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In June 1987, 20th Century Fox released Predator. The story, by first-time screenwriters Jim and John Thomas, centered on Maj. Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger, then still not quite having joined the first-name-only club), the leader of a team of mercenaries sent into the Central American jungle on a rescue mission who come face to face (well, Dutch does at least) with an alien hunter who makes trophies of men’s skulls.
The film combined pioneering visual effects, pithy dialogue, abundant gore, big-ass guns (of all kinds) and “one ugly motherf—er” of a now-iconic movie monster. It was a hit with audiences upon its release, but in the years since its legacy has only grown.
Whether it was the heat of the jungle or the haze of time that accrues over three decades, the stories from people involved took on almost a Rashomon-like quality. Why did the studio shut the film down? How much of the film was completed at that point (estimates range from “90 percent” to “less than half”)? What happened with the original Predator design? (Did it look like a “cockroach,” a “f—ing chicken,” a “bloody big rat”?) Why did Jean-Claude Van Damme — who was originally cast to play the alien — get fired?
One thing that everyone whom THR spoke with did agree on, however: Filming in the jungle in the dead of summer is, uh, not ideal.
The origin of Predator.
John Davis, producer: This is the first movie I produced. One of the first people I had met in Hollywood and gotten friendly with was Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was an executive at Fox and I worked on a movie that happened right before it called Commando. And then I decided to give in, and I was also working on the script for Predator, which was John Thomas and his brother Jim, the Thomas brothers. Basically, they had slipped [it] under somebody’s door at the studio. And we found this script and it was pretty amazing. I mean, literally, it came out of nowhere. And Arnold basically said to me, “You’re going to be a producer, you should come to Mexico and you should produce this.” So I did.
Jim Thomas, screenwriter: I had the basic idea for Predator, which at that time was called Hunter, and my brother was laid up from a back injury from the beach, so I said, “Well, do you want to write a script with me?” and he said sure. We just sat out on the beach and composed this thing over a period of about three months. But 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?” And at first, we were thinking about how a band of hunters would branch out and hunt various and dangerous species on the planet, but we said: “That’s going to be way too complex.” So, what’s the most dangerous creature? Man. And what’re the most dangerous men? Combat soldiers. At that time, we were doing lots of operations in Central America, so that’s where we set it.
So after we had written this, we sent a barrage of letters out to every agent and producer that we could think of and got rejections back from virtually everybody. Through a friend of mine, I heard of someone at Fox who was a reader. We got the script to this reader, but there was a change of administration at that time and Larry Gordon’s administration was just coming in, so this reader turned it over, from what I’ve heard, to Michael Levy or Lloyd Levin’s assistant or reader, and they happened to read it and these young junior executives who had just come in there really liked it. And of course, Larry Gordon got his start with Roger Corman, so it was exactly the kind of movie that he liked. We got the phone call and sold the script without an agent or without a lawyer, which is pretty hard to do in this town. We developed this without a producer and then, when Joel Silver got attached, he had just done Commando and had a good relationship with Arnold.
Davis: I had seen a small movie John McTiernan had done [Nomads] that was really, really, really good. I made Larry sit down and see John McTiernan’s film in a screening room because nobody had ever heard of him. I said, “This is the guy that should direct the movie.” And Arnold liked him, and that’s how it happened.
Thomas: Our first introduction to Arnold was at John Davis’ father’s [Marvin Davis] house up in the Knoll, and it was in a hot tub. Typical Arnold. I remember Arnold, he was actually very serious. He wanted to know about this character that he was going to be playing and we told him, “You’ve just done a movie, Commando, which we really liked. It was a lot of fun. But when you first are introduced” — I think the first scene he’s carrying a tree over his shoulder and has a chain saw in his hand — “that’s a cartoon character. You’ll play this guy more like an everyman, and at that moment when you are crawling up through the mud and this incredible creature is about to destroy you and you have no weapons or anything left, that’s a real hero’s moment. And then the fact that you have an escape, the mud protected you, now you’ve got the chance to rise back up and take on this creature and be a real hero.”
