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So I rewatched the first Terminator (1984) as well as Terminator 2 (1991) and am baffled by why the terminators—specifically the T-800’s played by Arnold Schwarzenegger—both attacked innocent people right away to steal their clothes after arriving in the past naked instead of stealing them from a store. Looking for an in-universe explanation.

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Okay, walking around naked is not a good way to be discreet and will definitely draw attention to you. Fine, I get that; these naked robot soldiers need clothes to fit in.

But these are supposedly infiltration machines, right? They are designed to blend in with the environment they are in and make use of the weaponry around them to perform their mission. Why not just program the T-800 to head over to a clothing store or thrift shop and steal clothes from the store? In the great scheme of things, security footage of a naked guy stealing clothes from a random store might be weird but would be almost understandable/excusable, right? The straight out assault of an innocent person would only draw more attention to you so why do it so soon after arriving in the past?

Also, note that when the T-1000—played by Robert Patrick—arrives in Terminator 2 it almost makes sense why he would attack a cop in a desolate roadway area to get an identity; it wouldn’t draw much attention in this case. But in the case of the T-800, the guy is really creating a scene and drawing attention to himself in the process. Why? Is there an in-universe explanation for this behavior?

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    See the question "Why didn't the T-800 kill at the biker bar?", and this answer from Richard which suggests that the T-800's programming prevented him from doing so. – Wad Cheber Jul 22 '15 at 20:30
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    I would also point out that in both of the first two movies, the T-800 (although not the T-1000) seems to select people who are unlikely to call the police- punk rock street hoodlums and tough biker dudes. In both cases, the Terminator demanded the clothes, but the other person made it physical (the punks pull a knife, the biker puts a cigar out on the T-800's chest). Whether or not the T-800's reaction was justified, the victims were hardly innocent. – Wad Cheber Jul 22 '15 at 20:33
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    Beating up a biker leaves a confused biker with a vague description, and you don't know if the biker will even report it. Security camera from a robbed store, on the other hand, gives a crystal-clear profile of the robber, and won't be missed. He is designed to stay low profile, but he isn't very stealthy - so he did the best he could – Petersaber Jul 23 '15 at 8:34
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    Too bad Skynet didn't think to wrap a bunch of clothes in a flesh-bag and send it back with the terminator. Or program the terminator to scrunch itself around a wad of folded clothes. – RichS Dec 3 '17 at 5:31
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TL;DR: The Terminator utilizes systematic logic. In both cases you mentioned, the machine simply went for the closest source of appropriate clothing.


As discussed in this question, the Terminator - both the T-800 AND T-1000 models - appear to operate using systematic logic. They almost always take the easiest path to the closest obtainable objective. In the absence of their primary target, the secondary objectives appear to be blending in, finding transportation, obtaining information, etc.

  • In the case of the original T-800, the first obtainable clothing was in the form of the three punks it encountered.
  • In the case of the second T-800, the first obtainable clothing was at the biker bar.
  • In the case of the T-1000, who could model its OWN clothing, it modeled its clothing after the first person it encountered - a police officer. It then changed clothing as needed throughout the film.

Ironically, Kyle Reese used the same exact systematic logic to obtain his clothing. Immediately after arriving, he mugged the homeless man who witnessed his arrival and stole the man's pants. Afterwards, he broke into a nearby clothing store and took what else he needed to blend in. This reinforces the idea that, before meeting Sarah, Reese has become very machine-like himself. In the first half of the movie, before he spends time with Sarah, Reese sees other people just like the Terminator does - they're either an asset, an obstacle, or a target.

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    +1. The easiest/fastest way to get fully dressed is rob someone who looks like you). – hindmost Jul 22 '15 at 20:35
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    Nice explanation on Kyle Reese himself becoming a machine himself. But honestly, I don’t consider any of the “Terminator” films even that deep or even good science fiction; they are just action films with a science fiction pretense. – JakeGould Jul 22 '15 at 20:39
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    Not a bad answer, but I don't see Reese behaving at all like a machine. He is resourceful, but he also gets angry and frustrated easily, he pants and shows weakness and physical fatigue from his first scene onwards (as compared to the cold ruthlesness of the T-800). His flashbacks also show him quite human, tired, joking with a kid, staring at a faded polaroid. Sorry, I simply don't see the parallel. – Andres F. Jul 22 '15 at 21:29
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    I see a bit of the parallel at the start of the first movie before who's good/bad is revealed. Keep in mind that when you first watch the first movie, Kyle seems like a creepy stalker who might be after her or scouting for the dude going around shooting women named Sarah Connor, right up until he saves her in the club. – childofsoong Jul 22 '15 at 21:35
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    @soong Yes, agreed! We, like Sarah, at first don't know that Kyle is one of the good guys. But he never seems robotic or machine-like. Compare the arrival scenes of both the T-800 and Kyle. T-800 is huge, cold, and has a mean look; he walks deliberately after easily standing up. Kyle instead pants and struggles to get up! – Andres F. Jul 22 '15 at 22:20
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You're mistaken. The Terminator's main priority is to Kill/Protect John Connor. Doing so in a discreet way is a secondary concern.

