Every James Cameron Film Ranked From Worst To Best

Known for his larger-than-life creations and unique filmmaking style, director James Cameron is in a league all of his own. With his genre-spanning work, lofty ambitions, and unrestrained energy, Cameron has carved out a name for himself in Hollywood as an artist willing to do anything to see his vision come true. Whether he's retelling a historical event or taking us on an adventure to a sci-fi kingdom, there's no denying that Cameron is an influential figure who continues to dominate the movie world.

Yet, with many successful productions on his resume, it can be hard to decide which of Cameron's feature-length theatrical films are the best of the best. From his action-packed blockbusters to his equally epic documentaries, filmgoers have a wide array of Cameron flicks to choose from. While some would argue that such a ranking seems pointless when it comes to Cameron's films, consider this list a stroll through this great director's body of beloved work. These are the movies that define James Cameron's ever-changing career.

10. Piranha II: The Spawning

Known for its ridiculous gore and cheese, James Cameron's work on "Piranha II: The Spawning" certainly made a mark on the filmmaker's career. He was initially hired as the film's special effects director, yet as drama between the original director, Miller Drake, and the film's executive producer, Ovidio G. Assonitis, spiraled out of control, Cameron was handed the keys to the cinematic kingdom, making "Piranha II" his feature film debut. However, as principal photography began, Cameron's vision for the sequel was muddled by budget limitations and Assonitis' aggressive involvement.

But despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil, "Piranha II" remains fascinating. Not only does this sequel transform its central monsters into gene-spliced flying creatures, but the film's gratuitous use of blood, guts, and nudity puts it right in line with the horror films of the late 70' and early '80s. While it's hard to tell which scenes Cameron directed and which ones Assonitis took over, it's impossible to ignore the well-filmed underwater sequences, something that would become a Cameron specialty as time went on.

9. Aliens of the Deep

One of Cameron's two theatrically released documentaries, "Aliens of the Deep" explores the complex ecosystem that exists in the depths of the sea. With stunning cinematography that spotlights strange and beautiful creatures, Cameron takes audiences on a thrilling dive that goes to places very few have explored, especially on celluloid. The undersea worlds are fascinating, as is Cameron himself, who appears on camera and shows audiences his quirks as both an explorer and a filmmaker.

But "Aliens of the Deep" gets somewhat gimmicky when it comes to sea life on worlds other than Earth. With some unfortunately dated and cheesy early '00s CGI, the film wonders if an underwater city exists on the moon Europa. While that is a fascinating question in the world of fiction, the documentary is so compelling on its own that this addition feels more like an excuse to add 3D elements to augment its original theatrical release than an attempt to add something engaging to the final product.

8. Ghosts of the Abyss

Leveraging the hype from James Cameron's "Titanic," "Ghosts of the Abyss" takes audiences on another undersea expedition, this time focusing on up-close looks at the doomed ship at the center of Cameron's blockbuster. With the narration from Cameron's buddy Bill Paxton along with some incredible IMAX 3D cameras, Cameron and a crew of scientists take viewers on a tour of the massive man-made creation, including never before seen looks inside of the "ship of dreams."

While it sported some impressive technology for the time and some fascinating insights by Paxton, whether you find "Ghosts of the Abyss" compelling really depends on your interest in the topic. If one is already invested in the story of the Titanic, then it's easy to be enchanted by this documentary. However, if you aren't already a Titanic nerd, "Ghosts of the Abyss" won't change that, especially not the awkward recreation scenes laid on top of footage of the ship.

7. Avatar

James Cameron's "Avatar" is far from a perfect piece of cinema. Cameron began working on the film in 1994, waiting nearly 15 years for the technology to catch up with his artistic vision. The result is a movie that tells a common story: A young man explores a beautiful, mysterious planet, falls in love with an alien princess, tries to protect her people from greedy humans, and learns an environmentally-conscious lesson. Though people have made countless jokes about how familiar Cameron's creation feels, it still managed to become the highest-grossing movie of all time.

Yes, "Avatar" sports some fantastic technology that changed the filmmaking landscape in jaw-dropping ways. But even with all of its technical achievements, the story of "Avatar" has been told multiple times. As audiences become more aware of the tales Hollywood tells — and how it tells them — it's fascinating to see how the cultural perception of "Avatar" has changed over the years. At least "Avatar" spawned one of the best Disney theme parks of all time — if you like those yummy Satuli Canteen protein bowls and hamburger pods, you have Cameron to thank.

6. True Lies

Based on the 1991 French film "La Totale," Cameron's "True Lies" proves that the director can incorporate his favorite cinematic tools (water and the color blue) into just about any project. And when you have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis playing an unlikely (but entertaining) couple, the final product is movie magic. 

"True Lies" centers around a married man, Harry (Schwarzenegger), whose wife, Helen (Curtis), thinks he's just a regular salesman; he's actually one heck of a secret agent. As you can probably guess, a setup like this leads to plenty of chaotic, comedic, action-packed goodness.

