James Cameron’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked


James Cameron has delivered a handful of projects for over two decades, each further sealing his legacy in Hollywood. Cameron rose to prominence as a director after Titanic (1997) became the first film to gross a billion dollars at the box office. The film would hold the title for twelve years before being dethroned by another of Cameron's creations.

With Avatar: The Way of Water grossing over $1 billion, Cameron is considered to be in a league of his own, with a worldwide gross of $8 billion, making him the second highest-grossing film director of all time, trailing only Steven Spielberg. With his works, the Canadian filmmaker/writer pushes the envelope using cutting-edge technology.

With the sequel to the first Avatar film now in theaters, we look back at James' projects, ranking them from worst to best.

10. Piranha II: The Spawning (1982)

Piranha II The Spawning 1981
Image Credit: Chako Film Company.

According to the New York Times, James does not consider the film his first. He did some directing but was fired from the project after only two weeks. Piranha II is the sequel to the first Piranha film. It follows a biochemist, a scuba diver, and a police chief trying to solve a string of deaths on a Caribbean resort. They soon realize the actual cause of the deaths is the titular genetically altered flying fish.

A Biochemist, a Scuba Diver, and a Police Chief Trying To Solve a String of Deaths

The film's special effects could be better, and they lay the groundwork for James to rise and excel in future works. Cameron's involvement in the movie is questionable, as the production was fraught with conflict. The attempt at a Jaws rip-off was met with backlash from the film's executive producer, Ovidio Assontis. It ultimately received a dismal 6% on Rotten Tomatoes.

9. Xenogenesis (1978)

Xenogenesis (1978)
Image Credit: James Cameron.

Xenogenesis is a short science film starring William Wisher Jr. and Margeret Umbel. An engineered man and a woman raised by a machine are on a quest in space to find a new life cycle when their planet becomes uninhabitable. Furthermore, hope for humanity lies in the outcome of their adventure through outer space. The sci-fi short is nothing exceptional, but it serves as mildly entertaining, with outstanding visuals, considering it was made on a $20,000 budget.

An Engineered Man and a Woman Raised by a Machine on a Quest

Xenogenesis is a genuinely experimental work of fiction, albeit with an overly simplistic plot leaning towards shallow.

8. True Lies (1994)

true lies
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The pair of James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger primarily results in nothing but stellar action sequences and great movies. The team has worked together a few times, and with each meeting, they both come away with a blockbuster that leaves Hollywood stoked.

A Secret Spy Who Poses as a Computer Salesman

The spy film deviates from James' larger-than-life storytelling style and settles for a tried-and-true trope. Schwarzenegger shines as the lead character, a secret spy who poses as a computer salesman. Arnold travels the world secretly, taking out high-value terrorists while dropping quips and toting guns. Things turn for the worse when a jihadist kidnaps his wife, who is having an affair with a car salesman.

Critics have panned the film for being racist and offensive to women, and it has ultimately not aged well. But, in the end, it serves its purpose, expertly blending action, comedy, and romance in style unique to Cameron.

7. The Abyss (1989)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

When you think about it, the Abyss and Avatar: The Way of Water have the same striking similarity. Both films are about the mysteries and life found beneath the oceans. When a nuclear submarine collides with an unidentified object and sinks to the ocean's depths, navy seals and scientists are dispatched to retrieve the prized possession. Meanwhile, the threat of Russians obtaining it lingers.

A Nuclear Submarine Collides With an Unidentified Object

the abyss
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

In the end, it is revealed that an alien life form, eerily similar to the T1000, is responsible for the mayhem. The film did its best with the material and was nominated for an Academy Award for best visual effects. The musical score, plot, and visuals immerse the audience in the same claustrophobic atmosphere as submerged underwater. It features one of the earliest forms of CGI in movie history and remains one of James' most overlooked works.

6. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri in Avatar: The Way of Water
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Avatar: The Way of Water is the sequel to the 2009 film Avatar, which was a box office hit. The film takes place several years after the first movie's events and returns to the world of Pandora. The story follows Jake Sully and his family as they continue to fight against the Sky People. After being forced to leave their home in the trees, Jake and his family journey to the ocean, where they encounter the water clan of Pandora.

A Continued Fight Against The Sky People

The three-hour film successfully captures the stunning visuals that captivated audiences in the original Avatar movie from thirteen years prior. With a budget of $400 million, James Cameron ensured that Pandora was just as breathtaking as imagined. While the lengthy runtime and focus on eco-friendliness may be cumbersome for some, the movie ultimately stands on its own as a showcase of cinematic excellence.

