Predator was released in 1987 to a fairly lukewarm reception from critics. The moviegoing public loved it almost instantly though and, over time, it has earned its place as an ’80s action classic.
Directed by action master John McTiernan and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – as well as a host of former wrestlers and body builders – the film tells the story of a group of commandos hunted by a killer extraterrestrial and, with design work provided by the Stan Winston Studio, the Predator itself has become an iconic movie monster.
In 30 huge facts about Predator, we tell the making of story behind an action/sci fi classic.
1. The start of the movie was originally very different
The film starts with the team of commandos on board a helicopter cracking wise and listening to Long Tall Sally by Little Richard. Originally, though, director John McTiernan planned something different. He wanted the team to arrive in the jungle not by helicopter, but via a team halo jump. What was going to happen was the team’s plane would under fire from a mig and the pilot would try to leave. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) would hold a gun to the pilot’s head to force him over the landing zone, then run and leap out the back ramp, grabbing a parachute on the way.
The opening to Predator as we see it in the film
2. One of the cast needed a bodyguard
Sonny Landham – who played Billy, the team’s expert tracker – was known to have such a short fuse that the studio hired a bodyguard to protect people from him. This bodyguard followed Landham everywhere he went to make sure he didn’t get into any trouble on the set.
On this, McTiernan said: “We had this 6’8″ tall giant who had to follow Sonny around 24 hours a day the entire time he worked on the movie and make sure that he never misbehaved.”
Billy meets his end at the hands of the Predator
3. Some of the cast had real-life military experience
Blain Cooper is the team’s heavy gunner and is played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura – a WWF wrestler in his film debut. Ventura was a real-life Navy SEAL before becoming an actor. And Richard Chaves, who plays Poncho, served in Vietnam so had military experience too.
Ventura was actually interviewed for the role by Schwarzenegger himself. Arnold recommended him to McTiernan and said, “He’s big, he’s got a deep voice, and he’s manly.”
4. Schwarzenegger and Ventura were in competition
When Ventura was being fitted for his costumes at the start of production, the wardrobe department told him that his arms were one inch bigger than Schwarzenegger’s. So when he was back on the set, Ventura said to the Austrian Oak that they should measure arms to compare sizes, the winner getting a bottle of champagne. They measured arms, and Schwarzenegger’s were bigger. Ventura lost because Arnold had stitched Ventura up and asked wardrobe to tell Ventura he had bigger arms.
5. A character tic was brought in by the actor
Bill Duke plays Sergeant Mac Elliot – one of the team’s machine gunners. He has a distinctive character tic where he shaves even though he’s already clean-shaven, and this tic was brought to the table by Duke. The scene where he presses the razor so hard into his cheek that he starts bleeding was a specially made razor that squirted blood.
Mac’s shaving tic
6. The cast went through some rigorous training
To make the team more believable as a trained unit, McTiernan arranged for the actors playing the commandos to be given military training. A military adviser called Gary Goldman was brought in, and McTiernan told him: “These guys look like ballerinas. Toughen ‘em up”.
So Goldman put the actors through the below drills:
- They walked 20 mile treks through the Mexican jungle.
- Goldman took them on road runs in the mountains.
- He set them drills and simulations for a few days.
Jorge Chaves tells a story where, in the middle of training, he lay down for a rest in the middle of the jungle trek and when he sat up he was covered in hundreds of ants that started biting him. He went into shock and ran through the jungle ripping his clothes off.
Jesse Ventura already had military training from his time in the Navy SEALS and he said, “I’ll put it this way: I wouldn’t wanna go in real with these guys, but I’ll definitely do a film with them.”
7. The first big action scene took a lot of peparation
McTiernan gives us a taster of the commandos in action when they ambush a village of hostage-holding insurgents. It’s a huge set piece, and there are so many explosions in the sequence that it took the crew 2 weeks to rig the jungle up with explosives. They didn’t destroy any of the jungle as that location had aleady been burned down in a fire a couple of years before, though they did spend time spray painting the stumps black. Then, when they started shooting, 300 Mexican extras showed up when they only needed 100. McTiernan paid them all then sent 200 of them on their way.
