The 14 Greatest James Cameron Scenes, Ranked

James Cameron is, without a doubt, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. From his humble beginnings as the director of 1981's "Piranha II: The Spawning" to becoming the king of the global box office with 2009's "Avatar," he's proven time and again that he's got what it takes to get audiences into movie theaters. One of his greatest qualities is innovation, with almost every single one of his films pushing the boundaries of filmmaking techniques to bring us striking new ideas, plots, and characters. It's nearly impossible to fully quantify how much he's influenced modern cinema, and with several more "Avatar" sequels scheduled to be released over the next few years, it's a sure bet that he's not done expanding the limits of what can be depicted on the big screen.

There are a plethora of classic scenes featured across his films ... heck, we're tempted to dedicate this entire list to scenes from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" alone. Whether it's in the farthest reaches of space or the deepest ocean trenches, far into the future or way back in the past, the man knows how to craft scenes that keep us on the edge of our seats eager to see what happens next. Without further ado, let's take a look at the 14 greatest James Cameron scenes.

14. Titanic — Rose Says Goodbye To Jack

After the massive ship Titanic had sunk, most of the survivors were left to float in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean to pray they could live long enough for help to come. Among this group in the fictionalized film were the star-crossed lovers Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson, who managed to find a piece of floating furniture to hang onto together, promising to never let each other go. Eventually, rescue boats arrive and Rose tries to wake up Jack, only for her to realize that he's dead. After prying his cold hand from hers, she gives him a tearful goodbye and lets him sink into the icy depths, being left with nothing but her memories of him.

James Cameron is primarily known for his work in the science fiction and action genres, but when it comes to making $200 million dollar tearjerkers, he's no slouch in that department either. This final scene between Rose and Jack doesn't hold back on the sentimentality, but it's completely earned as the audience spent nearly three hours prior watching these two young people from different worlds find love in a world that wanted to keep them apart. Even the most hardened "T2" fan can't help but be moved by such a tragic moment.

13. Terminator 2: Judgment Day — Tow Truck Chase

After John Connor narrowly escapes the T-1000 at the shopping mall, he takes off on his dirt bike only to be chased by the liquid metal machine in a massive tow truck the android commandeered. John rides into an empty section of the LA River Basin, thinking himself safe, but that doesn't stop the T-1000 from driving off the street and crashing into the narrow canal without skipping a beat. Of course, the T-1000 isn't the only terminator in this chase, as the T-800 enters the fray on his Harley Davidson motorcycle and manages to get John out of harm's way, but only barely. The chase ends with an explosive finale and the first reveal of the T-1000 in its fully liquid metal form.

It's basically a universal principle that James Cameron is a virtuoso when it comes to directing action scenes. After proving himself on 1984's "The Terminator," Cameron upped the ante in 1986's "Aliens." By the time he started shooting "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Cameron was an established master of disaster, car chases, shootouts, and explosions like a composer writing a symphony. There's not a single wasted frame in this thrilling chase scene that's made all the better by Brad Fiedel's pulse-pounding electronic score.

12. Avatar — Jake Rides A Banshee For The First Time

While ingratiating himself among the Na'vi in his avatar form, Jake must learn how to tame and establish a connection with a mountain banshee, a large dragon-like creature. After scaring away a couple of banshees at first, Jake soon finds one that's willing to fly with him, but not without a fierce wrestling match on the cliffside. Once Jake does make the connection between himself and the mountain banshee, the two dive off the crag to go soaring among the majestic beauty of Pandora. Not only does Jake manage to cultivate trust with the Na'vi for his ability to bond with a mountain banshee, he also impresses Neytiri, a beautiful Na'vi woman who's caught his eye.

The plot and characters of "Avatar" may not be the best in James Cameron's body of work, but the film more than makes up for it with stunning visuals, innovative visual effects that still hold up, and tons of imagination. Pandora's striking landscape — hovering landmasses and waterfalls and all — is breathtakingly depicted here, leaving us in anticipation of the surprises James Cameron has in store for us in future sequels.

