Through the first movie, The Terminator (1984), there are several allusion to the fact the cyborg was rotting over time. I found this particular scene in the script (I omitted some passage and replaced them with [...] to shorten it):




sitting on the edge of the bed. His appearance isn't improving.

A patch of SCALP is blown away, revealing CHROME underneath. A flap of skin dangles from his cheek, which exposes some of the DRIVE CABLES which move the lips.
his eyes tracking rapidly. His skin is waxy, WHITE, BRUISED, GANGRENOUS in places. He ignores the FEW FLIES crawling on his face.
A MIDDLE-AGED MAN with a torn T-shirt covering his paunch knocks on the door. He is wheeling a trash cart.

Hey, buddy, you got a
dead cat in there or what?

Why was it decaying like this? The others terminators, more particularly the ones based on the same model from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) didn't rot like that.

  • See also this question.
    – Beta
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 5:52
  • 1
    I just thought that he kept getting wounded, but his artificial skill doesnt self-repair.
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 22:04

10 Answers 10


In Terminator 2: Judgement Day Sarah Connor is cleaning the wounds of the T-800 and has this conversation:

SARAH: Will these heal up?

Terminator nods. She reaches into the bloody wounds with pliers and finds the copper-jacketed bullets, flattening against the armored endoskeleton. Pulls them out. They CLINK one by one into a glass.

SARAH: That's good. Because if you can't pass for human, you won't be much good to us.

The key point I think here is that she is removing the bullets and cleaning the wounds. Given proper care the skin will repair itself (if it hasn't been too damaged). The Terminator in the first movie doesn't appear to be taking care of its outer appearance. Additionally, Terminators can't smell. The first Terminator may be completely oblivious to the state of its skin, being unable to detect the rotting odor. The first Terminator also sustained a lot of damage. Multiple shotgun rounds and car crashes. The second Terminator had only been pushed around a lot by the T-1000 and a number of 9mm rounds in the back.

The Terminator in the first movie also had a short term mission, find and eliminate Sarah Connor. The first Terminator didn't need to pass for human forever, because it wasn't expecting its mission to last very long. Its possible that had Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese escaped to parts unknown, it would have then taken action to maintain its appearance. The Terminator in the second movie had a potentially much longer mission, find and protect John Connor. Since this was open ended, it would need to pass for human for a much longer period.

  • 10
    I disagree with "the Terminator...doesn't appear to be taking care of its outer appearance". When I first saw The Terminator on TV, it was prefixed by an interview with James Cameron. (This was a long time ago, I was probably less than 10 years old, and I can't find the video on YouTube.) He brought up the scene where the Terminator does some self surgery. Afterwards, Arnie puts on the sunglasses and pushes his hand through his hair while looking in the mirror. James Cameron's description was something like: "What sort of 'robot' does that?" - i.e., why is the Terminator vain?
    – sblair
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 0:50
  • 4
    @sblair There was a screening of Terminator on the BBC in the 90s were a film critic (not James Cameron) discussed the film solo beforehand, and mentioned that scene. I remember specifically the quote “By god, it’s got vanity.” I do think hair-smoothing is a low-cost pass-for-human-and-draw-little-attention action, whereas sorting out skin medically takes a bit more work that the terminator in Terminator didn’t need to expend resources on. Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 23:46

The terminator isn't rotting, its skin is simply getting injured and there is only a slow process for healing/regrowth of skin. The broken blood vessels don't clot quickly, the wounds don't close quickly, and they can fester if not attended to (like any person with restricted blood-flow or a weak immune system). This terminator has received a lot of violence, so its exterior is left in a bad condition.

  • 8
    That's not entirely true. The Terminator in the 2nd movie is the same model, and he explicitly says (when John Conner asks) that his wounds will heal, given time and medical attention.
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 14:06
  • @Jeff The terminator in T2 was on a mission to protect John, which would be very hard to do if it could not pass as human. It was likely taking better care of itself, with help from John and Sarah, than the one in The Terminator was doing.
    – Xantec
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 14:36
  • 2
    @Xantec - That's exactly my point, though. But GetSet is saying the "blood vesselds don't clot, the wounds don't close" which is completely inaccurate. The blood vessels WILL clot, and the wounds WILL close, if they're properly treated. This is the opposite of "there is no process for healing/regrowth".
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 14:44
  • @Jeff, that's a great point, although I'd still argue that a Terminator is not as capable as a human at healing its skin. After all, the skin is just an organic wrapping around a metal skeleton, which severely limits what biological sources the skin can draw from to regrow. Also consider that scabbing over 9mm holes is a lot simpler than restoring crushed, bruised, and torn skin.
    – GetSet
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 17:20

The damaged skin would suffer from rot just like any other skin.

It's also possible that the Terminator, given a short-term job, wasn't taking as careful care of itself as it would have needed to to keep the skin shell alive.

He'd taken a lot of damage, and while it hadn't damaged his endoskeleton, he bled profusely. It's possible that a majority of the blood he'd need to supply his living skin with nutrients, oxygen, etc had been lost.

If that's the case, his entire living skin shell could have been rotting away, unable to live without the blood (and likely other things - when do we ever see the Terminator take a drink of water, or have a sandwich?)


