In the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, why doesn't the Terminator slay the attacking bikers in the bar? It had not yet received the "You can't just go around killing people" order from John, and it later attempts to kill an unarmed civilian who wasn't even on the attack.

  • 9
    I think the out-of-universe answer is that that would make the Terminator less sympathetic. In-universe, the best answer I can think of is that killing doesn't make his mission at that point, getting clothing, any easier. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 22:20
  • 4
    @ChrisB.Behrens Except that until the scene in the mall the movie tried to obfuscate that the Robert Patrick was the "bad guy". Having the T-800 kill the hostiles would have helped with that.
    – Xantec
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 2:09
  • 27
    Didn't the T-800 in the second movie get sent back by John, from the future? Wouldn't John have already programmed it to reduce killing? He may not have told it to literally not kill anyone (unlike his still-naive younger counterpart), but he probably did care for the terminator to not just go around murdering everyone he saw. John from the future is still John Connor.
    – mechalynx
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 11:02
  • 1
    @ivy_lynx Good point. Of course the T-800's only reason given for trying to kill the punks in the parking lot was "I'm a Terminator." Had it been told not to indiscriminately kill unless to protect John, we might've expected it to say something along the lines of "My primary mission was in danger," or something.
    – Xantec
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 18:11
  • 3
    @Xantec Good catch. I am however inclined to believe that, while the T-800 was capable of more detail than "I'm a Terminator", he might not have been interpreting the situation the same way we would. If future John had just increased the threshold for killing (making the T-800 less likely to kill, but allowing it), it would have considered any danger close to young John a valid target for termination while still making the bikers unkillworthy. That would make "I'm a Terminator" a complete answer, since no specific orders where given, unlike young John's specific order to not kill anyone.
    – mechalynx
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 18:22

4 Answers 4


If we take the film as the highest level of canon, then we can gain some insight from the Terminator's own heads-up display.

Careful examination shows that the Terminator's priorities at the bar are the acquisition of transport and camouflage cover. On top of that, his defensive systems are set to 100%. He has no interest in killing people in the bar (presumably to avoid an escalation of violence that might damage his face, hindering his ability to pass as human) when simply disabling them is just as effective.

enter image description here

enter image description here

You'll also note that at the point that he decides to attack the biker, an "Inhibit Setting 8" command kicks in. Whether this was set by Future:John or whether it's part of his attempt to avoid damaging the clothing is unclear but there's certainly something blocking him from committing unreserved violence.

enter image description here

The Frakes novelisation offers some additional insight into Terminator's own thought process.

For an electronically stretched instant, the man analyzed its caliber and operating condition. The idea of aiming at the biker on the floor didn’t occur to the man as an option. The target was temporarily disabled. Shooting him would have been an unnecessary use of force. All the man wanted was what he had initially demanded. He turned his emotionless eyes on Robert.

It looks like the Terminator is trying to keep a relatively low profile. A room full of stabbing victims (especially hardened bikers, many of whom won't even speak to the police) is hardly going to result in a citywide manhunt whereas a room full of bullet-ridden corpses would certainly bring down the wrath of the city's finest.

  • 5
    Excellent answer - love the screenshots of his HUD.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 18:18
  • 2
    @Omegacron - It's a visual interpretation of what it would look like if you could see into the infra-red.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 18:30
  • 1
    @Richard: meh. I'd excuse using green colour, but surely it should have been hand-drawn circles, not a vector arrow! Tempted to downvote... Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 14:14
  • 3
    @leftaroundabout - I should get extra points for editing it in MS Paint, despite having both Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Corel Photo Paint X7-Pro on my computer
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 16:42
  • 2
    @WadCheber - On the right is a list of bones (MAXIlar, MANDibular, etc.), maybe the inhibit setting is limited to which bones he's allowed to break
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 5:48

The Terminator is an efficient tactician.

In the first Terminator film, the Terminator demands clothes from three young punks who unwisely threaten it with knives. It correctly reasons that they are unable to seriously damage it, and messily killing one will induce another to give up his clothes.

The tactical situation in the bar is different. There are many more people and they may have firearms. The Terminator may not be hurt by gunfire, but it would be inconvenienced and possibly rendered unable to pass for human. So it uses limited force to defend itself. When the big biker pulls a gun on it, it doesn't hurt him too badly because it wants his clothes with as little damage as possible.

(Out-of-universe, I think Chris B. Behrens is correct. The Terminator wouldn't be as sympathetic if it massacred everyone in the bar.)


The main mission of the Termniator is to change the future in a "desireable" way, e.g. kill John or his mother to get rid of future John. Killing just about anyone might cause a butterfly effect to the reverse (e.g. kill some friend of a skynet representative so that he is on a funeral the moment he "should" activate the system).

  • 20
    You're aware that this is about T2 and Arnie's scenes, aren't you?
    – Mario
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 7:40

Because Terminator 2 is a 15 Certificate film (in the UK). If he'd massacred everyone in the bar it would have merited an 18 Certificate, reducing the number of cinema tickets sold and thus creating less profit for the film studio.

  • 5
    For the record, both films merited an R Certificate in the US, their primary market. It was outgrossed (by nearly $50M) by Silence of the Lambs which was an 18-certificate film.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:58
  • This was the first R rated movie I ever saw in the theater. R is the American equivalent of an 18 certificate in the UK.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 5:51
  • @WadCheber: Not so. A UK 15 certificate is roughly equivalent to a "soft" R-rated film. The 18 certificate includes "hard" R-ratings and the NC-17 rating. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 8:59

Your Answer

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