11. The Terminator — Shootout At Tech Noir

When Sarah Connor discovers that someone has been killing other women in the area with the same name, she hides out at a local nightclub called Tech Noir. She gets a hold of the police to ask for help, and they tell her to stay there until a squad car arrives to pick her up. However, before the police arrive at the club the T-800 shows up and is about to kill Sarah Connor until she's saved by Kyle Reese, the man who was sent back in time to ensure her safety. The T-800 does what it does best and starts firing at both Sarah and Kyle, killing anyone who gets in its way, but the two are just barely able to escape.

Naming the nightclub Tech Noir was a brilliant touch by James Cameron; what better term is there for his bleak, gritty vision of technology? The real power of this scene is Cameron's powerful direction, as in his ability to gradually build suspense when Sarah Connor suspects that Kyle Reese is the one trying to kill her while the audience knows all the time that it's the T-800. We'd seen the T-800 kill innocent people before this scene, and seeing him casually gun down the guests at the nightclub just to get to Sarah is a brutal cinematic experience.

10. True Lies — Chase Scene In The Florida Keys

When Helen Tasker is taken hostage in a limousine with Juno Skinner, Harry Tasker meets up with Gib and orders two Marine Harrier Jump Jets to stop Crimson Jihad from entering the U.S. through the Overseas Highway with their nuclear warheads. While the jets are successful in blowing up part of the bridge and preventing the convoy from reaching their destination, the limousine carrying Helen was shot in a fight and is quickly heading towards the destruction. Because it's Harry, he orders the helicopter he's riding in to fly down low to the highway so that he can hang out of it and rescue his wife, a split second before the limousine drives off the destroyed bridge and into the ocean.

The chase scene in "True Lies" is one of the most daring stunt-filled sequences in a film packed to the gills with them. James Cameron uses every special effects trick in the book to pull it off, from practical explosions to miniatures to stunt performers with death wishes. Rarely before has there ever been such careless disregard for infrastructure as this chase scene. Here's hoping that the upcoming "True Lies" TV series sticks to the practical explosion tradition.

9. Aliens — The Marines Get Iced

Upon landing on LV-426, a group of Marines journey beneath the atmosphere processing station where they believe the surviving colonists are hiding. Ripley and the Marines' rookie commanding officer Gorman watch their descent from their body cams in their armored personnel carrier. However, when the Marines discover that the colonists have been used as incubators for the xenomorphs, this awakens a pack of the aliens who quickly begin attacking them. Several of the Marines are picked off one by one and communications are cut off, turning Gorman into a stuttering and indecisive mess. This prompts Ripley to take control of the situation and commandeer the armored personnel carrier to rescue the surviving soldiers.

James Cameron masterfully builds the suspense in this scene as the cocky Marines slowly make their way to the colonists. The suspense is increased exponentially by having Ripley and Gorman watch the carnage from a distance, with only shoddy audio and video to keep them updated on the Marines' status. While "Aliens" largely veers away from the horror style established in its predecessor, this scene still manages to be incredibly scary. It's also a terrific turning point in the film as it proves the Marines' ineffectiveness against an enemy they know nothing about, and perfectly establishes Ripley as the real hero of the film.

8. Titanic — Iceberg! Right Ahead!

Not long after the romance of star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose began to bloom, fate got in the way in the form of an iceberg. In this scene, a couple of officers on the forward deck notice a massive iceberg directly in front of the Titanic and immediately call the engineers to slow down the ship while they attempt to steer it clear of the giant glacier. While they're able to avoid a head-on collision, the ship does scrape against the side of the iceberg, resulting in several massive tears in the hull. The crew and staff do their best to keep the passengers calm, but little do they know how much worse things are about to get.