What you have to remember is that this is science fiction, so "You got a dead cat in there or what?" - can be seem as film filler, however to answer your question:

  1. Terminator 1, Kyle explains to Sarah that the T600 model has rubber skin, and were easy to spot, therefore Skynet had to produce Terminators that had "real" skin (well you can't even call it real, it's actually synthetic, but also organic).

  2. The T800 has "real" skin, as explained above, it's not real it's synthetic and organic at the same time. Personally I would regard "real" skin in this instance to be actual human skin. Most organic matter rots in the right circumstances. I say this because wood is organic matter but treated correctly, even after it dies, its composition will not change radically over time in the same way that an animals composition would change over time. Again this is open to debate because if you put the organic matter in a cryogenic freezer, it won't decompose very much.

  3. Comparing the scene from Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 - In Terminator 1, the Cyborg cuts away several pieces of flesh, including its eye, leaving them to "rot" in the sink. Just put yourself if that hot, humid hotel room in LA, jeez even your sweat might smell like a dead cat! In Terminator 2, the Cyborg is stitched up by Sarah, but remember later on it cuts away the skin surrounding its arm to show Dyson its cybernetic arm, like the one one Dyson's vault at Cyberdyne. This organic matter would probably also rot, but there's no need for film filler at this point in the story!

So it's likely that yes, the skin rots, as would most other organic matter. It's made evident in Terminator 1, just not in Terminator 2 or 3, or 4

To learn more about the skin production process, it is somewhat documented in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, where a Cyborg asks a scientist to reproduce synthetic organic skin.

I'm somewhat of a Terminator geek...it's my favorite film of all time! :-)

  • How is LA humid? (per your 'hot humid LA hotel' allusion). Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 16:16
  • @KorvinStarmast as per today's forecast: Humidity 79% Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 9:29
  • 1
    ouch! that's like the gulf coast! Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 22:55

You'll notice that Terminator 1 has a different haircut in the scene in question compared to the start of the movie, this is because he was exposed to a brief but intense fire while driving a car in a previous scene. I personally believe this is also the primary reason his flesh is rotting and his appearance is "waxy", much of the skin is actually already dead from this fire. Although, the gangrene is probably set in a little quick, but hey, it's Hollywood.

  • It was because the one, in the scene in question, was actually a doll. The one in the beginning and actually during the "eye cutting out part" switches between the doll and the real Arnold. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 9:08

The novelizations for T1 and T2 explain a lot:

  • There's a pump for keeping blood pressure
  • Said pump was blown away from one of Reese's shotgun shells at Tech Noir
  • Terminators heal and heal fast

So he WAS rotting (and also healing just not fast enough to avoid the smell).

Later in the novel when his leg is damaged he ignores it, but considers that if he didn't catch Sarah this time that "mainframe damage would require full attention later", so that supports the idea that he is healing (and that he knows it) and he just doesn't care much at this point.


Given the extent of damage the Terminator from the first movie sustained, it was not seeping blood from facial wounds, suggesting that it had already bled out. With no blood in the system, there is no plasma to clot, fight infections, or carry nutrients to wounded tissue for it to regrow.

The Terminator in subsequent films and TV series never sustained that level of damage in such a short time frame. There likely was enough plasma in those systems to facilitate healing, as well as the ability to fight infection.

edit I do realize that we don't see blood oozing from other wounds in other terminators either. In T2, I can assume that maybe the scene takes place after wounds have clotted, and in T:SCC, this could be an edit for the sake of family TV programming.


Part of basic treatment for serious wounds is debridement; some of the flesh may be dead and in order for the wound to heal the dead matter must be cut away. If you don't remove it the dead flesh will rot, the smell of which draws flies, with maggots soon to follow. Since we saw flies that implies dead tissue and inadequate debridement. Maybe the Terminator had wounds on his back that he couldn't reach to clean, or maybe cleaning his facial wounds properly would have required removing too much skin for him to continue passing for human.


Do not forget what Reese said to Sarah ".. sweat, bad breath - everything" therefore the Terminator sweats when hot. Look at the amount of physical activity it had done recently. It would have sweated buckets and did not bother washing - he needed to roughly pass for human, not get a date. Therefore he would have stunk pretty badly. Also, living tissue surrounding the skeleton (again stated by Reese) had been damaged and, although he can heal - as state in the second film, his wound would still become gangrenous (as stated in the script) if it did not receive hygenic treatment and, as we have established, the Terminator did not bother with hygiene as that was not a priority.


As the two terminators originate from different timelines it seems that Skynet/the terminator has different mission priorities in those timelines, possibly learned from earlier mistakes.

The 'original' timeline has a terminator that lets the flesh rot whereas the revised timeline (Judgement Day) has a terminator that allows for better care.

Note that in the Judgment Day movie the terminator still rips all the skin off it's arm on command so obviously a direct command overrides a mission objective (minimise damage/maximise stealth.

In Rise of the Machines the terminator suffers only 'minor' damage until the end of the movie so there's not time for the flesh to rot.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles are an alternate timeline so again the priorities for the terminators are different, and given that it is a TV show rather than a movie they would probably not be allowed to explore into the 'rotting flesh' area.

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