While "True Lies" does have its slower scenes (in particular, the subplot in which Harry thinks that Helen is having an affair) and awkward moments (the seduction sequence), the center of the movie is the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Curtis. Cameron does a great job of building their relationship as the film progresses, even making audiences forget the incredible action sequences featured in the movie's first act. When Schwarzenegger and Curtis' skills are combined with a fun script, Tom Arnold's hilarious comedic energy, and a memorable supporting cast, "True Lies" makes for a great addition to both Cameron and Schwarzenegger's filmographies.

5. The Abyss

Featuring what would become Cameron's signature color palette and aesthetic style, "The Abyss," tells the story of a ragtag US search and recovery group on a mission to find an American submarine that sank into the Caribbean ocean. As their journey progresses, the team (including an estranged couple, played by Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) discovers that it's far from alone in the depths of the sea, leading to an encounter with an alien life-force that has abilities beyond the adventurers' imaginations.

With its troubled production, "The Abyss" was considered a critical and financial flop. Yet, as time has passed, the film has garnered a special status among viewers, with some fans calling it the secret gem on Cameron's filmography. When considering the pioneering technology that went into the film's incredible effects, its memorable finale, and the rest of its strengths, it's easy to see why viewers have come to embrace the flick over the years.

4. The Terminator

Launching one of the greatest movie franchises of all time, the first entry in the Terminator series is legendary. The plot focuses on Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a college student who works as a waitress when an android from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger) tries to kill her — see, Sarah will be the mother of the hero of humanity, who will lead the Resistance against the evil machines of Skynet. Now, it's up to Sarah and another mysterious figure from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to outsmart the T-800 before it kills Sarah and changes the course of time.

While its pacing and story structure isn't as tight as its sequel's, "The Terminator" remains one of the most iconic pieces of pop culture ever created. From the memorable one-liners that audiences love to this day to Arnold Schwarzenegger playing his signature character, it's not hard to see how important "The Terminator" is in the world of cinema. However, perhaps its most significant achievement was proving James Cameron's potential as a director — "The Terminator" is the film that made him a household name.

3. Titanic

One of the highest-grossing and most beloved movies of all time, James Cameron's "Titanic" is easily one of his best films, simply because it defied the odds. With problems stemming from budget overruns and Cameron's intense on-set behavior, "Titanic" wasn't easy movie to make, but it all came together in the end, creating a romantic fantasy rooted in reality, with a sprinkle of cinematic wonder on top. It also features one of the most memorable pieces of music ever created, thanks to the talents of James Horner, Will Jennings, and vocalist Céline Dion — basically, there's no question why "Titanic" became the iconic piece of pop culture that it is today.

Yet, as the decades have passed, opinions on the film have fluctuated. With complaints about its lengthy runtime, observations that certain characters could have easily fit onto pieces of floating furniture, and jokes about its melodramatic nature, "Titanic" is no stranger to modern-day criticism. But those talking points aside, "Titanic" is a legitimately remarkable achievement — one that, despite its large budget, has a humble, earnest center. Even with all of the jokes the internet loves to throw its way, "Titanic" demonstrates that Cameron is truly capable of everything he can imagine, including bringing the ship of dreams back to life.

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Not every movie on Cameron's resume is flawless, but "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" comes pretty darn close. Not only does it elevate its predecessor narratively, but it also raises the stakes in terms of action, suspense, and the filmmaking techniques on display. Even better, it does so while enriching the original film's characters, cementing their status as Hollywood fixtures for decades to come.

With Linda Hamilton's career-defining performance as a more rigid and intense Sarah Connor, Robert Patrick as the terrifying T-1000, and the groundbreaking visual effects, there's a lot to love about this sequel. However, the most remarkable aspect of "Terminator 2" is how Cameron beautifully mixes terror and heartfelt emotion, and how that balance is represented by Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong as the Terminator and John Connor, respectively. Throughout the film, Cameron carefully builds their relationship — both actors give the best performances of their entire careers. Along with the film's other successes, this all adds up to a sequel that surpasses the original in more ways than one.

1. Aliens

Creating a sequel to one of the most successful horror and sci-fi movies of all time is no easy task. But as this list proves, James Cameron is never one to back down from a challenge, especially when it comes to making sequels that somehow equal or surpass their predecessors. That's a description that certainly applies to "Aliens." The film follows franchise heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who finds herself returning to the moon where she first encountered the Xenomorphs, this time to protect a human colony now living there.

While it's filled with quotable one-liners and some of the most fantastic characters in genre filmmaking, the best part of "Aliens" is how James Cameron makes this movie all his own. While it would have been easy to replicate Ridley Scott's basic beats in an "Alien" sequel, Cameron pushed the franchise in a whole new direction, one that focuses more on bold action moments than creeping tension but still delivers a heart-pounding cinematic experience. With an Oscar-nominated performance by Weaver at its center, along with a cast made up of talented character actors, "Aliens" deserves all the praise it gets — and more.