There are only a few film franchises that have spawned more spinoffs and content than Predator. Launched in 1987, the series has inspired novel, comic book, and video game spinoffs – not to mention what should have been an epic crossover, Alien vs. Predator.
With the latest installment of the Predator series being released this week (albeit amid some pretty heavy controversy), what better time to give readers facts about the iconic original action/sci-fi extravaganza?
10. It wasn’t originally called Predator
It may be hard to believe, but for nearly the entirety of the film, the project was titled Hunter. Which is certainly also an accurate name, but we can probably all agree not as good or true to the spirit of the film as Predator. Changes in the creature design, however, prompted the switch… and the changes may have saved the film.
Initially, the alien design had a small head, a long neck, and big golden eyes. According to director John McTiernan, it “looked kind of like the Anubis creature from Stargate mixed with a giant praying mantis, but not the least bit threatening.” Not exactly ideal. With the production running out of money, McTiernan decided to use the break in filming to commission a new creature. Hollywood legend Stan Winston developed the iconic Predator look, completely recreating the alien design. The Predator became fitted with mandibles, dreadlocks, and a mesh suit. Incidentally, legend has it that Winston was given the idea of mandibles by director James Cameron on a flight to Japan.
With the design for the alien changed, Predator was born, but you can still see the original title on the clapperboards in the outtakes on the special edition DVD.
9. The Predator was originally going to be played by Jean Claude Van Damme
World-famous Belgian martial artist and action film star Jean Claude Van Damme was initially believed to be an ideal choice for Hunter. And it makes sense, at least in the contest of the original vision for the film. In that version, he’d be a quick, spry, ninja-like hunter that could chase after prey in the jungle.
Turns out, it was not a match made in heaven. Van Damme quit after only two days. While on set, he constantly complained about the costume being too hot, and was annoyed that he would not appear in the film without the mask covering his face. His decision to leave the production was not seen as a disaster, of course, as many believed that Van Damme was too short for the part. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and the the cast of commandos taller than six feet, executives believed that the Predator had to be much taller for him to be threatening.
And luckily for them, and for us, they would find their man in Kevin Peter Hall, a former basketball player-turned-actor. At 7-foot-2, his Predator became a giant, looming presence menacing and slowly picking off Arnold’s team. Of course considering the costume weighed around 200 pounds, it couldn’t have been that much fun for Hall in that hot, humid jungle.
8. Shane Black joined the cast because they wanted his writing talents
Shane Black is better known for his writing and directing of films that perfectly balance comedy and action, like Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero, The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man 3. (Of course, right about now he’s best known for reasons he’s probably hoping people will soon forget.)
Black has also managed to find acting roles, most notably as Hawkins in the first Predator. And it’s no coincidence that Black was brought aboard for his first major film role just after becoming a hot commodity after writing Lethal Weapon. The studio cast Black precisely because of his writing skills, in case that the film needed script changes while they were shooting. Of course Black, however, has stated he was cast in the film as an actor, and refused to polish the script when he arrived on set. As a result, well… they decided to kill his character off first.
It seems that the studio finally got their man, however. Black wrote and directed the upcoming installment, showing us that disputes in Hollywood only last a couple decades.
7. It was shot entirely in Mexico
The film is set in “Central America” and, while not exactly accurate, we suppose we can forgive you for thinking Mexico falls under that geographical umbrella. However, it’s far more likely that the setting is supposed to be someplace like Nicaragua or Panama. That didn’t stop the film from shooting entirely in the jungles of Mexico, however.
And regardless of where it was shot, it wasn’t easy for the actors and crew to become accustomed to the terrain. In order to look the part of tough, badass commandos, the core group of actors embarked on a training trip that entailed hiking 20 miles into the jungle outside Puerto Vallarta. The training helped the actors learn hand signals and nonverbal cues that created a level of history to the characters. It certainly helped develop chemistry between the actors, even if it turned out to be a pretty brutal experience.
6. There was a ton of macho competition between the actors
With a cast including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Landham, their was certainly enough ego and testosterone to go around on set. Apparently, each actor wanted the others to believe that they had massive, toned muscles without having to actually work out to maintain that look. As a result, Carl Weathers has admitted to sneaking down into the gym as early as 4:00 a.m. If another actor happened to enter, he would slip away, only to return later.
