At some point in ’85 or ’86, producer Joel Silver was asked to come aboard a project developed from a mysterious script about an alien hunter that appeared under an executive’s door one day. Arranged as a vehicle for Austrian body-builder-turned-action-star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator was an unexpected genre pastiche that’s widely regarded as one of the best ’80s action movies. Though the cast and crew seemed to have had fun in the jungle together, the making of Predator was tough from start to finish, as evidenced by these Predator movie facts.
Schwarzenegger stars as Dutch, a soldier in charge of leading his elite Special Forces team into a Central American jungle on a rescue mission. The mission is interrupted by an alien presence, and all hell breaks loose. Predator was primarily shot near Palenque, Mexico, and incorporates elements of action, sci fi, and horror. The cast and crew dealt with the extreme heat of the jungle and serious illnesses brought on by eating and drinking contaminated food and water.
But illness was only one of the movie’s obstacles. Director John McTiernan recalls trouble right out of the gate, saying, “The first day of shooting was the worst nightmare I’ve ever seen.” Things didn’t get easier. One of the most interesting Predator behind-the-scenes stories centers on the original Predator suit, and the muscle-bound man from Brussels initially hired to play the part. They were both a complete disaster.
Read all about the hokey red suit from hell in the Predator making-of stories below. And don’t forget Arnold’s sage advice, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Jean-Claude Van Damme Was Originally Cast As The Predator
Before CGI and over-the-top special effects, someone had to actually put on a monster suit. Belgian martial artist and uber-buff muscle man Jean-Claude Van Damme went to Hollywood with the dream of becoming a super star actor. The Muscles from Brussels landed the role of the Predator but didn’t realize he would be unrecognizable once he put on the suit.
Makeup effects supervisor Steve Johnson recalls, “I’m like, ‘Jean-Claude, did no one tell you? It’s a cloaking device. You’re invisible for half of the picture. This is not you.’ Which made him even angrier because he thought he could do his martial arts, he could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger. Impossible. Absolutely Impossible.”
There’s some debate surrounding the exact reason why Van Damme was replaced as the Predator. Did he quit? Was he fired? Though the jury is still out, Schwarzenegger described the Belgian as a “relentless complainer.”
As Van Damme complained,
“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.’”
As the legend goes, a stuntman was brought in to wear the Predator suit and do the jump the Belgian refused to perform. Lo and behold, Van Damme was correct – the jump was dangerous; the stuntman broke his leg. Still, Van Damme was replaced with Kevin Peter Hall, who stood at 7’2” (a foot taller than Van Damme), and was a very good actor, not just a muscle-bound fighter in a suit. Hall was fresh off playing Harry in Harry and the Hendersons when cast in Predator.
Arnold Got Health-Conscious Carl Weathers Hooked On Cigars
As can be seen in The Unseen Arnold Schwarzenegger, a short, behind-the-scenes doc from the Predator special edition Blu-ray, the supreme muscle man was always smoking cigars on the set of Predator. He handed his cigar to the closest crew member right before takes and, immediately after the take was finished, shouted “Who has my stogie?” He can even be seen smoking during arduous physical rehearsal.
Carl Weathers, formerly of the NFL, was very conscious of what he put in his body during his career as an actor and athlete. As he said in an interview about the making of Predator,
“Being the athlete that I am, and the clean living person that I am, never in a million years would I let tobacco touch my lips. Absolutely not. But I sat there in that chair getting a whiff of this great, great aroma of this stogie. And Arnold eventually said ‘Carly, you want one?’ ‘Sure, why not?’ I was hooked. It was all over… within a few days, Arnold had a box of stogies delivered to me.”
The Cast Endured Arduous Military Training That Was A Cake Walk For Jesse Ventura
As various members of the cast of Predator explain in making-of documentary If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It, the core group of actors in the film went through military training that entailed being brought 20 miles into the jungles outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with a trainer and walking back to civilization. The trip was a nightmare for most involved, but a cake walk for Jesse Ventura, who was a member of the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team from 1970 to 1975.
The training helped the actors learn how to move through the jungle as a team and communicate with nonverbal tools like hand signals. After it was finished, Ventura joked about the abilities of his cast mates: “I’ll put it this way: I wouldn’t wanna go in real with these guys, but I’ll definitely do a film with them.
