- "Soon the hunt will begin."
- ―Predator tagline
Predator is a 1987 science fiction action film directed by John McTiernan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R. G. Armstrong and Kevin Peter Hall. The first media in the Predator franchise, the film follows an elite team of mercenaries on a mission to rescue hostages from a guerrilla group in Guatemala. However, once there, the team finds themselves being hunted by a highly evolved extraterrestrial lifeform that kills for sport.
The film was written by brothers Jim and John Thomas, and shot on location in the jungles of Mexico, principally in the vicinity of Puerto Vallarta. The titular creature was designed and created by effects artist Stan Winston, after an initial version by Boss Studios was found to be unsatisfactory.
Reaction to the film was initially mixed, although it grossed more than $98 million at the United States box office. It went on to develop a cult following, and has since been reappraised as a classic of the action genre. The movie's popularity spawned a franchise consisting of novels, comic books, video games, and toys, as well as three sequels, Predator 2 (1990), Predators (2010) and The Predator (2018), although the only recurring characters across the films are the Predator creatures themselves. The film also led to two crossover movies with the Alien franchise, Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007).
In Central America, a team of elite mercenaries led by ex-special forces Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer arrives on the coast of Conta Mana. Dutch and his men have been hired by the U.S. Army to rescue a cabinet minister kidnapped by guerrilla forces in neighboring Guatemala. During his briefing, Dutch learns that his old friend Dillon, now working for the CIA in the region, is to accompany his squad on the mission, against Dutch's wishes.
The team crosses the border by helicopter and ropes down into the jungle. They quickly find the remains of the downed helicopter that had been carrying the cabinet minister and his aide. Continuing to follow their trail, Dutch and his unit discover the bodies of three skinned men hanging from the trees. They are identified as an Army Special Forces unit led by another old friend of Dutch's, and their presence in the country seems a mystery.
The mercenaries soon locate the heavily defended rebel encampment to which the hostages have been taken. They take out the inhabitants in short order and capture a guerrilla named Anna. However, they discover that the hostages have already been executed, leading to the revelation that the "cabinet minister" and his aide were in fact CIA agents. Dillon confesses to an enraged Dutch that the rescue mission had been a setup from the beginning — Dillon's objective was merely to neutralize the rebels, but when his agents were captured and the previously discovered Special Forces unit sent to eliminate their captors disappeared, Dillon tricked Dutch into accepting the mission and killing the guerrillas for him.
As the team make their way to the extraction point, they are observed from afar by an unknown creature that sees in infrared. After two members of the team are brutally slain, the survivors become aware that something in the jungle is stalking them. Dillon believes more guerrillas are responsible, but one of the squad members, Billy, is adamant that the perpetrator is not human, an assertion that is met with some skepticism. The team makes camp for the night, setting traps in all directions. The booby traps are triggered, but the culprit is found to be a wild boar. However, the squad also discovers that the body of one of their dead comrades has been taken discreetly from their midst, despite their supposedly impenetrable defenses.
Increasingly convinced that what hunts them is not human, Dutch quizzes Anna for insight into the creature, which she reveals has become a local legend for hunting humans as trophies. Despite attempts to trap and kill the creature, the team is slowly picked off one by one until only Dutch and Anna remain. Realizing the creature only targets armed and hostile prey, a wounded Dutch sends Anna to the extraction point alone and unarmed, while he draws their attacker off. He narrowly escapes the creature — revealed to be a helmeted, bipedal alien being protected by advanced active camouflage — by unintentionally covering himself in wet mud, thereby masking his infrared heat signature.
Despite having lost most of his weapons, Dutch decides to confront the creature to avenge his fallen men. He constructs a number of improvised weapons and covers himself in mud as camouflage, before lighting a large fire and screaming into the jungle to announce his challenge to his opponent. The creature soon arrives, but despite Dutch initially having the upper hand and successfully disabling the creature's active camouflage, it eventually manages to corner him. In a display of chivalry, the creature removes its advanced weaponry and helmet, unveiling its monstrous face, before challenging Dutch to a final duel in hand-to-hand combat.
Even in a fair fight, Dutch is no match for the alien and receives a brutal beating. Cornered and with the warrior recognizing and avoiding his final trap, Dutch triggers the counterweight himself, causing the large log to drop onto the creature, crushing it. Standing over his mortally wounded opponent, Dutch demands to know what it is. The creature eerily mimics his question in garbled English, and then activates a time bomb on its wrist device in a last ditch effort to kill Dutch. Dutch runs for cover as a massive explosion ignites the jungle. The following day, Anna returns aboard a rescue helicopter to find Dutch has barely survived the blast, and he is picked up and taken back to base.
