The year is 1995, eleven years after Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) destroyed the original Terminator that was programmed to kill her. Two men arrive in Los Angeles from the year 2029. The first is a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) identical to the one that Sarah first encountered, while the second is an unknown man (Robert Patrick) who dresses as a police officer. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is now living with foster parents. He has grown up being told by his mother that he would someday lead the remnants of the human race to victory against the machines. Sarah's experiences have significantly changed who she is, making her tougher and more vigilant, but also more desperate to warn humanity about the threat of the war of the machines. While previously attempting to destroy the headquarters of a computer company, Sarah was arrested and imprisoned at the Pescadero State Hospital- a maximum-security prison and hospital for criminally insane.
Meanwhile, the Terminator and the unknown man eventually locate John Connor. The "police officer" is revealed to be a machine trying to kill John; the Terminator protects John and reveals what is happening. He is a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, reprogrammed by the future John Connor to act as his protector. The other Terminator is a T-1000, an advanced prototype, programmed to kill John. It is made of "a Mimetic polyalloy", essentially liquid metal that looks like the element Mercury, allowing it to imitate almost anyone or anything of equal size. In its systematic process to locate John, the T-1000 murders John's foster parents, Todd and Janelle Voight after imitating Janelle herself.
When the T-800 tells John that the T-1000 will likely copy Sarah and then kill her, he and the Terminator go to rescue her. At Pescadero, Sarah has escaped from her prison cell and kills Douglas (one of Dr Silberman's staff) with a broom handle when she breaks his neck. Next, she knocks out a staff member, breaks Peter Silberman's arm and takes him hostage, holding him with a syringe full of industrial grade poison. She uses him to force the other staff to release her by opening all the security doors. However, on the opposite corridor, an Italian staff member creeps behind Sarah's back and releases Dr Silberman. She then runs down the corridor to the elevators. As she waits for an elevator, the T-800 walks out. Initially, Sarah is terrified by the Terminator and runs back, but the staff trip her up after chasing her. Dr Silberman, having enough of Sarah's escape attempts, killing Douglas, injuring his staff and trying to poison him, he gets the syringe and attempts to poison Sarah while his staff pin her down to the floor. But as soon as the syringe gets close to Sarah, the terminator comes, hoists and then knocks all the staff unconscious, including one member thrown at a door window and a shard of glass stabs him. Dr Silberman is left unharmed, shocked by the terminator. But the T-1000 arrives and Sarah watches the terminator fight off the T-1000 and seeing that John has accompanied it, she leaves with them. The T-1000 chases them down the highway but fails to capture and kill them.
Later, while hiding out in an auto repair garage (in a deleted scene), John and Sarah remove the T-800's processing chip, which controls it's systems. Sarah, still mistrusting of the machine, sees an opportunity to render the terminator completely inert by destroying the chip but John stops her at the last second, telling her they need it's help. Sarah is reluctant but listens to John when he tells her that he'll one day be a powerful leader & that his decisions will one day be important. She agrees not to destroy the chip and the terminator is reactivated.
As they escape the city, the Terminator tells her about the future of Skynet, the sentient computer that will destroy humans. He tells her about its creator, Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), who designs a learning computer that is entrusted with command of all military force. When Skynet becomes "self-aware", it launches nuclear missiles to destroy most of humanity, an event referred to by the survivors as "Judgment Day". While watching John teach the terminator a game, Sarah reflects on the fact that the terminator makes a good father-figure for John. Being a machine, the terminator would never be abusive or abandon him & would unreservedly let itself be destroyed while protecting him. In turn, John teaches the terminator to be more human.
Eventually, Sarah, John, and the Terminator arrive in the desert at the camp of Enrique Salceda, who has preserved an underground weapons cache in the event that the war actually happens. Sarah plans to take John and flee over the border into Mexico. During the time at this camp, John bonds more closely with the Terminator. Sarah falls asleep and suffers her recurring nightmare where she sees herself playing with children on a playground. An nuclear bomb suddenly explodes in the distance and Sarah, her double and all the children die in the intense heat of the blast. Sarah wakes up, seeing that she's carved the words "NO FATE" into the table she fell asleep upon.
