When James Cameron looked to the future in Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, that future was bleak. In T2 we see Sarah Connor faced with unending nightmares about Judgment Day, the images of children consumed by flames forever seared into her brain. In Aliens, Ripley wakes up nearly 60 years removed from her horrifying encounter with the xenomorph only to find herself confronted with a dismissive mega-corporation that would sooner hurl her back into the hornet’s nest than lose a buck.

The parallels between Sarah and Ripley are as clear and obvious as their respective movies’ views on the world of tomorrow. But how does Ripley stack up against T2’s other hero, the one whose indelible mark on pop culture is still reverberating a quarter of a century later?

I mean, of course, Schwarzenegger’s iconic role as the T-800. Terminator 2 is as much if not more his movie than Sarah Connor’s. Her voice might narrate the plot, her biceps might strike fear into the hearts of men, but compared to the T-800? Hasta la vista, baby—it’s no contest which character lives on more strongly in the pop culture zeitgeist.

When you look at them side by side, it seems that these apocalyptic-minded blockbusters couldn't have produced two more different visions of a hero. At their core, the T-800 and Ripley represent a battle between the anti-hero and the everyman of epic proportions.

In the left corner, we have the T-800—the epitome of amorality. A Terminator through and through, he’s distant, cold, and unfeeling as a hero making him the perfect anti-hero. He does his duty to the letter, but the nature of his existence means he’s unconcerned with civilian casualties and violence—he’s got a job to do and the job’s success is all that matters.

In the right corner, we have Ripley, an everyman whose emotional state acts as the film’s moral barometer. Her fear, sadness, and anxiety are always shown to be completely justified especially when compared with her brash, trigger-happy compatriots, whose initial lack of fear borders on moronic. Her emotions are what drive her to head for LV-426. An average woman in extraordinary circumstances, it’s not a rational or possibly even healthy decision for Ripley. Yet by the end of the film it's clear that if she hadn't followed her gut, the entire operation would have been doomed.

Cameron brilliantly sets up Ripley and the T-800’s archetypes from their first appearances on screen. Within the first 15 minutes of Terminator 2, the T-800 has his leather jacket, Harley, shades, and shotgun as “Bad to the Bone” roars on the soundtrack. He’s cool incarnate as he tears a biker bar apart and rides off, and it’s honestly not even clear at this point whether he’s a hero at all.

We meet Ripley, on the other hand, as she’s suffering from severe night terrors and PTSD. The scene plays out in horrifying slow motion as she screams and begs to die imagining a chest-burster rippling through her body. Upon awakening, she immediately grabs Jonesy the cat for comfort showing the full range of her emotional state—she’s affected by the past, but not enough to neglect the ones she loves or to isolate herself. By the time it’s clear she needs to go back to face the xenomorphs, all it takes to get her to agree is the thought of the families on LV-426 suffering their fate alone.

Both the T-800 and Ripley do what’s right for those outside themselves, but when you dig into why they do, it’s much more interesting. In Terminator 2’s final act, the T-800 has learned something of the complexity of human nature and has defeated the T-1000. But to complete his mission, he has to sacrifice himself for the greater good, destroying the last remnant of Cyberdyne’s dangerous technology. But that’s just it—he’s been programmed to complete his mission and his mission dictates that he sacrifice himself. The T-800 has no real choice in the matter.

Alternately, Ripley’s most stunning heroics in her final act have nothing to do with assignments or missions. Instead, we see her bravely race through the crumbling terraforming colony in search of Newt, the child who’d been abandoned there. For Ripley, it’s not enough leave no xenomorph left alive, unless no man (or child) is left behind. Just as her decision to go in the first place is based off her raw emotion, so are these final acts of heroism (epic power-loader fight and all).

Does this mean Ripley is the superior hero? Not necessarily. Ripley and the T-800 are the heroes their respective worlds need. The T-800’s lack of humanity allows him to become a pure symbol of hope in a world that may have lost its humanity. His sacrifice only comes after he admits “he knows now why we cry” and it’s only this realization that leads Sarah to her final thought just before the credits roll: “Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Similarly, Ripley lives in a world clinging to the humanity it has left when faced with a truly inhuman (read: alien) threat. Her emotions connect her to that humanity, something the xenomorphs, which embody only terror and violence, lack completely. And her success against them argues for the superiority of mankind’s most unique attribute: our emotions. Either way, both films fear a world where we self-destruct, and heroes like those in Aliens and Terminator 2 show us why we can’t afford to.