Released on June 12, 1987, Predator melded two genres perfectly—the military action film and the horror film. Though James Cameron initially did this a year earlier with his Colonial Marines against xenomorphs in Aliens, Predator grounded the troops—literally—in the jungles of Central America against an unrelenting outer space foe. Though it was critically drubbed as having a “thin story,” audiences made the film the second biggest success of 1987 behind Beverly Hills Cop II.
Critics and historians alike finally came around and have realized Predator for the classic that we all knew it was when it was released. It has since ended up on several Best Of lists as an ‘80s action classic. The visual effects received an Oscar® nomination.
Originally titled “Hunter,” the script started out as a joke. After the success of Rocky IV (1985), someone quipped that if Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character needed a fresh, new opponent, he’d need to box an alien from outer space. Jim and John Thomas took it to task to make that happen—a mano-a-mano fistfight between a musclebound hero and a killer alien—and wrote a spec script.
After the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, producer Joel Silver cast him in Predator as Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer. The brawny actor brought in John McTiernan to direct. The director hadn’t proven himself with successes yet, only directing the unsuccessful horror film Nomads with Pierce Brosnan. McTiernan, however, showed that he had the cinematic karate chops and directed two of the biggest action classics of the eighties: Predator and Die Hard (the following year).
An interesting bit of trivia: Jean-Claude Van Damme signed up to play the eponymous monster, but he didn’t like running around the jungle in a red, lobster-looking suit. Thankfully, Stan Winston and his team redesigned the creature and the seven-foot-three Kevin Peter Hall donned the new costume to terrorize Schwarzenegger and company.
Predator has had several sequels—Predator 2 (1990), Predators (2010), and the more recent The Predator, written and directed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Iron Man 3), who appeared as the ill-fated Hawkins in the original film. There have also been two crossover films, Aliens vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). None of the subsequent films have matched the original.
And so, in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger—“Get to da choppa!” (or in this case, the beat sheet), which will end up being Arnie vs. Predator in a ring of death.
Written by: Jim Thomas and John Thomas (David Webb Peoples uncredited)
Directed by: John McTiernan
MITH Type: Pure Monster
MITH Cousins: The Thing, Alien, Jaws, The Descent, Tremors, Jurassic Park, An American Werewolf in London, Anaconda, King Kong, Deep Blue Sea, 47 Meters Below, The Shallows, Lake Placid, Cloverfield, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mist, Godzilla, Rogue, Doom, Predators, Predator 2, The Predator, Aliens Vs. Predator
How does Predator hit Blake Snyder’s story beats? Here is the Save the Cat!® beat sheet for the film:
Opening Image: A sparkling sea of stars and then an ominous-looking spacecraft rockets past and heads towards our big blue marble, Earth. A pod releases from the alien ship and enters the atmosphere, looking like a fiery comet. Houston, we have an undocumented alien.
Set-Up: A military helicopter speeds across the ocean and lands at what looks like a Central American fishing village and also appears to be a clandestine base for military operations. A bunch of burly men wearing civilian clothes and carrying gym bags climb out of the helicopter. Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) waits behind, feet up, hat and sunglasses on, lighting a cigar. This is his Opening Image—it will change dramatically in the Final Image after he’s dropped into the Transformation Machine, is ground up, and spit out. Dutch climbs off the whirlybird and joins his men.
Dutch’s men take one Jeep and head toward their quarters while Dutch takes another and heads to HQ. There, Army General Phillips (R.G. Armstrong) greets the muscle-bound major. Phillips briefs Dutch. It seems some cabinet ministers in a helicopter went off course into enemy territory.
Al Dillon (Carl Weathers), a CIA operative, meets up with Dutch. They’re old friends. Dillon has traded his field boots in for a tie these days, “pushing too many pencils” as Dutch says. They engage in probably the most testosterone-fueled, macho “handshake” in cinema history.
