It’s a Classic: ‘Predator’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“If it bleeds, we can kill it”

Predator a

A deadly foe – the technologically advanced and lethal hunter of ‘Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1987 

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by:  John McTiernan / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

An elite special forces unit find themselves being hunted by a deadly creature in the jungles of Central America…

In review:  why it’s a classic

An adrenaline induced and suspenseful science fiction actioner, Predator is the first – and indisputably best – entry in what would become 20th Century Fox’s other iconic SF creature franchise.  With a cast lead by action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John McTiernan (who would helm another classic the following year – Die Hard), Predator is highly entertaining.

The set-up is simple: a crack military team are sent into the guerrilla-infested jungles of Central America on a mission to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter.  Discovering the skinned bodies of their comrades, the team soon find themselves in a fight for survival as an alien creature, which collects the skulls of its victims as trophies, begins hunting them down.  The execution is superb, writers Jim & John Thomas, together with the cast, provide a troupe of tough but likeable characters:  team leader ‘Dutch’ is played assuredly by Schwarzenegger (quickly reaching the height of his superstardom at this point), ably supported by Carl Weathers as Dillon, a former colleague turned-CIA man with the roster filled out by Bill Duke as ‘Mac’, Jesse Ventura as Blaine, the late Sonny Landham as Billy, Richard Chaves as Poncho and Shane Black – future writer and director of 2018’s The Predator (and who also provided uncredited contributions to the script for Predator) stars as Hawkins.  Caught up in the terror is Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, a captured guerrilla who joins Dutch and his unit as they attempt to reach extraction.

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Action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the cast of ‘Predator’ as ‘Dutch’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

John McTiernan directs with confidence and skill, delivering scintillating and satisfying action.  Yet it’s the slowly unwinding element of suspense that makes Predator so engrossing, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, time is taken for events to unfold creating an increasing sense of unease.  The unrelenting heat of the jungle coupled with the conflict fermented by the interference of Weathers’ Dillon adds further to the tension.

Of course, Predator is nothing without its central threat and the Predator itself – created by the legendary Stan Winston and his studio (saving the production after a failed, laughably bad and unconvincing prototype was abandoned) – is as unique and memorable as the Xenomorphs of Alien and Aliens, remaining incredibly formidable and one of the greatest and most iconic creature designs in the history of film.  Just as Predator unfolds at a steady pace, the appearance of the lethal 7 foot-plus and muscular extra-terrestrial (played by Kevin Peter Hall), masked and equipped with an invisibility cloak, shoulder laser, razor sharp gauntlet blades and heat vision sensor is slowly revealed – the final unmasking saved until its climactic one on one showdown with Dutch in an exciting and rewarding finale.

Alan Silvestri’s thrumming, atmospheric and intense music score proves the perfect accompaniment to a true genre classic that would spawn numerous sequels, comic books, novels, video games and slews of merchandise that add up to a pop culture phenomenon.

Standout moment

After storming the guerrilla camp, Dutch and his team prepare to depart and head for extraction.  As Hawkins shares a joke with Billy, unbeknown to them someone, or something is observing…

Geek fact!

Martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally brought in to play the Predator and participated in test-shoots before the initial creature design was abandoned.

If you like this then check out…

Alien : 20th Century Fox’s original lethal extra-terrestrial makes its debut in Ridley Scott’s equally suspenseful masterpiece.

The Terminator : Arnold Schwarzenegger plays another kind of hunter as the deadly time travelling cyborg in James Cameron’s landmark science fiction thriller.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

14 thoughts on “It’s a Classic: ‘Predator’

  1. The original Predator movie is so awesome, and one of my all time favourites as well. Great cast, direction, and a brilliant monster design all make this movie a classic.

  2. Great movie. Many other films have tried to copy Predator, but they just aren’t as enjoyable. Van Damne under the suit would have been weird. I think the creature works best as a brute than an agile threat.

  3. Brilliant write-up as always, Chris. I rewatched the movie to read The Essential Comics vol. 1 a while back and I have to admit that it certainly was the best installment in the franchise. It has its cheesy moments but it all built towards the suspense and the action. I didn’t know about Jean-Claude Van Damme almost getting the role for the Predator though. Hopefully, that wouldn’t have meant that the Predator was going to start talking… And I can’t imagine his martial arts being incorporated in the creature and going up against gun-blazing soldiers…

    • Thanks Lashaan, I recall our discussion back when you reviewed the comic book collection! There’s actually footage of the prototype design in the dvd extras and I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere on YouTube as well…luckily they got Stan Winston on board and it all worked out, otherwise I’m pretty sure the film would’ve been quickly forgotten (or maybe remembered for the wrong reasons), let alone spawn a franchise. Look out for retrospectives on Predator 2 and Predators soon!

  4. Great look back at the sci-fi classic. Predator seems simple but is so much more than it seems. One thing that is terrific about the film is how it deconstructed the 80s action hero tropes.

    Like most action films from that decade it starts off in familiar territory with our stars flexing their muscles, egos and one-liners. Then Predator takes an unexpected turn when the alien starts hunting down the muscle men. They suddenly become too vulnerable and that added to the suspense and terror.

    The film is so well done that it has been difficult to top it. Although Predator 2 was a fun and worthy sequel because it took a different approach, none of the other followups have been as memorable.

    The comic books by Dark Horse have shown different situations and locales and show how the live-action films should be like, but sadly Hollywood refuses to pay attention.

    • Thanks, I enjoyed the Starloggers retrospective a couple of years ago to mark the 30th anniversary!

      I love what you say there about the deconstruction of action hero tropes, something I hadn’t actually consciously considered!

      I also love those classic 90s Dark Horse comics (the Aliens titles were great as well), they always managed to give new creative twists on the franchise.

      I’ll be looking at Predator 2 and Predators in the coming months as well.

  5. Definitely a classic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watch that movie growing up. And I still think the gorilla camp scene is one of the best military action sequences I’ve even seen. Love it!

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