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To put it kindly, the Predator franchise has experienced a few ups and downs over the course of its 31-year existence. Between five films in which the alien has appeared, there is a wide range in terms of quality, and each chapter has offered something very different to the official canon. Still, it's managed to persist as one of the most popular science-fiction franchises from the late 20th century, and soon theaters everywhere will be hosting the latest installment, Shane Black's The Predator.
As we count down the weeks until The Predator's release, we've constructed this guide to help you get to better know the movies -- motivated by anticipation. Below and across the next few pages we'll dive not only into each individual film, but also examine the various eras that the films have gone through. To kick things off, here's a rundown of all the titles we've seen in the franchise so far:
A team of commandos, led by retired US Army Special Forces Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), travels down to Central America when hired for a mission saving hostages in guerrilla solider-held territory. What they don't know, however, is that the jungle has another visitor: an insanely deadly extraterrestrial warrior that lives to hunt, kill, and take skulls and spines as trophies.
Predator 2 (1990)
Ever drawn to the combination of high temperatures and violence, the titular villain in Predator 2 finds itself drawn to the city of Los Angeles as the area is mired in both a gang war and a heat wave. As the alien goes on a rampage, the only thing standing in its way is Lieutenant Mike R. Harrigan (Danny Glover), a gruff cop who plays by his own rules.
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
In the year 2004, a team of archeologists make their way down to the south pole when their work uncovers a strange heat signal. Not only do they wind up discovering a hidden underground pyramid, but also a long relationship between Predators and the aliens known as Xenomorphs. The pyramid is used as a rite of passage for the former, tasked with finding and killing the latter, and the humans find themselves stuck in the crossfire.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
The sequel begins with the creation of a new creature when it's revealed that a Facehugger impregnated a Predator, leading to the birth of the first Predalien. The spaceship it's on crash lands in a small Colorado town, and an alien infestation begins - leading to another Predator coming to Earth to try and stop it.
Rather than taking place on Earth, this is the first movie to take place on the Predator homeworld. A group of men and women selected as the best killers on Earth are abducted and brought to the violent planet, specifically to be tested to see if they have what it takes to survive against not only attacking Predators, but the dangerous flora and fauna.
The Predator (2018)
When former Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encounters a Predator when on a mission in Mexico, the government tries to shut him up by packing him up and shipping him off with a bunch of ex-soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional issues. As it turns out, however, this group may be the only thing standing in between the human race and total annihilation.
The Original Movies
Having made hits like the Conan films, The Terminator, and Commando, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a big deal by the time Predator came around - and in 1986 producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon approached him about the project. The movie actually started as a joke about the Rocky movies; arguing that eventually there would be so many sequels that the eponymous pugilist would need to fight an alien. Well, screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took the nugget of that idea and ran with it. Originally titled Hunter, it was molded into the movie that we know today thanks to Silver's sensibilities, and to this day it remains one of the singularly best sci-fi action movies ever made.
Predator is a film very much of its era, built on a foundation of huge muscles and powerful guns, and even with its high-concept plot it manages to establish a history and canon for its titular killer alien. They are particularly drawn to hot environments, but far more important to them is the challenge of the hunt. The Predators are a prideful species, and specifically look to go after the most dangerous prey possible -- collecting body part trophies along the way. In Predator, the alien meets its match in Dutch, as while the creature is outfitted with a ton of high-tech weaponry and armor, their vision while in action is thermal-based. Dutch is able to exploit this weakness by using mud and cold water to drop his body temperature, and he successfully gets the upper-hand. Worthy of notice is that Dutch doesn't kill the Predator himself, with the extraterrestrial instead performing its own kind of seppuku by activating an explosive device on its wrist.
In a vacuum, Predator isn't really a story begging for a sequel -- given that most of the ensemble cast is killed, and there are zero unanswered questions. However, the film was a worldwide smash hit (pulling in $98.3 million, unadjusted for inflation), and so the movie gods demanded a follow-up.
What fans got was 1990's Predator 2: a blockbuster with very little actual connection to its predecessor. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't return as Dutch due to a contract dispute, and Stephen Hopkins took over for John McTiernan in the director's chair. Set seven years in the future, the sequel replaced the jungle setting of the original with the urban landscape of Los Angeles -- specifically during both a heat wave and a violent gang war. The Predator starts going crazy on the street toughs, and stuck in the middle of the whole thing is Danny Glover's Lt. Mike R. Harrigan (Glover clearly being a very different protagonist than Schwarzenegger, but having notable history with Joel Silver via the Lethal Weapons features).