"Titanic" cost more than $200 million to make and, man, does it show. James Cameron and co. spared no expense when it came to portraying the accident that would lead to one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century. The technical details — the realistic depiction of the engine room, the iceberg tearing into the ship's hull, etc. — are there on full display, but the magic is the suspense and tension that Cameron builds during every second as the majestic ship slowly heads towards its doom.

7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day — Sarah's Nuclear Nightmare

While on the run from the T-1000, Sarah Connor has a dream about the apocalyptic future whose specter has been haunting her since her run-in with the first T-800 years earlier, and it is a devastating vision. In it, a present-day Sarah is at an idyllic playground where children are playing and chasing one another without a care in the world ... until a bomb blows up the city skyline. Buildings crumble, cars flip over, and the entire landscape is obliterated as the children and their families are reduced to ash, including a young Sarah and John Connor. Meanwhile, present-day Sarah is powerless to help them as she too is trapped in the blast. All she can do is burn.

It's a relatively short scene, but that doesn't detract from its power. When Sarah Connor is shocked awake, she's brutally reminded of what's at stake if her son is killed and Skynet goes online. Most sci-fi movies take place either before or after the apocalyptic event, generally keeping it offscreen. However, James Cameron has always been one to push the boundaries of what can be achieved cinematically and opted to give audiences an unflinching depiction of a world-destroying event as it's happening that still holds up more than three decades later.

6. True Lies — Harry Fires Aziz

After Aziz detonates the bomb in the Florida Keys, Harry Tasker is notified that his daughter Dana has been kidnapped and held hostage by the terrorists in a downtown Miami skyscraper. This prompts Harry to get behind the wheel of a Harrier Jump Jet himself and go after his daughter. Terrorist leader Aziz chases Dana to a crane on top of the building, and as she stumbles off the crane Harry arrives in the jet to rescue her, but Aziz jumps onto the jet as well, determined to take back the key she stole that is necessary to detonate another bomb. However, Harry manages to shake Aziz off the jet and onto one of its missiles. Before launching the missile, Harry delivers a classic one-liner ("You're fired") and sends Aziz blazing through the skyscraper and into a helicopter filled with other terrorists.

Probably afraid that "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" didn't have enough explosions, James Cameron multiplied the action for his next film tenfold. The 1990s were filled with over-the-top action movies, and "True Lies" is definitely near the top, taking its action and stunts well past the point of absurdity. Yet, the explosive excesses of this film are exactly what makes it so much fun, and the cartoonish demise of such a sadistic villain is the perfect closer to this popcorn flick.

5. The Abyss — First Appearance Of The Pseudopod

As the crew of the Deep Core drilling platform waits for a storm to subside so they can radio for help, they have another interaction with the otherworldly presence they'd encountered earlier in the form of a strange underwater light moving around as if it had a mind of its own. This time the alien presence manifests itself not as a sentient ball of light, but as an animate cylinder of seawater. Approaching the crew with gentle curiosity, it imitates the facial expressions of Dr. Lindsey Brigman and Virgil "Bud" Brigman, seeming just as interested in them as they are in it.

Much has been ballyhooed about the groundbreaking computer-generated effects in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and for good reason. However, that liquid metal T-1000 would not exist in cinema history were it not for the innovative effects used to bring the pseudopod to life in James Cameron's "The Abyss" two years earlier. The pseudopod is a stunning creature design that holds up remarkably well today, and it's clear how the technology required to manipulate water into a living being paved the way for the T-1000. It's not just the technical aspects of this scene that make it so great, though. It's a truly awe-inspiring moment that signals the film's transition from a suspense thriller into a sense of Spielbergian wonder. It's an amazing movie that Cameron almost died to make.

