After Skynet failed to kill Sarah Connor before her son John Connor (Stahl) was born, and also failed to kill John Connor as a child. Skynet now sends another Terminator back in time, the T-X (Loken), in an attempt to wipe out as many Human Resistance officers as possible. This includes John Connor's future wife, Kate Brewster (Danes), but not John himself as his whereabouts are unknown to Skynet. John's life is placed in danger when the T-X finds him while pursuing Kate. The Resistance has also sent their own Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back to protect the T-X's targets. The film was followed by another sequel in 2009 entitled Terminator: Salvation.
John Connor has been living off the grid in Los Angeles following the death of his mother, Sarah Connor. Although a war between humans and Skynet's forces did not occur on August 29, 1997, as foretold, John still fears it. He rejects his fate as humanity's savior and hides from Skynet.
Unable to locate John in the past, Skynet sends a new model of the Terminator called the T-X to July 23, 2003, to kill other members of the Human Resistance. The T-X is more advanced than previous Terminators: it has an endoskeleton with built-in weaponry, a liquid metal exterior similar to the T-1000, and it can reprogram other machines after injecting nanorobotics. This model is also designed to eliminate other Skynet-related machines. Unlike previous Terminators, its default appearance is female. The Resistance sends a reprogrammed Terminator (T-850 – Model 101) to protect the T-X's targets, including John and his future wife, Kate Brewster.
After killing several other targets, the T-X locates Kate and John at an animal hospital, where Kate has caught John stealing. They escape with the Terminator's help. The Terminator takes them to a mausoleum where John's mother is supposedly interred. Inside her vault, they find a weapons cache left at Sarah's request in case Judgment Day occurred. Police arrive and a gun battle ensues. The T-X also chases them, but they escape. The Terminator reveals that John and his mother's actions merely delayed Judgement Day, and that his plan is to drive John and Kate to Mexico to escape the fallout when Skynet begins its nuclear attack at 6:18 p.m. that day. John orders the Terminator to take Kate and him to see Kate's father, a Lieutenant General who, in the present, is supervising the building of Skynet after Cyberdyne Systems went defunct. John threatens to kill himself if the Terminator refuses. The Terminator calls John's bluff but agrees to take them after Kate orders him to. The Terminator reveals that he killed John on July 4, 2032; Kate sent him back from the future after having him captured and reprogrammed, and she is the only one who can give him orders.
Meanwhile, at an Air Force base, General Brewster faces pressure from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to activate Skynet to stop an anomalous computer virus of unknown origin from invading servers worldwide; he is unaware that the virus is actually Skynet establishing control over them. John and Kate arrive too late to stop Skynet from being activated, and its machines begin attacking Brewster's staff. Brewster is mortally wounded by the T-X, which arrived before John, Kate, and the Terminator. Before dying, he gives Kate and John a code book and the location of what John believes is Skynet's system core. John and Kate head for the tarmac to take General Brewster's airplane; their destination is Crystal Peak, a military base built inside the Sierra Nevada. The T-X and the T-850 fight each other. The T-X severely damages the T-850, then reprograms it to kill John and Kate. The T-X pursues John and Kate through the military base, but it becomes trapped when a particle accelerator is activated and the magnetic field bonds the T-X to the accelerator. The Terminator, unable to control his outer functions but still consciously aware, attacks John and Kate before John convinces it to reject the T-X's control. The Terminator deliberately shuts its corrupted system down, enabling John and Kate to escape. Shortly after they leave, the Terminator's system reboots.
John and Kate reach Crystal Peak and begin entering the access codes to gain entry when the T-X arrives by helicopter. Just as she is about to attack, the rebooted Terminator arrives in a second helicopter and crashes into the T-X, crushing it. The T-X pulls itself from the wreckage and attempts to drag itself inside the bunker to follow John and Kate. The Terminator holds the bunker open long enough for John and Kate to lock themselves inside, then uses one of its hydrogen fuel cells to destroy both itself and the T-X.
John and Kate discover that the facility is not Skynet's core, but rather a nuclear fallout shelter and command facility for government and military officials. Skynet has no core and it has become a part of cyberspace after its self-awareness. Judgment Day begins as Skynet fires missiles worldwide, starting a nuclear holocaust to kill billions. John and Kate begin receiving radio transmissions on the emergency equipment; John tentatively assumes command by answering radio calls, and they reluctantly accept their fate.Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator / T-850 (Model 101):
Reprising his role from the first two films, this was Schwarzenegger's final film role before becoming Governor of California.
Nick Stahl as John Connor:
Edward Furlong, who played John in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
, was reportedly not asked to reprise his role in T3 because of a substance abuse problem. Here is his response from a 2004 interview: "I don't know [what happened]. It just wasn't the time. I was going through my own thing at the point in my life – whatever, it just wasn't meant to be".
Kristanna Loken as the T-X:
The first on-screen female Terminator.
Claire Danes as Kate Brewster:
In a 2005 interview on NPR's Fresh Air
, Danes revealed she was cast in the role as a last-minute replacement after producers felt that actress Sophia Bush was too young to portray the character.
David Andrews as Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, USAF:
Kate's father and Skynet's primary creator.
Mark Famiglietti as Scott Mason:
Kate Brewster's slain fiancé was originally named Scott Peterson, but the name was changed in order to avoid association with the Scott Peterson case involving the murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner. In the ending credits his name is still listed as "Scott Peterson".
Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman:
Reprising his role from the first two films, Boen appears in one scene, attempting to comfort Claire Danes' character after she witnesses the acts of the Terminator. Boen and Schwarzenegger are the only actors to appear in all of the first three Terminator
films. This is also Boen's final film role before his retirement from his film career to focus on his voice-acting career.
