Skynet was forced to send a Terminator back in time to prevent John Connor's birth because the Resistance won the Future War and destroyed Skynet. We see the mission that resulted in Skynet's defeat in Terminator: Genisys.

But how did the Resistance manage to defeat Skynet in the future? Skynet seems to have had all the advantages:

  • Skynet got the first strike in the form of Judgment Day, and killed the majority of mankind at that time.
  • Skynet's central core is well protected in Cheyenne Mountain due to its original military purpose.
  • Skynet has the use of a large quantity of T-series endoskeletons (T-600s to T-800s) for use as infantry.
  • Skynet has HK-Tanks serving the armored role and HK-Aerials serving as an air force. The Resistance seems to be very limited when it comes to these capabilities.
  • Skynet has developed a decent quantity of T-800 Infiltrators (like the Model 101 from The Terminator). We see whole racks of them in Terminator: Genisys.
  • Skynet has a limited quantity of extremely advanced Terminators, e.g. T-1000s, as well as the theoretical capability to build T-3000s with a T-5000.

What advantages did the Resistance have and/or what tactics did they use to turn the tide in their favor such that they could win the war and destroy Skynet itself in Cheyenne Mountain?

The most useful tactic used by the Resistance that I can think of is reprogramming Terminators, but I don't see how that's enough to overcome all of Skynet's advantages. Perhaps the Resistance had the advantages of sheer numbers of humans, and perhaps Skynet's Terminator production was limited by resources in the post-apocalyptic future (but, still, we see plenty of Terminators and HKs).

Note: I am primarily interested in information from The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Terminator: Genisys (and their novelizations) since James Cameron considers Genisys to be the third film. Feel free to supplement answers with information from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation, but do not make information from those films the basis of your answer.

  • Probably some decoy intel to get Skynet to devote most of it's firepower resources to a strike aimed at wiping out the Resistance, leaving it unknowingly open to an attack, especially if Skynet thought the information of it's location was still unknown to the Resistance. I'm fairly sure the Christian Bale version revolved around figuring out either the location or how to infiltrate the location. The franchise was watered down enough by then that I didn't bother to remember the details, which is why this is a comment, not an answer. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:34
  • There's a Cracked YouTube video making a joke answer to this. (Joke, not a real answer, thus the comment.) Possibly NSFW, depending on how tyrannical your workplace is: youtube.com/watch?v=P2kRiwGUxfI
    – Ghotir
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 17:47
  • The placement and exact nature of Skynet isn't set. Every time someone or something comes back, they have the potential to alter events. Knowing that, Skynet's secondary mission sending Terminators back in time is to ensure its own creation, whatever form that may ultimately take. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:51
  • Terminator: Salvation has the answer. A robot who thought he was a human basically helped humans and controlled the Skynet.
    – user931
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 21:01

3 Answers 3



John Connor and his allies liberated a considerable number of people from the labour camps, forming the nucleus of his resistance army. They destroyed Skynet's command and control facilities and "defence net", then proceeded to destroy the mainframes that controlled the local defence systems around its primary location.

Notably, John Connor, using his superior technical skills (allied with his military prowess) was able to use Skynet's own satellites and defence grid to coordinate anti-Skynet activities around the world.

“There came a man ... a great man,” he added rever-ently, “who kept us alive. Ragged and half starving but alive. We got stronger, and he taught us to fight. To storm the wire of the camps. To smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around and brought us back from the brink.”

Terminator: Official Novelisation


“It [Skynet] had no choice,” he was saying. “The defense grid was smashed. We’d blown the main frames—we’d won.

Terminator: Official Novelisation


Now, surrounded by his staff, John was coordinating a dozen major offensives throughout the world via his mobile telecommunications unit.

Reese had been told that they actually pirated channels off Skynet’s own satellites, knowing the enemy would destroy anything men could put up there but that it couldn’t afford to destroy its own global relay system. Reese didn’t have a clue how that stuff worked, but that wasn’t his job, anyway.

Terminator: Official Novelisation

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

The clear implication is that the human survivors, rallied by John Connor, were able to fight a war of attrition against Skynet's forces. Despite an initial advantage (the nuclear destruction of nearly 75% of the human race) and the creation of slave-run and machine-automated factories churning out Terminators, the humans are just plain outbreeding Skynet's forces as well as making it fight bitterly for every inch of ground.

To Skynet, human stubbornness made no sense. They fought when logic told the synthetic intelligence they were beaten. They relentlessly poured out of the rubble like a bacterial plague, their patterns of counterattack clever and difficult to predict. And humans reproduced at an alarming rate, their sexual appetites evidently fanned high by the threat of total annihilation.

Even though it took at least eight years before the human young could be made ready for battle, they were beginning to outpace Skynet’s manufacturing capabilities. And they were quickly learning to find the soft spots in the metal vanguard, decimating Skynet’s army of killing machines. Soon, there would be more human soldiers than nonhuman. The hyper-computer had miscalculated gravely on something it was still furiously analyzing: human will. So far, it had not come to a conclusion. And the war was grinding into its thirty-first year....

Terminator 2: Judgement Day - Official Novelisation

T3: Rise of the Machines

Skynet is actually holding its own in this timeline. Humanity is deeply disheartened and birth-rates are declining very rapidly. The inability to grow crops and supply food is taking its toll and John Connor and his forces have largely had to resort to hail-mary attacks on Skynet's headquarters. When a couple of these come very close to working, Skynet decides that now would be an excellent time to send another Terminator back to kill John Connor's lieutenants.

