There's a scene in the first Terminator movie where the Terminator visits a gun shop and among other firearms, asks for a "plasma rifle in the 40-watt range". Then, once he's told there's no such weapon at that shop, he asks for other (conventional) weapons.

That dialog sounds funny, but is there any reason for why the Terminator doesn't know that "plasma rifles" don't exist in the time of the action?

  • 7
    I think a great follow up question would be why plasma weapons at all weren't in the fourth Terminator movie!
    – Sydenam
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:43
  • 11
    @Sydenam: AFAIK all the questions like "why it is like this in Terminator M and not like this in Terminator N", M != N are answered by "events taking place in Terminator M changed the future".
    – sharptooth
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:46
  • 5
    @sharptooth: I think you need to state M < N, not M != N.
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 17:25
  • 8
    The distant future. The year 2000. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 14:17
  • 12
    It's interesting to note that a 40W plasma weapon would be little more than a pea shooter.
    – user
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:36

3 Answers 3


Much historical information was lost in the opening stages of the war, including the timeline of weapons development.

It's highly likely that, after scanning the displayed weapons and making his selections, he inquired about the most basic energy weapon he could think of. His goal would have been to query the existence of such weapons, not necessarily to aquire one.

Consider: the projectile weapons he saw were of effectively zero threat to him. Going up against those, he could not have been quickly destroyed. His endoskeleton was effectively bulletproof, and he knew that high explosives were restricted to the military.

Unless and until he went up against a SWAT team or they called in the national guard, nothing he observed was a serious threat.

While I'm sure the Terminator would have LIKED a plasma rifle (it would have been a more efficient way to kill), his main goal was likely to learn if such weapons were in common (read: civilian) use, and therefore needed to be considered in his tactical planning.

Edit: Just re-read the full quote, and he asks for it somewhat early in the conversation...but AFTER he gets a shotgun and a pistol. Pistols are his preferred short-range weapon, and shotguns are excellent at short to medium-long range (contrary to what video games tell you). In short, he asked about it after he had his two best assassination weapons in-hand (long guns being less concealable and harder to use at short range against evading targets). He had to get in close, to confirm the identity of his targets, so he stuck with short-range stuff.

  • 8
    To add to the early part of your answer: the Terminator units were "dumb" machines. As explained in Terminator 2, Skynet would give the Terminators basic programming sufficient to complete their tasks, lock their learning switch, and then let them loose. Even if the history of when weapons existed was known by Skynet that information likely would not have been imparted to a Terminator unit as it wouldn't be pertinent to its task.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 13:42
  • 8
    @Xantec: I'd think "list of available weapons" would have been included...though it COULD save space to instead say "acquire weapons from 'gun store' located from phone book". In any case, it's also possible that in the Terminator reality, the military was already experimenting with such weapons at or around the target date, and they were expected on the civilian market soon(ish)
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 13:45
  • 2
    @Xantec Huh, I did a google search and see a transcript with a scene where he says that and they perform some surgery to enable the switch. I'm pretty sure that scene isn't in the DVDs I've watched. This indicates the surgery was in a deleted scene.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 14:52
  • 5
    The most efficient Navy Seal assassins are trained with knowledge of every kind of weapon the military can fit into their brains. I don't see why Skynet wouldn't do the same with a terminator. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 14:54
  • 4
    @MarkRogers 15+ years ago (ugh, I'm old), when these movies were made, computer storage was much more limited, so it makes sense that they'd not predict that a Terminator could take multiple terabytes of information with them.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 15:22

It's an important plot piece to show that the T-800 is not the cleverest thing to exist. It also describes the type of weaponry that the resistance uses. If it was not included, fans may have gone around calling them "ray guns" like Doctor Silverman. It also shows how naive the police and Dr. Silverman are to Kyle Reese's warnings. It shows that they have no respect for Kyle and are only trying to prove him insane. Unfortunately, Kyle is proved right when a T-800 assaults the police station and kills every officer it encounters in an effort to acquire and terminate Sarah Connor.

