Director – John McTiernan, Screenplay – Jim Thomas & John Thomas, Producers – John Davis, Lawrence Gordon & Joel Silver, Photography – Donald McAlpine, Music – Alan Silvestri, Visual Effects – Robert M. Greenberg Assocs, Special Effects – Al Disario & Jesus Duran, Creature Effects – H. Gordon Davis Productions & Stan Winston, Production Design – John Vallone. Production Company – American Films/American Entertainment Pictures.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Major Dutch Schaefer), Carl Weathers (Dillon), Elpidia Carillo (Anna), Bill Duke (Mac), Sonny Landham (Billy), Jesse Ventura (Blain), Shane Black (Hawkins), Richard Chaves (Dench), Kevin Peter Hall (The Predator)
A crack detachment of US Special Forces under Major Dutch Schaefer are sent into the jungle of a politically hostile South American country to rescue a group of VIPs downed in a helicopter crash. Once in the jungle, they instead become hunted by an alien creature, hidden by an invisible forcefield, that views them as game.
You can almost envision the way that Predator was pitched to the studio. It was clearly rushed out soon after the success of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). The thinking must have been to crosshatch Aliens with the military jungle action of the even bigger hit from a couple of years earlier Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). The idea of alien hunting humans as game was also prefigured somewhat in the low-budget Without Warning (1980), which also featured Kevin Peter Hall, who plays the Predator here, cast as the alien hunter.
The real source for Predator however is Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game (1924), which has been filmed several times, most notably as The Most Dangerous Game/The Hounds of Zaroff (1932), A Game of Death (1945) and Run for the Sun (1956), and several times unofficially with the likes of Bloodlust (1961) and The Woman Hunt (1973), the same year’s Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987), action films like Death Ring (1993), the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Hard Target (1993), Surviving the Game (1994), The Eliminator (2004), The Condemned (2007) and another science-fiction variant, the cheap and terrible Star Hunter (1995).
The Most Dangerous Game told the story of a man trapped on an island where he is forced to rely on his wits and bare hands against a bored Russian aristocrat who regarded hunting humans as the high form of prey. Predator substitutes an impressive Stan Winston creature, clearly modelled on H.R. Giger’s Alien (1979), for Connell’s Russian Count (or a Nazi in some of the film versions) but in all essential regards it is the same story.
Predator was mounted as a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger who was then at the height of his popularity. The film was a big hit and developed a substantial afterlife on video. Predator also served to announce the presence of director John McTiernan to the world. McTiernan had previously made the excellent and underrated but little-seen urban phantoms story Nomads (1986). The next year John McTiernan would go onto direct Die Hard (1988), one of the most influential action films of the decade, and then followed it up with the gripping submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990). The three of these signalled McTiernan as a major new action director. (See below for John McTiernan’s other genre films).
Here McTiernan lets loose like an armoured powerhouse. For a film that makes no pretence to anything other than action, the results emerge particularly well. The appearances of the Predator and its digital camouflage are unworldly. The combat is staged with an exhilaratingly pyrotechnic kick. The military manoeuvers are directed with considerable style – clearly, either McTiernan or some advisor behind the scenes had had hands-on military training as the way the soldiers move looks like they are in the midst of real action.
Outside of John McTiernan’s kinetic intensity, Predator tends to be a comic-book of a film. The score comes in chopping blocks of unsubtle martial music. Arnold Schwarzenegger only emotes by dilating his eyes. The plot is one-dimensional. Around this time, Schwarzenegger would invariably have scripts rewritten to provide him with one-liners – in one scene, he impales a guerrilla on a wall with a thrown machete then delivers a wince inducing “Stick around.” However, plot is the thing that Predator needs the least – action is its raison d’être. The film’s true intent seems unconsciously mirrored in the opening introduction of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers, later to become a minor action star of his own, where the two engage in an impromptu arm-wrestle and the camera’s eye focuses not on their faces but their bulging, straining muscles. Here John McTiernan is clearly announcing that he is making a man’s man film. It also seems an unconscious reflection that indicates that the real thrust of Predator is going to lie in the macho theatrics rather than anything involving subtleties of character interplay.
There was three sequels with the okay Predator 2 (1990) starring Danny Glover, Predators (2010) starring Adrien Brody, The Predator (2018) and Prey (2022), which pitted the Predator against Native Americans. Rumours floated around for more than a decade that 20th Century Fox would combine the Predator series with their other money-spinner, the Alien series. Numerous Aliens vs Predator spec scripts floated about on the web. These finally reached fruition as AVP: Alien vs Predator (2004), which was successful enough to spawn a sequel with AVPR: Aliens vs Predator Requiem (2007). The Predator series was spun off into a popular comic book from Dark Horse Comics where the Predator has taken on everybody from Batman to the Alien to Judge Dredd and the X-Men. In graphic form, the Aliens vs Predator series went on to become its own entire line of comics.
John McTiernan’s other genre films are:– the urban ghost story Nomads (1986), the Tom Clancy hi-tech submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990), the environmentally conscious Medicine Man (1992) about the discovery of a cancer cure in the Amazonian rainforest, the hilarious and much maligned meta-fictional action movie parody Last Action Hero (1993), the Michael Crichton historical adaptation The 13th Warrior (1999) about Vikings vs Neanderthals, and the remake of Rollerball (2002).
Screenwriters, brothers Jim and John Thomas, went onto write other military action films such as Executive Decision (1996) and Behind Enemy Lines (2001), and returned to the science-fiction genre with Wild Wild West (1999) and Mission to Mars (2000).