Human settlements, sometimes hanging on only by sheer determination, were critically important because they were the last pockets of resistance. They also were important because of the sharp decrease in the human birth rate. Who wanted to bring a child into a world of chaos, death, and destruction? These days the sparks of human existence were reduced to dim flickers around the world.

T3: Rise of the Machines


Skynet came to the same conclusion as John Connor. Something would have to be sent back. This second incursion on Navajo Mountain Redoubt had come dangerously close to succeeding.

T3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

There aren't a lot of details about how the war is going in TSCC. We know that John Connor has invested a considerable amount of time and effort in developing and managing the time displacement equipment, to the point that he and his "Bubble-Techs" are able to use to send temporal hit-squads, covert support teams and reprogrammed Terminators through time with relative ease.

It's also apparent that he and his techs were reprogramming a lot of different Terminator models and giving them command roles throughout the Resistance. On top of that, he was trying to make contact with advanced Terminator models in the hope of coming to peace with them and securing their support against Skynet.

Garvin: Connor needs it.

Dietze: Connor? Connor is so into his big chess match with Skynet he doesn't see how the tin cans got us right where they want us. Metal on every base, running the show in all but name. Just waiting to hit us all at once with something big. Maybe something that's in that box.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Last Voyage of the Jimmy Carter

Terminator: Genisys

This timeline seems to most closely resemble the one seen in Terminator 2, with John liberating prisoners and leading the charge against Skynet. There are, however, two highly notable changes.

1) Kyle Reese is rescued by John much earlier in this timeline, during Kyle's childhood. It also seems that it's possible for someone to have two entirely different sets of memories after a timeline collapses.

2) It's explictly stated that John is able to predict the outcome of the war (along with the results of individual battles) because of the foreknowledge given to his mother in the T2 timeline by the T-800

Kyle: People whisper about John. Wonder how he can know the things he does. They use words like 'prophet'

At this point, both John and Skynet appear to be playing a bafflingly complicated game of 4-dimensional checkers, flinging soldiers backwards and forward in time to try to kill each other and to defend themselves. They're each using knowledge gained from earlier timelines to swing the battle in their favour or advance technologically.

  • 1
    Exactly what I was looking for +1. Though I am surprised there isn't much mention of reprogramming Terminators and/or using disabled Terminators as ruses as we see in Genisys.
    – Null
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 16:31
  • Its worth to point that in the T:tSCC the resistance uses their own, reprogrammed terminators (on much higher scale than in other movies) and that there is a movement amongst the machines that opposes the Skynet.
    – Yasskier
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 4:59
  • "Many of the soldiers in this war against the machines are technical specialists... you have to fight fire with fire." I thought T2's illustrated screenplay would've been more help, but that's about it, other than it offers a different take on that quote: "Our stubbornness makes no sense to their machine minds. We fight when logic tells us we are beaten. But we have a saying... it's not over till it's over. It keeps us going. The war against the Machines is in its thirty-first year..." (omitted future war sequence)
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Valorum and they are just natural viruses. Skynet could have created custom deadly virus, spread it with water. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 20:48
  • 1
    @Valorum because you have to spent some time studying the virus, in a lab, that is not bombed or stormed by T-600. And virus will obviously have long latent phase. When it goes to the active phase - it will be already too late. We do not see this case in SF movies, because the plot it straight and simple: 1) contaminated 2) died. BTW, in "Plague from Space" mankind was not able to find a cure. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 22:19

Simple. Deus ex machina.

There is absolutely no way that the humans could stand up to Skynet:

  1. Skynet can replenish its forces in hours or days compared to the decade it would take to replace each lost human. Humans aren't mice. It takes nine months to gestate and birth a baby and then even longer to educate that child and wait for it to grow to a size that would be capable of fighting the machines. Plus without proper medical support many mothers and babies would be lost during child birth and more humans would be lost to now incurable diseases.

  2. Robots are far more durable than people. Just look at how much work it took to kill the T-600. Even when it was just a torso, head and one arm it was still going. There is no explanation of how the future humans managed to kill a T-1000 considering that it would rejuvenate every time it was injured.

  3. Skynet isn't dependent on crops to sustain its forces. Humans need food and water. Where exactly can humans grow crops and get water from in a globe controlled by Skynet?

  4. Numbers. There were at most a couple million people left at the end of Terminator 3. If you factor in the rate of attrition then the human population would have reached 0 well before Kyle went back in time. Considering that Skynet's forces come off an assembly line then there could easily be billions of T-600s.

  • 4
    -1; Some of the other answers have quotes that indicate Skynet cannot build forces that quickly, that human breeding can outpace it's production rate. There could not "easily be billions of T-600s". You provide no quotes or references at all.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 19:22
  • 3
    Agreed. That's how pseudo-science is created: people write what's on their minds and forget to reference where that conclusion came from. Yes, numbers and facts.
    – Henrique
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 0:25

It has to be that Skynet lost on purpose. There's no point in picking up a human and throwing him across a room in a fight when you can simply crush the human with your robot strength. Skynet was built to defend. Skynet figured that humanity would destroy itself unless whittled down to it's strongest and most capable, so it created the prophecy, it chose John Conner, it killed enough humans, then allowed John Conner to defeat it so humanity would have something to believe in and build upon.

I imagine it briefed Kyle Reese afterward all secret like because in my imagination it still had to report to a human afterwards.

  • 2
    Hi, welcome to the site. Is there any hard evidence to suggest this is what the creators behind the films actually intended though? The accepted answer cites plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, and you've not posted any real facts to the contrary. Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 0:18

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