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Every James Cameron Movie, Ranked By Rewatchability

Some James Cameron movies, like the action-packed Aliens or the taut, tense T2, warrant more rewatches than others, like his overlong opus The Abyss.

James Cameron is one of the most renowned and revered filmmakers in the world. He’s the only director besides Steven Spielberg to break the record for highest-grossing movie of all time more than once. He created the Terminator franchise, put his own personal stamp on the Alien franchise, and dominated popular culture with mega-hit movies like Titanic and Avatar.

Some of Cameron’s movies, like his goofy action comedy True Lies, warrant more rewatches than others, like his overlong sci-fi epic The Abyss or his disowned directorial debut Piranha II: The Spawning.


8 Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

Attack in Piranha 2

Although it’s technically Cameron’s directorial debut, Piranha II: The Spawning is hardly a James Cameron movie. Executive producer Ovidio G. Assonitis notoriously exercised excessive creative control during production. In an interview with Terminator Files, Cameron disowned Piranha II.

As its title would suggest, Piranha II: The Spawning is a largely forgettable B-movie. It has some impressive special effects, but they’re not enough to keep audiences coming back for repeat viewings.

7 The Abyss (1989)

The NTI creating a water version of the humans in The Abyss

In Cameron’s underwater sci-fi thriller The Abyss, the crew of a sunken American submarine finds something stupefying deep in the ocean as they wait to be rescued (or attacked by Soviet vessels). This script is a classic example of story taking over from plot. It’s not really a movie about aliens at sea; it’s about an estranged couple trying to reconcile their issues while trapped in a confined space.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in The Abyss – mostly thanks to Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s snappy dynamic – but it’s about 20 minutes too long and ends up outstaying its welcome.

6 Titanic (1997)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic

The first time Cameron broke the record for highest-grossing movie ever made, he managed to get audiences around the world to watch a 195-minute movie about the sinking of the Titanic. Titanic became the first film in history to pass the billion-dollar mark at the global box office.

In spite of its bloated runtime, full of aimless subplots and unnecessary flash-forwards, Titanic is one of the most iconic movies ever made. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s on-screen chemistry is endlessly watchable.

5 Avatar (2009)

Avatar Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Zoe Saldana as Neytiri

Traditionalist filmgoers look down their nose at movies with a lot of CGI in their composition, but computer-generated effects don’t have to ruin a movie. Avatar, Cameron’s second all-time box office record-breaker, has some of the sharpest, crispest, most glorious CGI ever put on-screen. The narrative is similar to other stories like Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, and like Titanic, Avatar is a very, very long movie.

But its visual style is utterly unique. This movie is jam-packed with creatures and environments that audiences had never seen before, on a scale that was previously unimaginable. Cameron used his newfangled CG tech to bring Pandora to life with deeply immersive worldbuilding.

4 True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies

Cameron’s follow-up to T2, also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was decidedly less dark and edgy. True Lies is a fun-filled James Bondian spy adventure with a goofy high-concept premise: what if 007 had a family?

The role of Harry Tasker, who leads a double life as a secret agent and a suburban dad, combined Schwarzenegger’s talents as an action hero and a deadpan comedic performer.

3 The Terminator (1984)

The original Terminator movie – released in 1984, appropriate for a movie about a dystopian future – is much more intimate and focused than its sequels. The Terminator has a delightfully simple plot setup: a robot from the future goes back in time to kill the mother of a human revolutionary, who sends one of his followers into the past to protect her. This setup quickly paves the way for an intense cat-and-mouse chase. The Terminator is a blend of gloomy neo-noir and grisly slasher.

Sarah Connor’s journey from relatable everywoman to Terminator-killing badass, played spectacularly by Linda Hamilton, can be enjoyed again and again. The cybernetic carnage ultimately takes a backseat to a surprisingly moving love story that ends up explaining how she became a mother in the first place.

2 Aliens (1986)

Alien rises behind Newt in Aliens

Cameron’s pluralized sequel to Alien replaces the one xenomorph that terrorized the Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s masterfully crafted 1979 chiller with a festering hive of them. Aliens has swarms of xenomorphs crawling around the vents, picking off Marines left and right.

The sequel maintains the pitch-perfect blend of sci-fi and horror from the original, but Cameron also throws plenty of action into the genre cocktail. With a surplus of explosions and shootouts, rooted in a heartwarming mother-daughter story, Aliens is a truly cinematic experience.

1 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Released seven years after the original, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a perfect example of a bigger, better sequel. The original Terminator is a masterpiece, but T2 ups the ante, not only with more explosive (and much more expensive) action sequences, but also with a deeper exploration of the folly-of-man themes. Set-pieces like the L.A. River chase and the climactic showdown at the liquid nitrogen factory will never get old.

Schwarzenegger made for a terrifying villain in the first movie, but he’s much better-suited to the role of the heroic protector that audiences root for. Some fans felt the boy-and-his-dog storyline was too corny for the Terminator franchise, but it adds an emotional resonance to the action-packed spectacle.

NEXT: Every Stanley Kubrick Movie, Ranked By Rewatchability

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