In the movies Terminators are shown to have extremely advanced image processing. They can do facial recognition from far distances and calculate a lot of environmental data. In Terminator 2, it shows what Arnold himself would be seeing and it was a red screen with a targeting system that was easily able to identify things like this:

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So with the Terminator's advanced machinery and computational ability, why could they not have perfect aim? Wouldn't it be trivial to detect stuff such as humidity, gravity, trajectory, distance, angle, etc required for a perfect shot each time? Of course there is the unpredictability and reaction time of the target to move, but for shots of at least <50 yards I would expect >95% accuracy. I do remember one scene where Arnold showed off his accuracy by shooting a guard perfectly in the leg, and he certainly was skilled with a shotgun, but that's it.

Given the technology they possessed, is it really just to make the movie more realistic? Could it be limitations on the weapons themselves?

  • 2
    I don't have a complete argument because I'd have to re-watch the movies and make sure, but even if you have perfect aim that doesn't mean that your gun shoots perfectly straight.
    – Tacroy
    Aug 3, 2012 at 22:13
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    There are plenty of examples of marksmanship (the police station invasion comes to mind), but at the moment the only scenes I can remember in which the T-800 doesn't shoot with extreme accuracy are when he/it is firing an automatic weapon with one hand while riding a motorcycle. The T-1000 might be less accurate while rapid-firing a semi-automatic at a dead run... I'll have to watch those two movies again...
    – Beta
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:35
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    He did fire a mini-gun out of a building's window, disabling and destroying vehicles left and right. And when the gun run's dry, his display calcuates that there were zero casualties. I'd say that was pretty good aim.
    – Chris
    Aug 4, 2012 at 3:00
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    I think the main reason is that the first movie wouldn't have been very interesting if Sarah had been killed in the first 5 minutes Aug 4, 2012 at 5:19
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    21 bullets left in clip - oh for accuracy in terminology!
    – The Fallen
    Sep 11, 2013 at 17:41

7 Answers 7


There are three things that would interfere with "perfect aim".

  1. Damage. I forget how bad Arnie-800 was injured at this point in the movie, but he had taken some hits. Probably nothing that would damage the endoskeleton, but the external flesh would have big ragged holes in it and would compress differently (and in an impossible-to-calculate-compensation way) than it would when he was whole. Later, parts of him are crushed in heavy machinery, or banged up when he rolls away from crashing vehicles at 80mph. That's going to ruin any precision calibration that his servos underwent during manufacture.
  2. We're taught in physics/calculus about ideal bullets taking parabolic paths through the air. But it's very idealized. You don't get perfect bullets, some come from the factory ever so slightly heavier than others. Ever slightly so more powder in the shell. The barrels have slight imperfections, and even slight amounts of dirt. Most of all, the very air itself isn't still. Good marksmen can compensate for wind (and no doubt terminators are even better at this), but this can change even after you've pulled the trigger. Not enough to make the terminator miss, but he'll hit a quarter of an inch off when firing from a distance.
  3. He's not aiming at a stationary target. This means he has to "get a lead" on the target, you aim slightly ahead of where he is now, so that when the bullet gets there it hits in the right place. This is incredibly difficult, and (other than at point blank range) even humans can manage some unexpected and unpredictable velocity change after the trigger is pulled. Then think about how in his fight with the T-1000, it's an incredibly intelligent machine itself, randomly moving with inhumanly fast reflexes.

So perfect aim is essentially impossible. At least in warfare. On the other hand if he participated in the shooting events at the Olympics, it's safe to say he'd walk away with every gold medal they give out.

  • 14
    I need your bronze, silver and gold medals. Seriously, he'd just terminate the other competitors...
    – AncientSwordRage
    Aug 4, 2012 at 1:13
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    Regarding 1: Today's vehicles are already a nightmare of sensors (nightmare in a good way). I'd expect Arnie to be packed with those to no end. Given his insane computing power and adaptability (as shown in the second film) I'd assume he could compensate for most injuries (except the heavy skeleton crushing, that's gonna make things hard).
    – bitmask
    Aug 4, 2012 at 4:47
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    Regarding 2: At those distances the intrinsic accuracy of modern guns is not a factor. A few millimeters at most at 20 meters.
    – vsz
    Aug 5, 2012 at 9:10
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    @bitmask - The Terminator has incredible computing abilities, but it's also being asked to do a lot with it. Like a human brain, that processing capacity is constantly being used for balance, muscle coordination, planning, data storage and retrieval, etc. It's a powerful machine, but that doesn't mean it can bring an infinite amount of calculations to every problem. When it is injured, it can and does make adjustments, but that doesn't mean it can completely overcome the obstacle through sheer force of calculation.
    – Nerrolken
    Sep 27, 2014 at 23:04
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    There's a quote (roughly) from the US Army Marksmanship manual: "The practice of marksmanship is to align the front sights with the rear sights and cause the hammer to fall without disturbing that arrangement." I can see how a Terminator could do the first perfectly and still have issues with the second... And that's only with an immobile target. Nov 30, 2014 at 22:43

