Predator 35 years on: how Hollywood created a hit action franchise

In 1987, a hyper-advanced alien species known as the “Yautja” descended on an elite military squadron in Guatemala. Thanks to its memorable performances, high-profile dialogues and inventive action scenes, “Predator” became an American action movie. The film spawned four sequels, including the new Hulu movie “Prey” and two spin-offs. Yet the mega franchise all started with a piece of paper under a door.

“The Thomas brothers sneaked the script on Fox property and under someone’s door,” said John Davis, who produced all seven “Predator” films. “We arrived on Monday and there was this script. I was a manager at the time, working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a really good friend of mine. We were always both thinking about how we could work together. And so I’m the director of this movie at Fox, and what happened is I became a producer. I auditioned to be a producer. And Arnold says, ‘Well, you’re going to be a producer now. You really need to produce this movie and go to the jungle with me. Let’s go make this.’”

For the first producer, being on the set of “Predator” was an unforgettable experience. While the jungle was a little different from the Fox offices Davis had known, things got a little easier on set thanks to Schwarzenegger, who took a private chef into the jungle every day.

“We would be in the jungle and his chef would love to make smoked salmon on toast,” explains Davis. “I think, ‘This is insanely cool! I should be doing this for the rest of my life!’ You hang out in the jungle with all these people all day and you make this movie and you do these cool action scenes and you’re figuring out how to crash a helicopter and you sweat with all these guys.

And they sweated. The producer recalls getting knocked on his door at 5:30 AM for morning workouts with Schwarzenegger and his company, and after a five-hour training session where Davis was nearly unable to move, concluded that he “had this whole movie.” However, thanks to a few fake sleep antics, Davis survived the shoot. Still, 35 years later, Davis remembers how hard it was to get the film on the big screen.

“We ran out of money, so we didn’t shoot the end,” recalls Davis. “And then a new studio head, Leonard Goldberg, came in. He saw three quarters of the film and said, ‘Okay, it’s pretty good. Why don’t you just finish it.’ And I met [John] McTiernan somehow. I saw a movie he had made before and I said, ‘This is the guy to direct this movie.’”

The film was made with John McTiernan on board. McTiernan, the respected director behind “Die Hard” and “The Hunt for Red October,” brought together an all-star cast of macho men, including Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall, Shane Black, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham and Jesse. ventura.

“[McTiernan] never read actors. His process was, ‘I notice that in a conversation,’” explains Davis. “That conversation would make it clear to him whether or not the actor was a good fit for the movie. And at the end of the day, we had two governors in the movie.”

At the end of the day, the masculine men of “Predator” made the movie an action classic with bulging muscles and countless deaths. Thanks in large part to McTiernan’s intense directing and Schwarzenegger’s legendary performance, “Predator” has cemented itself in the action movie hall of fame. And of course, having an extremely deadly and mysterious alien definitely added to the coolness factor of the movie.

Director John McTiernan on the “Predator” set in 1987
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

“The alien is an iconic creature. A comic monster, if you will,” Davis says. “Monster movies are made again and again and again and again and again. Look how many Dracula movies have been made. Or the Wolfman. I mean you can go through these iconic monsters or creatures. Once you establish them, people know they understand its mythology and want to see them back in different situations And I think both ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ on the side of 20th Century Fox are their most mythical monsters These are the most mythical creatures of 20th Century Fox.”

Three years later, the franchise expanded with the first “Predator” sequel, “Predator 2”. The film, in which alien species now infest the streets of Los Angeles, was not as well received as the first. Currently with a critical rating of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes, “Predator 2” saw Danny Glover take over the reins from Schwarzenegger as the lead actor. However, Davis reveals that Arnold would actually return as Duke for the film.

“The Thomas brothers wrote that too, and Stephen Hopkins directed it. It was a really great script,” explains Davis. “Arnold Would Play” [the lead] role. The studio negotiated with him and the whole deal fell apart for over $250,000. And it was clear: Joe Roth, who was the head of the studio at the time, just said, ‘I can’t get past this song’ and Arnold wanted this other song.”

While two spin-offs – “Alien vs. Predator” and “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” – came in the mid-2000s, it took 20 years for a direct sequel to the “Predator” franchise to be made. In the 2010 movie “Predators”, a new group of assassins were hunted by the creature, this time on a different planet used solely for hunting. In 2018, Shane Black directed the modern take on the story with “The Predator.” During the filming of that film, Davis recalls being approached by “10 Cloverfield Lane” director Dan Trachtenberg, who brought the idea of ​​a newly conceived episode to the franchise.

“Dan came to me and we went to the studio, and it was in the middle of making the other movie,” Davis says. “And we decided, ‘Okay, let’s do this, but we’re going to make it a top secret project.’ So the whole idea was to keep this top secret. The other movie would come out, and then we’d announce we were ready to make this right away. Now it took much longer than immediately because several things happened and Fox was sold. It moved to Disney, and I love it. Disney understood the potential of this franchise.”

With “Prey”, Trachtenberg takes the Predator to 18th century America. Featuring Native American and First Nation talent in front and behind the camera, the film follows a young Comanche woman as she battles the alien with tomahawks, traps and ingenuity.

“Dan did a great job,” Davis says. “This film is his imagination. This movie was his idea. People just need a new reinterpretation of this franchise every now and then. And if they have it, it will survive 100 years.”

Now that fans have seen the Yautja alien in Guatemala, Los Angeles, another planet and the Comanche nation, it’s only natural to wonder: What’s next for the Predator? Could there be a Civil War predator? What about ancient Rome? Predator vs Pirates?

“Well, maybe there’s an origin story. Right?” Davis says. “Maybe there’s another ‘Alien vs. Predator’ story in a different situation. And maybe there’s a new modern version. And maybe it’s somewhere in between. may appear.”

Still, 1987’s “Predator” is a time capsule of the action-packed films of Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone that took over Hollywood in the 1980s. For Davis, shooting “Predator” was a representation of what Hollywood should be.

“It was neat. It was amazing. It was glamorous. It was everything Hollywood should have been,” Davis says. “Arnold had decided we should all smoke cigars all the time. Always. And at the end of the movie, the studio gave us the bill for the cigars and we said, ‘Oh. Yes…'”

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