8. McTiernan didn’t shoot the first action sequence
This ambush is the first big set piece, but it wasn’t actually shot by John McTiernan. It was shot by the 2nd unit director – called Craig Baxley – who had previously worked on the A-Team TV show. When McTiernan saw what Baxley had done he didn’t like it and said, “It’s stuntman style – static shot after static shot. This isn’t a war movie!” However, he was convinced by producer Joel Silver to keep it in.
9. The Predator POV is based on science fact
Some of the most memorable images from Predaor are the point of view shots of the alien. It sees by identifying heat signals. According to scientists, the Predator POV is very similar to how a snake sees its prey. To pull it off, they tried real heat vision cameras but the camera cord only stretched four feet from the van.
Also, because the ambient temperature in Mexico was 90 degrees Farenheit, the actors were the same temperature as the background, and couldn’t be seen on heat vision.They tried spraying trees with ice water and making the actors stand by a fire but that didn’t work.
In the end, the effect was created by using multiple types of camera at once, and the use of expensive digital effects. Money for the latter wasn’t in the budget, so McTiernan had to plead to Joel Silver to pay for it, which he did.
The Predator’s POV
10. McTiernan wasn’t the first person asked to direct the film
The director of Predator was John McTiernan who, by following up with Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990), earned a reputation as a top-tier action director.
Before McTiernan was asked though, there was another name attached to Predator as director. Geoff Murphy, known as the New Zealand Spielberg (apparently) – who would later direct Young Guns II (1990), Freejack (1992) and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) – was the first person approached.
A few years before this, Murphy had interviewed to be the director of what would’ve been Conan The Barbarian 3 – starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. He was interviewed by Schwarzenegger himself and, during the interview, Murphy called the character, “Conan The Librarian” – which did not go down well with Arnold.
So Murphy was out, and they started looking for a new director. Producer John Davis remembered seeing John McTiernan’s Nomads (1986) and being impressed by the atmosphere he created on a budget of less than $1 million. He screened Nomads to Schwarzenegger and Joel Silver, and they loved it. So McTiernan was in.
11. McTiernan had a vision for the movie
Despite the obvious influences of films like Alien (1979), Aliens (1986) and The Thing (1982), McTiernan saw Predator as more like King Kong (1933). In his words:
“A bunch of guys go to an island, and go deeper and deeper, then, SHAZAM, the thing they’re chasing turns out to be a lot bigger than they thought, and they have to turn around and run away!”
12. There were some major production issues to deal with
McTiernan’s work on the film as director has been acclaimed since its release but, filming in Mexican jungles, there were issues that McTiernan had to deal with throughout:
- Pretty much every member of the cast and crew got sick during production. Due to the extreme heat, and the drinking water at the hotel not being filtered properly, came down with diarrhea and fever.
- McTiernan wouldn’t eat the local food and lost 25lbs during filming. Arnold Schwrzenegger was the same and McTiernan said he grew noticeably thinner through filming.
- McTiernan also broke his wrist during filming when he fell out of a tree.
- Also, the production designer – John Vallone – didn’t do his research and had no idea that the trees would lose their leaves. When they did, they had to fly in tons of fake leaves to make them look more dense.
- Carl Weathers has been quoted as saying: “One of my overriding memories of Predator is the image of John McTiernan with his head in his hands.”
13. The cast and crew were very complimentary of Arnold
Gary Goldman – the military consultant – said he was impressed with Schwarzenegger’s effort and how seriously he took the training.
The Director of Photography was Donal McAlpine and he said that Arnold knew what he was good at and what he wasn’t so good at, telling the following story: “There’d be rewrites every morning, and one morning Arnold steamed out of his trailer straight up to John, grabbed him by the collar and said: ‘There are too many words here. I’ll do three.'”
Arnold got married to Maria Shriver in the middle of the shoot and John Davis said they all flew to the wedding on Friday, rehearsed Friday night, Arnold got married on Saturday, had a 2-day honeymoon, and was back on the set on Wednesday.
14. Schwarzenegger had his own problems, too
Like John McTiernan, Arnold had some on-set hardships to contend with:
- He didn’t like the terrain of the Mexican jungles and said: “We were always on a hill. One leg up, one leg down. It was terrible.”