- Dutch .... Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Dillon .... Carl Weathers
- Anna .... Elpidia Carrillo
- Mac .... Bill Duke
- Blain .... Jesse Ventura
- Billy .... Sonny Landham
- Poncho .... Richard Chaves
- General Phillips .... R. G. Armstrong
- Hawkins .... Shane Black
- The Predator ....
Following the release of Rocky IV in 1985, executives in Hollywood joked that since the series' hero Rocky Balboa had defeated all earthly opponents, he would have to fight an alien if a fifth installment of the boxing series were ever to be made. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas saw some potential in the concept and wrote a screenplay based on the joke. The original concept involved a number of different alien hunters coming to Earth to hunt various creatures, but this was soon pared down to just one type of alien. Jim Thomas later recalled that the subject of the hunt would be "the most dangerous species, which is man, and the most dangerous man is a combat soldier." The Central American location was chosen as a result of America conducting ongoing military actions in the area at the time. The script, originally titled Hunter, became the basis of Predator.
As the Thomas brothers were first time screenwriters with little credibility in Hollywood, they struggled to attract attention for their proposed film, and eventually resorted to slipping the script under the door of 20th Century Fox producer Michael Levy (who would go on to serve as executive producer on the film's sequel, Predator 2). Levy was taken with the story, and recommended the screenplay to Joel Silver who, based on his experience with Commando, seemed the right choice to turn the vintage science fiction pulp storyline into a big-budget film. Silver enlisted his former boss Lawrence Gordon as co-producer and John McTiernan was hired as director for his first studio film.
Silver and Gordon first approached Arnold Schwarzenegger with the lead role.
Schwarzenegger said, "The first thing I look for in a script is a good idea, a majority of scripts are rip-offs of other movies. People think they can become successful overnight. They sat down one weekend and wrote a script because they read that Stallone did that with Rocky. Predator was one of the scripts I read, and it bothered me in one way. It was just me and the alien. So we re-did the whole thing so that it was a team of commandos and then I liked the idea. I thought it would make a much more effective movie and be much more believable. I liked the idea of starting out with an action-adventure, but then coming in with some horror and science fiction."
To play the elite band of mercenaries, both Silver and Gordon, with co-producer John Davis, put out a casting net for other larger-than-life men of action. Carl Weathers, who had been memorable as boxer Apollo Creed in the Rocky films was their first choice to play Dillon, while professional wrestler and former Navy UDT Jesse Ventura was hired for his formidable physique as Blain. Native Americans Sonny Landham and Richard Chaves, and African-American Bill Duke, who co-starred alongside Schwarzenegger in Commando, provided the ethnic balance. As a favor to the writer of Joel Silver's blockbuster Lethal Weapon, the studio hired screenwriter Shane Black to not only play a supporting role in the film, but also tidy up the script (although Black himself insists he wrote very little of the finished product). Before filming began, the principle cast were put through a gruelling training program in the jungle to help them portray special forces soldiers.
Belgian martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator creature, the idea being that the physical action star would use his martial arts skills to make the Predator an agile, ninja-esque hunter. When compared to Schwarzenegger, Weathers, and Ventura, actors known for their bodybuilding regimens, it became apparent a more physically-imposing man was needed to make the creature appear threatening. Additionally, it was reported that Van Damme constantly complained about the monster suit being too hot, causing him to pass out. He also had allegedly voiced his reservations on numerous occasions regarding the fact he would not be appearing on camera without the suit. Jesse Ventura's autobiographical book also alleges Van Damme intentionally injured a stunt man. Van Damme was removed from the film and replaced by Kevin Peter Hall. Hall, standing at an imposing 7 foot 2, had just finished work as a sasquatch in Harry and the Hendersons.
The original monster suit made for the film was vastly different from the final product. The original monster was a disproportionate, awkward creature with a duck-like head. After Van Damme was removed from the film and subsequent financial troubles with the studio nearly caused the project to shut down, McTiernan began searching for a new special effects studio to handle the titular Predator's design. Schwarzenegger suggested his friend Stan Winston, whom he had worked with previously on The Terminator. While on a plane ride to Fox studios alongside Aliens director James Cameron, Winston sketched monster ideas. Cameron suggested he had always wanted to see a creature with mandibles, which became part of the Predator's iconic look.
Commitments by Schwarzenegger delayed the start of filming by several months. The delay gave Silver enough time to secure a minor rewrite from screenwriter David Peoples. Principal photography eventually began in the jungles of Palenque, Mexico, near Villahermosa, Tabasco, during the second week of April 1986. The location proved to be a dangerous one — venomous snakes often entered the crew's camp, while gunfire from rebels fighting just over the border in Guatemala could be heard at night. The majority of the film was shot in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Much of the material dealing with the unit's deployment in the jungle was completed in a few short weeks and both Silver and Gordon were pleased by the dailies provided by McTiernan. On Friday, April 25, production halted so that Schwarzenegger could fly to Hyannis Port in a Lear jet chartered by Silver in order to get to his wedding on time. He was married on April 26, 1986, to Maria Shriver, and honeymooned for two weeks in Antigua, while the second unit completed additional lensing. The production resumed filming on May 12.