The friendly competition escalated when the wardrobe department told Jesse Ventura that his biceps were larger than Arnold’s. Ventura got excited and boasted to Arnold, asking him if he’d like to compare biceps on the condition that the loser had to pay for the most expensive bottle of champagne he could find. Arnold agreed… and won the bet. It’s Arnold Freaking Schwarzenegger, after all. An enraged Ventura learned that the wardrobe department had misled him. Why? Because Arnold had told them to, of course.
5. Rocky fights aliens?
As Rocky IV put up huge numbers at the box office, the joke around Hollywood was, “Who would Rocky fight next, an alien?” Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas seemed to take the joke a bit too literally and penned a script initially dubbed – you guessed it – The Hunter. Even director John McTiernan has admitted that the initial pitch was that the movie was Rocky meets Alien… which is something we’re hoping Sylvester Stallone never learns, because let’s be honest: he’d be getting to work on a script right now, and probably find a way to include John Rambo in an epic team-up. Actually, hold on… that sounds awesome. We kinda want to see that now. Sly, give us a call. We’ll write that script for free.
Anyway, as the story was developed, McTiernan wanted to move away from the Rocky foundation. He believed that King Kong was a better influence, with the parallel of a ragtag crew being sent deep into the jungle and finding a creature no one could have imagined.
4. Production had to shut down at one point
It’s hard to believe that a franchise that has generated so many spinoffs and sequels hit enough bumps in the road that it almost never got off the ground to begin with due to what can only be described as a difficult shoot. For starters, after it became clear that the monster was not going to work, production came to a stop.
Other production difficulties, including cast and crew members getting sick, also meant that producers had to figure out a way to secure additional financing so filming could continue. In order to convince studio executives to fund the rest of the movie, they put together a rough cut of about an hour of footage. The executives were so impressed that they agreed to not only fund the rest of the movie, but spring for the bill of – you guessed it – hiring Stan Winston to fix the monster. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. A stuntman broke his leg during filming
As mentioned earlier, Jean Claude Van Damme was not comfortable in the Predator suit, and on one day of shooting he was asked to make a jump that he believed was not safe. According to Van Damme, “The costume took about 20 minutes to put on. It was thick rubber and I couldn’t see anything, there was just a small piece to breathe through. I needed cables to move my jaw and head, and it was hard to keep my balance. They wanted me to make a big jump, and I told them, ‘It’s impossible [from that height]. I know my limitations, and I’ll break my legs.”
Van Damme was proven correct. After he refused to make the jump, a stuntman was brought in. While wearing the suit, the stuntman attempted the particular jump and did, in fact, break his leg. It was a nightmare start for the production of Predator.
2. The nightmare shoot wasn’t limited to just a broken leg
As mentioned earlier, the film was shot exclusively in Mexico. During the late 1980s, the Mexican economy was in crisis, with the government struggling to even maintain basic government services in parts of the country. It seems the cast and crew of Predator got some of the worst of it. Apparently, much of the cast and crew – as we alluded to earlier – got sick during filming. And we’re talking about the “out of both ends” kind of sick. Apparently, the Mexican hotel where they were staying was having difficulties with water purification. John McTiernan lost a considerable amount of weight because he was afraid he, too, would become ill.
In an interview, Kevin Peter Hall stated that the production experience wasn’t that of a movie, but of survival. One of his worst experiences was the scene where the Predator chases Dutch. He could barely walk in the suit, not to mention being virtually blind while wearing it. And to top it all off, he had to deal with filthy water and leeches, which is fine if you’re one of the kids in Stand By Me but not so much when you’re trying to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nevertheless, Hall championed on and provided moviegoers with a memorable experience and one of the most iconic creatures in film history.
1. They had to hire a bodyguard for a cast member… to protect other people from him
Probably the most bizarre fact on our list was the studio’s need to hire a bodyguard for Sonny Landham, who played Billy. It turns out the bodyguard wasn’t needed for Landham’s protection, but for the protection of crew and cast members. The bodyguard followed Landham wherever he went.
In fact, the studio’s insurance company had insisted on it, or else they’d refuse to actually insure the film. Although Landham had only been in one other major film, 48 Hours, he had a reputation of being a bit of a wildcard… emphasis on “wild.” Sure, Landham was an actor in pornographic films before making transition to the cinematic arts, but that wasn’t the reason for such a drastic demand. Instead, Landham was infamous for his short temper and proclivity for violence, and Hollywood legend has it he enjoyed partying perhaps a little too much.
And while Landham didn’t not get into any mischief on the set, years later he was imprisoned for three years for making threatening and abusive statements to his wife. Of course, that didn’t stop him from trying to become the third member of the cast of Predator to transition to politics .