Sarah now believes that by assassinating Dyson she can prevent Skynet from being invented, preventing Judgment Day and the war with the machines. After she leaves, John and the Terminator find the message she'd left on the table and quickly figure out what she is going to do and drive after her. At Dyson's home, Sarah tries to kill Dyson with an M4 rifle and misses when Dyson's son distracts him from his computer monitor. Sarah is unable to hit her target and marches into Dyson's home. She draws a pistol, shooting him in the shoulder, but finds herself unable to kill him in front of his family. When John and the Terminator arrive, they inform Dyson of the consequences of his research. When he says he'll discontinue his research and quit Cyberdyne the next day, Sarah and the Terminator convince him that they must destroy everything related to his chip design including the CPU and arm from the previous Terminator immediately.
Sarah, John, the Terminator, and Dyson break into the Cyberdyne Systems building and retrieve the parts from the first Terminator. While preparing explosives to destroy all of Dyson's research, security alerts the police who show up in force. When the SWAT team enters the building, they fatally shoot Dyson who stays behind to trigger the detonator.
Sarah, John, and the Terminator escape in a SWAT van, with the T-1000 in pursuit, first in a helicopter then a tanker truck. The truck crashes into a steel mill, causing the tank to rupture and liquid nitrogen to spill everywhere, freezing the T-1000. Even though the Terminator shatters him, the pieces thaw and reassemble. The T-1000 and Model 101 begin to fight, and the T-1000 stabs him through the power cell with a metal pole, deactivating him. The T-1000, disguised as Sarah, goes to hunt John. As John is confronted by two Sarahs, the Terminator, who had reactivated itself using an alternate power source, finally destroys the T-1000 by shooting it with a grenade launcher which causes it to deform and lose balance, and ultimately fall into a vat of molten metal which destroys it.
After John throws the arm and processor chip from the first Terminator into the molten metal, the Terminator tells him that he too must be destroyed to prevent his technology from being used to create Skynet. He tells Sarah that he cannot self-terminate, and she must lower him into the steel. John tearfully begs the Terminator not to leave, but the Terminator insists it must be done. As he sinks into the molten steel, he gives a thumbs up. The film ends with a voice-over from Sarah, in which she describes her new found optimism regarding the future.
- T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton
- John Connor, played by Edward Furlong
- T-1000, played by Robert Patrick
- Dr. Silberman, played by Earl Boen
- Miles Dyson, played by Joe Morton
- Tarissa Dyson, played by S. Epatha Merkerson
- Enrique Salceda, played by Castulo Guerra
- Tim, played by Danny Cooksey
- Janelle Voight, played by Jenette Goldstein
- Todd Voight, played by Xander Berkeley
- Twin Sarah, played by Leslie Hamilton Gearren
- Douglas, played by Ken Gibbel
- Cigar Biker, played by Robert Winley
- Lloyd, played by Pete Schrum
- Daniel Dyson, played by DeVaughn Nixon
- Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn (deleted scene)
- Handyman in Galleria, played by Takao Komine
- Combat chassis
- Head-up display
- Living tissue
- Mimetic Polyalloy
- Neural Net CPU
- time displacement equipment
The 2008 television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a direct follow-up to T2, with several episodes making direct reference to events, and with several characters from the film—such as Dyson's widow and Dr. Silberman—making appearances. The producers of the film have stated in several venues that the series intentionally ignores the events of T3.
Several scenes were removed prior to the theatrical release of the film, but were put back in in the Directors Cut release. The most notable removals are as follows:
- Pescadero: In the hallway of the Pescadero Mental Institution. Dr. Silberman has just finished showing Sarah Connor to some other doctors. He asks Douglas and another unnamed attendant to make sure Sarah takes her Thorazine.
- Theatrical release: Cut to T-1000 patrol car pulling up at John's foster parents' home.