4. Avatar — Jake's First Time In His Avatar Body

Jake Scully is an ex-Marine who's lost the use of his legs, which has prompted him to sign up for a program that would place his consciousness in a Na'vi-human hybrid "avatar." The procedure is a success, and when Jake wakes up, he's so thrilled at being able to experience walking again that he completely ignores the doctors' pleas to ease into the use of his new body. He then dashes outside, still in his patient gown, and experiences the full beauty of Pandora's atmosphere, which happens to be poisonous to humans. Not one to take it slow, Jake starts running around the compound without a care in the world about how silly he looks; he's just happy to be able to use his legs again.

"Avatar" is James Cameron's most groundbreaking film to date as it revolutionized how fantastical images could be portrayed on the big screen in a way that's totally believable. By this point in film history, visual effects were good enough to have actors reimagined as otherworldly creatures while completely avoiding the trap of the uncanny valley that so many CGI-heavy films fall into. Seeing Jake Scully fumble around in his new body for the first time proved that we'd entered a new realm of visual effects. Also, let's not act like we weren't cheering for the guy when he dashed out of the procedure room to put his legs to good use.

3. The Terminator — T-800 Attacks The Police Station

After Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese have been apprehended by the police and taken to the local station, the T-800 arrives asking to see Sarah. When he's denied, he promises to return, only to make good on his promise by crashing a stolen car right into the front office of the police station. The T-800 gets out of the car and, armed to the teeth starts blasting his way through countless police officers to get to Sarah. He gets shot multiple times, but because of his cybernetic nature he barely even notices the bullets ripping into him. He's the terminator, after all, and it'll take more than silly 20th-century arms to bring him down.

While "The Terminator" is considered more of a sci-fi/action movie, this scene dips into the horror genre to terrific effect. The T-800 lives up to the movie's title as he relentlessly tracks down his prey, killing anyone who gets in his path (although the T-800 didn't rack up quite the body count in the sequel, much to Arnold Schwarzenegger's chagrin). In this way, he's more like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. It's a wonderfully thrilling scene that perfectly illustrates just how much of an unstoppable killing machine the T-800 is. And let's not forget that immortal line that precedes the carnage: "I'll be back."

2. Aliens — Ripley Fights The Xenomorph Queen

Just when it seemed that Ripley, Bishop, Newt, and Hicks were free from the scourge of the xenomorphs on LV-426, James Cameron gives us one last battle as it's revealed that the alien queen had stowed away on their escape ship. The queen announces itself by ripping the android Bishop in half and then sets its sights on Newt. However, Ripley refuses to stand idly by as this massive creature attacks her new family, so she suits up in a power loader and dukes it out with the queen in a brutal slugfest that ends with the alien queen sucked into the vacuum of space. There can only be one queen in this galaxy, and it's Ripley.

While there will never be a resolution to the debate of which film is better — "Alien" or "Aliens" — we can at least all agree that James Cameron's film is a terrific follow-up to Ridley Scott's masterful sci-fi/horror film, and this scene proves why. A wide range of amazing special effects was used to bring this fight to life that has lost none of its suspense over the decades and proved that Cameron is the king of blending science fiction and action.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day — Battle At The Steel Mill

In this climactic scene, the T-1000 has chased the T-800 and John and Sarah Connor to a steel mill but is damaged after being frozen with liquid nitrogen and blown to pieces. Of course, that's not enough to stop a futuristic killing machine made of liquid metal and can reform itself. The T-1000 manages to defeat the less advanced T-800 (which is no mean feat) and is about to accomplish its mission of killing John by disguising itself as his mother Sarah, but the real Sarah shows up with a shotgun and manages to slow the T-1000 enough for the T-800's backup power source to kick in and deliver the final killing blow in one of the greatest villain takedowns in film history.

This climactic showdown is James Cameron's genius running on all cylinders. It brilliantly combines pulse-pounding action scenes with state-of-the-art visual effects without ever losing its heart. Because Cameron made us care about the characters amidst all of the explosive sci-fi action, we root for them to get out of this scene alive. The steel mill battle is a truly heavy metal piece of cinema and is perfectly balanced out by the bittersweet goodbye between the Connors and the T-800.