On this day, in 1987, 20th Century Fox released the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Predator. Little did film-goers at the time know but Predator was much more than just another Schwarzenegger vehicle. One of the best mixes of action, horror, and science fiction genres, Predator is widely regarded today as a classic from the decade. Time, a mixed bag of sequels, and forgettable cross-overs have done nothing to diminish the movie’s legacy.
Predator was a film based on a brilliantly lean and simple premise. A U.S. paramilitary squad of elite soldiers covertly enter a Central American country to rescue American hostages held by a guerrilla force. In the heat of the jungle, Dutch and his team discover the skinned corpses of U.S. soldiers. As they later attempt to reach their extraction point, an unseen ‘predator’ that may not be human stalks Dutch and his men.
Predator A Time Capsule of Everything Great with 80’s Action Films
Decadence defined the 1980’s. The hair was bigger, shoulder pads were wider, clothes were brighter, and the music was brasher and more … synth-y. Perhaps no other genre better reflects the decadence of the decade than the action film. It was the decade of Sylvester Stallone (Cobra) and Predator star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And don’t forget the montages, big guns, and violent dispatching of anonymous baddies.
“I ain’t got time to bleed.”
For much of its first half, Predator plays like a traditional 1980’s action film. In addition to starring Schwarzenegger, Predator’s cast is filled out with a ‘who’s who’ of recognizable action film regulars including Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse “The Body Ventura, and Sonny Landham. There’s also no shortage of macho posturing and chest-baring. Consider Schwarzenegger and Weather’s utterly fantastic handshake greeting, pictured below. Familiar action movie tropes from the decade abound. The dialogue is a game of tough-guy one-up-man-ship. Not surprisingly, Schwarzenegger drops a few trademark one-liners. You can literally identify the importance of characters by the size of their guns. Predator is vintage 1980’s action film, a time capsule of the decade’s excesses … until it isn’t.
Predator Perfectly Blends Genres
Halfway through Predator, director John McTiernan subverts action film sensibilities and introduces science-fiction and horror elements. To some extent, McTiernan borrows from slasher movies as the alien picks characters off one after another. McTiernan uses the jungle setting to create a feeling of claustrophobia. In addition, composer Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score adds to this sense of isolation while increasingly building dread. Indeed, it’s a surprisingly atmospheric movie that mixes its genres with considerable ease.
McTiernan uses the jungle setting to create a feeling of claustrophobia.
While Predator is not really a scary movie, John and Jim Johnson’s lean story along with McTiernan’s tight direction wrings out maximum tension. The subversion of the soldiers’ early hyper-masculine invincibility with their increasing helplessness adds an additional layer to the movie. Early action scenes blend seamlessly with the movie’s later leaning on suspense. Look no further than Schwarzenegger’s final showdown with the alien for McTiernan’s apt fusion of action with traditional horror. Ultimately, Predator draws favourable comparisons with other classic action-horror films, including Aliens.
Stan Winston Magic and an Instantly Memorable Mythology
In the years following its release, Predator’s reputation among critics and fans alike has grown. Today, cinephiles justifiably regarded it as a classic and among the best films from the decade. Its central antagonist has similarly been elevated among cinema’s elite monsters. Legendary makeup effects guru Stan Winston once again worked his magic in Predator creating a visually imposing monster. Winston’s design was greatly assisted by McTiernan’s decision to keep the alien hidden for most of the film. As a result, the first full body shot of the ‘Predator’ as it hunted Dutch and its later unmasking were genuine cinematic moments.
In addition to its visual elements, the mythology behind the “Predator” character has engaged audiences in ways very similar to fan intrigue with the Xenomorph in the Alien franchise. The simple premise found in Predator has been subsequently expanded in other media ranging from comic books and novels to crossover films. To date, two Predator sequels have been produced with mixed results. I’ll go on record and say that 2010’s Predators was criminally underrated. Later this year, the mythology will be further expanded again with Shane Black-directed sequel The Predator.
‘Get to the Choppa” and Watch Predator
My first time watching Predator was a defining childhood moment. It’s one of the rare films that can stand up to multiple viewings without disappointing. Nostalgia is NOT the sole driving force behind Predator’s continuing relevancy. Even the film’s early 80’s action film tropes shouldn’t keep new audiences from enjoying it. Fans will hopefully get the sequel they been waiting for later this year when The Predator hits screens.