Dillon asks why Dutch passed on an operation in Libya rather insistently. “We’re a rescue team, not assassins,” Dutch responds. This warrants some conspiratorial looks between Dillon and General Phillips. Are they being straight with Major Schaefer or is it all on a strictly need-to-know basis like most black ops military operations?
The mission is a one-day operation to go in and get the cabinet ministers, who are being held hostage by guerillas, and bring them back before anyone notices that the US soldiers were on foreign soil, potentially an international scandal. Though Dutch says his team works alone, Dillon insists on tagging along. This is a CIA operation after all, and he’s in charge.
After dark, the military choppers fly, covert-style, into the sleeping jungle. Dutch asks Dillon who’s backing up his team.
Theme Stated: “No such thing, old buddy,” Dillon reveals. “It’s a one-way ticket. Once we cross that border, we’re on our own.” Why? Because this story is really about the final bout with Arnie vs. Predator. Dutch works with his team, but through this ordeal, he will have to learn the lesson of working alone—without his men or equipment. There’s no back-up.
It’s a story about the survival of the human spirit at the stabby claws of the eponymous Predator, intent on killing the best opponents that humanity has to offer. Dillon, who’s Dutch’s long-time and trusted friend, will betray him. This echoes the theme of isolation through lost trust. Dutch will have to learn independence by the loss of his friends Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None-style in this relentless green hell.
In the copter, we get some character-building moments with Dutch’s team. Each has their own individual trademark and they trust each other implicitly. They’re also calm, cool, and collected. Just another day on the job for them, despite the danger.
Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura), a bull of the group who totes a heavy weapon and loves his tobacco chaw. Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), quiet, deadly, and likes to dry shave with a plastic razor as a calming technique. Rick Hawkins (Shane Black), the radio operator who’s also the group’s comedian. Jorge “Poncho” Ramirez (Richard Chaves), the no-nonsense grenadier from East LA. Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), the Native American tracker who’s made stoicism an art form. (My good friend, Marilyn Vance, who did the costumes for the film, told me that she researched Navy Seal outfits of the Vietnam War and tried to give each character their own distinct look, which is a challenge when you have a military movie where everyone usually wears the same uniform.)
We know who everyone is and their relationships by Minute 9. We also know that they resent Dillon being with them, illustrated when Blain spits tobacco on the CIA operative’s jungle boot.
The two helicopters drop Dutch and his team into the dark maw of the steaming jungle. They make their way through the dripping, dense forest.
Catalyst: At 12 minutes in, Dutch and his team find the downed helicopter in a tree. The point man, Poncho, and Dillon use their grappling hooks to climb up and check it out. The helicopter is completely stripped and the pilots are dead.
Debate: Things don’t add up. A bunch of “half-assed mountain boys” have supposedly taken out the helicopter with a sophisticated heat-seeking missile. Billy, the expert tracker, finds bootprints of the personnel taken from the chopper by the rebels, but something else—six others in US-issue jungle boots heading toward the guerillas. Who were they? Dutch asks Dillon, who denies knowing anything about it.
Something watches the troops from the trees using advanced (for the time) thermal vision. What is it? Who is watching them? The guerillas? Or something else?
Billy comes upon a grisly discovery. Several bodies hung upside-down and flayed of their flesh, the entrails of the victims in a heap. Vultures swarm the carrion. Dutch reads one of the blood-stained dog tags. It belonged to Jim Hopper, a Special Forces member from Fort Bragg, NC. Hopper and Dutch were friends. Dutch again asks Dillon, but the CIA operative just gives a pat answer of not knowing what Green Berets were doing operating in the area.
Dutch says that the men were too good to walk into an ambush. Billy, evaluating the trail and all the expended brass bullet casings, doesn’t believe they did. But they didn’t leave the area—it’s like they vanished.
Dutch’s men are disturbed and haunted by the atrocities they find, and the unanswered questions. They double down on their patrol, staying ready, heading down the guerilla trail continuing their mission to find the missing cabinet members. Blain pulls out his minigun, dubbed “Ol’ Painless,” for some serious payback.
