As The Predator hits theaters, it’s crazy to think the oversized heat-vision-seeing, guttural-purring alien with an ugly crab face has been hunting people for 31 years across six films, numerous comic books and over a dozen video games. That’s a lot of blood — red and green.
The through line for all the films is the mythology, twisted moral code and violence that surround the character of the Predator. But according to star Keegan-Michael Key, The Predator is not a sequel.
‘What we’re doing is a chapter of a larger story that we could call The Predator Universe,’ Key told CNET Magazine. ‘You could watch them in any order you want because they all exist in their own right.’
You could even see The Predator without watching any other film in the franchise. But, if you have time and some popcorn, watching a few of them will make the new one all the better.
Here’s how I prioritize the movies.
Predator — if you watch just one
This is the original 1987 popcorn film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator, True Lies), Carl Weathers (Rocky) and Jesse Ventura (WWF). It starts out as a cliche ’80s action flick in the vein of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando, with former military types hired for a secret mission.
The characters display their over-the-top machismo in different ways: One obsessively shaves using a safety razor on bare skin and others have cut-off sleeves revealing their challah-bread-like muscles. Pretty much all sport ridiculously large guns that never seem to run out of ammunition.
What makes Predator so fantastic is the Wizard of Oz-like ‘reveal’ halfway through that finds our elite soldiers as prey, pivoting the film into a psychological and violent alien hunter story. It holds up well to a viewing today, especially Schwarzenegger’s performance.
Some of the humor is dated and truly foul-mouthed (like when a character tells a joke about his wife’s anatomy). Interestingly enough, this character was played by Shane Black, director of the new film.
The special effects, which were nominated for an Academy Award, look a tad rough by today’s standards, but still work well. For example, the visual effect that makes the Predator ‘look’ invisible is incredibly believable and badass.
There’s an outstanding behind-the-scenes video of Jean-Claude Van Damme, who originally played the Predator, running around a jungle in what looks like a red dinosaur costume before the special effects are applied. Van Damme was later let go for being too short and replaced by the seven-foot three-inch Kevin Peter Hall.
Predator is consistently ranked as one of the best action films of all time. It introduced one of the best, ugliest-looking alien characters ever on screen — though in my book Alf is a close second.
The film also stars two then-future state governors — Schwarzenegger would be California’s governor from 2003 to 2011 and Ventura was Minnesota’s from 1998 to 2002.
Coming out when Schwarzenegger was at peak star power, Predator is filled with amazing Arnold one-liners that are still quoted today.
‘Get to da choppa!’
‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’
‘You are one ugly motherf—–!’
Predators — if you watch just two
While this one’s technically the third film in the series, I recommend watching it second. Predators is to the original Predator film what Aliens is to the original Alien film. At least that’s what producer Robert Rodriguez (Alita: Battle Angel, El Mariachi, Spy Kids) envisioned.
Where the original film had two governors in it, this one stars two Academy Award winners: Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight). Other cast members include Laurence Fishburne (Matrix), Danny Trejo (Machete) and Topher Grace (That 70’s Show).
In what might be one of the most fascinating openings to a film, the first image shows Brody free-falling from a high altitude. We are literally being dropped into action from the film’s first frame. The movie’s story starts out similar to the original, with soldiers (and some other dangerous guys) fighting in a foreign jungle only to have their world literally turned upside down about a third of the way through the movie.
Predators emulates the dripping manliness of the original and inevitably builds up to a shirtless bulked-up Brody yelling and running with a knife surrounded by the flames of a raging fire.
As the title infers, there are multiple Predators in the film and they now have predator hunting dogs, who are even uglier than their dog-dad.
‘They weren’t meant for us. He was hunting something else. Something a lot bigger.’
‘Please stop doing that.’
‘We’re gonna need a new plan.’
‘This is its jungle. Its game. Its rules. We run, we die.’
[in Russian] ‘You are one ugly motherf—–!’
Predator 2 – if you watch three
Even though it’s the second movie, watch this one third — it’s the sleeper of the series. Starring Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Sorry To Bother You), the film’s action moves from the actual jungle of the first film to the concrete jungle of the then-futuristic 1997 Los Angeles — it came out in 1990. It starts out as an ’80s police and drug cartel movie similar in tone to Scarface and Cobra.
Like the original film, Predator 2 juxtaposes bloody action sequences with the Predator’s chess-master-like hunting. However, none of the characters from the first movie are in it, not even Schwarzenegger. In one way, this is disappointing, but in another, it adds to the mythos of the franchise, expanding what we know about the high-tech alien hunter and his brethren.
It’s enthralling to see the Predator hunt and adapt to a dense urban setting, especially as Gary Busey (Point Break), at his Busey-est, tries to outsmart him and foil Glover’s character. Also, Bill Paxton shows up, with a dash of Chet from Weird Science, to provide a few needed laughs.
The tagline for the film is ‘He’s in town with a few days to kill.’
‘You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.’
‘OK everybody, just take a deep breath. Loosen your sphincters. We don’t need any rush hour Rambos here.’
‘You are one big ugly motherf—–!’
Alien vs. Predator movies — if you have nothing better to do
Do you have taxes to do? Perhaps some dental work you’ve been putting off? If you have absolutely nothing better to do and like the other Predator movies, AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2010) might provide some satisfaction. But just know going in: These films make the other three look like arthouse masterpieces.
Both films have a Metacritic score of 29, while Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVPR) earned a very low 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The tagline for AVPR is ‘This Christmas there will be no peace on Earth.’ Horrible, I know.
OK they’re not a complete dumpster fire — after all, you get to see two legendary badass movie aliens go toe-to-toe (make that toe-to-tail). Also, it ties the Predator universe with the Alien universe, and by extension the Blade Runner universe.
Some of the action sequences are really entertaining. But the films lose the focus and psychological elements that make the other three so good.
If you want to enjoy the mind-blowing crossover between the Predator and the xenomorph from the Alien franchise, I recommend taking a look at the comic Alien vs. Predator, which brings the epic-ness you hope for without the B-movie story and production.
‘You are one ugly motherf—–!’