As far as I am aware, the Terminator franchise operates on the idea that time travel works by creating alternate timelines when something is sent back in time, allowing the future of the new timeline to be different from the original, but keeping the original timeline intact.

If so;

How does Kyle Reese go back into an already different timeline in Terminator Genisys? He should have gone back to the same timeline that The Terminator takes place in, but is instead taken to a timeline in which a T800 (Pops) and a T1000 already exist, which doesn't make sense.

In short - do I misunderstand the events of Terminator Genisys or the way that time travel works in the Terminator franchise, or is this a plot hole?

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    It's a time travel paradox / it's a plot hole / it's a terrible movie so don't waste your time deciphering every little detail.
    – Ingu Shama
    Jul 8, 2015 at 8:44
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    I'd say that no time travel movies make sense. In the first movie, the version of Sarah that had given birth to the future version of John had never been attacked by a Terminator, so Kyle had never been sent back in time to save her, so he didn't bang Sarah, so she didn't get pregnant, so John wasn't conceived at all.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 8, 2015 at 9:15
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    @InguShama The quality of the movie doesn't make the question "unclear or not useful". I get that people can vote how they wish, but I was predominantley trying to find out if it was a plot hole or if I had missed some dialouge explaining the logic. Jul 8, 2015 at 9:29
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    @WadCheber I disagree with your first comment. The original Terminator movie is an awesome example of a closed time loop, and it makes perfect sense. The characters are trapped in a loop, and nothing they do can change it -- in fact, they are their own cause. This is what good scifi lives for :)
    – Andres F.
    Jul 13, 2015 at 23:25
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    @Wad Cheber - When physicists consider the theoretical possibility of time travel, the fixed history model which can feature closed loops is the one they generally consider the most plausible, see the Novikov self-consistency principle. Also see my answer here for a discussion of how one might in principle generate histories with closed loops algorithmically in a computer simulation, just to illustrate that there is nothing illogical or magical about the idea.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 13, 2015 at 23:41

5 Answers 5


The opening of T3 establishes that Sarah Connor died of terminal leukemia in 1997, having been diagnosed three years earlier (which suggests a T2 date of no later than 1994 as no reference to her having leukemia is made in the film). - first possible timeline.

But the TV series has shown her to be alive and apparently well (as a doctor is later unable to find any indication of cancer) in 1999. It should be noted Cameron indicates in Ep 1.02 - Gnothi Seauton that she was originally fated to die of cancer in 2005. - second possible timeline.

This is the bad thing with movie series and timelines. Each new movie can alter and mix previous timelines.

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    Genesis is a sequel to t2. Anything after is ignored.
    – user46509
    Jul 8, 2015 at 9:42
  • @CarlSixsmith: It's a sequel to T1. T2 is ignored.
    – Shamshiel
    Jul 12, 2015 at 18:36
  • @Shamshiel - T2 isn't exactly ignored since they take certain elements from it like John Connor's scarred face, while ignoring stuff from T3 like Kate Brewster. But the idea seems to be that the T-5000 is from a different timeline, and the things it does causes a divergence so that neither a T-1000 nor a T-800 get sent back to 1995 as in the T2 timeline.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 13, 2015 at 18:49
  • @Hypnosifl: Even before the T-5000 intervenes, the events of T2 did not occur in the Genisys timeline.
    – Shamshiel
    Jul 13, 2015 at 19:59
  • @Shamshiel - The events in 1995 in T2 presumably weren't part of the past of the 2029 of T2 (i.e. the scarred older John we saw in T2's 2029 wouldn't remember them), sending back the T-1000 and T-800 changed history from that prior 2029. And Genisys probably took place in a history that was the same as that prior 2029 up until the moment the T-5000 arrived, which would have been somewhat before the audience first saw him (perhaps skewing the timeline enough so that Skynet didn't get a chance to send Terminators to both 1984 and 1995, but could only send back one before the Resistance arrived).
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 13, 2015 at 20:05