Craig Baxley, 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator: When this came up, Joel tracked me down. He was a huge fan of The A-Team. I was their stunt coordinator; I directed a number of the shows also. So I was intrigued by the fact that Joel asked me to shoot all the action. But when John and I had our first couple meetings, John stressed that this was not a war movie, this was a horror movie and that he was gonna shoot all the action. I was getting mixed signals. And Joel just said, “No, listen, don’t worry about it you’re gonna shoot the action.” I said, “OK, I’d like to have my effects man on the show, a guy named Al Di Sarro,” and Joel said, “Fine, you got ’em.”
Jackie Burch, casting director: I remember when I first read the script that I thought, “I wanna get all Vietnam vets in this movie” — that could act. And that’s how I met Jesse “The Body” [Ventura]. Jesse had a great manager, Barry Bloom, and he kept saying. “You gotta meet him, you gotta meet him! He was a wrestler, but he was a Vietnam vet.” And the second I met Jesse, I knew that we had the guy. And I brought him over right away to Joel. And we loved Bill Duke from Commando so that was a no-brainer. And Carl Weathers I loved from all the Rocky movies and I thought he’d be great. And pretty much I think other than Sonny [Landham, who played Billy], because I think Joel had a relationship with him — I’m not sure what his background was, but knowing him he would be fine. It was fun putting those guys together.
Richard Chaves, Poncho: We were just coming off our tour with Tracers. All the authors of the play — I’m one of the authors — and all the actors in the play were Vietnam veterans. And Jackie came to see me in the play and brought me in for Three Amigos!. She called my agent and said, “Please tell Richard he didn’t get the movie, but there’s another movie that I think he’d be perfect for, and I’m going to bring the director to the Coronet to see him.” And once John saw me in the play that was it, he wanted me for Poncho from the beginning, which was really cool.
Davis: I’m producing the new Predator [due out Aug. 3, 2018], and Shane Black is directing it. So Shane Black — I met Shane on that movie. Shane was a really great writer who had just written this great script called Lethal Weapon. We wanted him to do a rewrite on the [Predator] script. So we put him in the movie, because he’s an actor. And we got him down there, and 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. He got killed seven minutes into the movie.
The film had a cast and a director, but there was still some concern about some of the Predator’s abilities in the script actually being filmable.
Joel Hynek, visual effects supervisor: At the time, I was at R/Greenberg Associates in New York, and we had just done Xanadu for Joel Silver, and he thought he’d give us a try to come up with the camouflage effect and the Predator heat vision. So the camouflage effect was in the script as something that was invisible, yet visible, which was the trick there. I had worked out a method for creating outlines of whatever, titles or people. And it occurred to me I could make a series of inline mattes, that is, instead of making an outline, making an inline, and create a whole series of concentric inline mats. And then, in that series of inline mattes, put the background, shot separately, and reduce a little bit per each inline, and that gave the camouflage effect, which looked kind of like a Fresnel lens and also little leaves on ferns — and so it worked well in the jungle. Joel Silver shows up, we show it to him, and he looks over at Richard Greenberg and says, “Richard, what do you think?” And Richard says, “Good, Joel. Good.” And so Joel was like, “OK, we got a movie. Let’s do this.”
One week before principal photography was scheduled to start, McTiernan had the cast head down to Mexico for a week of training with military adviser Gary Goldman.
Gary Goldman, military adviser: I was an officer in Vietnam, commanded a rifle company in Vietnam, then did some reconnaissance work afterward. And I ventured into some special operations training. I had a pretty good reputation in that field. And at some point I got a phone call from John and he said, “Can you help us out on this film?” He gave me the storyline and he said, “Honestly, these guys look like a bunch of ballerinas. They don’t look like soldiers.” So I flew down there, sat next to this kid on the plane, and he turns out to be Shane Black, who spent the entire flight stripping my brain of all kinds of little bits and pieces of tactical military information and war stories.
