James Cameron has become one of the most successful and renowned directors of all time. Thanks to his skills as a storyteller, audiences have been taken to worlds of far-flung fancy, grounded realism and everywhere in-between. With three Academy Awards and some of the biggest box office champs of all time under his belt, the director has certainly found a way to blend art and commerce to the great effect. From the likes of The Abyss or Aliens to Titanic or True Lies or Terminator, his work has been marked with high production values and huge box-office returns.
If you find the time, take a look at James Cameron’s resume outside of film-making, He’s an environmentalist, a philanthropist and, as a few of his documentary films will tell you, an explorer. The guy doesn’t stop.
Born in 1954 in Ontario, Canada, Cameron started out with a variety of on-set jobs, most notably as a special effects artist. Although he technically made his directorial debut with the creature feature “Piranha II: The Spawning” (1982), he truly burst onto the scene with the sci-fi hit “The Terminator” (1982)
Cameron is an auteur and he has the filmography to prove it. Time and time again, he has become completely consumed by his projects. He spends years and years writing, financing, developing and innovating. But most of the time, quality over quantity is the way to go.
We see Cameron’s core fascinations namely the frequently fatal conflict between man and technology ironically told using state-of-the-art special FX and his love for the ocean in most, if not all, of his projects.
Following are some the best James Cameron movies ranked from worst to best (according to IMDb score).
10. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)
IMDb rating – 3.7/10
Rotten tomatoes – 6%
Metacritic – 15%
James Cameron’s directorial debut is a tough one to mark because, throughout the movie’s production, he was nudged out of the loop by higher powers in the studio. And judging by the ratings, well, it’s not his finest pieces of work. Let’s talk about what went wrong (or rather what not!). Firstly, the piranhas are incredibly fake and fly around at one point. Secondly, the victims are on such scantily-clad display that the entire film feels like a skin flick. It might not that bad for some *wink wink* but it is what it is.
Cameron has long since disavowed his Piranha experience. And we understand why. After all, he was only “director” for 3 weeks. When a number of people are killed off the coast of a Caribbean island, a diving instructor investigates and finds out that a shoal of mutant piranha is behind the attacks.
The movie is not much remarkable about the film except that it was arguably a total disaster but hey it at least gave us a hint of Cameron’s love for the water.
9. Aliens Of The Deep (2005)
IMDb rating – 6.4/10
Rotten tomatoes- 84%
While making Titanic, James Cameron became obsessed with deep-sea submersibles. First, he gave us Ghosts of the Abyss, which is a 3D IMAX film of the underwater wreckage of the Titanic. Then he continued on the underwater trend with 3D IMAX and showed us all the crazy life forms that live in the Mid-Ocean Ridge.
Aliens Of The Deep follows the crew of a Russian research vessel plunges into the depths of the ocean to explore hypothermal vents. These fissures in the Earth’s surface are known to be the home of strange and unusual sea creatures, unlike anything found anywhere else on Earth. While exploring these rarely seen environments, scientists discuss the similarities between these ecosystems and the environments that may be found on alien planets.
It’s dazzling, engaging, educational, and most definitely worth a watch at least once. What if we aren’t as passionate about the sea as Cameron is, we can still enjoy the beauty, right?
8. Ghosts Of The Abyss
IMDb rating – 6.8/10
Rotten tomatoes- 80%
There is a lot of amazing footage of exploring the Titanic wreckage that bookends James Cameron’s 1997 opus. After the success that was Titanic, Cameron revisited the wreckage with Bill Paxton to exhibit a further exploration of the ill-fated ship. The underwater footage, as mesmerizing and haunting as it is, would risk being mostly arbitrary if it weren’t for the viewer-friendly manner in which the filmmakers consistently superimpose old over new.
Half archaeology and half tribute to those who lost their lives on the ship, Ghosts of the Abyss is a respectful and humble exploration into a classic tragedy. A must watch for all those who were head-over-heels for titanic.
7. True Lies (1994)
IMDb rating – 7.2/10
Rotten tomatoes- 71%
James Cameron trying to make an action-comedy shouldn’t have been as good as this has. What makes True Lies work is how everyone gives themselves over completely to how ridiculous it all is. Based on the French comedy “La Totale!,” it casts Arnold Schwarzenegger as a computer salesman leading a double-life as a globe-trotting secret agent who must stop terrorists from launching a nuclear weapon on the U.S.
Fearing that his wife is having an affair, Harry (Arnold) learns from “sources” that Simon is a used car salesman, who pretends to be a covert agent to seduce women. Now, Harry not only has to save his country but his family life too. The goofy humour is kind of basic, especially when seeing what James Cameron can do with characters in the best of circumstances.
But, we’re not complaining. The movie is all kinds of fun despite not having aged all that well. Half the time, this hi-tech action movie delivers, in a mindless kind of way: it’s fast, crude and has enough explosions and cartoon-style violence to satisfy our baser instincts.
6. The Abyss (1989)
IMDb rating – 7.6/10
Rotten tomatoes- 89%
The Abyss binds science fiction, forward-thinking effects and the ocean in holy matrimony and we get this riveting masterpiece. From the dangerous storms topside to the NTIS, to Lt. Coffey going nuts…this movie is relentless. The film centres around a Navy Seal team sent to recover a nuclear submarine. It has all the hallmarks of a James Cameron film that we’ve come to expect. The characters never feel truly safe; every action scene feels like the heroes can die at any moment and water aliens? Wow!