Based on the Frakes novelisations, we see that in the first film, the Terminator's desire for clothes is motivated by a simple warning flag - "Nudity will attract substantial amounts of unwanted attention":

Terminator reviewed the events since his arrival in minute detail and caught an error. He was naked. He needed clothes. The black man had clothes. He should have taken the black man’s clothes. Options crowded his thinking now, and he realized that this was a city filled with people. He would find one of suitable size and configuration, and then the error would be corrected.

Luckily, a few seconds later he's accosted by someone wearing his size of clothing.


In the second film, much the same logic is applied. His highest priority is intercept John Connor. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant until then.

Muffled music from a jukebox thudded away. The man glanced through the windows. There were people inside, laughing and arguing and loudly ordering drinks and food. The man turned and strode toward the entrance.

He knew he would find the owner of one of the cycles inside.

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    +1, I agree with this answer: confrontation may draw unwarranted attention, but nudity draws unwarranted attention faster. – Praxis Jul 22 '15 at 21:22
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    It's also harder to lose the unwanted attention (other than by getting dressed) since nudity is an ongoing condition rather than an act. – Random832 Jul 22 '15 at 22:12
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I think there are a few problems with your question.

  • The people targeted by the T-800 in the first two movies are not entirely "innocent". In both cases, the T-800 starts the confrontation by demanding clothes, but in both cases, the other party makes the confrontation physical. In the first movie, the punks pull knives; in the second movie, the biker puts a cigar out on the Terminator's chest. The biker probably deserved what he got, although the punk who got a Terminator fist through his abdomen definitely didn't deserve it.

  • Attacking these particular targets is more low key than breaking into a store. A gang of street punks isn't likely to call the police. Nor is a tough biker dude who carries a loaded, concealed handgun and puts cigars out on people's chests. These people are already on the wrong side of the law, so the last thing they want to do is call the police. I used to be in a gang. I got jumped with a couple of my friends one night. The cops showed up, we told them what had happened, and they threatened to arrest us if we didn't leave the area immediately. The next night, when we went to the house of the guys who had jumped us, the cops showed up just as we did, and one of the officers beat me senseless with his flashlight. This is the way it works when you're a criminal. Your habitual law breaking means that you won't get help from the police when you want/need it. What do you think would have happened if the biker had called 911? I picture something like this:

Yes, hello, 911? Yeah, a big naked guy came into our bar and asked for clothes, so I put a cigar out on his chest. He totally overreacted, grabbed my arm, and twisted it really hard, which was super lame and gave me a boo boo. So my friend broke a pool cue over his head, but that didn't stop him, so my other friend pulled out an illegal boot knife and stabbed him with it. The guy pulled the knife out of his stomach and stabbed my friend back, so I drew my illegally concealed semiautomatic handgun and tried to shoot him. The bartender grabbed his illegally sawed-off shotgun and tried to catch the guy, but the guy stole the shotgun and rode off on my motorcycle. What's that? No, he didn't technically steal the motorcycle, I guess, because I gave him the keys and said "Take it", and he was just standing there at the time, not threatening me or anything - in fact, he never threatened me at all, now that I think about it... But still, he was really really mean and he hurt my feelings. Can you arrest him for me?

  • Stores, on the other hand, have burglar alarms. Breaking into a store is likely to attract police attention very quickly - much more quickly than a criminal calling 911 would.

  • The suggestion that the T-1000 was more subtle and low key is absurd. He killed a cop. Regardless of whether you do it in an out of the way location, killing a cop is guaranteed to attract an enormous amount of attention. Keep in mind that the cops who question Sarah in Terminator 2 don't mention all the innocent civilians who were killed by the first T-800 - they only mention all the police officers who were killed in the precinct house. Killing a cop is the worst thing you can do if you're trying to avoid being noticed. Cops don't react well to this kind of thing.

