Not only is it a landmark in the advancement of special effects, but it is also one of the most effective science fiction films of recent decades. One can add that "The Terminator" established James Cameron's name in Hollywood. (His previous film was "Piranha II: Flying Killers"; his next was "Aliens".)
Opening in a post-apocalypse wasted world where humans have become subordinate to machines, it works on the premise that a time-travelling cyborg sent back to present-day (1984) Los Angeles can, by assassinating the mother of an unborn enemy, reshape the future. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the cyborg and Linda Hamilton his innocent prey, located after he has combed the phone book and eliminated other unfortunate women who bear the same name.
At the same time as the cyborg's trip back in time, Michael Biehn, a human survivor of the nuclear holocaust, makes the same journey with the intention of terminating the terminator before it can do its worst. It becomes a battle against time itself.
Although the sequel has more spectacular computer-generated effects, produced on greatly enhanced budgets, this first film is better-paced and dramatically more satisfying. James Cameron laces the action with ironic jokes, but never lets up on hinting that the terror may strike at any moment. Schwarzengger's lines are few, but he can be heard to say once, and once only: "I'll be back!".