Both director McTiernan and Schwarzenegger lost 25 pounds during the film — Schwarzenegger's weight loss was a professional choice; McTiernan lost the weight because he avoided the food in Mexico due to health concerns. In an interview, Carl Weathers said the actors would secretly wake up as early as 3:00 a.m. to work out before the day's shooting. Weathers also stated that he would act as if his physique was naturally given to him, and would work out only after the other actors were nowhere to be seen. It was reported that actor Sonny Landham was so unstable on the set that a bodyguard was hired; not to protect Landham, but to protect the other cast members from Landham.
According to Schwarzenegger, filming was physically demanding as he had to swim in very cold water and spent three weeks covered in mud for the climactic battle with the alien. In addition, cast and crew endured very cold temperatures in the Mexican jungle that required heat lamps to be on all of the time. Cast and crew filmed on rough terrain that, according to the actor, was never flat, "always on a hill. We stood all day long on a hill, one leg down, one leg up. It was terrible." Schwarzenegger also faced the challenge of working with Kevin Peter Hall, who could not see in the Predator suit. The actor remembers, "so when he's supposed to slap me around and stay far from my face, all of a sudden, whap! There is this hand with claws on it!" Hall stated in an interview that his experience on the film, "wasn't a movie, it was a survival story for all of us." For example, in the scene where the Predator chases Dutch, the water was foul, stagnant and full of leeches. Hall could not see out of the helmet and had to rehearse his scenes with it off and then memorize where everything was. The outfit was difficult to wear because it was heavy and off-balance.
R/Greenberg Associates created the film's optical effects, including the alien's ability to become invisible, its thermal vision point-of-view, its glowing blood, and the electrical spark effects. The look of the Predator's active camouflage, with its numerous vague outlines within the shape of the creature, came to Jim Thomas in a dream. The effect was achieved by having Hall perform in a simplified version of the Predator suit that was colored bright red (because it was the farthest opposite of the green of the jungle and the blue of the sky). The red was removed using chroma key techniques, leaving an empty area. The take was then repeated without the actors using a 30% wider lens on the camera. When the two takes were combined optically, the jungle from the second take filled in the empty area. Because the second take was filmed with a wider lens, a vague outline of the alien could be seen with the background scenery bending around its shape.
For the Predator's thermal vision, infrared film could not be used because it did not register in the range of body temperature wavelengths. The filmmakers used an inframetrics thermal video scanner as it gave good heat images of objects and people. The glowing blood was achieved by green liquid from glow sticks used by campers and mixed with personal lubricant for texture. The electrical sparks were rotoscoped animation using white paper pin registered on portable light tables to black and white prints of the film frames. The drawings were composited by the optical crew for the finished effects. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.
Release and Reception
Released on June 12, 1987, Predator was #1 at the box office in its opening weekend. Its opening weekend gross of $12 million was second to Beverly Hills Cop II in 1987. The film grossed $60 million in the U.S. and $98 million at the worldwide box office.
Initial critical reaction to the film was generally mixed, with much criticism aimed at the lack of story. Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times described it as "grisly and dull, with few surprises" Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the film is "a rather pointless thing when you get down to it, has little of the provocative intelligence that was found in "Terminator." But at least it's self-propelling in terms of suspense and cheap thrills." Dean Lamanna wrote in Cinefantastique that "the militarized monster movie tires under its own derivative weight." Variety wrote that the film was a "slightly above-average actioner that tries to compensate for tissue-thin-plot with ever-more-grisly death sequences and impressive special effects." Michael Wilmington wrote a negative review focusing on the story, proclaiming it as "arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie."
Among the positive reviews, Roger Ebert praised the film stating that, "it has good location photography and terrific special effects, and it supplies what it claims to supply: an effective action movie" but still noted that "the action moves so quickly that we overlook questions such as why would an alien species go to all the effort to send a creature to earth, just so that it could swing from the trees and skin American soldiers? Or, why would a creature so technologically advanced need to bother with hand-to-hand combat, when it could just zap Arnold with a ray gun".
Reaction to the film has warmed with time. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly named it the #22 greatest action movie of all time. The magazine also ranked the film 14th on their "The Best Rock-'em, Sock-'em Movies of the Past 25 Years" list. As of October 2013, the film holds a 78% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
Predator notably establishes several elements and plot points that would become recurring conventions for the rest of the franchise, being reused in most if not all of the subsequent Predator movies and many of the video games based on the series. These include:
- "You're one ugly motherfucker": Dutch's iconic line to the Jungle Hunter was reused in Predator 2 (said by Harrigan to the City Hunter, although the City Hunter cuts him off and finishes the line for him) and Predators (said by Nikolai to Tracker, in Russian). The line was also used in Alien vs. Predator, said by Lex to a Xenomorph, although she is cut off at "mother..." when she fires a piton gun into the Alien's skull.