The first thing I wanted to do was see if these guys actually had what it takes to make it look like they’re in special operations, so I took them out for a run. I was looking at these guys, and most of them were pretty big guys. But in combat, if you can’t run, you’re f—ed. It doesn’t matter how many inches your neck is. So we’re out running on the road, and they got strung out pretty good. I’d look back at [Arnold] every now and then, and I thought, “I’ve got to hand it to him, he’s trying, he’s keeping up.” And then I realized, wait a minute, I’m running on a Mexican road with cars on it, and I’ve got this million-dollar star out here, I’d better be careful. So I started running wide around the curbs so I could see the oncoming traffic. We got back to the hotel and everybody was really silent, they just went straight to their rooms. I thought, “These guys are finished.” And I thought that was pretty funny. Anyway, after that, I would take them out around the set locations, and I’d walk through a tactic with them and get them to run through little simulations, and I’d critique them on what they looked like. So we did that for a few days, and that was a lot of fun.
Chaves: A lot of it was raw jungle that we were running through when we were in the week rehearsal. And we took a break one day, and I checked the area out, you know, where I was gonna sit my butt down, and laid down, and next thing I know I am covered in red ants. I was bitten almost 100 times down both my arms, and went into a little bit of shock, was running through the jungle ripping my clothes off, butt naked. They had a water tank, and I went into the water tank and just doused myself. And I’ll never forget when the Mexican doctor came, and I have these welts, and he looked at it and he says to me, “You know, I never seen anything like this before”! (Laughs.) I think it was about three or four days before we started shooting, and I was so proud of my body because really, Arnold and Arnold’s really good friend Sven[-Ole Thorsen], who played one of the Russians in the palapa scene, they really put me together, and so I wasn’t gonna wear a long-sleeve shirt because my arms were really buff and everything, but then this happened.
Goldman: We were having a weapons introduction day, and I gave a little lesson about how you’re supposed to use them. I remember Bill Duke was supposed to be carrying a machine gun, and I said, “Bill, in real life, they fire in bursts of six, and you fire another burst of six, and another, and that keeps the barrel from melting. If you just squeeze it and run through the whole belt, you’re going to ruin the barrel pretty quickly.” So we set it up, and of course the first thing he does is he squeezes it, holds it, and starts screaming. Fired off, I don’t know, 200 rounds in one thing, and Bill is just cackling like a madman. I thought, “Yeah OK, this is a movie.”
Shooting got underway in the summer of 1986 in the wilderness around Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Donald McAlpine, cinematographer: It was quite an interesting start to the movie because this business of not getting crew from America, I never quite understood it, but when I got there I had this whole Mexican crew who were part of a syndicato. And the first day of shooting, I’d previously asked that all the lighting fixtures be changed from plastic fittings to ceramic because of the heat of the lamps I was using. Started to work and all the lights started exploding because they hadn’t changed them. And I realize then that the Mexican crew I had were basically schleppers (laughs) more than educated film crew. I pointed it out to Joel and he said, “Well what can I do?” And I said, “We’ll get you some guys from the states!” He says “I can’t get guys from the states. Can you get people from Australia?” So I spent all night basically on the phone ringing up people in Australia saying, “You working tomorrow?” “Nope” And basically getting to the point where I found people with a passport who were free and could get on the next plane to wherever we were. That’s the way we crewed the film.
Chaves: Because it was in the middle of the summer they had a complete nursery to put plants so it looked like fresh jungle.
Bill Duke, Mac: We’re talking about hot heat — and humid heat. We’re not talking about 80 degrees. We’re talking about 90-something or more. We’re talking about having to wear this gear that is heavy itself, and then the guns and stuff, and mine was like a gun off a battleship machine gun. So you’re carrying your body weight, you have clothing on, and then you’re crawling through the jungle on your stomach and there are coral snakes and spiders and scorpions and a lot of different things.
Baxley: Don was only doing two shots a day because they had to move all the greens in because everything was brown! And the reason we were in Puerto Vallarta was because Joel and John had rented their villas, and so that’s why we went there.
McAlpine: All the time we were in the jungle we had a Mexican leaf crew. And their job was to [get sacks] fill them up with leaves from the jungle because every time we worked the whole jungle floor would look like a baseball ground, so every hour or so we’d just call in the leaf crew and these 30, 40 guys would run in and dump these bags of leaves. (Laughs.)