The Screenwriters Got The Idea For ‘Predator’ From A Joke About ‘Rocky’
When the idea for Predator was first bandied about back lots in Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger was coming off the success of 1985’s Commando, which was produced by Joel Silver, who was brought aboard a sci-fi project based on a spec script (one written speculatively, not as an assignment) slipped under an executive’s door by brothers Jim and John Thomas. The Thomas brothers had never sold anything before, and got their scripts into the hands of producers by sneaking onto the Fox lot.
Predator was originally called Hunter. The famous joke going around Hollywood in the mid-80s was about who Rocky Balboa would fight in Rocky V after defeating much larger, much stronger Russian opponent Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? Rocky had beaten just about everyone, so would his next opponent have to be an alien? The Thomas brothers based their script on that joke.
The Film’s Insurance Company Required A Security Guard For Actor Sonny Landham
Actor Sonny Landham had a reputation for being combative when he was cast as Billy in Predator. Because of this, the company insuring the film insisted Landham have a bodyguard, not to protect him, but to protect people from him. As McTiernan recalls, “We had this 6’8″ tall giant who just had to follow Sonny around 24 hours a day the entire time he worked on the movie and make sure that Sonny never misbehaved.”
Bonus fact: Landham got his start in films of a penetrating nature made specifically for audiences 18 years of age or older. A quick Google image search will lead you to various enlightening photos of his lance flopping about in a bed of downy pubes.
Director John McTiernan Sees ‘Predator’ As Fundamentally Akin To ‘King Kong’
Despite the Rocky-vs-an-alien origins of the Predator script, director John McTiernan thought the project was more akin to King Kong. “Bunch of guys go to an island, and go deeper and deeper in, and, shazam, the thing they’re chasing turns out to be a lot bigger than they thought, and they have to turn around and run away!”
Schwarzenegger Pulled An Epic Fast One On Ventura
The former governor of California tricked former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura big time. One day, the wardrobe department on Predator told Ventura his massive biceps were one inch larger than Arnold’s. So Jesse the Body approached the former Mr. Universe and asked him if he wanted to compare biceps – whoever had bigger guns got a bottle of champagne from the puny loser. Ventura lost, and found out he had been duped.
Tricky Arnold told the wardrobe department to mislead Ventura, so he could win the champagne.
It’s Never Too Early For A Clandestine Pump
By many accounts, the shoot for Predator was grueling. Filming occurred around Palenque, Mexico, near the border with Guatemala; it was extremely hot, the terrain was treacherous, and illness took no prisoners. Even still, the muscle-bound cast of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Landham, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Richard Chaves, and Bill Duke not only showed up ready for work every day, but also got up early to get in some pumps at the gym.
As Carl Weathers describes in If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator, the stars of the film wanted to show up for shooting each day with massive, toned muscles without seeming as though they were putting in any work to get that look. Because of this, they got up as early as 4:00 am and went to the gym to get a pump in. If another actor happened to be in the gym, Weathers would sneak off to get coffee and return when the gym was empty, so no one would see him lifting.
Production Was Shut Down To Work On The Monster, With Accidental Input From None Other Than James Cameron
Imagine trying to make a monster movie and the monster looks like a ridiculous duck. Also, the 200 pound suit was a life-threatening danger to anyone who dared to wear it. The studio decided to shut down production to make a better monster. During the shut down, the producers needed to drum up additional financing and convince the studio not to stop the movie completely.
By showing a rough assembly of about an hour of footage to studio executives, producers secured funding to finish Predator, including money to hire legendary makeup design artist Stan Winston to work on the Predator suit. In a miraculous example of Hollywood kismet, Winston was on a plane to Japan with James Cameron while working on designs for Predator. Cameron said to Winston, “You know, I always wanted to see something with mandibles…”
Screenwriter Shane Black Was Not Hired For His Acting Chops
Shane Black was cast as US Army commando Hawkins in Predator in his first major screen role. Prior to Predator, Black wrote the screenplay for Lethal Weapon. If you’re a release date enthusiast, you’ll know Predator and Lethal Weapon came out the same year. Lethal Weapon went into production before Predator, and Black had been working with producer Joel Silver on the script, and a few other projects, for some time before Predator landed on Silver’s desk.