- Resorting to primitive tools: In the final act of Predator, Dutch loses virtually all of his weaponry and must resort to more primitive weapons, such as a bow and arrow as well as spears, to defeat the Jungle Hunter. In Predator 2, Harrigan eventually does the same, losing all his weapons and arming himself with only the City Hunter's Smart Disc, while in Predators, Royce discards his firearms in favor of a bone axe.
- Predator self-surgery: Predator, Predator 2 and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem all include a scene that shows a Predator using the tools within its Medicomp to perform first aid upon itself, healing the wounds it has received battling opponents during the course of the film.
- Mud camouflage: Both Dutch and Royce coat themselves in wet mud to render them invisible to the thermal vision used by Predators.
- Fleeing an explosion: Both Predator and Predator 2 end with the protagonist fleeing an impending explosion on foot. Additionally, in both films the heroes emerge from the aftermath of the devastation covered in ash.
- The comic series Predator: Concrete Jungle from Dark Horse Comics is a sequel to the film, following Detective John Schaefer, Dutch's brother, as he searches for his missing sibling and encounters the Predators himself.
- Chronologically speaking, Predator is the first film in the Alien, Predator and Alien vs. Predator franchise (not counting the flashback sequence in Alien vs. Predator or the opening scene of Prometheus).
- The actor who appears briefly as the Russian advisor, Sven-Ole Thorsen, is an old bodybuilding partner and good friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger. To date, he has appeared on-screen (usually in minor non-speaking roles) in no less than thirteen Schwarzenegger movies, including Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Raw Deal, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat, Twins, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Last Action Hero, Eraser, End of Days and Collateral Damage. He has also worked behind the scenes as a trainer on several more Schwarzenegger films.
- The goblin spider genus Predatoroonops is named after the titular creature from Predator, owing to the perceived similarity between the spider's mouthparts and the Predator's mandibles. Additionally, the various sub-species of Predatoroonops all have taxonomic names that reference aspects of the film, including Predatoroonops schwarzeneggeri (named for Arnold Schwarzenegger), Predatoroonops maceliot (named for Mac Eliot), Predatoroonops vallarta (named for Puerto Vallarta, one of the filming locations on the movie) and Predatoroonops peterhalli (named for Kevin Peter Hall).
- See: Predator goofs
- Predator (novel) — The novelization of the film by Paul Monette.
- Predator (soundtrack) — The soundtrack to the film by Alan Silvestri.
- Predator (1987 video game) — The video game based on the film.
- If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator — A documentary about the making of the film.
- John McTiernan, John Davis, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Shane Black, Stan Winston. If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator (2004), 20th Century Fox [DVD].
- Jim Thomas, John Thomas. Predator 2 audio commentary (2005), 20th Century Fox [DVD].
- Ventura, Jesse. "I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up", Signet, June 12, 2000.
- "Predator". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- Jody Duncan. The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio, p. 100 (2006), Titan Books.
- Jody Duncan. The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio, p. 102 (2006), Titan Books.
- Sonny Landham - Biography
- Gire, Dan. "Schwarzenegger on Predator", Cinefantastique, December 1987.
- Gire, Dan. "Predator: The Man in the Suit", Cinefantastique, December 1987.
- Robley, Les Paul. "Predator: Special Visual Effects", Cinefantastique, December 1987.
- "1987 DOMESTIC GROSSES". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- "Predator (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- Mitchell, Elvis. "New York Times Review Predator", The New York Times, June 12, 1987, p. C6. Retrieved on May 4, 2009. “Alternately grisly and dull, with few surprises.”
- Stack, Peter. "San Francisco Chronicle Review Predator", San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 1987, p. 78. Retrieved on May 4, 2009. “The movie, a rather pointless thing when you get down to it, has little of the provocative intelligence that was found in "Terminator." But at least it's self-propelling in terms of suspense and cheap thrills.”
- Template:Cite journal
- "Predator Review - Read Variety", Variety, 1987. Retrieved on May 4, 2009.
- Wilmington, Michael. "Los Angeles Times Review Predator", Los Angeles Times, June 12, 1987, p. 6. Retrieved on May 4, 2009. “It's arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie.”
- Ebert, Roger (1987-06-12). "Predator". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- Bernardin, Mac. "The 25 Greatest Action Films Ever!". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- "Predator Movie Reviews". Retrieved on 2013-08-31.
- Brescovit, Bonaldo, Santos, Ott & Rheims, 2012: The Brazilian goblin spiders of the new genus Predatoroonops (Araneae, Oonopidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, n. 370, pp. 1–68 (whole text).