- During the end sequence where Arnold is caked in mud (which was actually pottery clay) his body temperature dropped by a few degrees. They tried to warm him up by giving him jagertee – Austrian punch – but Arnold said, “the more I had, the more drunk I got.”
Dutch faces the Predator
15. Carl Weathers seemed to have a great time making the film
Carl Weathers played CIA man Dillon in the film and, listening to Weathers interviews in the years since, its obvious that he had a wonderful time on set. He said:
“We had great times. It was a great group of guys – crazy guys – in the jungle, smoking big cigars, drinking really good drinks. And pumpin’ iron! Crazy, crazy guys.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a big cigar smoker (not just in the film, but off-camera as well) and he got Carl Weathers addicted to them too. Weathers says:
“Being the athlete that I am, never in a million years would I let tobacco touch my lips. But I sat there getting a whiff of this great, great aroma of this stogie. Arnold eventually said ‘Carly, you want one?’ ‘Sure, why not?’ It was all over… within a few days, Arnold had a box of stogies delivered to me.”
Carl Weathers as Dillon in the film
16. A famous movie star almost played the Predator
The man in the Predator costume is Kevin Peter Hall. However, somebody very famous was originally cast to play the Predator.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was the first person in the suit. The idea was that JCVD would use his martial arts skills to play the Predator as a ninja alien that would do kung fu kicks and perform the splits. There are photographs of Van Damme on-set but he was only there for 2 days before he was let go. When you hear speculation about why Van Damme left though, there are different versions as to what happened.
- Some say it was because Van Damme complained too much. Arnold called JCVD, “a relentless complainer.” And Jackie Burch, the casting director, said: “He’s quite amazing. No-one moves like him. But he complained too much. So they fired him.”
- Some say he couldn’t stand the heat. Bill Duke says: “Jean-Claude had to wear a suit that covered his body in 100 degree temperatures and passed out twice from dehydration. Joel Silver said, “JC, I know it’s hot, but we’re losing time, If you pass out one more time, we gotta fire you.” He did, so they did.
- Some say Van Damme didn’t like the Predator head. So when they first put it on him he smashed it on the floor. It cost $20,000, so Joel Silver fired him.
- Others say he did too much kickboxing. The special effects supervisor Joel Hynek said: “Joel was saying, ‘You gotta stop kickboxing! The Predator is not a kickboxer.’ And Van Damme was like ‘That’s how I see the Predator.’ And Joel said, ‘Well, you’re fired. Get out.’ Van Damme says, ‘Kiss my balls!’ and walks out.”
- And John Davis said: “we realized the Predator couldn’t be 5-foot-6.”
JCVD on the set
17. Van Damme was replaced very quickly
So JCVD was out, and McTiernan decided to bring 7’2” Kevin Peter Hall in to play the Predator.
Hall was cast as the Predator for this film and Predator 2 (1990) because of his height and also because he had experience playing other monsters. Up to this point, he had already appeared in 7 films where he’d been credited as monster, alien, or mutant.
Also, the same year Predator was released – 1987 – Hall played sasquatch in Harry and The Hendersons.
On Predator, like most of the rest of the cast and crew, Kevin Peter Hall found things tough. The suit weighed over 200lbs so had to be held up by a rig to support the weight, so Hall could move it. He was wearing the suit in sweltering conditions and also couldn’t see out of the mask so had to memorise where he had to walk to in scenes.
We do see Kevin Peter Hall’s face at one point though as he plays somebody other than the Predator. In the scene at the end where we see inside a helicopter, one of the pilots is Kevin Peter Hall.
Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator
18. Even one of the guns became a kind of character
The huge automatic weapon that Mac and Blaine fire is a minigun that they call ‘Ol’ Painless’. Usually, that type of weapon is mounted to the side of a helicopter. Because of that, modifications had to be made to make it usable in the film:
- Ol’ Painless was powered via an electrical cable hidden down the front of Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s trousers.
- The gun’s firing rate was slowed down to one-third its normal rate. Otherwise, the spinning of the barrels wasn’t visible on film as it was so fast.
- Ol’ Painless was so heavy that they had to shoot those scenes in short bursts because the actors couldn’t carry it for very long.