There are a few different ways time travel can work if you assume a branching timeline model where each trip back takes you to (or creates) a new timeline. The first, perhaps simplest model is the one that says "when you go back to a given date, you arrive in a timeline that was identical to the one you just came from up until the date of your arrival, after which it can diverge". However, a little thought shows that this model probably doesn't work for T1 or T2 (since this interview with the writers of Genisys seems to imply they do treat T1 as the "original" timeline that is then altered by the appearance of the T-5000, the Skynet-in-human-form who has learned to hop between timelines, while they mostly disregard T3 and take their time travel mechanics from T2). Note that in both T1 and T2, the two time travelers seem to arrive at slightly different moments in the past--in T1 Kyle Reese seems to arrive a little bit after the Terminator, and in T2 the T-1000 seems to arrive a little bit after the T-800. But under the branching-timeline theory above, assuming there was some "original" timeline A where neither member of the pair arrived at that date, it seems as though the second time traveler isn't really arriving in a timeline B that was identical to the timeline A they departed from up until the instant of their arrival. Instead, the movies show them arriving in a timeline B where another time traveler has already appeared a few minutes/hours earlier, already causing a bit of divergence from the history of the original timeline A they came from, where no time travelers appeared on that date. So, these movies don't seem to be consistent with this model of time travel.*

There's a second possible branching-timeline model which involves a sequence of different timelines A, B, C etc., where all the time travelers who depart from one timeline will appear at the appointed hour in the next one in the sequence--so for example all the time travelers who depart from any point in history in timeline A will arrive in timeline B, all the time travelers who depart from timeline B will arrive in timeline C, etc. (A model like this is discussed on this page about a time travel roleplaying game, see especially the scenario towards the bottom of the page involving time travelers who want to interact with Hitler and Marx and the diagram of the different timelines created.) This type of model has some strange consequences. For example, suppose on May 2 2150 of timeline A, I decide to travel back one day to May 1 2150. Then 3000 years later in the 5150 of timeline A, some other time traveler decides to go back 65 million years ago and stop the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case, we will both arrive in the same timeline B, meaning that even though I only intended to travel back one day, I'll find myself in a world where the dinosaurs never went extinct and no humans (aside from fellow time travelers) exist! This second type of model probably wouldn't work very well for science fiction stories since time travelers would almost never end up in anything recognizable as their own past (unless only a few trips back in time are made in the entire history of the universe), but you could make it a little more usable by saying that two time travelers from timeline A can only end up in the same timeline B under certain circumstances, like if only a small time elapsed between the moments they each departed from timeline A, and that otherwise they would end up in different timelines as in the first model.

Some version of this second model can be used to make sense of Genisys (and it can also deal with the problem I mentioned with T1 and T2). Let's say the 2029 we saw at the start of the movie was in timeline A, where no terminators arrived in 1973, Kyle Reese's experiences in 1984 played out as they did in T1, Judgment Day happened in 1997, and in general everything happened the same way as in the T1 timeline until the moment the T-5000 appeared. Then in this timeline A, sometime after the T-5000's appearance--probably after it had converted John Connor--someone (probably the T-5000 itself, or possibly the Skynet who was "native" to timeline A) decides to send a T-1000 back to 1973 to kill Sarah Connor, and someone else sends "Pops" the Terminator to 1973 to protect her. Also, the converted John Connor (the T-3000) is at some point sent back to the 2010s to work with Cyberdyne.

Then in this second model, all these time travelers sent from timeline A will appear at the appointed time in timeline B, with the ones arriving later finding a timeline that's already been altered from what they remember by the time travelers that arrived earlier. In particular, when Kyle Reese arrives in the 1984 of timeline B, he finds himself in a timeline where Sarah Connor has been accompanied by "Pops" since 1973, which wasn't true in the original timeline A. Likewise, when the John Connor T-3000 talks to Sarah, he still remembers her raising him in the 80s and 90s in timeline A (as shown for example in the scene where Sarah goes to the bunker with Kyle and says she used to go there with her dad, then the T-3000 appears and says something like "Mom, did you honestly think I wouldn't remember the place you spent so much time with Grandpa?"), even though the Sarah of timeline B skips forward to 2017 without having any children, and even if she does have one she probably won't take him to that same bunker after what the T-3000 said.