Duke: Before we shot every day, Arnold and his trainer and all of the big boys, they got up an hour and a half before breakfast and trained. It was this gigantic gym that Arnold shipped to Mexico in these gigantic trucks so that the [hotel] ballroom, that was our gym.
Davis: The first day, they said to me, “You should come work out with us.” So Arnold knocked on my door at 5:30, woke me up. I went down. I started lifting with them and they all would start yelling at me to lift more weights and more reps. And that night, I was in so much pain that the next morning when they came to my door and started banging, I pretended that I slept through it so that I wouldn’t have to lift with them anymore.
Thomas: I think that phrase “manly men” was coined down there. I think it was Arnold that kept saying (in Arnold voice) “manly men.” You had that cast, and those guys were all pretty impressive. Then you had all the stuntmen who had to double these guys and do all of the stunts. So every morning you had all of these stuntmen and all the cast down there trying to get a good pump on. It was kind of comical, these guys are all trying to outdo each other.
Goldman: Carl and I were sitting down at the beach one day during a break, and he was chatting up a couple of girls there. Arnold comes walking over in his Speedo and says, “Hey Carl, your wife’s on the phone.” I thought I was going to die laughing.
McAlpine: I really admire Arnold because he knew exactly what he was playing. I remember there’d be rewrites every morning, and one morning Arnold steamed out of his trailer straight up to John and grabbed him by the collar and said “John…” and John said “Yes?” “There are four words here; I’ll do three.” (Laughs.) He was basically joking, but he was also letting John know that he didn’t want to get into long speeches and things like that because he understood the character he was playing probably as well as John did.
Beau Marks, 1st A.D.: The fact of the matter is that Arnold is a very, very disciplined actor — especially back then. This is a guy that understood commerce, understood his value and understood that he was gonna go someplace. And because of that — even though he liked to have a good time — the film always came first. And so everybody else followed suit. He set the example.
Davis: In the middle of the movie we left to go to Hyannis because Arnold was getting married, We were shooting one night in the jungle, and in the middle of the night when we were finished shooting, we were going to get on the plane and fly to Hyannis for his wedding. We literally got there like Friday morning, he had rehearsal Friday night, he got married Saturday, and he was back on the set by Wednesday. He took a honeymoon for two days.
Chaves: The very first day [Arnold] got back was a 15-, almost 16-hour day and I was in the shower just filthy. And the phone rings and I said “Hello?” and it’s a woman’s voice, and she goes, “Is this Richard?” I said “Yes it’s Richard,” and she goes “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m in the shower picking ticks off my balls!” OK? And she started laughing. And I said, “Who the hell is this?” She goes, “Richard it’s Maria [Shriver, Schwarzenegger’s then-wife], and I’m just calling to invite you up to have dinner. I’m inviting everybody up to have dinner so you can meet me,” and then she started laughing again.
McAlpine: Jesse Ventura was great fun to work with. Of course, Jesse went away one weekend to be involved in one of his wrestling bouts, and when he came back I said to him, “How’d it go?” He says, “I won.” And I said, “It was your turn, wasn’t it?” And he was outraged, sort of picked me up and lifted me above his head as though he was gonna throw me down on the ground. Jesse put me down afterward but, uh, I didn’t argue with him anymore about wrestling. (Laughs.)
Marks: Now Sonny, on the other hand, was crazy. We ended up having to hire a bodyguard to protect the world from Sonny and to keep him in check. Because if he started drinking all bets were off.
Duke: On the weekends when we weren’t working, we would sometimes go to these clubs. We’re having a good time at this club. And then we didn’t know where Sonny was, and it got us worried because sometimes you got a little drunk, whatever. And so, I forgot who it is, [someone] went, “Look over there, look over there!” Sonny is on the floor, crawling around the floor, and either he was touching or kissing women’s legs. On the dance floor. I think that’s when they called the security guy to be with him.
