"The future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves… !" John Connor, quoting John Connor, quoting Kyle Reese, quoting John Connor - Terminator 2: Judgment Day

One of the fundamental ideas in the first two Terminator movies is that the past was not immutable. The machines attempt to destroy John Connor before he can lead the Resistance; the humans attempt to defend against this attack.

So there is a rather uncomfortable level of predetermination that seems inherent in Terminator 3. The past can be changed - John Connor can be removed from the equation, either via killing Sarah or John himself at some point in history - but the events of Terminator 3 seem to favor maintaining it as an inevitability. They aren't trying to save the future anymore; they're just trying to save John Connor.

I tend to find it an exercise in futility to reference outside information when discussing a work of fiction; it snowballs into a discussion that's tantamount to fan-fiction. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of potential for causality violations in Terminator if Judgment Day and the Resistance are prevented -- so that makes both sides' endeavors futile anyway, right?


Anyway, the third movie really feels like an implicit agreement that neither side was ever invested in actually changing anything, and instead just wanted to ensure that the event took place and that humanity got its fearless leader. Why bother with injecting the concept of free will then, with the No Fate concept, at all? Doesn't that mean John Connor lied to everyone; his parents, the Resistance, himself -- to make sure that everything stayed exactly the same?

EDIT: Apparently I wasn't clear. I'll add my (modified) responses to other people's responses below.

Preventing Judgment Day is a major plot point of T2. It's the reason Sarah storms Dyson's house, later his lab (to grab the chip and the arm salvaged from T1, to prevent further research); it's the reason the T-800 tells the Connors to lower him into molten steel. Even the T-800 acts as if the future can be changed by preventing any evidence of its existence from entering the wrong hands.

T2 advocates a malleable future; T3 is just trying to maintain it. There are way too many involved parties to keep up the ruse; and invariably, Connor must surely know he is delivering false hope to himself in the past, as he preps Kyle for time travel and seeds the quote in his brain, after living through the 'big reveal' in T3.

In a way it renders all of the time travel moot, because no one is apparently able to avoid anything; John Connor always emerges, and so does Skynet. In this way, the Resistance is just as bad as the machines - the T-850 in T3 does everything it can to just make sure Connor is in the right place during the bomb, after being asked and ordered to actively prevent J-Day.

So is it all a lie, then? Doesn't that impact a major theme in the Terminator series, and yet no one onscreen seems to even hesitate in their resolve, or explore that oddity. John never goes, "Oh, FML. My future self told me and my parents a HUGE FREAKING LIE. I lied to me. That's weird."

So is the concept just neutered in the movie, or isn't it? Did any of that time travel even matter, at all, for either side? Literally nothing came of it, except maybe a bootstrap paradox and a central figure who must have a hell of an expensive therapist.

  • What exactly is the question - are you wondering if you misunderstood something, if T3 actually doesn't contradict T1-2, or something else entirely?
    – Izkata
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 21:09
  • …the question is in the title of the post. I'm not sure how that's confusing.
    – Stick
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 21:12
  • @Stick I asked because you appeared to be answering the question title yourself in the question body.
    – Izkata
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 0:16
  • 3
    Correction - your quote at the top (from Terminator 2) was John Connor quoting SARAH Connor quoting Kyle Reese quoting John Connor.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 17:21
  • Quick answer to your question: No, because there was no third movie in the Terminator franchise. ;-)
    – user11521
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 18:06

6 Answers 6


The fact that the statement "you can't stop Judgment Day" directly contradicts "there is no fate but that which we make" is something that countless people have complained about since the airing of Terminator 3. It most definitely does contradict the earlier films.

The time travel matters, but only insofar as both Connor and Skynet are clearly hoping to change things, even though they likely know full-well they cannot. Skynet, by the third film, knows that it will lose the war. It especially needs to somehow change the past, even though, logically, it will not work. Skynet, like humanity, is not above irrationality when it comes to ensuring its own survival.

In short, T3 does contradicts the previous two films, but that does not mean that the characters don't still believe they can alter the past. Hope is a very powerful thing.

