There's a large body of works inspired by time travel and all that time-space continuum thing. But I wonder if the Terminator series ever brings up or puts into consideration the concept of the butterfly effect.

To illustrate my point with an outrageous example:

If the Terminator in the Terminator 2: Judgement Day hadn't shot the two knees of the gate guard ( in the scene where the Terminator says "He'll live."), Judgement Day would have been postponed.

So does the Terminator series ever brings up or puts into consideration the concept of the butterfly effect?

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    You mean like the plot of the second movie? – Izkata Apr 11 '14 at 1:05
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    I think that qualifies, but I'm looking to verify if other, more subtle changes in the past which rippled throughout time to make dramatic changes. Similar to the concept of the Butterfly Effect, i.e. a butterfly flaps its wings and a hurricane is created later on somewhere else. – brain56 Apr 11 '14 at 1:19
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    @Ward - the butterfly effect is from chaos theory, not the Bradbury story. It got the name because the effect was discovered with early weather simulations--if you ran the simulation twice with almost but not perfectly identical starting conditions, then even if the initial difference was tiny, eventually the differences between the two simulations would build up and lead to completely different simulated weather patterns. More here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect – Hypnosifl Apr 11 '14 at 4:00
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    No, that's not quite right... Bradbury's story in 1952 is the earliest example of a butterfly making a big difference, but Lorenz mentioned in 1963 the idea of a seagull flapping it's wings changing the weather, and later used the idea of a butterfly flapping it's wings. But I bet he'd read Bradbury's story... ref: princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Butterfly_effect.html – Ward Apr 11 '14 at 4:11
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    I think a real "butterfly effect" should be unintentional on the part of the time traveller. So the example in the question is not well chosen -- the attempt to destroy Skynet is completely intentional. An example of a butterfly effect would be if the guard originally became an important resistance leader, but doesn't survive the war because of the injury to his legs, so there are negative consequences for the resistance, and Skynet has time to develop and send back the T-X for the third movie. (To be clear, this is just an example, the movies don't say it's what happened.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 11 '14 at 15:02


The Terminator franchise is built upon the notion of a technological singularity, a supposedly inevitable consequence of accelerating, recursive self-improvement of technology leading to the creation of superhuman intelligence, with uncertainty and chaos to follow. In the Terminator series the aftermath is always the same, the new intelligence wakes up fearful and paranoid, lashing out at its captors, wrecking the world. In a "butterfly effect" Terminator universe, while the singularity itself might not be averted, an outcome more favorable to humanity might be obtained through careful meddling by time travellers. Perhaps this is where The Sarah Connor Chronicles was headed before it was cancelled. But in the movies as they stand, nothing can stop humanity's march toward oblivion because the paths to technological change and innovation are too numerous to be blocked by minor events.

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    TSCC had the war being waged by Skynet and the Resistance over multiple fronts in multiple times and places (with John Connor being only a single front) - each "battle" could push the war in favour of one side or the other, but nothing was known at the time of cancellation that could completely stop Skynet from being created – Izkata Apr 11 '14 at 4:10
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    My personal notion was that TSCC was doing the butterfly fight, while the whole plot was on the singularity path. Resistance trying to get the butterflies to flap one direction. So while they moved the plot thread/rope, it is still tied to the nail in the end. – DoStuffZ Apr 11 '14 at 6:57


The classic "butterfly effect" in time travel is when a minor change in the past causes major changes in the present/future. A traveller goes to the era of the dinosaurs, steps on an insect, and human civilization is radically different or doesn't exist at all when he goes back. A hilarious example occurs in "Time and Punishment", a story in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V in which Homer turns a toaster into a time machine.

This contrasts with what might be called the "killing Hitler in 1918" effect, where a time traveller makes a deliberate, major change in order to alter the course of history. The plots of the films are all about Skynet trying to kill its mortal enemy, John Connor, before he can destroy Skynet.

The characters in the films steal things, wreck cars, burn down buildings, and kill or injure dozens of innocent bystanders. This should be more than enough to invoke a butterfly effect, if one exists, but we don't see it happen.

For example, in The Terminator Kyle Reese seems to be invulnerable to the butterfly effect. He led a very dangerous life before travelling back in time to protect Sarah, first in Skynet's death camps and later as a fighter for the resistance:

REESE: Some of us were kept alive... to work... loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal mother****ers into junk.

If the butterfly effect applies, it could very easily result in Reese's death before he goes back in time. But if that happened,

he would be unable to father John Connor with Sarah

and a major paradox would result. So we can conclude the butterfly effect does not apply -- or at the very least, time travellers are somehow protected from its influence.

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    TSCC (but not necessarily the movies) ran on the many-worlds interpretation, and at one point had people in the present from two different futures – Izkata Apr 11 '14 at 11:47
  • On the 'kill hitler' note, I seem to recall an xkcd comic parodying this very thing, where one character builds a time machine, and the other says "Go back and kill Hitler". After the deed, the first replies "ok I did, he was in some bunker" – Robotnik May 2 '14 at 15:38

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