All James Cameron movies, from worst to best

It generally takes many years for James Cameron films to arrive as the director is known for being meticulous about his work. Despite the lengthy hiatus between his films, Cameron has established himself as a must-see for his talent for making unique films.

While he’s responsible for great features, some of the director’s efforts aren’t that great compared to his more well-known works. As Avatar: The Way of Water reignites interest in James Cameron, it’s best to rank potential binge-watches of his films in order of entertainment value. So let’s look at them from worst to best and what viewers like and dislike about them.

Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

Piranha II The Laich distributed by Columbia Pictures
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

He definitely doesn’t want to be reminded of James Cameron’s feature film debut. The filmmaker rejected the film because it was very different from his original vision and came across as a B-movie at best. Piranha II: The Spawning follows characters as they attempt to connect a series of bizarre deaths to the titular fish, putting them in peril.

The film’s horrors largely fall flat due to the poor production quality as it has aged even worse for today’s viewing. Cameron was fired sometime after filming began but was unable to edit it, resulting in a combination of poor effects and terrible chemistry between the actors. Still, it’s hard to imagine Piranha II: The Spawning looking great whether Cameron was at the helm full-time or not.

True Lies (1994)

True Lies distributed by Universal Pictures
Image Credit: Universal Pictures

“True Lies” reunited Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron for a fun change from the director’s usual way of filmmaking. It follows Schwarzenegger’s character, who is a government agent who hides his status from his family only for people after him to target his wife and force him to purge himself while the couple fend off the bad guys.

True Lies is good for those who love Schwarzenegger’s style, with plenty of action and one-liners, but it’s also relatively formulaic. The viewer knows exactly what to expect as the film conforms to the norms of the action comedy genre. It’s a wild ride full of over-the-top sequences and great comedy, but True Lies also doesn’t have the distinct edge that Iron Jim is known for.

The Abyss (1989)

The Abyss distributed by 20th Century Fox
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

The Abyss is a sci-fi film about a team of divers tasked with rescuing people who have disappeared in a submarine. However, the characters realize that they have encountered an aquatic alien species that may or may not have sinister intentions. There’s enough mystery attached to the film that viewers can get a sense of paranoia, while also bringing with it a great deal of intrigue about where it’s going.

The Abyss is a real journey considering that so many special effects appear as part of the aliens and the tricks they do to the protagonists. It’s still wonderful to watch, with credit to James Cameron for making the film look so distinctive. The payoff for the mystery isn’t the biggest, however, as by the time the ending comes it seems the director was hoping fans would focus more on the effects. Nonetheless, it’s a suspenseful thriller well worth checking out.

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar The Way of Water distributed by 20th Century Studios
Image Source: 20th Century Studios

James Cameron’s return to the big screen after more than a decade has been well worth the wait, as Avatar: The Way of Water boasts incredible visuals that live up to the original. The story follows Jake Sully escaping Miles Quaritch’s troops into the Water Tribe of Pandora, with the film depicting the greater lore of the moon while also introducing a variety of new characters as part of Jake’s family.

Despite its long running time, Avatar: The Way of Water does an excellent job of keeping viewers interested, as Cameron threw several sequel hooks and mysteries around the main characters to ensure fans would return. While the effects aren’t as shocking as the first film, they’re still better than most films out there. With solid performances and more development towards heroes and villains, it’s a film that ticks all the boxes, even if it doesn’t have a wholly original premise.

Titanic (1997)

Titanic distributed by 20th Century Fox
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

Titanic took the world by storm upon its release and became the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron’s own avatar came into being 12 years later. The film is praised for balancing a tragic love story between young protagonists while also being a disaster film, the fallout from which makes the ship’s sinking notable to this day.

The quality of Titanic is underscored by the soundtrack, which succeeds in evoking the audience’s desired response to Jack and Rose’s doomed romance. It doesn’t quite push the boundaries of storytelling and effects like Cameron’s certain other endeavors, though Titanic does make viewers care about its protagonists and empathize with the victims of the disaster.

Avatar (2009)

Avatar distributed by 20th Century Fox
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

The massive wave of hype surrounding Avatar cannot be understated, which turned out to be a film that revolutionized the industry. Avatar’s special effects were groundbreaking at the time, making 3D a spectacular spectacle as the world of Pandora came to life. The story of Jake Sully deciding to turn against humans to help the Na’vi against the invaders proved a hit, complemented by the incredible setting created by James Cameron.

There aren’t many surprises in Avatar’s storyline as it is clear that Jake and Neytiri will pursue a romance and fight the villains. While the story may be predictable, the protagonists’ struggles are humanized to allow viewers to understand their motivations. Avatar has aged extremely well, and has a look and feel that most films of the decade that followed still can’t match.

The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator (1984) distributed by Orion Pictures
Image Credit: Orion Pictures

The Terminator seemed like a B-movie at first, but it ended up putting James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the A-list category. The futuristic premise of Kyle Reese arriving in the past to protect Sarah Connor from the titular antagonist makes for a compelling story, especially as the villain proves to be an absolute fighting force.

The film has the right amount of thrills to be an action-packed feature, but also leaves room for fans to invest in Sarah and Kyle’s romance. Even more notably, the conflict with Skynet grips viewers, though mostly staying in the background. The level of intrigue The Terminator generated allowed it to become a franchise, although the original has a solid quality that can be enjoyed independently.

Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986) distributed by 20th Century Fox
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

James Cameron had the unenviable task of directing a sequel to the hugely popular Alien, only to deliver a film that turned out to be even better. Instead of continuing the sci-fi horror from the previous entry, Cameron decided to make Aliens a sci-fi action feature, empowering Ellen Ripley to battle the titular space monsters face-to-face to become an icon in film history .

Aliens follows Ripley’s second attempt to fight the antagonists, this time with the intention of alerting humanity to their existence and attempting to save the lives of the crew they find themselves in. Aliens offers breathtaking action scenes in which Ripley finds creative ways to destroy her enemies, along with a stuffy atmosphere that has fans fearing danger lurks around every corner. It’s a hugely entertaining film, full of tense atmosphere while leaving Ripley as his emotional core that ties it all together.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day distributed by Tri-Star Pictures
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

Arguably the greatest sequel ever made, Terminator 2: Judgment Day adapts and improves on everything from the original to a larger scale. This time, the titular machine is the good guy, sent back to protect Sarah and young John Connor as they battle an advanced foe that’s the stuff of nightmares.

The film is credited with ushering in the age of special effects as opposed to practical effects, as the design of the machines along with the immersive action sequences are as fluid as they come. However, Terminator 2’s compelling quality is the connection between the T-800 and John, which showcases incredible character development as a machine learns human emotions. It’s an impeccable Cameron masterpiece, hitting every emotional note and thrilling with high-octane action sequences that have stood the test of time. All James Cameron movies, from worst to best

Fry Electronics Team

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