In The Terminator, Reese says Skynet had almost no information on Sarah Connor: Just her name, and the name of the city where she lived.

The T-800 arrives in 1984, finds a phone book, and dispatches the first two Sarah Connors listed. It then goes to Sarah's apartment and, in a case of mistaken identity, kills her roommate Ginger (and Ginger's brave but luckless boyfriend Matt). Then it hears Sarah leave a message on the answering machine and realizes that she is still alive. It locates Sarah in Tech Noir, and spends the rest of the film trying to kill her.

All well and good, however:

  • Did it know this was the right Sarah?

  • If so, how?

  • If not, why was it so determined to kill that particular Sarah Connor?

There were probably a few other women named Sarah Connor in the Los Angeles area who weren't listed by name in the phone book. In fact, it's sheer coincidence that the listing for Sarah's address was in her name and not Ginger's.

In trying to hunt down "our" Sarah at all costs, the T-800 puts itself at significant risk and suffers a lot of damage. Before assaulting the police station, would it not have made more sense to search Los Angeles for other potential targets?

  • 10
    If I was programming a killer robot, I'd choose Locate target, terminate, repeat over Locate target, engage, evaluate effort, if effort==high push target to end of list, else terminate, repeat, because a high-effort target will become even higher-effort when it knows we're coming and has had time to prepare. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 19:30
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    There were three Sarah Connors in the phone book, he is just working down the list. It wouldn't make sense to skip one and "come back later" as they might flee. Once committed, he has to finish the job. Another question would be why is he using the phone book instead of, say, breaking into the DMV and downloading a list of Sarah Connors? Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:07
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    @user568458 Careful! If there's two targets for whom effort==high, your killer robot could get stuck in an infinite loop, not kill anyone, and that would be a tragedy.
    – user867
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 3:56
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    @Matt that he found that Sarah in the phone book was a miracle in it of itself. She would have to paid for her own phone line and also not pay for being unlisted. At 19 that means she likely just got the line and the phone book was printed after she did.
    – user16696
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 4:40
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    @cde: I know it's hard for kids to believe this, but before computers, we did manage to retrieve information from paper records. The trick was to keep them alphabetically in filing cabinets. So I don't see that as a major problem. Royal Canadian Bandit already pointed out that she had a scooter, but even if she didn't a majority of adults would have a drivers license even if currently no car. And if not the DMV, then the social security office or the IRS could work better. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:23

6 Answers 6


Why was it so determined to kill that particular Sarah Connor?

At the point the Terminator meets up with our Sarah Connor, he has already eliminated the other 2 that were in the phone book. She is the last one on his current list. You can't blame him for wanting to be thorough. Or perhaps the word is systematic.

That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

The Terminator is relentless. It isn't going to decide that this Sarah Connor is more trouble than she is worth. Also, Terminators aren't too concerned with collateral damage. If he has to hunt down and kill 1,000 Sarah Connors to get the right one, he will.

If he had been successful in eliminating her he might have gone on to different Sarah Connors (if he could find them) or start a secondary mission (maybe helping to bring about Skynet).

Did he know it was the right Sarah?

The potential tip-off for the Terminator is that Reese is protecting her. Maybe (hopefully?) the Terminator is intelligent enough to recognize that this Sarah Connor seems to be getting a lot more help than the other two he easily dispatched.

Also he doesn't care if it is the right one or not, his mission is to kill Sarah Connors, all Sarah Connors.

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    Yep, this would be my answer as well. You start with a list of three, kill two, then find that the last one is being guarded - possibly even by a known resistance fighter from the future. That would pretty much seal the deal for me.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 17:03
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    Ironically, the events of the first Terminator movie caused Sarah teaching her son all the necessary things and caused even his existence. The question is, if Reese chose to protect a different Sarah Conner, did it make a difference? Or is “the right one” just that one which gets pregnant and teaches her child how to fight Terminators and Skynet?
    – Holger
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 8:05
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    @Holger - and technically Skynet sending back the first Terminator was what kick-started the Skynet program in the first place: In T2 Dyson/Cyberdyne are using the hand and the smashed chip that Sarah left in the factory in order to create the Skynet program...
    – Robotnik
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 9:29
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    @Holger Except Reese had had a picture of Sarah Connor, and knew what she looked like. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 14:32
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    @Jeff: I was not discussing that series. But if you assume that changes in the past create a new timeline, sending someone back to change the past makes no sense at all, as you will stay in your own timeline. What does it help Skynet to know that in a different timeline, it might survive?
    – Holger
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 14:59

Dr. Peter Silberman: Why were the other two women killed?

Kyle Reese: Most of the records were lost in the war. Skynet knew almost nothing about Connor's mother. Her full name, where she lives. They just knew the city. The Terminator was just being systematic.