- Altered release: Cut to Silberman walking away. Douglas and partner enter Connor's room. Dougie and his partner administer Sarah her medication in their own (violent) way.
- Dream sequence: John Connor relates to his friend Tim how his mom is a loser. They ride off to spend the money. Cut to Terminator pulling up on his bike.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to Dr. Silberman and Sarah watching an old videotape of Sarah describing a recurring dream of nuclear Judgment Day.
- Altered release: Cut to Sarah sitting on her bed in her cell. Sarah has a fever dream of meeting Kyle, who gives her further inspiration. She follows him down the hall and finds herself looking into a playground, the Terminator by her side. Suddenly, a nuclear explosion hits, obliterating everything, and turning the Terminator into a smoking endoskeleton. Sarah then wakes up in her cell.
- Max: At the house of John's foster parents, Janelle changes into the T-1000.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to officers showing Sarah pictures taken of Terminator at mall.
- Altered release: Cut to T-1000 leaving John's foster parents' home. Kills the dog and reads "MAX" on its collar.
- Chip flip: At the abandoned garage. John asks the Terminator whether he can be more human.
- Theatrical Release: The Terminator tells John that his CPU is a neural net processor.
- Altered release: Sarah and John "operate" on the Terminator, removing his CPU. Sarah wants to destroy it, but John asserts himself and stops her. They switch the CPU to "read-and-write" mode.
- Learning to smile: John, and "Uncle Bob" pull the station wagon into a gas station; steam is coming out of radiator.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to Sarah chewing on a burger, Terminator pouring water into the radiator.
- Altered release: John tries to teach Terminator how to smile, with mixed results. Cut to Sarah chewing on a burger.
- Dyson at home: Terminator is telling Sarah about Dyson, who developed the Skynet technology.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to station wagon pulling up at Enrique's ranch.
- Altered release: Miles tells Tarissa about his new processor; she convinces him to spend some time with their two kids to Raging Waters.
- Salceda's Ranch: Enrique shows Sarah the truck that needs a new starter.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to Arnold pulling dust cover off chain gun.
- Altered release: Sarah tells Enrique to leave his ranch after they leave. As the Terminator selects weapons, John tells him about his life growing up.
- John: John and Terminator are trying to prevent Sarah from killing Dyson.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to toy truck in Dyson's home.
- Altered release: John tells the Terminator the importance of human feelings.
- Sledgehammer: T-1000 is at Dyson's home, hears that Sarah Connor is at Cyberdyne.
- Theatrical Release: Cut to police cars pulling up at Cyberdyne.
- Altered release: Miles helps destroy everything in his lab, including smashing the neural net prototype with an axe.
- T-1000 bugs: After the T-1000 is shattered by the Terminator, we see that it's beginning to lose control of its morphing. Its hand takes on black and yellow stripes when it grabs a black and yellow striped railing, and its feet squish and morph into the steel floor pattern on each step. When it morphs into Sarah Connor, John looks down and sees that the T-1000/Connor's feet have melded into the steel floor right before the real Connor begins blasting away at it.
These scenes were cut out of the theatrical version, but were presented as a separated segment on the Special Edition, Ultimate Edition and Extreme DVD release on DVD.
- Room scan: T-1000 passes the bathroom where Janelle is lying dead in the shower. It searches John's room, touching everything gently with his fingertips. It touches a Public Enemy poster, rips it off the wall and finds a box with "Letters from Mom" written on it. It goes through a bunch of photos in the box.
- Future Coda: Alternate ending showing a brighter future, an aged Sarah Connor reflecting about Judgment Day never happened. John Connor fights in a different way now, as a senator.
Both scenes, and many others were later included in an extended version of the film released to home video and to television, although the Future-Sarah ending is contradicted by the subsequent Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which established that she died approximately three years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as the fact that in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Judgment Day does actually happen.
- Main article about the various home video releases.
- While a central point in Terminator 2, the phrase There is no fate but what we make for ourselves is not said in The Terminator. The phrase comes from a deleted scene.