Let’s Talk About ‘Predator’ (1987)

Predator stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, the leader of an elite commando rescue team. Originally on a mission to save hostages in a guerrilla-held territory in a Central American rainforest, things take a turn for the worse when they are hunted by an extraterrestrial warrior that kills for sport. A little bit of sci-fi. A little bit of horror. A lot of machismo. It’s a testosterone-charged gun-fest. In recent times Predator has become something of a meme generator, and even though initial reviews were mixed, it’s now considered an action classic. 

What Predator Means to Us

I saw Predator with my pops. I remember the theater well, though it’s sadly no longer a theater. We saw a ton of movies there. Batman, The Abyss, Action Jackson, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. There was a little game room next door. It had After Burner, the kind you sit in that moves around on a hydraulic gimbal.

Going to that movie theater, seeing action movies with my dad, and playing video games with him in that arcade afterward—man, those are among my best childhood memories. And that’s what Predator means to me.

–Billy Dhalgren

This movie is just pure awesome and it is one of the best ’80s sci-fi action movies to boot. It’s got a simple plot that pits man vs alien without all the extraneous backstory explanation like the sequels. I wish John McTiernan had come back for the second film instead of whoever directed the lazy sequel (that I like at the time), maybe we would have had a more solid franchise to build then. Minus the Terminator films, this is probably my favorite Ahnuld film, The Running Man is up there too. But in this one, he got to really fill the character more than in his previous movies. I liked him and his team. Anyway, this one I can pretty much watch anytime it’s on. It’s just so damn good.

–K. Alvarez

Evolution of the Predator

The original Predator was going to be a ninja-like hunter. Agile and stealthy, stalking its victims from the jungle canopy. This led to Jean-Claude Van Damme being cast for the role. A relative unknown at the time, the thought was that he could utilize his martial arts expertise to form a ferocious antagonist. Unfortunately, when 5’9″ Van Damme stood next to the hulking Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura (who all stood over 6 feet tall with muscles upon muscles), it became apparent a more physically imposing enemy was needed.

The crew did try to fit Van Damme into the new version of the Predator suit, but that was never going to work. Van Damme said, “My head was in the neck. My hands were in the forearms, and there were cables attached to my fingers to move the creature’s head and jaws. My feet were in his calves, so I was on stilts”. Additionally, it was reported that Van Damme constantly complained about the monster suit being too hot, causing him to pass out. There are conflicting reports as to why Van Damme eventually left the set but it seems apparent that he wasn’t suited to the role from the start. 

In the end, 7’2″ actor Kevin Peter Hall replaced him. The redesigned suit featured heavy armor, wrist blades, dreadlocks, an iconic mask, and a hideous-looking mouth underneath. It was imperative that the actor inside was confident in his role. On the second try, they got the right man.

 Story Origins

There has been a long-standing urban myth about how the initial idea for a Predator film came about. As the story goes, following the release of Rocky IV a joke circulated in Hollywood that since Rocky Balboa (played by Schwarzenegger’s screen rival Sylvester Stallone) had just defeated the ultimate opponent in Ivan Drago, he had now run out of earthly opposition and would have to fight an alien if a fifth film was going to be made.  Over the years, it’s become something of an accepted fact that the seed for Predator was born from this Rocky vs alien gag. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true. Series creators Jim and John Thomas stated that they started working on Predator in 1983. With Rocky IV being released in 1985, the math just doesn’t add up. They also said the original story was about a group of aliens coming to Earth to stalk human prey. They eventually decided on one hunter (The Predator), who would chase a team of elite soldiers until only one was left. It’s possible the Rocky vs alien joke inspired 20th Century Fox to give Predator the greenlight, but I think we can safely say it wasn’t how the idea originated.

Visual Effects

Predator includes a number of special effects, most of which still look good today. The standouts are the thermal vision used by the Predator, as well as its ability to become invisible. For the thermal vision, infrared film could not be used as it did not register in the range of body temperature wavelengths. Instead, the filmmakers used an Inframetrics thermal video scanner, as it was able to give defined heat images of objects and people. 

Capturing the look of the Predator’s active camouflage was a more complicated process. The effect was achieved by having Kevin Peter Hall perform in a simplified version of the Predator suit that was colored bright red (the opposite of the green jungle). The red was then removed using chroma key techniques, which left an empty area. The take was then repeated without the actors, using a camera lens that was 30% wider. 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. While it doesn’t look quite as sharp today as it did back in1987, the trick was extremely innovative for its time. 

Both of these techniques contributed to the film being nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.


The budget for Predator was approximately $15 million, and on its US release, it grossed $98.3 million. The movie’s success launched a franchise of films (including three direct sequels), novels, comic books, video games, and toys. A crossover with the Alien franchise led to Alien vs. Predator, which is a franchise all in its own right. 

While the film sequels failed to live up to the high standard of the original, a new film in the series titled Prey is due to be released this year, showing there is still an appetite to capture the magic of the 1987 classic. Or at least to make money off its name.

Have you seen Predator? What did you think of the film? Got a fun fact or piece of trivia on the making of the film? Share it in the comments below!

Author: Lee McCutcheon

Happy to watch absolutely anything, with a soft spot for world cinema.