Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Director: James Cameron
Screenwriters: James Cameron, William Wisher, Jr.
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson
His holier-than-thou public persona might drive us up a wall, and Avatar is still an unholy mating of Dances With Wolves and FernGully, but we've got to hand it to James Cameron: He's the king of sequels.
Showing that his extraordinary sequel to Alien, 1986's Aliens was no fluke, Cameron followed up his own sci-fi standout The Terminator with a second round that's much more ostentatious and ultimately superior to its predecessor.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once again plays the mostly silent cyborg sent back from the future, though this time he's a good guy; the villain is a 'borg that's able to regenerate its human shell (dressed in a cop uniform and played with imposing menace by Robert Patrick) and hell-bent on killing young John Connor (Edward Furlong).
Cameron didn't waste a penny of the film's reported $100 million budget (a staggering sum back in '91), packing the visceral T2 with a ridiculous amount of explosions, car wrecks, man-sized robots, and bodily transformations. Just as audiences emitted collective gasps at the sight of Avatar's groundbreaking visual effects, ticket-buyers back then greeted the best sci-fi sequel ever made with similar astonishment. The main difference being that T2 still kicks tremendous amounts of ass 20 years after its release; we're expecting first-time viewers in 2029 to watch Avatar and say, "That generic shit was actually nominated for Best Picture?" Meanwhile, students of American film will be studying T2 forever. —MB