Ranked every James Cameron movie from worst to best – IGN

When it comes to churning out crowd-pleasing, money-making movies, James Cameron has really refined things into a science. Cameron is one of the highest-grossing filmmakers in history, despite directing a relatively small number of films over the decades. You can’t argue with his track record, though.

Now that Avatar: The Way of Water is finally hitting theaters, we’re taking a look at all nine Cameron movies (so far). Where do the Avatar movies fall on that list? Which is better – Aliens or Terminator 2? Let’s settle the debate once and for all.

9. Piranha 2: The Spawning

We suspect many cinephiles would argue against placing Piranha II at the bottom of Cameron’s oeuvre. Even Cameron would definitely support that option, as he seems as eager as anyone to forget about this low-budget horror.

Piranha II attempts to up the ante to the original by introducing flying forms of man-eating fish. Suffice it to say, this did nothing to help the film rise above the sea of ​​jaws-wishers in the late ’70s. It certainly didn’t help that rookie Cameron (who landed the job after working under B-movie legend Roger Corman) was constantly feuding with executive producer Ovidio G. Assonitis and struggling to communicate with a cast of mostly Italian speakers. In fact, there’s some speculation as to how much of the movie Cameron actually directed and how much of it was the handiwork of Assonitis himself.

It’s not an auspicious start to a directing career, but Piranha II has at least several things going for it. The prosthetic work helped pave the way for some of the creature effects in 1986’s Aliens. Not to mention, Piranha II kicked off a long and fruitful partnership between Cameron and actor Lance Henriksen.

8. Avatar

In a universe of non-stop Marvel movies and Star Wars shows, Avatar remains the highest-grossing movie in history. Cameron clearly knows how to put his butt in the seats without the need for a pre-existing franchise.

It’s really not hard to see why Avatar struck such a deep chord with moviegoers back in 2009. The movie introduced the beautiful alien world of Pandora, a place where all creatures coexist in great ecological harmony, and a world threatened by humanity’s insatiable hunger for resources. Watching Avatar is like taking a guided tour through the most amazing safari in the universe.

Unfortunately, Avatar suffers greatly from its cast of mostly bland and forgettable characters and a story that could be best summed up as “Dances With Wolves Meet the Fern Gully.” As simplistic as it gets, Avatar is a visually stunning movie that’s still about the only compelling case for owning a 3D TV.

7. The abyss

Humans are fascinated by the oceans. The ocean is as interesting as it is terrifying. This dichotomy forms the basis for Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi thriller The Abyss which is home to a fantastic little-to-do-or-fail-it premise. In the abyss, an American submarine sinks after colliding with an unknown object. With the Soviets fast approaching and a hurricane about to rain down on the Navy’s rescue effort, a small team of SEALs is sent to help a group of scientists recover a lost submarine.

Abyss does best in the way it creates 3D characters from underwater rubble, and we feel something for every one of them – especially Ed Harris’ Bud and Mary Elizabeth Masterantonio’s Lindsey. Viewers feel the psychological agony of being trapped in a small space with endless gallons of water surrounding on all sides. They also experience the thrill of discovery as the characters encounter a strange, unexpected presence on the ocean floor. As with many of Cameron’s films, the musical note itself does a great job of absorbing viewers and lifting the mood.

The film marks the first time that CGI has been used to create a true-to-movie character. Pseudopod Tentacle led to the creation of the liquid metal villain in Terminator 2.

Abyss may have been a long, sometimes plodding film even before the final director’s cut, but it remains a quality picture with more presence than your average movie about alien visitors and those who visit them.

6. Avatar: Water Road

Avatar: The Way of Water is the first in what is shaping up to be a long-running series of sequels to Cameron’s 2009 hit. This sequel opens up the world of Pandora in very literal fashion, as Jake Sully and his family meet the water-dwelling Na’vi tribe and renew their fight against a greedy human army. Bloodthirsty.

The water method doesn’t necessarily fix any of the problems inherent in the original. This is still a very straightforward movie that features a bunch of underdeveloped heroes and villains. It’s also about an hour longer than the plot really takes.

But more than the first movie, Avatar 2 thrives on the strength of its world and the amazing creatures and environments it conjures. This is one of the most expensive movies ever made, and every cent of this big budget shows up on screen. The Way of Water is a sumptuous visual feast that has just enough heart to make up for its storytelling shortcomings.

5. Titanic

Titanic is tangible evidence that doubting James Cameron is futile. What many feared would turn into an expensive idiocy instead became a box office behemoth tying Ben-Hur for the most Academy Awards won by a single film. Cameron wasn’t exaggerating during his infamous Oscars speech. He really was the king of the world in 1998.