  • In universe verification of all of our theories. Being systematic.
    – user16696
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 4:47

The T-800 is methodically finding and killing all the Sarah Connors it can locate. As you mention in your question, it kills two similarly named women before targeting the real Sarah Connor.

There's no reason to believe it will stop until all Sarah Connors it can locate have been terminated (unless by killing the real Sarah Connor, it alters the timeline of its own existence). It's a thorough and relentless killing machine - that's what it's been programmed to do. It just so happens that the out-of-universe audience is concerned with watching the events surrounding this particular Sarah Connor.

Other factors to consider is that this was the last lead on locating a Sarah Connor it had at the moment. No others were on its radar yet, AND this Sarah had now been tipped off that someone (or something as we know) was trying to kill her. Logically, why would the T-800 divert its attention now that she's in flight mode and could change her name, appearance, and lie low? It would be more difficult to locate her later with a cold trail, in exchange for the possibility that the T-800 MAY be able to find other leads.

The fact that this Sarah was so seemingly resilient than the first two it dispatched may have clued the T-800 into realizing this Sarah had a higher probability of being its actual target as well.

  • [snip] Take it to chat, guys.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 18:16

Did it know this was the right Sarah?

It didn't need to.

If not, why was it so determined to kill that particular Sarah Connor?

As we see in both T1, T3, and the TSCC, the Terminators are assigned targets and they will systematically attempt to terminate them. Since it does not know which one is the right one, the next logical step is to terminate all of them. Had the Sarah been killed, it would have moved on to the next Sarah Conner until all were terminated.

Had he let her get away and moved on to the next, tt's unlikely that the Terminator would have been able to find her again, failing in its mission. She already knows he's after her, so he needs to kill her before she escapes forever.


I don't know if there is a definitive answer from the script/novelization/interviews/etc. Failing that, I can think of a few logical possibilities:

  • The T-800 isn't very bright. It didn't understand there might be a Sarah who wasn't listed in the phone book; or having identified a target, it was not flexible enough to change course until it had killed her.
  • The T-800 recognised Reese. We know from the barcode tattoo on his arm that he spent time in a Skynet prison camp, so Skynet could have been aware of his appearance. The T-800 might have given the T-800 images of Reese and other known fighters, in case the resistance sent one back. This would have a certain pleasing irony: Reese saves Sarah in Tech Noir, but unwittingly endangers her by revealing himself to the T-800.
  • The T-800 didn't recognise Reese, but evaluating his behaviour, it thought there was a high probability he was a resistance fighter from the future and not just some guy with a shotgun who wanted to protect Sarah.

Any one of these, or some combination, may be the correct answer.

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    +1 to not being very bright. It's very easy to write a computer program to do a list of things. It is difficult to say if one item of the list is taking "too long" then move on and come back. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 17:40
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    @DeanMacGregor: Both are pretty easy for a self-aware cybernetic overlord. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 19:36
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    Computers and electronics have watchdog and runaway timers, they know very well how to drop a thread if it takes too long. As for bright, Skynet has nothing to go on but a name and city, going by the ones in the phone book in 1995, is the best chance it has. It can deal with non listed Conners after it goes with the low dangling fruit.
    – user16696
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 20:29
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    He could plausibly have had other search methodologies for after "check the phone book" is complete, he just never got that far.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 15:09

Obviously the terminator CAN conclude (if worth it's grid) that this is the right Sarah, from the fact that 1) There is significant opposition (Reece) with this Sarah. And 2) This new opposition seems to know not to hang around after unloading several rounds of buck shot center mass, which shows this opposition knows terminators, which can be assumed to be not general knowledge in 1984.

  • I don't think it can conclude that. Remember: the price of failure is losing the war. At most, the T-800 can assume this particular male human is effectively protecting Sarah, using tactics that work against a cyborg. But even then, what if Reese is mistaken and got the wrong Sarah? (Skynet has no idea Reese has a picture of Sarah). So it's safest for the T-800 to just continue its killing spree forever... what else is there for it to do, anyway? Play videogames? :P
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 23:33
  • Obviously....John Connor, that had send Reece back, knew which Sarah was John's...mom. Would you not be able to send someone to your mom...even without a picture? "Excuse me miss, I'm looking for a Sarah Connor on this address...that my boss handed to me. Is it you?"
    – WipWap
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 19:02
  • Agreed, but what if Reese didn't have a picture and made an honest mistake? Skynet doesn't know about the picture and cannot risk Reese being wrong because its own existence depends on it. Therefore, T-800 must continue looking for possible Sarahs. (did Reese even have Sarah's exact address? I could probably direct someone to my mom even without her pic and address, but I wouldn't bet the world's future on it!)
    – Andres F.
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 19:38

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