But this piece of Cameron’s work is often forgotten between his game-changing sequels (Aliens and Terminator 2). All in all, it’s a superb ride, if a little let down by its swift closure. But, watching the director’s cut, which adds additional footage to the ending is an absolute delight.
And, Ed Harris reportedly punched Cameron in the face after he kept filming while he was nearly drowning. Also, it is said that Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had left the set during the resuscitation scene because Cameron kept demanding takes after takes. Well, when you look at the film with that knowledge, it’s all there. You can see the strain on the actors’ faces because it was genuine.
5. Avatar (2009)
IMDb rating – 7.8/10
Rotten tomatoes- 82%
Avatar was the highest-grossing film of all time until The Avengers: Endgame came along. Set in the year 2154, “Avatar” centres on a paraplegic soldier (Sam Worthington) who travels to the distant planet of Pandora to learn about its alien population. Through the wonders of exobiology, he’s turned into one of the nine-foot-tall blue men, and during his travels, he grows to sympathize with the peaceful dwellers.
While it’s undoubtedly accepted that the story to James Cameron’s 2009 opus is a bit rudimentary, if not ripped from the pages of other films, the film isn’t a total waste because of it. You should definitely check out the amazing and mind-blowing beauty of this movie.
The film’s selling point was the groundbreaking motion capture technology and a 3D viewing experience like no other, and thus in terms of visual experience at least, Avatar definitely delivers.
4. Titanic (1997)
IMDb rating – 7.8/10
Rotten tomatoes- 89%
Ask any romantic and they would argue that this the best James Cameron movie and can you blame them? At one point, Titanic was the centrepiece of the entire career of James Cameron. Incorporating both fictionalized and historical aspects, it is based on accounts of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Jack and Rose, members of different classes of society, fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage.
Rose, a 17-year-old girl is engaged to Cal to overcome her family’s financial issues. However, distraught over the engagement, she tries to jump off the ship but is saved by Jack. Soon a friendship forms between the two which slowly evolves in love. Unfortunately for them, the ship Titanic collides with an iceberg and they overhear the captains’ discussion of the seriousness of the situation.
Meanwhile, Cal discovers Jack’s sketch of Rose and gets Jack arrested and restrained unfairly. With the ship sinking, Rose refuses to leave Jack behind. Jack dies while saving rose. While the ending may be sad, it makes their love eternal.
Just try getting through Rose’s final dream sequence without tearing up.
3. The Terminator (1984)
IMDb rating – 8/10
Rotten tomatoes- 100%
Out of the entire rundown of James Cameron movies, the director likes to consider The Terminator as his first film. With numerous cuts to hide the film’s shoestring budget, The Terminator is a down and dirty horror-thriller.
Many of the locations used weren’t officially permitted or licensed. Cameron would call up Schwarzenegger at three in the morning with a location, who would then arrive in costume and quickly shoot a scene and leave before the police arrived. I know it’s hard to believe but we know Cameron. He would go to any lengths for his movies.
This film centres around a seemingly random teenage girl, Sarah Connor, on the run from an unstoppable robot disguised as a man, sent to kill her because she’s destined to mother the man who would grow up to be the destruction of the robot’s A.I. masters, Skynet.
The Terminator mixes various ideas into a heady cocktail of thrilling action, gripping tension and mind-bending time travel logic that feels substantial without ever losing its accessible blockbuster appeal.
2. Aliens (1986)
IMDb rating – 8.3/10
Rotten tomatoes- 97%
While Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien‘ might be a masterclass in horror, James Cameron’s sequel took the shape of an all-out action movie with numerous space creatures rampaging around a doomed colony world – a stark change of direction, but one that worked brilliantly. Audiences watched as Weaver’s character got more depth adding maternal instinct to her badassery. It is a thrilling, exciting, funny, and a great, albeit a very different entry to the Alien franchise.
Cameron mounts one hair-raising action scene after another, leading to the climactic battle between Ripley and the alien queen. There are a lot of other small details we could go into, but the bottom line is that you need to see this movie immediately if you haven’t already. Because….do you really need a reason?
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
IMDb rating – 8.5/10
Rotten tomatoes- 93%
The best movie directed by Cameron has to be the Terminator 2. As he did with “Aliens,” Cameron proved he was a master of sequels with this wildly ambitious follow-up to his breakthrough feature. Terminator 2 features thrilling action sequences and eye-popping visual effects, but what takes this sci-fi/ action landmark to the next level is the depth of the human (and cyborg) characters.
The T-1000 is like the shark in Jaws. It is relentless, unstoppable, and seemingly always one step ahead of our main crew. Add all of this to the apocalyptic tone and the perfect twist with Arnold’s terminator being the good guy now, and you have a brilliant piece of sci-fi. But, no one can argue that this movie isn’t of the best James Cameron movies instead of Titanic.
The T-800, who’s spent the entire film beating the crap out of people and blowing stuff up, turns into a gigantic teddy-bear who’s later jumps into molten lava as a sacrifice to save young John Connor. If you didn’t cry at that scene, then you’re a Terminator. Simple as that.
And with this, we wound up our James Cameron movies ranked worst to best!
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