Skip to main content

All of James Cameron’s Films, Ranked

Director and writer of incredibly profound films for over 25 years, James Cameron has a way of connecting with audiences whilst simultaneously making his own dreams come to fruition. Oftentimes referenced as a visionary, and highly creative, he is known for creating such classic, blockbuster movies as Titanic, Terminator, Avatar, and Aliens. As we all know, these are the kinds of movies that stick around for generations to come with people quoting and referencing the many fabulous elements each has to offer. Besides being what we know him to be, he is also a movie industry innovator who started his own companies that strive to create new ways to capture great stories on film.

Any avid or casual moviegoer around the globe may not know his name or how much he does to complete these films, but they may not know all his work. In order to celebrate this movie blockbuster giant and his 67th birthday (August 16th 1954), I’m going to rank all 8 of the James Cameron movies in existence, starting from the bottom.

8. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)
8. Piranha II: The Spawning
15 %
r 84m
Genre Horror
Stars Tricia O'Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen
Directed by James Cameron
In what would almost certainly make the bottom of any list I’d write, Piranha II: The Spawning is Cameron’s first and worst film made. The sequel that nobody needed to the 1978 cult classic Piranha, this movie flops in virtually every category. When a mutant species of piranha is discovered by some local water goers, the feast begins and the hilarity ensues. Unlike the previous film, these over-hyped predators are big, smart, and yes, they can fly. Unfortunately, the superpowers attributed to the feisty fish are the only thing that is different from the previous film. Chock full of bad lighting, cinematography, writing, acting, editing, and even sound design, this film is good to check out if you’re in need of a movie that’s so bad it’s good. Even still, you might find it hard to enjoy this film or watch it all the way through, unless you love movies that most people will turn off after 5 minutes. Cameron was actually fired from the production and later tried to get his name removed from the credits, reportedly having broken into the studio to edit the movie himself. Unfortunately for him, his name is still plastered all over the credits and it will always be his debut.

7. The Abyss (1989)
7. The Abyss
62 %
pg-13 139m
Genre Adventure, Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Directed by James Cameron
A deeply moving and emotional film, The Abyss is a classic sci-fi drama that was ambitious in its time for many reasons. A team of engineers and military men are tasked with a deep-sea investigation into a sunken nuclear submarine, the cause of which is top secret and mysterious. This was the second time Cameron very successfully employed a thematic mix of romance drama, man vs. machine, and sci-fi thriller for his audience. The other such film is coming up but you probably already know which one that is. As it commonly goes with water-based film production, there were a lot of holdups in the process that caused an already momentous $33 million budget to jump up by $10 million in the end. Between that and plenty of cast and crew complaints, this film was very nearly a disaster, which makes it even more impressive to witness today. Other than having a multi-faceted narrative and visceral, claustrophobic thriller sequences, the acting, writing, cinematography, and epic score are all out of the park home-runs for many who experience it.

6. True Lies (1994)
6. True Lies
63 %
r 141m
Genre Action, Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold
Directed by James Cameron
True Lies is a witty, romantic, action-comedy that is a guilty pleasure of mine, due to the many great performances and other aspects Cameron brings to the set. A badass, anti-terrorist secret agent must intercept nuclear weapons being smuggled onto American soil, which is a big distraction when you’re also trying to revive your marriage. Though it may be debated, to me, this movie is endlessly entertaining and rewatchable, especially if you’re a Schwarzenegger fan. Many things about this film are noteworthy, but the acting performances, in particular, are where it really hits. Schwarzenegger is his normal self, fed his classic lines such as, “You’re fired” just before launching the terrorist head honcho — presently tied up to a missile — into an opposing helicopter full of baddies. Jamie Lee Curtis does an awesome job as his shy and overlooked wife, seeking a thrill of adventure, not knowing how imminent and immediate it truly is. Then there’s Bill Paxton. Taking up a whole 10 minutes of screen time, Paxton easily steals the show as the funniest comedy role in a James Cameron film, and not for the first time either. As the sleazy car salesman looking to meddle in the couple’s marriage, his confrontation with the Mr. Universe secret agent Schwarzenegger is hysterical in a truly Paxton fashion.

5. Titanic (1997)
5. Titanic
75 %
pg-13 194m
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
Directed by James Cameron
Though this epic and timeless romance tragedy is not placed as high as some would like, it must be said that it gets very difficult to pick Cameron favorites from this moment on. A restless, young aristocrat named Rose (Kate Winslet) and a kind-hearted, lower-class artist named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) fall in love, unfortunately aboard the R.M.S. Titanic. Based on the tragic and true story of the ship’s catastrophic maiden voyage, Cameron masterfully weaves a beautifully sincere story of romance within the events that took nearly 1,500 lives. Despite the audience being fully aware of the upcoming climax of the film, Cameron creates deep-seated suspense and poses the ever-looming question of who will make it out alive. Being an avid employer of progressive visual effects, this was a project that was simply waiting on the proper technology to be created. This ended up being hugely successful for Cameron, earning him a best visual effects Oscar, as well as 10 other Oscar wins including best picture. Though it is fairly low on my list today, Titanic is and will forever be an incredible film in a multitude of aspects, even if it was one of the many overlooked Leo performances at all award ceremonies.
Titanic 3D Re-Release Official Trailer #1 - Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet Movie (2012) HD