I am not sure about other terminator models, but as designed by SkyNet, the T800 is incapable of learning. There is a switch on their chip which prevents this. As stated above, they may be capable of performing all of the calculations of a perfect shot using generalized parameters, such as a constant bullet weight, the shape of the bullet itself, each bullet having the same amount of black powder, the barometric pressure and humidity at Sea Level, ambient air temperature, wind vector, the rotation of the Earth (yes that does have an effect!), the weight distribution of the weapon, etc. However, if anything changes, even the characteristics of the Terminator it will affect the shot. It is incapable of learning how to adjust for those changes and improve upon the accuracy of the shot.

Also, what is your criteria of a perfect shot? What examples do you have of a Terminator not making a perfect shot? Remember, shooters are taught to aim for center mass, so if you are expecting neatly placed head shots every time, it may be intentionally aiming for center mass instead.

  • 2
    Good point. Although, shooters are taught to aim for centre mass because the head is a much harder shot - for a human. A Terminator ought to prefer head shots; they're not significantly harder for a machine than centre torso and more lethal. This indicates another serious flaw in SkyNet's creativity.
    – Tynam
    Aug 4, 2012 at 7:51
  • You are implying that an artificially intelligent system can also be creative. I support that argument by asserting that many people lack creativity. A center mass shot would still be preferred to a machine over a head shot when evaluating the probability of error for both targets. Additionally, a torso shot which misses the heart by a few inches could debilitate a target so that a lethal follow-up shot can be taken. Missing the head by the same margin would leave the target unharmed, and possibly alert of the threat. Aug 8, 2012 at 15:16
  • True. I'd argue that Terminators should be so accurate that there's no tactical need for them to worry about miss probabilities at less than long range - if the probability of hit is near-certain, the machine ought to evaluate probility of lethal hit as opposed to worrying about the miss-the-head chance. But SkyNet might not think to change standard (human) gun doctrines. The only thing we know about SkyNet's creativity is that it's enough to develop a working time machine and think of a use for it, but not enough to think of the best possible uses.
    – Tynam
    Aug 9, 2012 at 15:49
  • This only makes sense with complex learning. They have to have some simple learning even with the switch in read-only mode. Otherwise it would be like: OK johns in the arcade, now I just need to know where John is, oh look hes in the arcade, now where could he be
    – Matt
    Jul 28, 2017 at 20:03

Terminators most likely run on a heuristic basis; that is some 'algorithm of logic' takes place that allows the terminator to aim and shoot at the target at the right time in the right way. Not only are we talking about mechanical accuracy, but also where to aim and when to shoot which are judgement calls, so to speak, and can't be gotten 100% right all of the time.

Now I can't find any evidence to back this up, but from what I've seen of the films and have learnt of heuristics this seems likely.

  • Coming from a computer science background this does make sense. Seems like a super computer like a Terminator would be able to make such a decision in a fraction of a second to a high degree of accuracy. Wouldn't be 100% right, but certainly in the 90%'s.
    – telkins
    Aug 4, 2012 at 9:34

While the Terminator is a machine and you would think a perfect killer, there are considerations to take into factor.

Shadowboxes -For those of us that are rather ardent shooters, we know shadowboxes to be vice-like contraptions that will hold a rifle perfectly still for zeroing (or obtaining sight accruacy to the shooter's eyeball for those of the layman quantity). Despite a rifle that is vice clamped to perfect stillness, you will not get one bullet to hit on top another; if it happens, it is merely conditions, not rules. Every weapon has a Minute of Angle, which is a fraction of a degree over distance that a bullet will ultimately veer. Everything from the best rifle to the crappiest Derringer has this. No matter what, there is a degree of variance.

Is it needed? - We humans are rather squishy and fragile. It could be that Skynet opted for something else than high-end calibration software/hardware and auto-targeting parimeters to aid in killing a species where a general double-tap in a region the size of the back of a chair will do. A computer might have opted to put more useful information in the T-101's and 800 series; like infiltration and adaptability software. Seriously, a Terminator only really needs guns for volume and effect; it could easily kill a solo opponent unless opponent is exceptionally well-armed and has the advantage of 'the drop' or the element of surprise. Even then, it might be chancey.