Baxley: They had like 56 days to shoot the movie. And after 48 days John had shot less than half the movie. And the studio was threatening to shut the movie down. And so Joel said, “Listen, I have to give them some eye candy. Would you mind rewriting the palapa sequence for me, and we can only give you seven to eight days to shoot that in.” And Joel said, “You gotta incorporate the cast in it.” I completely redesigned it to have the cast involved in every major stunt so it felt like they were in the midst of the battle. And so with Al and my history, and my team down there, we shot that in eight days.
If I’d hadn’t come from a show like The A-Team I couldn’t have done that. When you have that kind of pyrotechnics, those type of stunts. Like an example: I had two stuntmen on top of a two-story palapa. I buried a fall pad in the ground and blew up the entire palapa, and while they’re in the air coming off the air rams the entire building is obliterated. And the same time I had another guy on an air ram coming at a different camera. And to start it off I had Arnold turn and fire the grenade launcher and hit it. So I had like four cameras on this but it looked like [World War II was happening] just on this one stunt. Unfortunately, when we’d go to dailies we’d sit there and John would stand up and yell, “This isn’t a
f—ing war movie!” and Joel would be screaming, “Shut up! It’s beautiful! It’s magic! Wait till you see it cut together!”
Thomas: I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of Joel with his pith helmet. He had a pith helmet with a little fan in the front. While we were down there, Reagan bombed Libya, and it’s a disconcerting feeling to be stuck down there in a foreign country and you have no idea what’s going on. Joel said, in his typical flamboyant flair, “We’ve got the guns. We’ve got millions in the bank. We can take over Puerto Vallarta!” (Laughs.) We started calling him Generalissimo Joel.
McAlpine: Joel was a totally hands-on producer. Endlessly our director would defer to Joel about how much blood there would be, how gruesome should we make this? And Joel’s answer was always “more blood!”
The Predator cometh …
Beau Marks, 1st A.D.: We started shooting prior to having the Predator actually in our hands. While we were shooting in Mexico it was being fitted down in L.A. So knowing that we weren’t going to have the Predator [until] toward the second half of the film I’d scheduled everything up front without the Predator.
We needed two different Predator suits. One is the suit that when you can see him and one’s the suit where you couldn’t see him, which was a kind of a hold-out suit. It was all red so when we shot it in the jungle we could pull a matte off of it. Probably a couple weeks before we needed the Predator a box comes. And we open it up and it looks like a giant red rubber chicken. It’s pretty hard to have the most deadly alien from outer space coming to hunt man and it looks like a f—ing chicken unless you’re doing a comedy. The real suit came shortly thereafter and it wasn’t any better. So we shot some tests with it and it became quite obvious that this was a disaster.
Thomas: The Mexican crewmen thought we were absolutely crazy. They’d never seen a movie like this before. To see a guy in a red suit running around in the jungle when you have all of these guys in military garb and a minigun and everything, it’s like, “What is this?” (Laughs.)
Here’s where things start to get weird. Everyone agrees on the general facts that 1) Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator; 2) He didn’t like the red suit, either, and clashed with Silver. But when it comes to why, exactly, he got fired, nearly everyone THR spoke with had a different explanation — including three separate first-person accounts of the actual moment he was fired. What follows is every account THR received of JCVD’s brief stay in Puerto Vallarta.
Burch: Jean-Claude Van Damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping up in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for work. He was nobody. He didn’t have any credits. So finally I said to Joel, “He’d be great as the Predator because no one moves like him.” I mean he really is quite amazing. He even stored his furniture in my garage! And then (laughs) he wasn’t there that long. And I heard he was complaining the whole time and they fired him. And he came back and got his stuff out of my garage. And then the next time I saw him he was getting $5 million a picture. [The “He complained too much” version.]
