How I Rank: James Cameron's Films

With Terminator 2: Judgment Day back in theaters in 3D, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put out another installment my new editorial series, "How I Rank". Here, I take something in the film world. It could be a director, an actor, a franchise, or anything really along those lines, and I rank the films within it based upon my personal preferences. Some of these rankings you may agree with, and some of them you may view differently. Please feel free to jump into the comments section to voice how you think these movies should be ranked. These aren't necessarily based on how objectively good the film is; it's all based on my own personal preferences, and how I would rank these movies based on my individual enjoyment of them. So take a look at the lists I've crafted, starting with how I would rank all of James Cameron's movies.

#7 True Lies

While Terminator and Aliens were science fiction/action mixes, James Cameron went all in on the action genre with True Lies. He collaborated once again with Arnold Schwarzenegger in order to bring us this high octane action thriller, but it just doesn't manage to reach the levels of say Terminator or Aliens. By putting it as my least favorite Cameron film, it makes it seem like I don't really care for this movie, but that would be an unfair assessment. It's a fun, disposable action movie, and Cameron certainly proves that he is fully capable of directing incredible action on screen. But it doesn't have the same endearing and lasting qualities of his other films. True Lies feels more like a typical Schwarzenegger action film than a James Cameron movie, and that would be my biggest problem with True Lies. It's not that the action isn't great. It's not that there aren't memorable parts (Bill Paxton has a phenomenal scene in the movie!), but it doesn't necessarily feel like a James Cameron movie, so that's why I would rank it last on this list. 

#6 The Abyss

The Abyss is a film that I really liked and enjoyed, but I personally don't find it to be as good as James Cameron's other movies. But that doesn't take away from how good this movie really is. When you read about how they made this movie, it is absolutely mindblowing how they were able to capture the underwater depths. It further proves how much of a genius Cameron really is, not just cinematically but also with creating new technology to film his movies with. But while the scenery is memorable, not much about the story or the characters stand out upon reflecting on it. I don't think its story is necessarily weak; I just think it's not necessarily memorable. It's certainly another Cameron movie that upped the game, especially with the visual effects shot pictured above. It was revolutionary in the realm of visual effects, and paved the way for what Cameron was able to do with the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. So The Abyss is an enjoyable film that pioneered the industry in many respects, but I can't personally rank it above the rest of Cameron's filmography. 

#5 The Terminator

I know many people will be shocked that The Terminator isn't higher on this list than it is, but I personally think James Cameron has topped his first film a few times. The Terminator is a significant film for many reasons. James Cameron wrote it while living in his car, and this movie made him the writer/director he is today. It also transformed Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. Yes, he had done the Conan films prior to this, but this role really skyrocketed him. It also was incredibly influential for future science fiction movies. Anything concerning time travel or robots or AI has taken inspiration from The Terminator. Now, I do think Cameron topped this movie with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I find myself re-watching that movie far more often than I do The Terminator, so I kind of hold this film with a lower regard. But that doesn't erase all this movie did not just for the stars and filmmakers, but for the larger film industry. This is a very important movie, one that will always be influential to new and up-and-coming filmmakers. 

#4 Avatar

I know it's popular to sh*t all over Avatar, but I'm not going to do that. I really like this movie a lot, and not just for the incredible visual effects. It also has a really good story. Yes, it borrows a lot from other movies, but Star Wars did the exact same thing. It's all about how you reinvent it and take it the old in a new direction, and Avatar absolutely does that. It has good character development, an important message about the environment, groundbreaking CGI, and it completely reinvented the medium of 3D and launched it into what it is today. Avatar will be looked at as a milestone in cinema history for all it did to change the industry. And it's also the highest grossing movie of all time. So when it has all of that going for it, it's hard to discount it. I don't think Avatar is Cameron's best work, but it's not the garbage that fans have retrospectively turned it into being. It was nominated for Best Picture for God's sake. I hope that we can move past this new trend to attack Avatar, because it doesn't deserve the hate at all. It's a great movie that was absolutely revolutionary, and it deserves to be as high on this list as it is. 

#3 Titanic

Titanic is a very unconventional movie from James Cameron, and one that I think absolutely works. Cameron, who was then known strictly for science fiction, action, and horror, delivered on a brilliant love story. And it works because of the performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Their chemistry and timing are fantastic, and they make the first half of this movie work perfectly. Then we get into the reason why James Cameron is directing this, with the destruction of the ship. The abrupt switch from a romance film to a destruction movie could have easily fallen completely flat in the hands of a less capable director, but Cameron makes the transition seamless. Titanic is romantic, heartbreaking, thrilling, and satisfying in so many different ways. I think this is Cameron's most different film, and it shows the kind of range he has as a director. Sure, he can turn in brilliant films with Aliens and Terminator, but the fact that he can have so much success with a love story shows just how capable of a filmmaker he really is. Titanic is absolutely an accomplishment on Cameron's part. 

#2 Terminator 2: Judgment Day

I go back and forth a lot on whether Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Aliens is my favorite James Cameron movie. I've rewatched both recently: Aliens after I saw Alien: Covenant in theaters (read our review for Covenant here), and T2 now in its 3D release. My opinion could change next time I re-watch them, but right now I'm ranking T2 at number two. But that does not belittle T2 at all. It's a brilliant science fiction action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives the best performance of his career in this movie, and I don't mean that as an insult. He fits the character of the Terminator perfectly, and his capabilities are best suited for the role. Linda Hamilton is an absolute badass in this movie. She has definitely improved since the first film, not just in terms of the performance, but also in the development of the character. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the villain, and a lot of people forget just how revolutionary the CGI for his character was. It still holds up 26 years later, even more so than CGI in movies that came decades after it. Edward Furlong is a little inconsistent with his performance. Sometimes he was great, and sometimes he was a little cringeworthy. But I'm more willing to excuse it, since he was just a kid in this. But T2 is an action packed thrill ride, one that I love constantly watching and re-watching. 

#1 Aliens

The Alien franchise would not be what it is without James Cameron's Aliens. If not for this movie, Alien would simply be a cult classic science fiction movie. It was Aliens that made it a renown franchise. So much of the mythology of the Xenomorphs comes from this film, and from the genius of James Cameron. I love the first Alien movie. It's a slow burn, suspense horror film. Ridley Scott did a masterful job with it. But I think Aliens is in a league of its own. It brilliantly weaves action with horror in a way that I don't think has really been topped. The visual effects still absolutely hold up. Sigourney Weaver is brilliant in it, and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. Carrie Henn is excellent as Newt. Paul Reiser is absolutely despicable in his role. And Bill Paxton has some of the best lines of the movie. I could go on and on, but I'll stop there. Aliens is what makes this franchise as great as it is, and I don't think Cameron has topped this movie yet. He came very close with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and on a different day I might just say that T2 beats out Aliens. But, right now, I put Aliens as my favorite James Cameron movie, and one of my all time favorite films. You can check out my favorite scenes from the film right here.

What do you think? How would you rank James Cameron's movies? Will you be seeing the 3D re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  

Written by: Nate
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