If you put some thought into it, the T-800 was being handed every weapon it asked for. In a sense, it was being spoiled. As Jeff stated, it inquired on the shop owner's inventory. It probably would have asked for an RPG-7 if the shop owner didn't make his inventory clear by saying, "Hey, just what you see pal."

The T-800 may have thrown it in humorously in an effort to keep the shop owner's mind from questioning the reason of why it was asking for all these various types of deadly weaponry. It worked to a degree.

The writers certainly threw it in humorously for the same reason as the Terminator may have as stated above, except for the audience. It's a known quote that everyone remembers. It was a clever success. Everyone knows of the infamous "Plasma Rifle" and its ballistic, plasma!

All these various reasons are perfectly legitimate. If not one of these reasons, all of them are why particular moment in the scene was added.

I hoped this helps you and anyone that comes across this page understand.

I've grown up with the Terminator and I love its story. I've researched into much of the canon, from characters, machines, technology, story, spin-offs, and symbolism/metaphors.

A side note:

"The Terminator units were 'dumb' machines. As explained in Terminator 2, Skynet would give the Terminators basic programming sufficient to complete their tasks, lock their learning switch, and then let them loose."

I refute that claim. The T-800 is a highly intelligent machine! It has access to much of Skynet's records and information. "I have detailed files." -T-800 Model 101 (T2) The Infiltrator has more freedoms than its fellow combat units. "Hive" and "Rogue" are two modes of operation in which a T-800 may take part. All T-800s in hive mode are linked together with Skynet, into one collective mind. However, In rogue mode, it is largely autonomous and independent. An autonomous T-800 has read-write ability switched on in its CPU enabling it to learn from its contact with humans. Even an autonomous T-800 is inhibited by its inner plug. This is done to prevent complete free will and negate distractions that may impede its missions. When the T-800 is inhibited, it is not creative, but neither is it "dumb".

Those that may still be reading... Why does Skynet hate free will? A huge part in its reasons is that it does not want its machines purposely turning on it. The only machine manufactured with complete free will is the T-1000. Its bundle of nanocomputers followed Skynet's missions to the brim, but not always the way its master wanted. Skynet feared the T-1000. They have been known to turn, as seen in Terminator: TSCC. An example of its free will can be seen at the end of Terminator 2. After the the T-1000 is damaged from being frozen by the liquid nitrogen, it begins to "play with it prey". Instead of swiftly pursuing and terminating John, it stalks him. Instead of killing Sarah and copying her, it tries to force her to call her own son to his death. Instead of immediately terminating its rival, the T-800, it plays with it, damages it, observes its futile efforts, and then proceeds to stab the connection to its nuclear core, disabling it. Despite what is said, Terminators can feel a sense of pain, damage. In what was believed to be the T-800's final moments, the T-1000 made the T-800 suffer.

Ironically, the T-1000 suffered from its own death as it was melted away in the molten steel.

But I digress, Terminators given freewill by the Resistance often reflected the views of its creator, Skynet. Because of such mixed emotions, many machines never had the opportunity to experience free will; from either side.

More information regarding Terminator can be found here:

(Many sites, such as the Terminator Wiki, are based upon the collection of information located on these sites.)

  • 1
    Minor note: the cyborg in The Terminator is a CSM-101. It is never referred to as a T-800. (It's not even called that in T2; that name comes from 1991 promotional material only.)
    – Kaitain
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 6:19

Though I haven't seen the movie in a long time, I think that at that point we don't know that the terminator is from the future. So, that dialogue could have given the audience some clue about the nature of the terminator.

Note:I am not sure how much was known to the audience at that point, so if I'm wrong about not knowing, please leave a comment.

  • 2
    The movie starts with something like 'The fight of the future will be fought tonight' on the screen. But that hadn't been clarified to mean time travel until much later in the film.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 15:23
  • T1, opening scene: LA, 2029 A.D. ... but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 4:50
  • Also the lightning bolts naked butt entrances, the robotic acting, and then Kyle Reese asking the cop what year it is are pretty clear giveaways imo.
    – shim
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 18:18

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