Best James Cameron Movies, Ranked

“Imagination is a force that can actually manifest a reality. Don’t put limitations on yourself. Others will do that for you.” - James Cameron

by Abhirup Sengupta
Image: 20th Century Studios, and Attack Of The Fanboy

With Avatar The Way Of Water, visionary director James Cameron has proved his consistent ability to make movies with Pandora-sized hype behind them. Following a hiatus of around 13 years, the 68-year-old filmmaking icon is finally back at the helm of another movie. While the Canadian native was associated with multiple projects since 2009, Avatar 2 marks his return to the directing chair following his original pièce de résistance.
Though Jim Cameron is expected to give the Avatar franchise his utmost attention for the next few years, the legendary director has hits like The Terminator, True Lies, and Titanic under his belt too. As Avatar The Way Of Water surpasses $500 million at the global box office along with multiple award nominations, it has slowly become one of the most popular films in Cameron’s spectacular career.

Ranking Top James Cameron Movies So Far (2022)

While James Cameron is one of the most revered and highest-grossing filmmakers working currently, the legendary director has only made nine movies so far. Over the span of four decades, Cameron has also made history as the second director to have the most box-office collection at around $7 billion. Whether the Oscar-winning director can surpass Steven Spielberg in this category following Cameron’s Avatar sequels remains to be seen.

Here are James Cameron’s best movies (as of 2022):

9. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

It may surprise many that James Cameron‘s directorial debut in a feature film was a critically panned 1982 sequel to Joe Dante’s horror film, Piranha (1978). The movie is so bad that it sits at an abysmal six percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate scoring chart. However, as per many sources, the terrible end-product of the Piranha sequel was not Cameron’s fault.

According to multiple reports, Cameron’s creative approach was allegedly hindered by the movie’s producer Ovidio G. Assonitis. Following the movie’s completion, Cameron wanted to leave his name out of the film legally but could not do so. It has also been reported that the Canadian filmmaker was not allowed to cut the film.

Although Cameron may not be at fault, Piranha II remains the dark spot in his otherwise scintillating filmography.

8. True Lies (1994)

This movie remains one of the best spy action/comedy movies of all time. In his third project with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cameron approached a fun comedy script that was based on a French movie titled La Totale! that predated True Lies by three years.

Along with Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies also featured Cameron’s long-term collaborator, the late Bill Paxton.

7. Aliens (1986)

Following Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), James Cameron took on to direct the sequel. As a direct continuation of the first film, the sequel had several iconic moments, and it also began his decades-long collaboration with Sigourney Weaver. In fact, in his interview with GQ, Cameron admitted that Weaver was the primary reason he wanted to be associated with Aliens. In the interview, Cameron said: 

“They had assured me that they had [Weaver] under an option for a sequel option. And so I went off and wrote this thing, [like], ‘Okay, I’m gonna get to work with Sigourney. This will be cool.’ I go off and write for six months, and lo and behold, no option. They haven’t even talked to her. So now it’s up to me to land Sigourney, to talk her into doing this film.”

James Cameron Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films | GQ

However, Cameron was able to bluff Weaver’s agent into thinking that he would rewrite her role for somebody else, and the rest was cinema history.

6. The Abyss (1989)

Jim Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi film, The Abyss, is perhaps the most underrated film in his repertoire. The movie pioneered much of the liquid simulation effects, which earned Cameron and co. an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The primary visual effect pioneered for this film can be seen in Cameron’s 1991 hit, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the T-1000 Terminator is showcased as a liquid-metal robot assassin.

Interestingly, Cameron also wrote the movie, which unfortunately did not translate to box-office success at the time of its release. 

5. Titanic (1997)

Cameron’s Titanic can be considered the epitome of period films. Furthermore, the 1997 Oscar-winning classic is still the third most successful movie in global box-office history. The love story of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet’s Rose Dewitt Bukater has earned Cameron his only Oscar in the category of “Best Director” (as of yet).

Furthermore, the film swept the 1998 Oscars with the addition of 11 more Oscars, including Best Picture.

4. Avatar The Way Of Water (2022)

The long-awaited sequel to Jim Cameron’s Avatar (2009) is finally upon fans, who received the visual spectacle they were promised in 2013. With the film having surpassed over $500 million at the global box office within five days of its release, it remains to be seen whether the sequel will be able to come close to Avatar’s position in the list.

Furthermore, Avatar The Way Of Water is already expected to receive multiple Academy Award nominations along with the anticipated win in the “Best Visual Effects” category.

3. Terminator 2 Judgment Day (1991)

The sequel to James Cameron’s 1984 classic is universally considered to be the best entry in the Terminator franchise so far. Terminator 2 Judgment Day not only introduced the viewers to John Connor and a reprogrammed Terminator T-800, but it also established Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as one of the most iconic female action characters in cinema history.

Unfortunately, the later sequels in the franchise went on a continuous downhill trajectory, and now it is expected that Cameron will officially reboot the franchise.

2. Avatar (2009)

Although a legion of viewers has accused this film of essentially being Disney’s Pocahontas in Pandora, the mesmerizing theme of environmentalism is particularly vital in recent years. While the film’s plot was straightforward, the undertones were present throughout each scene. Furthermore, Cameron’s Avatar pioneered the cinematic techniques of motion capture performance in 3D space and computer-generated graphics. It can be argued that without Avatar, 3D movies or CGI character design and world-building would not be in its current advanced stage.

1. The Terminator

While Avatar will be one of the most important stories to have spawned out of James Cameron’s mind, in terms of complexity, it was The Terminator that set such a high bar for sci-fi action films for decades to come. Thus the first Terminator film deserves most of the credit behind Cameron’s success, as this project did not only establish his career but also that of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.

Note: The aforementioned ranking reflects the opinion of the author.

With his riveting filmography, Jim Cameron will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. As one of the currently working legends in filmmaking, it remains to be seen how many more people Cameron’s work can touch with his upcoming sequels to Avatar. Thus, Cameron’s journey from a truck driver to a world-class filmmaker, along with his films, will continue to be a beacon of hope for generations of cinema enthusiasts.

- This article was updated on December 21st, 2022

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