They reach the guerilla village and Dutch gets confirmation that the hostages are there. The leader of the guerilla village executes one with a pistol. It’s time to move.
Break into Two: Now we see how well Dutch’s special ops team moves—like a well-oiled machine. Mac removes tripwires that surround the village. Billy and the others take out sentries that have LPOP (Listening Point Observation Point) positions around the camp’s perimeter.
Dutch deadlifts a rusted-out truck up on blocks used as a pump to siphon water from the nearby stream, and after arming it with a satchel charge, lets it loose into the camp, creating a diversion. Then bombs, bullets, and bodies fly in an over-the-top action sequence that Joel Silver movies became known for. So much for being a “rescue team, not assassins.”
When all the guerillas in the place are dead, Dillon has a field day with all the intel (maps and documents) that are lying around. It seems that there was another objective here. Dillon reveals to Dutch that hitting this camp and destroying it was a front. The guerillas were working with the Soviets… and something big was going down. Yes, the men on the chopper were Dillon’s, but they were an “expendable asset,” just like Dutch’s men.
With a true leader’s rebuttal, Dutch says that he doesn’t do this kind of work and that “my men are not expendable.” So the truth is out there—Hopper’s special forces team were sent previously on a mission and failed to return. (Can you say Predator bait?) And now it seems that Dutch’s team is going to end up the same way.
B Story: During the skirmish, a soldier attempts to kill Dutch, who knocks out his attempted assailant. It’s a woman: Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), now the team’s prisoner. But more than that, Anna—in true B Story form that relates the Theme Stated—is the one who’s going to help Dutch truly survive by teaching him about this unknown, improbable enemy.
Fun and Games: The Predator watches the proceedings from the trees via its thermal imaging. Even recording the voices. It seems impressed by the carnage and the possibility of a new sport—this team of badasses that are a force to be reckoned with. What’s a bigger challenge for a big game hunter from outer space?
Hawkins calls in for helicopter extraction. Their position is too hot. They need to make it across the border before they can be airlifted back to the base. Looks like they have a long walk in the wilderness in their immediate future. With prisoner Anna it tow (under the care of Dillon), the group heads back through the jungle.
The group begins their long and arduous hump back through the bush. They’ve been in tough campaigns but this one is a challenge. Billy the tracker is spooked. Something is out in the trees but he doesn’t know what it is. More guerillas? Not likely. He’s pretty sure what’s stalking them isn’t human.
Anna uses a distraction along the hilly trail as a means of escape. Hawkins chases after her. It’s the last thing he does—the invisible Predator comes down from the trees and murders him, stealing his corpse. Terrified, Anna can only gaze in shock and horror, Hawkins’ blood covering her. Dutch attempts to find out what happened but Anna is not sure, saying that “the jungle came alive and took him.”
As the team goes searching for Hawkins, Blain is next in line for Predator’s attack. This time, Mac is there. He sees Predator’s green eyes flash while in cloaking mode.
Grabbing his fallen comrade’s mini gun, Mac empties the weapon into the jungle, mowing down every tree and bush in sight. Dutch and the rest of the team join in.
During the melee, Anna finds some green, luminescent fluid on some leaves. Is it the Predator’s blood?
After the shootout, the Predator, wounded, administers some of its own first aid. This is the first, uncloaked look that we get of our intergalactic antagonist.
Midpoint: Dillon uses Hawkins’ satellite radio. It’s still too hot for pickup. They’re going to have to walk out. Dutch has lost one-third of his team already, Hawkins and Blain, so the clock is ticking and the stakes are raising. It’s only a matter of time before they all end up like their dead friends.
Bad Guys Close In: Since it’s getting dark, Dutch needs to set up a patrol base so they can bivouac for the night. They set up a perimeter with trip wires and take turns with guard duty. That doesn’t stop the Predator. During Mac’s skirmish with a wild boar (which he mistakes for the Predator), the eponymous alien comes into camp and steals Blain’s body without tripping a single boobytrap. How?