Ol’ Painless gets its moment in the film
19. The inspiration for the film came from a bad joke
In 1985 there was a joke going round Hollywood that, after beating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985), Rocky Balboa would have to fight an alien if a 5th film were made. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took inspiration from this questionable gag and wrote the screenplay for what became Predator.
20. The film changed quite a lot from the original screenplay
Having written the screenplay, the Thomas’ had to go through several drafts and make a lot of changes based on studio requests.
- The script wasn’t originally called Predator, it was called Hunter. The name was changed to Predator because there was a US TV series at the time called Hunter.
- The original script focused on a band of alien hunters. Over time, this changed to being one alien.
- And the film originally featured a Native American soldier as the lead. This character eventually evolved into Billy.
So some things changed, but the core idea of the film always remained. Jim Thomas said, “The original conceit was always, “What would it be like to be hunted by a dilettante hunter from another planet the way we hunt big game in Africa?” What’s the most dangerous creature? Man. And what’re the most dangerous men? Combat soldiers.”
21. The writers had to be sneaky to sell the script
The writers of Predator – John and Jim Thomas – didn’t have an agent in 1986 and had never sold anything to a studio. They went to some lengths to get the spec script for Hunter into the hands of 20th Century Fox by sneaking onto the Fox lot and slipping it under the door of an executive’s office. Somehow, it ended up being picked up by Fox and turned over to Joel Silver to produce. Silver had just came off Commando (1985) so decided to turn what was a B-Movie Cannon Films-style concept into a big-budget action film.
22. There was a more high-profile writer involved in the production
Aside from Jim and John Thomas, there was another – and considerably more well known – writer on the set of Predator. Fresh from the sale of Lethal Weapon (1987), Shane Black had been brought in by Joel Silver as an actor. Black plays commando Rick Hawkins, but Silver had an ulterior motive. He also wanted Black on hand to spruce up the script when needed. Black though, wasn’t keen on the idea of writing. He wrote a couple of jokes his character says in the first act, but not much else.
John Davis said: “We asked him to do a rewrite, and he said he was an actor in the movie and not a writer. So he was the first person we killed. We killed him seven minutes into the movie.”
Shane Black as Hawkins
23. An experienced head was brought in to handle the music
Originally, Joel Silver wanted Michael Kamen to write the music after working with him on Lethal Weapon. Kamen, however, was unavailable due to working on Adventures in Babysitting (1987).
At this point, Silvestri had already been in the industry a good 15 years, but it was only in the last 3 that he’d started to become well known. This was because of his work on Flight Of The Navigator (1986) and 2 Robert Zemeckis films – Romancing The Stone (1984) and Back To The Future (1985).
After hearing Silvestri’s score for Back To The Future, John McTiernan recommended him to Joel Silver. Silver agreed and brought him in.
Alan Silvestri’s score for Predator
24. The alien creature was originally very different
Some big names worked on Predator, and they don’t come much bigger than special effects guru Stan Winston. Winston’s work was actually uncredited on the film because he came in late in the day to drag the production out of the mud. As we tell the story, all will become clear.
The original idea for the alien that came from first drafts of the script was for a stealthy, ninja-like creature that could move quickly through the trees. With this in mind, a company called Boss Film Studios was hired to design and build the creature. Boss Film Studios was owned by Richard Edlund, who had worked for ILM, and Boss had also worked on Ghostbusters (1984) so they had a great track record to this point.
Problems first started showing up when the costume for the predator was late arriving on set. McTiernan shot all of the scenes not involving the predator but was getting nervous when it took weeks to show up. Eventually, though, a huge wooden box arrived – the predator costume was inside and nobody outside Boss Film Studios had yet seen it.
McTiernan remembers this moment by saying:
“We took crowbars and opened the crate. It was so exciting. We lifted it out of the box, looked at each other and said, ‘We are in trouble…’”
Arnold said on the costume: “It had the body of a lizard and the head of a duck.”
The below is that original costume:
The Boss Studios design of the predator
25. Stan Winston saved the day
Fox agreed that the design of the Predator was not up to scratch and put the movie on hiatus and stopped production to allow Boss Film Studios to redesign the alien. This is where Joel Silver stepped up to the plate. He had no faith in Boss and managed to convince the studio not just to finance another company to design and build the suit, he convinced them to spend twice as much as they had before.
