Predator: The Birth of a WILD Franchise

Predator, the 1987 sci-fi classic, managed to spawn a franchise, but for its star Arnold Schwarzenegger, this would be a one-off.

Last Updated on April 30, 2024

Just take a sneaky peak back on the movies we’ve covered so far on our ARNIE REVISITED series, and the Austrian Oak had already covered several genres in his rise from bodybuilder to Hollywood icon. Raw Deal and Commando were straight-up action movies, while his work as Conan was an epic mix of action and fantasy. You can even argue that The Terminator is a classic 80s slasher flick, and not simply the revolutionary sci-fi masterpiece it’s generally regarded as. However, he hadn’t managed to blend both horror and science fiction in any of his previous movies, in the way he did with the film we’re focusing on in today’s episode – Predator. It was such a huge success for both star and franchise that it not only helped to further cement Arnie as a Hollywood icon, but also created a franchise packed with sequels, a prequel, crossovers, video games, graphic novels, and so much more. Sure, some of the content in the Predator franchise may be somewhat hit and miss, but there’s no denying the iconic nature of the first movie, with its memorable one-liners, gory deaths and awesome jungle based action.

As we found out in our last episode, the ‘Austrian Oak’s’ last movie before taking on deadly camouflaged aliens, 1986’s Raw Deal, was a decent action flick, but not necessarily an iconic entry in his back catalogue. So, the actor was more than likely on the lookout for a script that could elevate his career and also expand upon the genres in which he had already found great success. Was Predator the movie to achieve all of this? We all know it was, of course, but just how exactly did the sci-fi epic come to be such an iconic movie of the 80s? Well, it’s time to work on those biceps, and embrace your inner goddamn sexual Tyrannosaurus, as we find out here, on ARNIE REVISITED. 

Another thing I mentioned in our Raw Deal episode, was the rivalry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and how their movies were often in the marketplace together, duking it out for that much sought after box-office revenue. So, amusingly, it was one of Stallone’s most iconic characters that led to Predator being made; if you believe the long-standing rumours that is. Following the release ofRocky IV, in which we see the Italian Stallion take down Dolph Lundgren’s pumped up Ivan Drago, a joke circulated around Hollywood that if a fifth Rocky movie was to be made, he would have to fight an alien, given that he’d run out of earthly opponents. 

Screenwriting brothers Jim and John Thomas took inspiration from the joke, and wrote a screenplay based upon it called ‘Hunter’. The original concept focused on ‘what it is to be hunted’ and featured a band of alien hunters that sought out various different targets. This was streamlined to be one extra-terrestrial hunting the most dangerous species, humans, and in particular the most dangerous kind; a combat soldier. Also, because there were constant special forces operations happening during the period in which the movie would be based, Central America was chosen as the films’ setting. However, as the Thomas brothers were still an unknown quantity in Hollywood, they struggled to gain any attention for their project, and eventually took the risky idea of slipping it under the door of 20th Century Fox producer Michael Levy. This turned out to be just the break they needed as Levy brought the screenplay to the attention of fellow producer Joel Silver, who gave the project the green light. He brought on his former boss Lawrence Gordon as co-producer and hired Nomads director John McTiernan as the movie’s director.

predator 1987

In terms of the cast, obviously our favourite ‘Austrian Oak’ got the call for the lead role of ‘Dutch’, saying at the time when producers Silver and Gordon approached him; “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”. The movie had its leading man then, but what about the rest of its macho jungle dwelling elite paramilitaries? 

Well, believe it or not the mussels from brussels, and recent advocate for mountain cold light beer, was originally cast as the Predator. Which, looking back on the character we see in the movie, seems like a pretty wild choice. Van Damme was chosen with the intent that the physical action star would use his martial arts skills to make the Predator an agile, ninja-like hunter. However, when the relatively diminutive star was compared next to his bodybuilding, six foot plus co-stars, it was pretty clear that a more physically imposing man was required to make the creature more intimidating. Also, Van Damme allegedly constantly complained about being too hot in the suffocating suit, as well as the fact that he would only appear on screen as the Predator. Ultimately Van Damme was removed from the movie, and they instead turned to seven-foot-two actor Kevin Peter Hall, who had form in playing larger than life characters, having just finished work as the sasquatch in Harry and the Hendersons. Rounding out the cast as Arnie’s elite band of soldiers was Rocky’s Carl Weathers as ‘Dillon’ while pro wrestler and former Navy Seal, Jesse Ventura, was cast as ‘Blaine’, thanks in no small part to his formidable physique. Rounding out the main players were the likes of Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves and Bill Duke, who Arnie had a rumble with in 1985’s Commando.