Titanic brilliantly showcases Cameron’s knack for combining sweeping epics with heartwarming human drama. The movie catches viewers early on with its loving recreations of the doomed sea liner and the Romeo and Juliet romance between Jack, Leonardo DiCaprio and Rose Kate Winslet. Then comes the third act, as we see the magnificent vessel crack at the seams and the desperate struggle for survival unfolds.

It’s impossible to watch Titanic and not come off the other side feeling emotionally drained. However, that didn’t stop moviegoers from returning to the theater again and again.

4. True lies

James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger are peanut butter and chocolate Hollywood. They may only have made a few movies together, but each one of them should be in the conversation for the best action movies of all time.

True Lies sees Cameron abandon the high-concept storytelling of Terminator and Aliens in favor of a more classic Hollywood action movie. It may not have the personal touch of some of Cameron’s other work, but it certainly achieves what it sets out to do. Schwarzenegger is at the height of his gun-wielding, wisecrack, and True Lies also scores major points for its heavy focus on the character of Jamie Lee Curtis. True Lies also ranks as Cameron’s funniest film, even if the marital strife subplot doesn’t quite stand the test of time.

Looking back, True Lies feels like the end of an era for Schwarzenegger’s action film career and action films in Hollywood as a whole. They don’t make them like that anymore.

3. The Terminator

“I’ll come back.”

Viewers in 1984 didn’t know how prophetic Arnold Schwarzenegger’s streak would be. Before The Terminator really became a franchise and a household name, it was one slender, gritty sci-fi/action movie.

The premise of a killer robot being sent back in time to kill the savior of the human race could have been fodder for a fun but simplistic flick. Instead, Cameron mined the concept for all its sentimental value. Even as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese escape from the unstoppable Terminator, they foster a believable romance that ultimately leads to a tragic yet exhilarating conclusion.

Terminator is still impressive on a technical level even after 25 years. Although the stop-motion sequence of the Terminator versus Sarah is a bit clunky by today’s standards, Cameron’s vision of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles remains a sight to behold. Reese’s dreams for the future add context and depth to his struggle. And Arnold’s Terminator is one of modern cinema’s greatest villains. Who didn’t stare as he slashed dozens of lofty LAPD officers or cringe when he carelessly cut out his own eyeball in a dingy hotel room?

Although Arnold’s Terminator would eventually be recast as a hero, this machine within a man’s shell remains the stuff of nightmares.

2. Aliens

Aliens is a shot from a movie that packs the perfect amount of character development, horror, and action into a story that could have been threadbare in the hands of a lesser director. This sequel chronicles the return of Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley to LV-426, the planet where she first encountered the Xenomorph in 1979’s Alien. This barren world is now home to a colony of workers and their families, which essentially rings a dinner bell for the Xenomorphs and their monster queen.

If the first film was one of the best claustrophobic horror films of all time, Aliens manages to morph into a more action-oriented brand of sci-fi. Although in keeping with the roots of the franchise, Aliens still deploys a “less is more” approach to showcasing the deadly battles between predatory Xenomorphs and an elite squad of Colonial Marines in Weyland-Yutani.

Cameron’s decision to keep Ripley and her young nemesis Newt at the emotional core of the film makes the growing threats around them all the more apt to have us on the edge of our seats. This, along with the showdown between the Power Loader and the Alien Queen, underlined by James Horner’s epic score, is why Aliens isn’t just Cameron’s great movie, but one of the best movies ever made.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

There was a time in Hollywood when sequels didn’t try to recapture the magic of the original so much as riding that gravy train for as long as it can stay on the tracks. Forget trying to actually improve the formula. But then there’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day – perhaps the greatest example of a great sequel surpassing its predecessor.

It certainly didn’t hurt that Cameron had more experience and a lot more money to throw at him in T2. Building on the groundbreaking CGI work used in The Abyss, Cameron and his team are able to bring to life a shape-shifting villain made of pure liquid metal. If you thought a huge cyborg with an Austrian accent was intimidating, just wait until you get your hands on a load of Robert Patrick’s T-1000.

More than any other Cameron film before or since, T2 manages to combine stunning action scenes with thrilling emotional drama. The story of the first film exists as a closed loop, with the future affecting the past. T2 broke that cycle and reminded us that the future is only what we make of it. It humanizes Schwarzenegger’s character, exploring whether a machine is programmed to kill and become something more. We can’t even blame the many subsequent sequels for failing to live up to the example of T2. How can you top this?

How would you rate Cameron’s filmography? Is T2 the best of all time, or should aliens take the lead? Let us know what you think in the comments.

For more information on Avatar: The Way of Water, brush up on the series’ story so far and find out exactly how you can watch the sequel.

Jesse is a moderate writer at IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual performance Follow @jschedeen on Twitter.


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