Predator (1987)

Predator is a 1987 American science fiction action horror film directed by John McTiernan and written by brothers Jim and John Thomas. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of an elite military rescue team on a mission to save hostages in guerrilla-held territory in Central America. Kevin Peter Hall co-stars as the Predator who is a technologically advanced space alien monster spying, stalking, and hunting the main characters. Predator was written in 1984, under the working title of Hunter. Filming ran from March-June 1986 and creature effects were devised by Stan Winston.

The budget was around $15 million. 20th Century Fox released it in the United States on June 12, 1987, where it grossed $98,735,548. Initial critical reaction was mixed; criticism focused on the thin plot.

In subsequent years, the general public’s attitude toward the film became positive, and it appeared on a 2015 Rolling Stone’s reader’s poll list as one of the best action films of all time. It spawned three direct sequels, Predator 2 (1990), Predators (2010) and The Predator (2018). A crossover with the Alien franchise produced the Alien vs. Predator films, which includes Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007).

A spacecraft flies near Earth and releases an object which enters the atmosphere. Some time later, in a Central American jungle, U.S. Army Special Forces Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer and his elite military rescue team — Mac, Billy, Blain, Poncho, and Hawkins — are tasked by their commander with rescuing an official held hostage by insurgents. CIA agent Dillon, a former commando and an old friend of Dutch, is assigned to supervise the team, despite Dutch’s objections.

The team discovers the wreckage of a helicopter and three skinned corpses, identified by Dutch as Green Berets he knew personally at Fort Bragg. Dutch’s team reaches the insurgent camp and kills the insurgents, including a Soviet intelligence officer searching through valuable documents. Confronted by Dutch, Dillon admits the mission was a setup to retrieve intelligence from captured operatives and that the dead military unit disappeared weeks earlier in a failed rescue.

After capturing Anna, a guerrilla, the team proceeds to their extraction point, unaware that they are being tracked with thermal imaging by an unseen observer. Anna escapes and is chased by Hawkins, but they are ambushed by the creature. It spares Anna but kills Hawkins and drags his body away. Dutch organizes a manhunt, during which Blain is killed by the creature’s plasma weapon. Enraged, Mac initiates a firefight in which the creature is wounded, revealing luminescent green blood. The unit regroups and realizes that something in the jungle is stalking them. Dillon believes more guerrillas are responsible, but Billy is adamant that the perpetrator is not human, an assertion that is met with skepticism. The team makes camp for the night, setting traps in all directions.

That night the traps are set off, and Mac kills a wild pig, mistaking it for the creature. In the confusion, the creature steals Blain’s body and Dutch realizes that their enemy uses the trees to travel, stalking them like a predator. An attempt to trap the creature fails, leaving Poncho injured. Mac and Dillon pursue the alien, but it outmaneuvers and kills them. The creature catches up with the others, killing Billy and Poncho and wounding Dutch. Realizing the creature does not target unarmed prey because there is “no sport”, Dutch sends Anna to the helicopter unarmed.

The creature pursues Dutch into a river and its cloaking device malfunctions. The creature, now visible, gets within a few feet of a mud-covered Dutch. His thermal signature reduced, Dutch remains unseen by the creature and it moves on. Dutch realizes he can use mud as camouflage.

While the creature collects trophies from the bodies, Dutch crafts traps and weapons and lures the creature out with a war cry and fire. Dutch disables the creature’s cloaking device and inflicts minor injuries but becomes cornered. Acknowledging Dutch as a worthy foe, the creature discards its mask and plasma weapon and engages him in hand-to-hand combat. Dutch is almost beaten, but manages to crush the creature under a trap’s counterweight. As the creature lies dying, it activates a self-destruct device while laughing maniacally. Dutch takes cover just before the device explodes, resulting in a mushroom cloud. He is picked up by his commander and Anna in the helicopter.

Cast

Following the release of Rocky IV, a joke circulated in Hollywood that since Rocky Balboa had run out of earthly opponents, he would have to fight an alien if a fifth film were to be made. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took the inspiration from the joke and wrote a screenplay based on it. The Thomas script for Predator was originally titled Hunter. The original idea, centered around the idea of “what it is to be hunted”, centered around a band of alien hunters of various species seeking various targets, which was eventually streamlined to one extraterrestrial hunting the most dangerous species, humans, and the “most dangerous man”, a combat soldier. Additionally, the setting was chosen as Central America for having constant special forces operations during that period.

The script was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985, and turned over to producer Joel Silver who, based on his experience with Commando, decided to turn the 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. New Zealand director Geoff Murphy was also considered to direct.

The original monster was a disproportionate, ungainly creature with large yellow eyes and a dog-like head, and nowhere near as agile as necessary. McTiernan consulted Stan Winston after production became troubled. 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.

Silver and Gordon first approached Arnold Schwarzenegger with the lead role. To play the elite band of soldiers, both Silver and Gordon, with co-producer John Davis, searched 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. Also cast were Sonny Landham and Richard Chaves and Bill Duke, who co-starred alongside Schwarzenegger in Commando,.

Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator with the intent that the physical action star would use his martial arts skills to make the Predator an agile, ninja-like 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 and caused him to pass out. He allegedly had also repeatedly voiced reservations about only appearing on camera in the suit. Additionally, the original design for the Predator was felt to be too cumbersome and difficult to manage in the jungle and, even with a more imposing actor, did not provoke enough fear. Van Damme was removed from the film and replaced by Kevin Peter Hall.

Released on June 12, 1987, Predator was #1 at the US box office in its opening weekend with a gross of $12 million, which was second to only Beverly Hills Cop II for the calendar year 1987. The film grossed $98,267,558, of which $59,735,548 was from the US & Canadian box office. $38,532,010 was made overseas.

Comments are welcome on your 80s memories...