According to McTiernan, Black wasn’t cast for his acting chops. McTiernan and Silver wanted Black on set in case any last-minute script changes were needed (as Black tells it, he convinced them to cast him because he didn’t want to rewrite what he saw as a perfectly fine script, but wanted to be involved in the movie anyway). McTiernan said of the writer/actor, “And he has a great wise-ass manner.”
John McTiernan Broke His Wrist Falling Out Of A Tree And Arnold Had To Perform One Scene With An IV In
As you might imagine, filming in the jungles of Mexico is rough. Just about every member of the cast and crew got sick during production. There were venomous snakes, extreme heat, and the drinking water at the hotel was not filtered properly, so many came down with diarrhea and fever.
McTiernan refused to eat much local food for fear of getting sick. “I lost 25lbs, the line producer lost almost forty,” he recalls. The film’s star also suffered. McTiernan said Schwarzenegger had to perform one scene with an IV bottle in his arm, and he grows noticeably thinner throughout the movie, because he made an effort to eat less in order to avoid sickness.
McTiernan also broke his wrist after falling out of a tree during production.
Carl Weathers Was Cast Because He’s A Legit Actor
Predator was WWF super star Jesse “the Body” Ventura’s first movie. Shane Black got the part of Hawkins in case the production needed an emergency writer. Due the relative inexperience and obscurity of most of his cast, McTiernan needed someone well known, a quality actor to work against Schwarzenegger, a performer who could hold the screen and lend gravitas and respectability to the project.
So McTiernan cast Carl Weathers as Dillon. Weathers retired from the NFL in 1974 and set his sights on becoming a real-deal actor. By the time Predator shot in 1986, Weathers had appeared as Apollo Creed in four Rocky films and had a slew of television credits.
Leaves Started Falling Off Trees Two Weeks Into Production, Fundamentally Changing The Look Of Locations
Adding to the long list of production nightmares, McTiernan claims Predator‘s production designer didn’t do proper research, and had no idea the trees on location lost their leaves. Because of this, he wasn’t unprepared when, two weeks into the shoot, leaves started falling off trees. To compensate for the deciduous Mexican jungle, tons of fake leaves were added to the trees to make them appear dense.
Even still, one astute New York Times reviewer commented that the trees in the movie looked like New Hampshire woods in November. Oops.
The Temperature On Location Was About The Same As Human Body Temp, Making Actors Invisible To Infrared Cameras For Predator POV Shots
Those super cool shots of the Predator’s vision were a nightmare to film. The crew tried real heat vision cameras to get alien POV shots, but the big camera’s cord only stretched four feet from the production van. Temperatures on location caused further problems.
“The ambient temperature in Mexico was in the 90s. Consequently, people were the same temperature as the background, and they were perfectly camouflaged,” explained McTiernan.
The crew tried to fix the temperature issue by spraying trees with ice water and making actors stand by a fire before filming. Neither of these ideas worked. In the end, the effect was created by a combination of shots created with multiple types of cameras at once and the use of expensive digital effects. Money for the latter wasn’t in the budget, so McTiernan had to plead his case to producers to get the film finished.
Glow Sticks Were Used To Create Predator’s Blood
McTiernan and company wanted the Predator’s blood to be orange, which proved difficult. A member of the effects team suggested cutting open glow sticks and using the liquid within instead.
Thus was born the glowing neon green alien blood of Predator.
A Monkey Was Hired To Play Invisible Predator Swinging Through Trees, But Was Embarrassed To Perform In Costume
For the early shots of invisible Predator moving through trees, a stuntman wore a red suit that was removed via special effects in post production. At first, however, McTiernan wanted to use a monkey, to get smooth, inhuman movements.
A monkey was brought in, “but once we got the red suit on him… the monkey was so embarrassed by the red suit that he hid! He’d go up in a tree and cower, and he wouldn’t do what monkeys do.”
Arnold Will Not Be Back For Shane Black’s Series Reboot
Here’s a fact about 2018’s series reboot written and directed by Shane Black: Arnold Schwarzenegger will not be in it. Arnold didn’t pull any punches about why he declined the offer. “They asked me, and I read it, and I didn’t like it — whatever they offered. So I’m not going to do that, no. Except if there’s a chance that they rewrite it, or make it a more significant role. But the way it is now, no, I won’t do that.”