*It would actually be possible to reconcile T1 and T2 with the first branching timeline model, but only by assuming multiple other timelines were created besides the ones we saw onscreen. Say for example that in some "original" timeline A, the T-800 terminator and Kyle Reese were sent to 1984, but no T-1000 or T-800 were sent to 1995. Then in timeline B, Skynet sends back a T-1000 in an additional attempt to get rid of John Connor, and the Resistance sends back the T-800. Under the first model, this would create two new timelines, call them C and D--in C only the T-1000 would arrive, and in D only the T-800 would arrive. In timeline C we can assume young Connor is killed and Skynet wins, thus the Skynet of timeline C has no further need to send anyone more back. But in timeline D, when 2029 rolls around again, the Skynet of this timeline may again decide to send back a T-1000, creating yet another timeline E. And since it was already a part of the past of timeline D that a T-800 appeared in 1995, it's consistent with this model for the T-1000 to arrive in a version of 1995 where a T-800 has already been there for a few minutes or hours.


The "original" timeline, as you mentioned, has changed.

The split of the timeline was caused by the T-1000 being sent to kill Sarah, and consequently "Pops" being sent back to save her.

This timeline replaces the original timeline, and thus became the base timeline now.

That is why Kyle Reese jumps to this timeline, and so does John Connor.

Think Back to the future. Marty travels back to a timeline where Tannen owns everything. He doesn't reach his own timeline, because that no longer exists.

  • You example of Marty going back to a past that never existed in his timeline is one of the most well known plot-holes in Back to the Future 2, and an example of the exact problem I have with the time travel in Terminator Genisys, not a logical explanation for the films events. Jul 8, 2015 at 10:06
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    hmm... I don't see the problem with that logic exactly... Maybe because I watch way too much of Doctor Who...
    – Stark07
    Jul 8, 2015 at 10:48
  • The idea is that Biff, after changing the timeline by giving young Biff the Almanac, should never have been able to return the timeline where he stole the DeLorean from, as by giving young Biff the Almanac he created the new timeline (where Biff is wealthy) in which he should have gone forward in. Don't even get me started on Doctor Who. Jul 8, 2015 at 10:55
  • Ha ha ha... I get it... But this doesn't really happen in Genisys, does it? When Kyle & Khaleesi.. erm .. I mean Sarah jump to 2017, they do reach the modified 2017 and not the original 2017... And yeah, these things are pretty tame considering the stuff they show on Doctor Who :P
    – Stark07
    Jul 8, 2015 at 11:12
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    The idea of gaining new memories was explained as limited to being in the quantum field while a nexus event was taking place. John being killed at the end was a nexus point that allowed Kyle to have new memories. This wasn't seen before because...John didn't die before in any previous movies, that we know of. Jul 13, 2015 at 23:39

I have yet to see Terminator Genisys but if I understand your question correctly, Kyle Reese is sent back not from the original timeline but from a secondary timeline.

When the first T800 is sent back, a new timeline is created so that we have now two timelines: the original one and the new one with the T800. After that, the T1000 cannot be sent back from the original timeline to the same time where the T800 is already there - because the original timeline doesn't have a T800 in his past - but it can be sent back from the new timeline. This will create a new, third timeline; one which has both the T800 and the T1000 in its past.

Kyle Reese is sent back from this third timeline; therefore creating a fourth timeline in which both the T800 and the T1000 as well as Kyle Reese are now coexisting in the past.


There's an original timeline where time-travel is first invented. Then every time-traveler from that original timeline, that goes back in time, arrives in Timeline 2, which is a copy of the original timeline that will now be altered by the time-travelers.

In Timeline 2, time-travel is later invented again and all time-travelers that go back in time from Timeline 2, will all arrive in Timeline 3, also a copy of the original timeline, that will now be altered by Timeline 2's time-travelers.

So it eventually arrives to the beginning of Genisys where the T-101 known as Pops and a T-1000 go back in time way before Kyle Reese arrives in the timeline result of beginning of Genisys's time-travelers. These two agents of time (Pops and T-1000) altered events that Kyle later arrives within.

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