Stan Winston was the person Silver wanted – and for good reason, he was the best in the business. In the previous couple of years he had built the Terminator (1984) endoskeleton and won an Oscar for his work on Aliens (1986). Winston was hired and paid $1.5 million dollars to design the Predator again from scratch.
26. Winston took influence from diverse sources
In creating the Predator, Stan Winston took inspiration from African tribesmen, Celtic Warriors, fish, bats, locusts and snakes, as well as another famous filmmaker…
In a stroke of Hollywood destiny, when Winston was on the way to Fox to discuss Predator, he found himself on an aeroplane sitting next to James Cameron, who had recently directed The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986). He told Cameron what he was working on and Cameron said, “you know, I always wanted to see something with mandibles” and Winston thought, “that’s a good idea” and used it for the Predator.
27. Other talented effects artists were involved, too
Stan Winston’s design work was superb, but another team were also involved in creating the Predator’s unique look.
The Predator has a personal cloaking device that hides it from its prey and, when activated, the cloak creates a distorted effect on the screen.
The mastermind behind this was Special Effects supervisor Joel Hynek, working with artists Robert and Richard Greenberg. And this is how they created the effect:
- A crew member would wear a bright red suit and play the part of the Predator in the scene. The reason they chose red is because red is the opposite hue of green on the colour chart – and the jungle is mostly green.
- The red suit is then removed from the relevant frames in the film. This was an early version of ‘green screen.’
- The take was then repeated – without the Predator – on a 30% wider lens and when those two takes were combined, the jungle from the second take would fill in the empty area from the first and, because it’s on a wider lens, it leaves a vague outline of the Predator, creating the illusion the Predator is wearing a cloaking device.
When Joel Silver went back to the studio to get more funding for the redesign of the Predator, he actually showed them footage of the cloak effect and said, “look how cool this is – imagine this, and then when the monster appears, it’s even cooler?”
How the Predator’s cloak appears in the film
28. That wasn’t the end of creating the Predator
The finishing trouches in creating the Predator were as follows:
- The head was separate to the main costume and had 9 servomotors that moved the mandibles and cheeks. Kevin Peter Hall was able to operate it himself with his own jaw.
- The Predator’s green blood, which we see glowing on the leaves after Mac shoots it with Ol’ Painless, is the liquid from inside a glowstick.
- The Predator makes a clicking sound. This was recorded by a voice artist called Peter Cullen and he took inspiration from the noise crabsmake , because he thought the Predator looked a bit crab-like.
29. Predator wasn’t exactly a critical darling
On its release in 1987, Predator was met with very mixed reviews.
Roger Ebert was complimentary. He gave the film 3 out of 4 and said:
“Conceived at the end of a 10-second brainstorming session, Predator moves at a breakneck pace, it has strong and simple characterizations, it has good location photography and terrific special effects, and it supplies what it claims to supply: an effective action movie.”
Janet Maslin, critic for the New York Times, said:
“Alternately grisly and dull. The Predator looks like a man-sized lizard, can disguise itself like a chameleon, contains high-tech computer components and has dreadlocks on its head. Something for everyone.”
Duane Byrge, of the Hollywood reporter, said:
“Predator’s final scenes, with a mud-coated, primeval-looking Schwarzenegger locked in battle against the lizard, knight-like monster, are terrific — two big guys going at it in the mud.”
And Barry Norman said:
“In Predator Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on an 8ft tall homicidal alien from space – guess….who… wins?”
Predator’s stature grew over the years and it is now widely regarded as an ’80s action classic. Today on Rotten Tomatoes, Predator has an approval rating of 81% from critics and 87% from audiences, and on IMDb, it has a score of 7.8 out of 10.
30. The film was a huge hit on release
Predator received a mixed critical reception when it was released. That didn’t stop it being a big commercial success though.
On a budget of $15 million, Predator grossed $59.7 million. So quite the return.
Predator actually had the second biggest opening weekend of 1987, behind Beverly Hills Cop II.
And we’re in the chopper – 30 fascinating and fun facts about th 1980s action classic. Please share on your social platforms, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
Stay up-to-date with all things All The Right Movies by signing up for our e-newsletter.