In light of these facts, it seems to me that the T-800s, especially the second one, were very clever in how they obtained their clothes.

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    Killing the cop is probably not as big a deal as you think, since T-1000 could imitate his clothes, body, and voice perfectly. On the other hand, you'd think the police department would notice this guy not showing up to work anymore... – LastStar007 Jul 23 '15 at 22:26
  • @LastStar007 - Or reporting in. Or his squad car going MIA. Or his family not hearing from him. – Wad Cheber Jul 23 '15 at 22:28
  • @LastStar007 I always thought it'd make more sense if the cop looked like Robert Patrick so it'd make more sense as to how he'd get away with pretending to be him, i.e. some other actor play T-1000 for the first minute or so then Robert Patrick take over after he assumes the dead cop's identity. – simontemplar Jul 24 '15 at 5:05
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Terminator

In the first Terminator, he kills the three hoodlums which are harassing him. He is in an isolated environment. He kills them quickly without too much noise. It is fairly discreet.

T2: Judgement Day

In the second Terminator, the T-800 appropriates clothes from a rough looking bar. I don't believe it actually kills anyone in there. It severely injures several, including stabbing one and pining him to the table, but it could be viewed as an intense bar fight.

The person it requested the clothes from eventually acquiesces and gives up his clothes and his bike keys. Then the owner attempts to stop the T-800 by firing the shotgun in the air. The Terminator takes the weapon (and sunglasses) and leaves.

Now maybe the people in the bar are going to file a police report saying some huge naked dude came in and beat the crap out of them and stole some clothes, a bike, and a shotgun, but maybe not. Maybe they are a little bit shamed by this experience.

Since the T-1000 could impersonate anyone it wanted, it merely had to find one person alone and it could kill them and take over their role.

  • I agree with how you've analyzed the T2 bar scenario. +1 – Praxis Jul 22 '15 at 21:20
  • Unless Hudson fell on his own knife, he's just knocked out. Only the one other guy is killed. Last guy wises up real quick. – Mazura Jul 24 '15 at 4:35
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I think the question is not why the Terminator seeks clothes to end the nudity condition. That's pretty clear and undisputed: Nudity draws unwanted attention.

The question rather is: Why robbing instead of stealing? Why does the Terminator prefer robbing while Reese (as a human being he is supposed to be rather more resourceful) prefers stealing from a store to gain clothes?

The answer lies in the capabilities and weaknesses of the characters. The Terminator knows that it will gain clothes relatively unharmed by robbing some guy, no matter how physically strong or how armed that guy may be or how many friends the guy is surrounded with, so it chooses this way as the fastest option. It may additionally choose its targets among subcultures which won't cooperate easily with the police (but that may just be a minor aspect).

Reese on the other hand, as a vulnerable human being, even while being one of the tougher guys, won't risk to get hurt and risk the mission by a random encounter with some guy he tries to rob while being naked. For him the best option is to rob the weak drunkard to gain pants and then get the rest by stealing from a store.

-2

The Terminator isn't too worried about local law enforcement. They don't know what they're dealing with and don't have the proper weapons to be of much use. On the other hand a large naked man totally sticks out. Not going to help sneaking up on a target. Plus the Terminator would have to tone down how it treats law enforcement. Exactly how far would the Terminator have gotten after shooting up a police station if it was totally naked. Going to be really obvious to all around from a very far distance. There simply will be no way of carrying on the mission. More and more law enforcement will come in and eventually they will haul in some weaponry that can get the job done.

Maybe in the future some of the early Terminators were totally naked and the resulting 100 percent mission failure got recorded.

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    The OP said in his question that he understood why the Terminators need to wear clothes. The question is why they steal them from people rather than stores. – Wad Cheber Jul 23 '15 at 3:56
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    ⁺¹ for »a large naked man totally sticks out«. – Alfe Jul 23 '15 at 9:41
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    “On the other hand a large naked man totally sticks out.” Did you actually read the question? There is 1,000,000% no debate that the T-800 requires clothes to fit into the world after it arrives. The issue is why does the T-800 attack people to steal clothes versus breaking into a store to steal clothes off of a rack. – JakeGould Jul 23 '15 at 18:05

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