Baxley: Joel and I were walking down the hallway of the hotel together and Jean-Claude was walking toward us with his assistant. And Jean-Claude walked up and said, “Are you Joel Silver?” And he said yeah. And Jean said, “Well look at this!” And he jumped up in the air, I swear to God, did the splits with his legs straight out and his crotch was at eye level — and I’m 6 feet tall. He was there to play the creature, and a company called Boss had designed a creature. It had the head of an ant. And they spent an absolute fortune on this. And so they brought Jean-Claude out and they put the head on Jean-Claude, and Jean-Claude stood up and freaked out, and took off this $20,000 head and threw it on the ground and it shattered. And Joel said, “What the f— are you doing!” And he told Jean-Claude, “You’ll never work in Hollywood again! Get off my set!” So that was it. [The “He broke the creature head” version.]
Davis: He was the original Predator until we realized the Predator couldn’t be 5-foot-6; he actually needed to be of greater stature. [The “He was too short” version. (Worth noting that the man who replaced him in the new suit, Kevin Peter Hall, was over 7 feet tall.)]
Chaves: I remember getting a phone call in my room from Joel because Jean-Claude, him and I hit it off right away, and I thought that he would’ve been incredible as [the Predator] but he wanted his face to be seen. And I remember [Joel saying], “You go down there and talk to him and convince him that he’s the alien and he’s gotta get into the suit!” And so I went down and I spent a couple of hours trying to convince him that, you know, he’d be in this costume, “But everybody’s gonna know it’s you, Jean-Claude, because nobody can move like [you]!” I tried my best to convince him but it didn’t work. And then I guess something happened, and he capitulated, Jean-Claude, to get into this suit and give it a try. And when they sent some of the first dailies of Jean-Claude in this original suit, the people at Fox hated it, absolutely hated it, and thought it looked like a rat — and it did! As soon as Joel was told about that news, he let him go. [The “Fox hated the original creature and JCVD was collateral damage” version.]
Duke: They were going to, I think, superimpose all of the special effects on the body in postproduction. But in order to do that, the actor had to wear a felt suit that covered his whole body, and with 90 and 100 degree temperatures, [Jean-Claude] had passed out twice from dehydration. And Joel came over and said, “Jean, I know it’s hot, but we’re losing time, man. If you pass out one more time, we gotta fire you.” So Jean says, “I’m not doing it on purpose!” Joel says, “Man, this is production. Don’t take it personally.” So two weeks went by, and he’s flying on these wires in trees and everything and he passes out, and Joel comes and tells him, “You’re fired.” [The “He passed out too many times” version.]
Hynek: I was in Joel Silver’s trailer, and he had called for Jean-Claude to come see him. And he comes in the trailer and Joel starts saying, “You gotta stop kickboxing!” — because [Jean-Claude] wanted to kickbox — and he was telling him, “Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer.” And Van Damme was like (Van Damme voice), “I must do that; that’s how I see the Predator.” And Joel said, “Well, you’re fired. Get out of here.” And Van Damme says, “Kiss my balls!” and walks out, and that was the end of that. [The “Creative differences” version.]
However it happened, the production was left with a monster most everyone agreed was a dud, and no one to play him. On top of that, the studio was getting antsy about the budget. The decision was made to suspend production. Arnold suggested reaching out to Stan Winston, the makeup effects maestro who had created the Terminator and would shortly take home his first Oscar for 1986’s Aliens, to reconceive the Predator. The producers, meanwhile, had to convince the new president of production at Fox, Leonard Goldberg, to allow everyone to return to Mexico and complete the film.
McAlpine: I think the studio didn’t really understand the dailies, and they probably [used the creature] as an excuse. But it was great because John was then able to go back and cut the film he had and show it to them and they realized they had a possible hit.
Baxley: The second after they shut the movie down I went back to The A-Team, and we came back a few months later and went to where we should’ve shot the film — in Palenque, where it was lush and green.
Thomas: We had tried to describe in the script as best as we could about the camouflage, the warrior stuff, the helmet coming off and the face. Not being artists, we could only go so far. And I remember when I first saw Stan Winston’s drawings and stuff, I said, “This is absolutely it. This is amazing!” The creature that they came up with wasn’t quite as light and fast as we had. In our script, we had the creature moving quickly through the canopy, much more simian-like, but once we saw that, we said, “Well, you’re not going to beat this.”
