Near the end of Judgment Day movie the T-800 Terminator is to be melted and he says he can't destroy himself and so asks John and Sarah to press the button.

Near the end of Rise of the Machines T-850 Terminator is fighting T-X at the bunker entrance and he extracts his "power cell" and inserts it into T-X's mouth knowing that the "power cell" will shortly explode and destroy both him and T-X.

In both cases he has to destroy himself to get his mission accomplished for which he has been programmed.

Yet in the former case he refuses to destroy himself on his own and asks for assistance.

Why the difference? Do they just have different software or is there any other reason?

  • 1
    They only made two official terminator films. Its not surprising that a fan-flick such as Rise of the Machines contradicts something from the two official films. The history of SkyNet is different between the films as well! (</blinkers>)
    – Nick
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 10:36
  • I'm not a real fan of T3 either, but to be honest, they at least tried to explain differences between the movie. SkyNet's history can't be the same, because the (now) past has been changed during the first two movies. T2's dates and history of SkyNet are different to T1 as well.
    – Mario
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 12:18
  • Terminator time lines are messed up, so you can't always take one instance of the past with another. Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 9:02
  • I think this is closely related to this question Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 10:55
  • 2
    Firmware update.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 13:32

4 Answers 4


Thinking about this, I don't see any real inconsistency here.

Both Terminators had one specific goal: Follow orders from John Connor and protect him (let's ignore Kathrine for now).

Specifically, both Terminators obviously followed Isaac Asimov's Three Rules of Robotics (although with some modifications):

  • The system may not injure John Connor or, through inaction, allow John Connor to come to harm.
  • The system must obey the orders given by John Connor (or Kathrine Brewster; later modified in T3), except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • The system must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Now let's have a look at both movies:

  • In T2, during the finale, the T-800 damages itself to get free from the gears. This is clearly violating the Third Law to ensure the First Law is upheld.
  • In the final scene, the Terminator isn't able to kill itself, because this would violate the Third Law, while not being overwritten by the First or Second Laws. Note that John doesn't command it to kill itself (would be interesting to know, whether this would have been possible). Killing itself would not fulfill the orders given, because this won't protect John Connor (assuming the T-800 didn't know Judgment Day couldn't be averted).
  • In the final scene of T3, the T-850 kills itself. However, by doing so it upholds the first two laws: John Connor is rescued, which also is his initial order.
  • In T2 John tells the Terminator to "show it to him", which causes it to damage itself to reveal its arm. So the Third Law is overwritten by following the Second Law to fulfill the First Law.
  • 4
    Are you suggesting that Skynet read Asimov novels and decided to include the three laws of robotics in its cyborgs software? Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 11:36
  • 4
    Why not? Considering T3, the first batch of robots (and with that: the initial firmware as well) were developed by humans. As such they might have them coded into them, which obviously got changed over time. But overall, no, I just wanted to show that the Terminators are following established rules just like Asimov's Rules (similar, but obviously not 1:1), that can be applied to both movies explaining what happened or what was (im)possible.
    – Mario
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 12:08
  • 2
    The T-800 explains that he cannot self-terminate. That's a big difference than saying he can't purposefully injure himself. Freeing himself from the gears would not result in a system failure or self-termination. Nor would removing the skin from his arm.
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 14:44
  • @Mario those robots in T3 where not built by SKYNET, they where infected with the SKYNET program just like the rest of the world's computer systems when it was brought online. Those where built by the US Air Force.
    – Monty129
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 15:56
  • Exactly, but I wouldn't expect SkyNet to start from scratch for the next generation(s).
    – Mario
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 16:00

I couldn't find any sources to back this up, however just from extrapolating what is known from the movies there are two possible answers.

  1. As was stated the models are slightly different, a later model could have more autonomy programmed into its heuristic protocols

  2. While I don't believe it's stated exactly who reprogrammed the T-800 in Terminator 2 before it was sent back to protect John Conner, it is stated to be Kate Brewster in Terminator 3. She could have removed any self-preservation protocols during the reprogramming process before sending it back

Also the reasons for self termination are different in both films. In the first case it is to prevent any remaining technology from being discovered which could possibly lead to the creation of Skynet. In the second case it is for the direct preservation of both John Conner and Katherine Brewster (or "Brewstah" as Arnie would say)


The T-800 series (Arnold) Terminator did not self terminate in T3. Its destruction was an indirect effect caused by the power cell exploding while carrying out its primary objective (protect John and Kate). Had Arnold been able to self terminate, it could have put the power cell in its own mouth and bit down, or perhaps even detonated the power cell inside its chest.

But let's step aside for a moment and say that, maybe, this was a self termination. In this case, a reason why this may have different, aside from the answers previously given, is that Arnold had suffered some severe damage to its code. The advanced TX programming had been running through Arnold's system, controlling it and doing who knows what else. While in the end Arnold was able to regain control over its limbs, the virus may have still been active within its systems doing who knows what. Even if the virus was completely extricated, however, key bits of code may have been deleted or altered, most likely including any code designed to prevent self termination.

  • Note also that the power cell was damaged when he removed it.
    – horatio
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:41

In Judgment Day he the point of the T800 being terminated was an attempt at preventing or at least slowing down the development of Skynet. The Terminator along with Sarah, John, and Miles Dyson were successful in destroying the chip and arm from the first terminator that had been discovered and were being reverse engineered by Cyberdyne Systems. They also destroyed all of the research done by Dyson, the project leader,along with everything at the Cyberdyne facility. All that was left of the future tech was the terminator. The T800 couldn't self terminate in this scenario because preventing the creation of Sky net was not a directive. Earlier in the movie Sarah and John help to modify the terminator so that it could learn and think for itself somewhat, although it was still bound by its mission parameters. So it realized it needed to be terminated but still could not self Terminate and so Sarah lowers him into the molten metal. I can only assume that something in the T800's programming differentiates between letting yourself be terminated and self termination.

In Rise of the Machines the Terminator is destroyed in an attempt to protect John Conner, which is its mission. I'm not certain it was technically self termination but it was destroyed by its own actions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.