The next morning, Dutch realizes that their adversary is using the trees to get around. He asks Anna what they’re dealing with. She says it’s like a chameleon that can disguise itself and use the jungle to get around. Dutch cuts Anna loose—it’s hunting all of them and he needs the extra hands. Dillon objects saying that they have 10-12 miles to their airlift. Dutch tells him they need to make a stand now or there will be no one left to go to the chopper. Anna tells him about the blood on the leaves. Dutch says, “if it bleeds, we can kill it.”
The remainder of Dutch’s team and Anna fashion a trap made from ropes. Dutch is learning but Dillon jokes that these “Boy Scout tactics won’t work.” This attitude will end up being his undoing—he’s not willing to change. The trap is set.
As they wait for the Predator to fall into their king-sized “mouse trap,” Anna, who’s the Half (wo)man, tells an eerie story. When she was young, many men in her village were butchered and skinned alive (like Jim Hopper). She says that it happens in the hottest months of the year and that the old women called whatever killed their males “el Demonio cazador de trofeos” (the demon who makes trophies of man), tying A and B stories together.
They wait for the Predator to come… but nothing. Dillon snipes, “What’s next, cheese?” Instead, Dutch proves what a real leader is—willing to do something dangerous rather than asking one of his team. He stalks out into the trap, careful not to trip any of the ropes that will trigger the snare.
Nothing happens. For a moment. As Dutch gives up and starts heading back to the edge of the trap, the net erupts and something invisible, though it has a form, is whisked skyward into the net. All hell breaks loose. The Predator begins firing its rocket launcher. One rocket springs the log trap that swings into Poncho, crushing his ribs and chest. The Predator makes short work of its ropy net and heads for the trees. But not before Dillon gets a good look at the alien hunter.
Mac, full of rage and revenge against the murderer of his best friend, charges after the Predator. Dutch and Anna try to help the broken and bloodied Poncho to his feet. They have miles to reach the extraction point where the chopper will pick them up. Dillon tells Dutch that he’ll go and get Mac, as well as settle a score. Dutch says that’s not Dillon’s style, essentially to do the right thing. But Dillon says, “maybe I’m learning a few things from you.”
As Billy leads Dutch, Anna, and Poncho out of the trap area and down the trail, Dillon searches in the direction that Mac went. Mac grabs Dillon and points. The Predator is out beyond the trees. It just seems to be using its invisibility device to hang out in a clearing. Is the Predator baiting them like they did to it… or is it really unsuspecting? Dillon has a plan. Mac draws forward. Dillon will move around and flank the Predator and flush it toward Mac.
Sounds like a perfect plan, but like in any movie, a perfect plan usually fails miserably, particularly when the planners underestimate their opponent. With a missile to the head, the Predator kills Mac first (this is probably the most merciful killing compared to what all the other soldiers receive). This attack alerts Dillon, who fires on the Predator. After another missile takes off Dillon’s right arm, the dying CIA operative tries to pull out his other MP5 machine gun to retaliate. However, he’s not fast enough—the Predator impales him with his wrist spikes. Dillon’s dying scream echoes through the jungle.
All Is Lost: Dutch, Anna, Poncho, and Billy hear the dying screams. They’re on their own now. Things have gone from bad to worse—it’s only a matter of time before they’re picked off one by one. This beat reflects the Catalyst beat in the opening. The team was sliding into what seemed like a routine rescue mission, and now the stakes are raised as most of them are gone, their mission a failure, and they’re running for their lives.
Billy is done running. He drops his rifles into the river, rips off his vest, grabs his mojo bag, slices his chest open with his gatka blade, and prepares to meet the eponymous Predator mano-a-mano. Dutch realizes that Billy has gone completely native at this point. It’s no use to order him now. Billy is his own warrior. Dutch and Anna help Poncho along. Not too far down the trail, they hear the dying screams of Billy. Another easy victim of the Predator.