5. The Terminator (1984)

Terminator 1985 1
Courtesy of Orion Pictures

This classic Sci-fi film sees Schwarzenegger and Cameron work together again. The story takes place in a dystopian future where a powerful artificial intelligence system, SKYNET, has taken control of the world, leaving humans fighting for their lives. A terminator is sent back in time to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she gives birth to John Conner, the future leader of the human resistance against SKYNET.

A Terminator Is Sent Back in Time To Stop The Future Leader of The Human Resistance

Image from the movie The Terminator
Image Credit: MGM Studios, Inc.

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn give impressive performances in this film that remain powerful even years later. Arnold Schwarzenegger also excels as the time-traveling cyborg, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.

The use of special effects ahead of its time and high-octane action sequences make the entire Terminator franchise a must-see for all action/Sci-fi fans.

4. Avatar (2009)


After this release in 2009, with several sequels lined up, James Cameron made Hollywood history again, becoming a household name. The director takes us to Pandora, a beautiful moon where creatures and plant life live in harmony until mankind comes searching for their resources. The protagonist, Jake Sully, is a paraplegic marine rescued by Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, of the Na'vi race. As Jake falls in love with Neytiri, he faces the difficult decision of whether to side with the humans seeking to exploit Pandora or with his newfound love.

A Beautiful Moon Disrupted by Mankind

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox[
From creating advanced techniques for capturing the actors' visual cues, developing an entire language, and pushing the boundaries of CG effects of its time, Avatar is a visually pleasing stunner filled with action and romance. The attention to detail in the film's special effects is awe-inspiring, and the 3D technology adds an extra level of depth and realism to the already breathtaking landscapes and creatures of Pandora.

While the story could be more original, it is still worth watching.

3. Aliens (1986)

Aliens 1986
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

James Cameron set the bar really high with Aliens, which would then become one of the highest-grossing films of 1986; another feather on his hat. Aliens is the sequel to the 1979 film Alien and the second in the Alien franchise. It follows the story of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only survivor of an alien attack on her ship, who wakes decades later in a Space Station orbiting Earth. When they lose contact with a human colony, she agrees to go to planet LV-426 to investigate. There she meets a girl named Newt, who joins her mission, and there she must face the Alien Queen and Xenomorphs, whom she must exterminate to survive.

The Only Survivor of an Alien Attack on Her Ship

Aliens 1986 20th Century Studios 2
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

The movie features stunning cinematography and memorable performances, even by the supporting cast. It strikes a perfect balance between thriller and horror – and is even a bit comedic, with imaginative yet strikingly realistic scenes that immerse you deeper into the plot. As one of the best sequels ever, it is an adventurous and clever piece by James, especially in an age of science fiction being one of the lesser genres.

2. Titanic (1997)

titanic kate leonardo
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

This highest-grossing epic romance, directed, written, and produced by Cameron James, remains one of the greatest romance movies Hollywood has ever spawned. It centers on the love story between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet), who fall in love aboard the Titanic ship.

A Love Story Aboard The Titanic Ship

Titanic is a movie that would stand the test of time and one everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime. It is a flawless, spell-binding, expertly crafted tale of love and tragedy interspersed, portrayed by stellar actors who poured heart and soul into their performances. Even though it is a romance film, it has brilliant futuristic cinematography notable in the director's filmography.

Titanic gained wide commercial success, won multiple awards, including eleven Academy Awards, and was the highest-grossing movie until displaced by Avatar. It is based on true accounts of a shipwreck that happened in 1912.

1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

terminator 2 imdb carolco pictures

He said he'd be back, and Schwarzenegger returned better than ever in a sequel that did so well, it is quoted to be one of the greatest sequels of all time. James and his team knew that Judgement Day would be their own day of reckoning, and they put it all on the line. The horrifying Terminator from the first film gets replaced by Robert Patrick as the T-1000, a cold-hearted and unstoppable mass of liquid metal.

Schwarzenegger Returns Better Than Ever

terminator 2 edward furlong
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

The movie plays heavily on emotions, humanizing the cyborg as John Connor teaches him to smile, react, and show empathy. Schwarzenegger does his best as the lumbering tin can, pulling off the most cringe smiles in Hollywood. Linda Hamilton also reprises her role, delivering one of the best performances from a female lead ever.

T2 ups the ante and delivers on all fronts, gut-wrenching emotions, high-speed action, and the thumbs up from Arnold that left us riddled with tears.

This article was written and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Rachel K. Belkin, M.Ed, is a journalist and writer with over 15 years of expertise in travel, business and marketing education, health, and local Austin, Texas events.

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