4. Avatar (2009)
4. Avatar
83 %
pg-13 162m
Genre Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by James Cameron
A revolutionary visual spectacle in filmmaking, Avatar’s theater release was unlike anything audiences had ever seen. Not only was the process of writing and producing the film extremely extensive, but it was also going to be ghastly expensive. Originally planned for a 1999 release, technology was not quite ready for Cameron’s dream thus called for a budget of $400 million. Since no studio would fund that big a project — despite Cameron’s reputation as a filmmaker – -he was forced to wait almost ten years, and the project still boasted a gigantic $237 million budget. Since Cameron was so eager to visualize his Pocahontas-in-space story, he and frequent collaborator/cinematographer Vince Pace started Cameron Pace Group in 2011 — a company meant to increase the quality of 3D films and cinema. The product? The Fusion Camera System that was developed to shoot film in stereoscopic 3D. Nobody cared what he was up to until they saw the end product, which was highly successful, with a total of $2.8 billion in the box office. I myself went and saw the film in IMAX and standard 3D up to 7 times. A truly amazing feat from dream-seeker James Cameron. Other than all of the technical aspects and my previous joke about it, Avatar also has a fantastic narrative and showed Cameron’s beautiful worldbuilding chops.
Avatar | Official Trailer (HD) | 20th Century FOX

Read more: Best Movies on Disney+

3. The Terminator (1984)
3. The Terminator
84 %
r 108m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Directed by James Cameron
As a surprise to audiences everywhere, Cameron’s next production after Piranha II is easily one of his best and one of the best sci-fi movie franchises ever created. In his first film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cameron set his sights on the bodybuilding champion but he definitely wasn’t the first choice. Sent back to 1984 from 2029, a human soldier (Michael Biehn) attempts to protect a young Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who would give birth to the key to human salvation, but a near-invincible cyborg is sent back simultaneously to cease the bloodline at any cost. Chillingly emotionless and terrifyingly ruthless, Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg portrayal is absolutely unforgettable. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role would have made the movie as successful as it is, especially if you try to picture Sylvester Stallone or Mel Gibson, both of whom were offered the role before Schwarzenegger. Knowing Cameron and his talent — or luck — for casting just the right actors, it would have all worked out in the end. This is evident in The Terminator, where he takes some relatively unknown actors and creates a universe that is widely referenced to this day, whether or not the person has seen it.

2. Aliens (1986)
2. Aliens
84 %
r 137m
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn
Directed by James Cameron
Following Ridley Scott’s profoundly chilling sci-fi horror Alien comes Aliens, the much more in-your-face action-packed sequel that fully capitalized on the concept. When Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) wakes up from hypersleep 50 years after her traumatizing survival of the xenomorph, she finds that humans have discovered their existence and want to research them with her help. Ripley, having seen the horrible things just one of those creatures can do, suggests bombing the hell out of the species to be rid of them. If you’ve seen the first movie, you’re absolutely on Ripley’s side in this scenario but still can’t wait to see what will happen this time. With Cameron behind the camera and taking part in the writing, you know this is going to get crazy. Back again to deliver some awesome performances are some James Cameron familiars: Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton. Both play soldiers entrusted with protecting the squad and destroy any threats they face, of which there are obviously many they encounter. Biehn is awesome as ever, reviving his Galahad-like glory from The Terminator, and even brings his trusty shotgun along for the ride. Though this is a fairly scary sci-fi action thriller, Paxton is still hilarious in his performance as the gung ho and extra vocal private who quickly turns tail after facing the terrifying aliens. “Game over, man. Game over!”
Aliens (1986) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
75 %
r 137m
Genre Action, Sci-Fi
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Directed by James Cameron
In true James Cameron fashion, the machines are at it again. One of the many great sequels in film history, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is an encore that takes this sci-fi story above and beyond. (Spoiler alert) When the terminator failed to destroy the Connor family line, he was reprogrammed and sent back to protect a young John Connor from a new and terrifying threat: the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), which is more efficient in every way possible. An elevated theme of light-heartedness only adds to the increased contrast of sheer terror when facing the new terminator, as a young John Connor begins to build a bond with his mother’s former pursuer. An unforgettable score and a new slew of quotable one-liners are just a few elements that make this film solidified in sci-fi history as one of the greats. Cameron once again proves his ability to meld multiple challenging themes together in one film, bringing the audience existential terror over a possible impending Skynet attack whilst charming our socks off — also thanks to Arnold. Out of all the awesome James Cameron movies over the years, I definitely consider this film to be his best movie ever, not surprisingly also the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ever.

Read more: Best Amazon Prime Movies

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from: