Boasting a testosterone-fuelled cast full of wrestlers, bodybuilders, and a fair few assholes, on the face of it, Predator probably appears like any other 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle.
It even has a classic Arnie one-liner – one guy gets impaled on a wooden post before being told to “stick around” by Schwarzenegger – but don’t be fooled.
Because Predator has way more depth to it than you might have thought. The story of a crack team of commandos on a mission in unfamiliar territory who soon find themselves under attack from an unseen enemy, it also happens to be the perfect allegory for the Vietnam War.
It’s a damn fine action movie too and one that blends elements of sci-fi with action and horror to create something that’s as watchable today as it was 30 years ago.
But what makes Predator all the more fascinating are the stories behind it – here are 11 things you never knew about the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic.
The idea for Predator stemmed from a long-running joke, following the release of Rocky IV, that Rocky Balboa had run out of human opponents and would have to fight an alien next. Inspired by this notion, screenwriter brothers Jim and John Thomas set about writing a screenplay based around a similar idea. Originally titled Hunter, the script was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985 and eventually became Predator.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator in the first movie but had to drop out for being too short at 5’9” compared with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his fellow Special Forces soldiers who ranged from 6’2” to 6’5”. Having spent much of those first few days on set complaining about the suit’s lack of mobility anyway and the fact his face would be hidden, Van Damme was eventually replaced by the late Kevin Peter Hall, who was 7’2”.
While many of the actors cast as part of the US Special Forces unit in the film were first-choice picks for the casting directors, the story of how writer Shane Black ended up in the movie alongside them is different. Apparently producer Joel Silver agreed to let Black appear in the film, in a supporting role, after the success of his first screenplay, Lethal Weapon. Keen to one day direct his own movie, it was also a chance for Black to watch John McTiernan in action behind the camera.
The original Predator suit was noticeably different from the Stan Winston creation that ended up in the finished film. For starters, it was more disproportionate and ungainly, with large yellow eyes and dog-like face with one eye in the middle of its forehead. Winston sketched his final ideas for the Predator during a plane ride to Fox studios sat alongside James Cameron, who suggested the inclusion of the Predator’s now iconic mandibles.
One story goes that Blain actor and wrestler Jesse Ventura made a bet with Schwarzenegger that he had bigger biceps than the Austrian actor, having been tipped off by the wardrobe department. The joke was on Ventura though: Arnie apparently set the whole thing up, knowing full well he had bigger arms. The pair were close on set and regularly played pranks on each other, from Ventura filling Arnie’s shower with frogs to delaying one day of filming so Schwarzenegger missed his wedding rehearsal dinner. Maria Shriver was not impressed.
The jungle-based shoot was as demanding as it gets with the cast forced to contend with the intense heat and humidity, coupled with the rough terrain and threat of snakes and leeches. Schwarzenegger suffered more than most though, especially when forced to film several night-time scenes where he had to wear cold wet mud during freezing cold temperatures. He tried everything from heat lamps to drinking schnapps in a bid to stay warm. The latter just made him drunk though.
The actors on set were fiercely competitive and super-fit. Carl Weathers claims the cast would secretly wake up as early as 3 am before shooting began to work out. Weathers would often find a secluded spot to do his, as he was keen to make the others think his physique came naturally. Schwarzenegger led the way though, having already lost 25 pounds before filming began to make himself both lean and muscular.
Sonny Landham, who played Billy in the movie, had to have his own bodyguard on set. Part of an agreed deal with the studio’s insurance company, the idea was to protect others from Landham, rather than the other way round, with Sonny a famously short-tempered actor prone to confrontation.
Peter Cullen, who is most famous for voicing Optimus Prime in the original Transformers animated series from the 1980s also voiced the Predator. Though he was unsure how the Predator would sound, he came up with the alien’s trademark “gurgle” after seeing a picture of it. Likening the Predator to a horseshoe crab from his childhood, he recalled the noise they made when turned over and recreated the sound for the film.
Shane Black spent much of his time on the film complaining about his costume. He hated the glasses his character, Hawkins, had to wear and wanted more authentic military issue ones worn by real troops in the field. McTiernan disagreed and was eager for the character to look at geeky as possible. Black also refused to wear a maroon beret though later regretted that decision, as he feels it would have made his character more distinctive. It wasn’t all bad news though – during much of his downtime on Predator, Black wrote the screenplay for The Last Boy Scout.
The film is set in the entirely fictional South American country of Val Verde. A name created by screenwriter and producer Steven E. de Souza as a means of avoiding controversy with any real-life nation, the country also features in his script for Die Hard II with the central figure of General Ramon Esperanza hailing from the region. It means that technically speaking, John McClane and the Predator exist in the same fictional universe.