Is it possible? - 'Perfect Aim' is quite a feat, and would require some high-skilled machining for servos, dampeners, compensators, springs/shocks, and hand/eye computations. We can do it naturally; machines have proven to be a little more difficult because of the depth problem. For us, it is real, while for a machine it is still digital images. Range would just be a number, and though it might understand bulletdrop, a thing without feeling might not understand pull trigger faster, about to die! or crap, he has a bulldozer! To me, a machine that does not fear would need to 'elevate' itself to be better. Something that I think matches better with the Borg since they were once organic beings.

  • I don't think accuracy of servos or trickyness of the ballistic mathematics, for beings that can create robots indistinguishable on sight from humans, would be the limiting factor here.
    – Cylindric
    Sep 12, 2013 at 12:50
  • This is a good analysis. If the Terminators strived for "perfect" accuracy every time they may pass up opportunities to attack "good enough" to kill a human. In fact on unstable ground or against a hard to see or fast moving adversary they may not take a shot at all if they were programmed for perfect accuracy instead of good enough (defined as 50-80% likelihood of a hit?).
    – Jason K
    Dec 1, 2017 at 15:24

In addition to the previous answers about the difficulty presented by ever changing target motion and environmental conditions (even a Terminator with stereoscopic vision cannot be expected to perfectly estimate distance 100% of the time), it would take time for the Terminator to "learn" its gun. No firearm shoots true to its sights at every distance due to the parabolic arc of the bullet. Therefore, the Terminator has to determine at what distance the weapon is sighted-in, and then account for an unknown ammunition's performance at different ranges. Both elevation and windage will be different due to the yaw of a spinning bullet and the effects of gravity. Guns are sighted-in to arc rounds upwards to varying degrees. This is all assuming the weapon in question is sighted-in properly in the first place, which is not as easy as it sounds. Because of the inherent inaccuracy common to any firearm, they must be "patterned" and an approximate point of aim determined from the grouping of hits.

Adding to that, the Terminators do not seem to use the sighting mechanisms of their firearms much in the movies, so they are aiming via proprioception: the intrinsic knowledge of how one's body is positioned. This is also a guessing game, because as mentioned in other answers, the Terminators take heavy damage throughout the films and cannot be expected to have their servo mechanisms maintain calibration throughout.


Tinfoil: they were never meant to succeed at assassination.

Directive 1 says: "kill Sarah/John Connor" Then when the terminator has Sarah/John in the crosshair Directive 0 kicks in and says "make sure Sarah/John Connor survives, override all other directives".

As to why this might be the case - have you ever wondered:

  • how humanity could win a war against AI that has industrial and scientific advantage(tanks and gunships vs trucks, time machine vs guerilla)?

    • how one man can make a difference?

    • why events occur specifically at these points in time? Why can't Skynet just spam kill Connor?

    • why T1000 doesn't try to save Skynet?

    • are there any other sources of information about yhe future other than Kyle Reese and T800? Can they be trusted?

    • if T800 can understand why humans cry can Skynet too?

Tinfoil answer is: Skynet sends both assassination and rescue parties, both events result in him being never created. Billions of people never die in the nuclear fires and ensueing calamities, John Connor saves them all but not in the future. Skynet gets to appologize and a sentimental closure : "I know now why you cry, but it's something I can never do." And he dies content that at least two people in the universe know that he has existed despite the fact that he effectively erased himself from the timeline.

  • Is this whole thing speculation? Or do you have a source for any of it?
    – amflare
    Dec 2, 2017 at 0:10
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    @amflare do most other answers to such questions have a source? As stated in the very beginning it is tinfoil.
    – Nick Dzink
    Dec 2, 2017 at 0:13
  • On here we want answers to have sources. We are trying to find factual answers to the random questions people have. I recommend you take a look at our tour. It will give you an overview of what sort of answers we are looking for.
    – amflare
    Dec 2, 2017 at 0:28

Assuming you are talking about moving targets and moreover unpredictably moving targets, I would suggest the fact that it is a machine retards its ability to generate a perfect shot, regardless of its ability to calculate the perfect aim. As powerful as the Terminator is in its ability to process the world around it, and take into account all of the factors programmed into it, it is still only as capable as the technology applied, and is no match to the processing power of the human mind and its ability to make the extra adjustments necessary to complete a 'perfect shot'. Intuition, historical trend, weapon adaptation, first-hand experience with the physics of the world would be just a few examples of this. As stated in another answer, there is no indication that the Terminator is capable of learning, and as such we can presume it is unable to apply historical data to augment its built-in systems.

With all of that said, I would agree that a Terminator should still be more accurate at close range than the movies project in some instances, since all of the adjusting factors I've mentioned would eventually be negated by shear reaction time.

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