  • 1
    I'm starting to think my problem is less about whether or not the movie changes anything, and more about why no one in T3/Salvation ever brings it up. IMO a major revelation like that demands discussion. Connor should be righteously pissed at future-himself for using false hope to get him to this point, and he should be left wondering if he'll still choose to take the same approach in the future, since he will one day be that John Connor. At least IMHO they should have done that. I'm the guy that likes it when they 'just talk' on Star Trek:TNG. My problem is probably me. :)
    – Stick
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 16:06
  • Just talking is fine in a television show, but in a film there usually isn't enough time. And thanks for the downvote, whoever gave it to me. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 8:28
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    @CeesTimmerman: He steals painkillers from a veterinarian after he comes off his motorcycle and gashes his leg. That's a fairly common way of avoiding leaving a record at the hospital. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 0:17
  • 1
    @JamesSheridan Ok, then the dialogue and IRL actor news confused me. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 7:54
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    There is a big difference between "the future is set in stone" and "you can't stop Judgement Day". Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 14:38

The older John Connor is definitely hoping to prevent Judgement Day (not least by giving his younger self that quote to memorise) and the lack of nuclear holocaust after his destruction of Cyberdyne Systems would certainly seem to suggest that the future is at the very least malleable, if not downright changeable.

John Connor's issue in Terminator 3 is that after destroying Cyberdyne Systems he's already changed the future so drastically that that he simply doesn't know where to strike at Skynet next or even if Skynet is still in development.

In the absence of a viable target he focuses on living "off the grid" in the hopes that he's done enough already, a hope that seems validated by the fact the Judgement Day doesn't happen on the date predicted by Kyle Reese or the T-800 in Terminator 2.


Just because free will exists doesn't mean that some events aren't more likely than others. Averting doomsday would be difficult no matter who or how many are attempting to stop it.

Besides, in the real world arguments about free will and predestination are unable to be resolved at all. Philosophers and physicists and theologians debate endlessly even what those concepts might mean, let alone which actually applies to reality. Therefor, from the perspective of the movie, what Kyle Reese or an older John Connor say on the subject is nothing more than the opinions of a layman on the subject... it's not as if they come from a future that has answered the question authoritatively.

Meaning, in short, the only possible answer to your question is one of opinion. Interpret the movie in whatever way gives you the most enjoyment.


I agree from a story-telling point of view, the struggle and lessons learned from T2 are ignored in T3.

But from an in-universe point of view, why shouldn't they be? Humankind never got to hear of the nuclear holocaust, and they only people who knew about it were blown up, melted, an escaped mental patient or her kid, or the wife of a terrorist. To everyone else, they were just a bunch of crazies who blew up an expensive laboratory.

So while we, the audience, learned the lessons of messing around with advanced military A.I. and automated killers, the people in their universe never did. Cyberdyne Systems' research suffered a major setback, but the drive within the military components of humanity to do that research remained, and so it's something they'd come up with eventually.

As the Terminator himself said of humanity, "It's in your nature to destroy yourselves".

Hence the holocaust was only delayed. It's not because you can't change the future - the future was changed (hence the delay). It's because the inclination of humanity towards pursuing war and military superiority is what caused it, not simply a research company stumbling across the advanced technology, they just helped it along.


No. It just adds to the whole philosophical question of Free Will and Choice. Humanity decided its Fate via self-annihilation (Judgment Day). But Humanity is also programmed (by Nature) that way. So Choice (Nurture) can also be seen as Fate (Nature).

There is No Fate But What We Make. We made our Fate, but we were programmed to.

So Terminator 3 is simply stepping back and looking at it from a grander scale, that we don't decide who we love, we don't really decide what our Fate is, because the choices we make are already programmed, in our DNA, by circumstances, by the universe. Choice is an illusion.

  • Can you offer any evidence to back up these bold statements?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 5:04

Well, clearaly, whoever made up that quote, in the context of the movie, was wrong.

Does that answer your question?

  • "Whoever made that up was wrong"…have you actually watched the Terminator series? O_o
    – Stick
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 22:36
  • @Stick I have, but it's been a while. Is there something I'm missing? Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 22:40
  • Well, John Connor makes Kyle Reese memorize that quote, in the future. He goes back in time and teaches it to Sarah, who teaches it to John. The idea being, they are in a position to make a different future unfold. T3 damages the context of this quote because the actions that the T-850 takes in this movie are not congruent with the quote. The whole film treats J-Day as an inevitability, while the first two are done under the guise of free will and the ability to change the future. So the overarching narration is a little confused at this point; is time fixed, or is it up to choice?
    – Stick
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 22:52
  • @Stick I'm still not understanding what doesn't make sense about The quote was wrong Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 22:56
  • @Stick Was there anything about the first two movies that made you think that the future could be changed other than the characters believing that it could? Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 22:58

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