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.