywood — Cameron is the most successful director ever.

Later this year, Cameron’s breakout picture, The Terminator, will celebrate its 40th anniversary. In honor of that milestone, we’re taking a look back at all of James Cameron’s movies and ranking them from worst to first. Note that we’re limiting this list to the feature films that Cameron directed, and not counting the two documentaries he helmed as well.

9. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

The cast of Piranha II: The Spawning.
Saturn International Pictures

Cameron has argued that Piranha 2: The Spawning isn’t actually his first movie, since he was replaced early in the shoot. But some accounts have contended that Cameron remained with the film throughout its entire production. Cameron had gotten his start in the industry as a special effects artist for B-movie king Roger Corman, which is why Cameron got a chance to helm this film.

The premise of Piranha 2: The Spawning is actually hilarious. Thanks to some extremely misguided genetic experiments, a new breed of piranha can survive outside of water and even fly. Despite Cameron’s misgivings about the film, this movie has gone on to become a cult classic. Cameron even cast Piranha 2‘s leading actors, Tricia O’Neil and Lance Henriksen, in supporting roles in his later films.

Rent or buy Piranha 2: The Spawning on Prime Video.

8. True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.
20th Century Studios

True Lies may be Cameron’s most conventional film. It’s neither sci-fi nor fantasy; instead, it’s an action comedy that reteamed Cameron with Arnold Schwarzenegger while adding Jamie Lee Curtis to the mix. Schwarzenegger and Curtis have great on-screen chemistry as Harry and Helen Tasker, especially after Helen discovers the truth about Harry’s double life as a spy. Eliza Dushku played their daughter, Dana Tasker, before achieving TV stardom years later with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As much fun as this movie can be at times, it’s also very problematic from a modern standpoint because of its depiction of one-dimensional Arab terrorists, and the uncomfortably gleeful way that the movie uses Harry to dispatch them. There’s no nuance, but this film is a product of its time, so take it for what it is.

Watch True Lies on Fubo.

7. Titanic (1997)

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.
Paramount Pictures

Titanic was the film that earned Cameron his Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, but it’s far from his best work. From a technical standpoint, the destruction of the Titanic itself is visually arresting and one of the best sequences in cinematic history. The love story at the heart of the movie is less so, but that didn’t stop audiences from making it the top-grossing movie of all time during the late ’90s.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play the star-crossed lovers, Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater. Their courtship plays out prior to the ship hitting an iceberg, provoking the anger and jealousy of Rose’s fiancé, Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). Those problems seem very small when the Titanic’s last minutes finally arrive, as Jack and Rose desperately try to find a way to stay together and survive the sinking of the ship.

Watch Titanic on Paramount+.

6. The Abyss (1989)

An otherworldly encounter in The Abyss.
20th Century Studios

The Abyss is an often overlooked film in Cameron’s credits, although he demonstrated an almost obsessive level of dedication to even the smallest moments. By some accounts, the cast was very unhappy with Cameron during this demanding shoot, but the result was a very good sci-fi action film that didn’t play like a conventional blockbuster.

An estranged couple, Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Ed Harris) and Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), are reunited on a mission to recover a U.S. nuclear submarine from the bottom of the ocean. What they discover down below is an alien unlike anything they’ve ever imagined, and that drives U.S. Navy SEAL Lieutenant Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn) to madness. Coffey’s efforts to destroy the alien threatens to kill everyone on the mission, which forces Bud and Lindsey to put their own lives on the line to stop him.

Watch The Abyss on Hulu.

5. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Jake Sully in "Avatar: The Way of Water."
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

From a purely visual standpoint, Avatar: The Way of Water is the best-looking movie that James Cameron has ever made. Cameron fills the screen with stunning shots of the alien world, Pandora, and it’s an amazing feat. On the other hand, the story isn’t quite as exciting. Several years after the first movie, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have started their own family together. Unfortunately, their peace is shattered when humanity reinvades Pandora in greater numbers than before.

Fearing for the safety of his family, Jake leads his wife and children away from their first home and joins a water tribe of Na’vi. The transition proves to be very difficult for their kids, but they eventually find their way before the Avatar clone of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) tracks them down and threatens to destroy everything they love.

Watch Avatar: The Way of Water on Disney+.

4. The Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.
Orion Pictures

It’s easy to see why Cameron wants to call The Terminator his first film. This was a fantastic movie on every level, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect choice to play the T-800 Terminator. At this point in his career, Schwarzenegger hadn’t fully mastered his screen persona or his command of the English language, but that awkwardness made him seem even more like a machine. Physically, Schwarzenegger towered over the other actors and he genuinely seemed like an unstoppable villain.

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is the unwitting target of the Terminator, and not even the cops can protect her. Sarah’s only hope lies with Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a man who was sent back in time to ensure that she will live to give birth to humanity’s savior in the war against the machines: John Connor.

Watch The Terminator on AMC+.

3. Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens.
20th Century Studios

Coming into Aliens, Cameron had the unenviable task of following in Alien director Ridley Scott’s footsteps. Afterwards, not even Scott has been able to match the action and intensity of Cameron’s second big-budget film. Cameron and his collaborator (and wife at the time), Gale Anne Hurd, threatened to quit unless the studio agreed to bring back Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley to link the second film to the first one. Weaver delivered on her end with a performance that made her an action icon.

The film takes place takes after the original movie, as a distraught Ripley is awakened from suspended animation, only to discover that she missed her daughter’s entire life. During a mission to the colony world LV-426, Ripley finds a surrogate daughter in Rebecca “Newt” Jorden (Carrie Henn), the only human survivor of a xenomorph infestation. And not even the xenomorph queen can deter Ripley from doing everything she can to get Newt out alive.

Watch Aliens on Max.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)

Edward Furlong and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, aka the last great Terminator movie, turned Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 into the hero of the film. Actually, he plays a copy of the same Terminator model. This time, the T-800 is sent back to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong) from an even more advanced Terminator, Robert Patrick’s T-1000. The liquid metal morphing effects of the T-1000 were revolutionary for the time, and he was a foe who could assume any face or form while chasing John and his protector.

At John’s insistence, the T-800 also rescues his mother, Sarah (Hamilton), from an asylum. Although Sarah is reluctant to trust the Terminator, she also recognizes that he represents the best opportunity they have t0 prevent Judgment Day from ever happening … if they can find and neutralize a scientist named Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton).

Watch Terminator 2: Judgment Day on Paramount+.

1. Avatar (2009)

Neytiri and Jake in Avatar.
20th Century Studios

In the years leading up to Avatar, rumors were rampant about Cameron’s first film since Titanic. No one really knew what to expect, which may be why audiences were so blown away by the film’s masterful use of 3D and the stunningly beautiful world of Pandora. Avatar doesn’t have Cameron’s strongest story, but it was an experience like no other movie before or since. Even The Way of Water couldn’t fully recreate the shock of seeing Avatar‘s alien world for the first time.

During the first film, Jake Sully (Worthington) was a disabled Marine who agreed to make the trip to Pandora because the Avatar Program allowed him to control a Na’vi-like body that was fully ambulatory. Jake and others like him had been sent to win the trust of the Na’vi people in order to get them to allow humanity to exploit their world. Jake quickly falls for Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), who shows him the ways of the Na’vi. Jake is so won over by Neytiri that he realizes that he’s on the wrong side of the conflict. That’s why Jake rallies the Na’vi tribes to push back against his own people even in the face of an overwhelming force.

Watch Avatar on Disney+.

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