Jay Acovone portrayed an LAPD Officer. Kim Robillard appeared as Detective Edwards. Mark Hicks plays Detective Bell. He is killed by the T-X along with Detective Edwards; in the film's dialogue Bell is identified correctly, but in the credits his name is listed as "Detective Martinez". Linda Hamilton was approached to reprise her role as Sarah Connor, but turned the offer down. Here is her explanation: "They offered me a part. I read it and I knew my character arc was so complete in the first two, and in the third one it was a negligible character. She died halfway through and there was no time to mourn her. It was kind of disposable, so I said no thank you."
James Cameron announced Terminator 3 many times during the 1990s, but without a finished script in place. In 1997, Terminator 2: Judgment Day developer Carolco Pictures went bankrupt, and its assets were bound to a liquidation auction. These included 50% of the Terminator franchise rights, as the other half remained with The Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd. Cameron and 20th Century Fox had some interest, even arranging meetings with Hurd regarding her share and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger returning in the starring role. Eventually, budgetary concerns and Cameron's troubled post-production of Titanic for Fox lead them to back out of the plans. Carolco founders Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna purchased the rights for $7.5 million, and the following year got Hurd's half to become full owners of the franchise. The duo then founded a new company named C2 Pictures in 1999, and hired screenwriter Tedi Sarafian for the film, along with David C. Wilson for a possible fourth installment. Sarafian's script featured John Connor working in a dot-com company when a female Terminator that could turn invisible arrives from the future. Jonathan Mostow signed as the director in March 2001. Feeling dissatisfied with Sarafian's script, Mostow invited his college classmates John Brancato and Michael Ferris to rework the screenplay over a whole year. Sarafian still got a story credit.
Kassar and Vajna were unsure whether Arnold Schwarzenegger would appear in the film. Schwarzenegger initially refused to star in the third film because Cameron, who created the character and helmed the first two films, would not be directing the third installment. Schwarzenegger tried to persuade Cameron to produce the third film. Cameron declined, as he felt that he had already told the whole story in the first two films. Nevertheless, feeling that the Terminator character was as much Schwarzenegger's as it was his own, he advised Schwarzenegger to just do the third film.
When Schwarzenegger was called into Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna's office in April 2001, he did not expect them to bring up Terminator 3 given the film's long stint in development hell. Instead, he wanted to talk to the producers about his political interests, including a potential candidacy as Governor of California in the 2002 election. However, preproduction was rolling along, with the screenplay nearly finished and set deals for both merchandising and distribution. Schwarzenegger was forced to postpone his gubernatorial plans (which eventually came into fruition during postproduction, as the rising unpopularity of governor Gray Davis led to a recall election). Instead, the actor combined production of the film with the promotion of Proposition 49, which advocated increased extracurricular activity in California schools. At times Schwarzenegger even received politicians, journalists, and potential financial backers of the proposition on the film set.
A scene filmed during production gives a possible explanation as to why one particular model of Terminators all look like Schwarzenegger: a character named Chief Master Sergeant William Candy (played by Schwarzenegger) explains in a Cyber Research Systems (CRS) promotional video that he was chosen to be the model for the Terminator project. Schwarzenegger's character has a Southern accent; when one of the politicians questions the appropriateness of Candy's Southern accent for the Terminator's voice, another scientist replies, "We can fix it" in Schwarzenegger's (overdubbed) voice. The scene was added as a bonus feature on the film's DVD.
The film's production budget was initially set at $169–170 million, making it the most expensive film ever to be greenlit at the time. Budget statements for the film put the final cost at $187.3 million (or $167.3 million excluding the production overhead). Schwarzenegger received a salary of $29.25 million, plus 20 percent of the profits, although he agreed to defer part of his salary in order to prevent the relocation of the set to Vancouver, British Columbia, from Los Angeles.
The film earned a worldwide gross of $433 million, 17% less than Terminator 2: Judgment Day's worldwide gross of $519.8 million, not adjusting for inflation.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines received generally positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 70% approval rating with an average rating of 6.6/10 based on 200 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Although T3 never reaches the heights of the second movie, it is a welcome addition to the Terminator franchise." Shortly after the film's release, James Cameron described the film as "in one word: great", but after the release of the fourth film, Terminator Salvation, Cameron stated he felt his first two films were better than either of the later films. A. O. Scott of The New York Times said the film "is essentially a B movie, content to be loud, dumb and obvious". Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars, remarking "Essentially one long chase and fight, punctuated by comic, campy or simplistic dialogue."
Several video games were based on the film. An action game called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released by Atari for Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Game Boy Advance. The game was poorly reviewed, with a 39% average on GameRankings for the PS2 version. A first-person shooter titled Terminator 3: War of the Machines was released for the PC. A third game, titled Terminator 3: The Redemption, was released for Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Nintendo GameCube.
Marco Beltrami composed the musical score, which still employed the series' leitmotif by Brad Fiedel. The film's soundtrack was released by Varèse Sarabande on June 24, 2003: All music composed by Marco Beltrami except The Terminator and I Told You.
Songs that are not included on the soundtrack album"Dat Funky Man" (performed by William Randolph III; words by Jonathan Mostow)
"Sugar" (performed by Peter Beckett; words by Jonathan Mostow)
"Party" (performed by Peter Beckett)
"Can't Hide This" (performed by Mega Jeff)
"Macho Man" (performed by Village People)
"The Current" (performed by Gavin Rossdale and Blue Man Group)