Dark Night of the Soul: And then there were three… Dutch and Anna struggle to get Poncho to the extraction point. Whoom! A bolt from the trees strikes Poncho in the head, killing him. He drops his weapon. Anna reaches for it. Dutch kicks it out of her hand and tells her no (the Predator will only attack when somebody is armed—no sport). Dutch turns and fires.
The Predator fires a bolt, striking Dutch in the shoulder. He screams at Anna with the most famous line in the movie, “Get to da choppa,” which ties in the A and B Stories. Dutch runs away, frantic, the predator on his tail—going in for the kill. Dutch loses his footing and finds himself sliding down the side of a hill and splashing into a river, and then tumbling over some falls. It’s quite the death and baptismal rebirth.
He pulls his tired form to the muddy shore, his face and body covered in the slimy clay mud. Splash! His pursuer drops into the river and swims toward his location, following Dutch using the thermal imager. Dutch has nothing to fight back with. Muddy and tired, all he can do is prop himself up against some logs and hope for the best. It looks like these are Dutch’s final moments; he will be joining the rest of his team in death.
Break Into Three: Instead, the Predator doesn’t see him. Dutch is mystified… why? And then he realizes that the mud that covers his body has acted like a camouflage, and that the Predator sees using heat signatures. If he keeps himself covered in mud, he may just have a chance. He won’t become just another trophy for the big game hunter from outer space. He has to learn to fight the technological with the primitive—sticks and mud. He must go “full Tarzan” if he’s to survive this strange killer.
1. Gathering the Team: Dutch begins making the tools to fight his adversary.
2. Executing the Plan: Once Dutch has his traps in place and fresh mud covering his statuesque form, he grabs his bow and gives out a yell that the Lord of the Jungle would envy. Dutch successful hurts the Predator, killing its cloaking device. The killer alien bleeds its telltale glowing green blood. “If it bleeds, he can kill it indeed.” He hunts down his prey, ready to plunge the spear in to finish the job.
3. High Tower Surprise: The Predator attacks! Throwing every defense, in the form of missiles, at Dutch. The colonel must cut and run. In the melee, he falls into the water, washing off his only defense against the Predator’s thermal imager—mud.
4. Dig, Deep Down: Dutch goes hand-to-hand with the Predator but it’s much too powerful for him. He can’t win against his interstellar foe in a fight like this, he must resort to guerilla tactics and trickery. He has to beat the Predator at its own game as a hunter.
5. Executing the New Plan: Realizing that he cannot beat the Predator with his fists, Dutch, bruised and bloodied, crawls to the initial traps that he built in anticipation of killing his star-traveler foe. “Come on! Kill me! I’m here!” The Predator, constantly studying and adapting to its prey, figures out that Dutch is leading him to a trap, the spiked gate. The Predator circumvents the trap and takes another avenue to vanquish his most resilient of prey. It was a good fight, but the Predator is ready to close the deal and place the final skull in his collection—Major Schaefer!
The killer doesn’t know that Dutch made a back-up trap, a log precariously dangling up high from a vine. Dutch kicks away the trigger and the log drops, crushing the “ugly motherfucker” in the head. Spitting out glowing green blood that looks like somebody cut open a chemlight, the Predator dies.
Dutch asks, “What the hell are you?” which the Predator only parrots back. There’s a certain fleeting admiration between the two. Then the Predator flips open a machine strapped to its wrist and programs a code with a dying finger. Dutch isn’t sure what his vanquished foe is doing, but it can’t be good. The Predator has one last trick up its sleeve: total annihilation. Dutch runs away—fast— and the bomb rips through the jungle and mushroom clouds into the morning sky.
Final Image: Dutch is nearly dead, tired, but alive, having traveled through the Transformation Machine and came out in one piece on the other side. He faced the greatest foe in the jungle by himself, proving he’s the greater predator, the king of the jungle. Nothing, be it beast or alien from another world, can stem the human spirit.
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