Filming on the movie began in March 1986 and, as per the end credits, was entirely shot in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco and Palenque Chiapas Mexico. However, sometimes big budget Hollywood productions can’t get in the way of true love, and first unit production was halted so that Arnie could get to his wedding in time, being flown in a private jet, courtesy of the production, to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. On March 26th he was married to Maria Shriver, and the couple had a whirlwind three day honeymoon while the second unit picked up additional shots. Also, in order to stay in the shape required for the muscle-bound action, Carl Weathers said that the cast would get up at 3am to work out before the day’s filming, with the actor also claiming to his co-stars that his physique was naturally given to him, only to then secretly work out when everyone else was out of sight. In fact, such were the physical demands of the movie, Schwarzenegger had gym equipment shipped out to Mexico so that he and his co-stars could work out before filming began. 

It wasn’t just staying in shape that the actors had to contend with. Visibility in the Predator suit was limited which made the tussles between Arnie and Kevin Peter Hall more perilous than they should have been, with the actor saying that, “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.” with one example being that the actors having to wade through foul and stagnant water that was full of leeches.

REVIEW: Let me just start this section of the article by saying that I absolutely adore Predator, and for the most part I’ve found a lot of merit in ‘some’ of the sequels and other instalments that have followed. I was far too young to catch Predator when it first hit cinemas in 1987, not for want of trying mind, so, I had to wait until its home entertainment release on VHS to get a sneak peak. By which I mean waiting for my considerably older brother to acquire a copy and for us to watch it with his pals when our folks had gone out for the night. We were all obsessed with the ultraviolent VFX, especially the open chest cavity and blown-off arm scenes, the ridiculous machismo and, of course, the forever quotable one-liners. 

The movie’s narrative also plays out perfectly with the plot kicking off as Schwarzenegger and his comrades venture into the jungle in search of South American officials who have been kidnapped by terrorists. The team track and locate the fugitives but soon discover they’re up against a lot more than terrorists, when they find the skinned bodies of green berets who Dutch knew, hanging from the trees. Of course, unbeknown to the team at the time, the Predator is behind these grisly killings and, thanks to an opening shot of an alien spacecraft deploying a shuttle to Earth, we already know the antagonist is an extra-terrestrial. The alien’s mission on earth is to hunt armed and dangerous human quarry and it’s not long before Arnie’s crack squad are slowly picked off in wonderfully brutal ways. Director McTiernan constructed the action with the kind of efficiency that he would go on to perfect with the similarly legendary Die Hard a year later in 1988, stringing together the mayhem and kinetic action with great aplomb.


Unlike some of Arnie’s other more kitsch 80s movies, Predator plays out with a perfect level of credibility, and, more importantly it’s aged well, despite some of the language and terms used by certain characters probably never surviving the script-writing stage nowadays.Predator has become a science fiction, horror and action classic and is clearly not just another dumb 80s Schwarzenegger flick, combining fluid direction with cheesy but hugely entertaining one-liners and gory set pieces. Plus, its villain is so iconic that it surpasses even Arnie’s Tarzan like makeover for the movie’s conclusion, and deservedly set in motion a huge and lasting future for the character.

LEGACY / NOW: Predator was released on June 12th, 1987 in US cinemas, with a gross of $12 million dollars over its opening weekend, making it the number one film at the time. Over the year it was the second highest grossing movie, behind Eddie Murphy’s juggernaut sequel, Beverly Hills Cop II, which is a great result for a movie with a relatively untested premise, but albeit with a massive star attached.

Critically, the movie was met with a somewhat mixed reception. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based upon 60 reviews, and the site’s critical consensus reads, “Predator: Part sci-fi, part horror, part action – all muscle.” This is only relevant if you listen to the views of those on that particular website, of course. From the more contemporary reviewers, The New York Times described the movie as, “grisly and dull with few surprises”, Cinefantastique wrote that, “the militarized monster movie tires under its own derivative weight” while The Los Angeles Times proclaimed it to be, “arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie”. More positive, however, were The Hollywood Reporter who said that the movie is a, “well-made, old-style assault movie” and a “full-assault” visual experience. The UK’s Empire Magazine also praised the movie, saying that, “Predator has gradually become a sci-fi and action classic. It’s not difficult to see why. John McTiernan’s direction is claustrophobic, fluid and assured, staging the action with aplomb but concentrating just as much on tension and atmosphere. A thumping piece of powerhouse cinema.” I’m with Empire on this one!

So then Arnie fans, that’s just about all we have time for in this episode, but as ever the most important aspect of these retrospectives for all of us here at JoBlo, is YOUR take on the movie. Did Arnie and co manage to create a film with a cool premise, badass action and a legacy that deserves to be associated with the now legendary alien manhunter? Or, should it be skinned and strung up like one of its ‘Prey’? Pun intended. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, and we’ll see you wonderful action fans next time, here on ARNIE REVISITED!

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