Marks: I think it was about six months of redesigning and rebuilding until we had another suit, and then we put together the film again and went back down to Mexico to shoot. We don’t see the Predator until just about when Arnold is by himself. Everybody else has basically been killed off. So the third act is what we had to go back and shoot.
Chaves: Those two-and-a-half to three weeks down there were for me incredibly spiritual. It was like a dream, because I went to the ruins at Palenque. There was nobody there that day. It was just the vendors. And I went into this one section and I looked down, and there’s the Predator! Here’s this figure of this, you know, Mayan god that had been carved into the rock, and I had just come from seeing Kevin Peter Hall get into this incredible creation that Stan made. And here I am, I’m standing in this Mayan ruin looking down at this. It was really pretty incredible. It was really a turning point for the movie when Stan came in and Jean-Claude went out, for the better. Even for Jean-Claude, you know, it was better.
McAlpine: It was fantastic working with John McTiernan at that time. He was very astute in keeping these characters very interesting as individuals and still progress with this story. I mean we basically had nothing but the trees and the actors and the script to tell the story. It was quite remarkable how he made a really interesting film out of what was a very, very limited situation.
Predator hit theaters on June 12, 1987. Initial reviews were mixed but audiences loved it. It scored the second-best opening weekend of 1987 with $12. million, on its way to a $98.2 million global haul.
Thomas: The weekend that it opened, we went around with Michael Levy and Lloyd Levin and a few of us to various theaters to see what the reaction was. I remember we went to a theater in Hollywood that had a great cross-section audience. They really got into it. They were screaming at the screen. “Look out! He’s going to get you!” (Laughs.) I remember it got talked about in New York, too, as kind of an “in” thing to see Predator. There was just something about it that was campy.
Duke: I don’t think anybody expected it to be as big as it was. It was a big hit, and all of us, if we walked down the street, we were recognizable from the film, and people showing the appreciation for it was wonderful.
Chaves: I belong to the Pacific Palisades American Legion, and we had our big yearly vote two and a half weeks ago. And I had not met a bunch of these new Afghan-Iraq veterans, and they came up to me, “Oh man, I watched that movie so many times, and when we were in Iraq we had a copy of the movie.” And I’m going, “Wow. I’m very happy that it has affected so many people.”
Thomas: A couple of years later we were doing a promotional thing for Predator 2 at Comic-Con. I think that was the first time that I saw a Predator tattoo on somebody. Now if you google “Predator tattoos” there are just pages of them. And then the fact that a number of people I run into that say, “Oh Predator is my favorite movie,” and I say, “You weren’t even born when this came out!” (Laughs.) There’s just something about it. It’s got a life of its own.
McAlpine: My career’s still going. At 83 I’m still doing it. But it’s amazing wherever I’m involved with a young group it’s always, “He’s the guy who did Predator!” We went to a screening last year and everyone knew the dialogue. It was weird. They’re almost chanting the dialogue. It was like a Catholic mass.
Chaves: I went across country about six or seven years ago with my little dog, Maria, and were stopped at a gas station somewhere in Tennessee. And I had a hat on, I have sunglasses on. And this man comes up behind me and I’m going, “Uh oh, what’s going on?” and he whispers, “You’re hit! You’re bleeding, man!” I turn around and say “God, you’re good, man!”
Another odd bit of legacy was mentioned by nearly everyone THR spoke to …
Thomas: We got to do seven features and all of them are fun in a way, but nothing like being in a camp in a place like Mexico out in the jungle every day. You don’t do many of those. And you don’t have many movies where you get two governors that came out of the cast, Jesse Ventura and Arnold.
Marks: That’s the thing that I constantly scratch my head about. And if I were to pick, of all the people on that show that could’ve been a governor, those were not the two I would’ve picked. I thought Carl might’ve been politically active and done something, but Jesse?
Davis: Years later, Jesse would call me when he was governor of Minnesota and tell me that Arnold’s fiscal policy [in California] was ill-informed. And I would say to my wife, “A former wrestler is telling me that a former bodybuilder doesn’t have the correct fiscal policy. How crazy is that?”
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