(Photo by Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection)

All James Cameron Movies Ranked

For James Cameron, it all started with a severed arm and some maggots. He was art director on Roger Corman’s Piranha II: The Spawning and, for one special effect, thought to “motivate” some live maggots into movement in a prosthetic arm by shocking the prop with a live electrical cable. This helped him get promoted to director on Piranha II, setting in motion a career associated with groundbreaking sci-fi and genre movies.

Cameron has long since disavowed his Piranha experience — he was only “director” for less than three weeks and didn’t have access to dailies or the editing room — paving the way to claim The Terminator as his feature debut, which we admit looks slightly better on a resume. And in this story of time-travelin’ cyborgs run amuck, we already see one of Cameron’s core fascinations: the frequently fatal conflict between man and technology, and the way it cuts off our own humanity (ironically told using state-of-the-art special FX), as seen in later movies like T2: Judgment Day, The Abyss, and Avatar. The success of the first Terminator got him into the major studio system with a gig directing Aliens, which also further cemented his reputation of creating hardened female protagonists.

By the ’90s, Cameron had the freedom to indulge in his obsessions, including ocean exploration, which produced Best Picture phenom Titanic (only the highest-grossing movie ever at one point) and two documentaries, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. He returned to narrative filmmaking with Avatar (only the highest-grossing movie ever at one point), and though he didn’t release a movie in the 2010s, it’s going to be Avatar that will carry him and us through the 2020s: No less than 4 sequels are planned for that decade. Alex Vo

#9

True Lies (1994)
70%

#9
Adjusted Score: 71943%
Critics Consensus: If it doesn't reach the heights of director James Cameron's and star Arnold Schwarzenegger's previous collaborations, True Lies still packs enough action and humor into its sometimes absurd plot to entertain.
Synopsis: Secretly a spy but thought by his family to be a dull salesman, Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is tracking down... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#8
#8
Adjusted Score: 83283%
Critics Consensus: The underwater footage is both beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Synopsis: Veteran filmmaker James Cameron delves into the inspiration for his film "Titanic" by traveling to the mammoth cruise liner's final... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#7

Avatar (2009)
82%

#7
Adjusted Score: 95343%
Critics Consensus: It might be more impressive on a technical level than as a piece of storytelling, but Avatar reaffirms James Cameron's singular gift for imaginative, absorbing filmmaking.
Synopsis: James Cameron's Academy Award®-winning 2009 epic adventure "Avatar", returns to theaters September 23 in stunning 4K High Dynamic Range. On... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 84990%
Critics Consensus: An amazing array of images from beneath the sea.
Synopsis: Director James Cameron travels with the crew of a Russian research vessel as they plunge into the depths of the... [More]

#5

The Abyss (1989)
88%

#5
Adjusted Score: 90431%
Critics Consensus: The utterly gorgeous special effects frequently overshadow the fact that The Abyss is also a totally gripping, claustrophobic thriller, complete with an interesting crew of characters.
Synopsis: Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. They... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#4

Titanic (1997)
87%

#4
Adjusted Score: 102692%
Critics Consensus: A mostly unqualified triumph for James Cameron, who offers a dizzying blend of spectacular visuals and old-fashioned melodrama.
Synopsis: James Cameron's "Titanic" is an epic, action-packed romance set against the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic; the pride... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#3
Adjusted Score: 98101%
Critics Consensus: T2 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.
Synopsis: In this sequel set eleven years after "The Terminator," young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the key to civilization's victory over... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#2

Aliens (1986)
98%

#2
Adjusted Score: 104663%
Critics Consensus: While Alien was a marvel of slow-building, atmospheric tension, Aliens packs a much more visceral punch, and features a typically strong performance from Sigourney Weaver.
Synopsis: After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team.... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron

#1

The Terminator (1984)
100%

#1
Adjusted Score: 104596%
Critics Consensus: With its impressive action sequences, taut economic direction, and relentlessly fast pace, it's clear why The Terminator continues to be an influence on sci-fi and action flicks.
Synopsis: Disguised as a human, a cyborg assassin known as a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels from 2029 to 1984 to kill... [More]
Directed By: James Cameron