Unfortunately, Predator 2 got more than a few unkind reviews, and failed to put up numbers anywhere near its predecessor -- ultimately making about half the money globally. Because it was deemed as a disappointment, the Predator franchise went into hibernation... but it always had an ace in its back pocket. After all, Predator 2 includes a shot featuring the head of a Xenomorph, which kept speculation open for years about the possibility of a crossover movie.
And then it happened.
The Alien Crossovers
Weirdly, the concept of Alien vs. Predator pre-dates the release of Predator 2 by nearly a year, as the idea was launched in comic book form. Published by Dark Horse Comics as part of their Dark Horse Presents series, the conflict between the two titular extraterrestrials played out over three issues, and was possible thanks to 20th Century Fox being in control of both franchises. Still, while fans spent years begging for a film adaptation, it wasn't really in the cards thanks to the on-going success of the Alien series independently. That came to an end in 1997 with the release of Alien Resurrection, and in 2004 the die-hards finally got the movie that they had been begging for... kinda.
Director Paul W. S. Anderson was coming off the success of the first Resident Evil when he signed on to make Alien vs. Predator - the filmmaker's resume including 1990s features like Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and Soldier. Despite the fact that it had been established that Predators prefer warmer climates, the adventure took the movie's ensemble (Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen and Ewen Bremner) to Antarctica to try and discover an ancient secret. Instead, they wind up getting caught in the middle of a centuries old ritual that finds Predators come to Earth and face off against Xenomorphs as a test, with humans included as sacrifices. Notably, it's the first title in the film to portray Predators as protagonists, as they essentially wind up teaming with the scientists, drillers, and mercenaries when the situation with the Xenomorphs gets out of control.
Alien vs. Predator was ultimately crazy successful both at home and abroad, making $172 million by the end of its run, but not everyone was super pleased with it. Not only did it get roasted by critics, but many were quick to complain about the film's rating - as it took two very R-rated creatures and stuffed them into a PG-13 package. The studio attempted to fix this with a follow-up three years later, 2007's Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, but things still didn't exactly work out perfectly.
Fox put the future of two of their most powerful brands in the hands of Colin and Greg Strause, who were notably first time directors when they were given the gig. The primary reason they were hired is because they were founders of the visual effects company Hydraulx, and with that expertise they could help keep the budget low without sacrificing production value. Sadly, the results of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem suggest that it probably wasn't the right call.
The movie is weirdly the first title in the Predator franchise to pick up where the last story left off -- specifically with the birth of the Predalien: half-Predator, half Xenomorph. Clearly the idea of having such a creature running around wild is absolutely nightmarish, which is why it becomes a serious problem in the movie when the space ship it's on crash lands in Colorado. More Predators come down to our planet to try and stop the menace (once again taking our side), and there is a hell of a lot more bloodshed, but still the film registered as a disaster, and remains the worst-reviewed title in either franchise.
It's worth noting that while it's only been a little more than a decade since the release of Alien vs. Predator and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, history has not treated the movies incredibly well. Specifically, Ridley Scott totally nixed the titles from the Alien canon with both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant; and it doesn't look like it will register in the work that Shane Black is doing on The Predator. But, who knows? Ten years from now some genius filmmaker may crack the code to make this concept work, and deliver something that buys back some credibility.
The Modern Era
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem didn't light the world on fire, but at the very least it did wind up inspiring a new generation of Predator titles -- though not anything as consistent as a regular series. Rather, the folks at 20th Century Fox recognized that there still remained a lot of potential in the brand -- which is what led to a partnership with Troublemaker Studios and writer/director Robert Rodriguez.
Funny enough, Rodriguez wrote the script for Predators all the way back in 1994 when he was filming his second movie, Desperado, but the approach was turned down because the studio believed it would cost too much money. The world of filmmaking changed a lot in fifteen years, however, and so the filmmaker was given a new opportunity to create his vision of a Predator movie. With Rodriguez producing, Alex Litvak and Michael Finch wrote new versions of his screenplay, and directing duties were given to Nimrod Antal.
As noted earlier, Predators takes the franchise away from Earth for the first time, and features an impressive ensemble including Adrian Brody, Mahershala Ali, Walton Goggins, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, and Lawrence Fishburne. In addition to introducing the homeworld of the titular creatures, the movie also designates different kinds of predators, including Trackers, Falconers, and Berserkers. There is a strict hierarchy in the society, which makes sense when you consider the emphasis the culture puts on trophies and honor. It ends on a semi-cliffhanger, as more Predator captives are shown parachuting down to the planet's surface, but it doesn't look as though we will ever get to see a super conclusive ending to that story.
Predators earned solid/mixed reviews, but its bigger issue came when the film hit theaters. While made for a modest-by-blockbuster-standards $40 million, it only made $52 million domestically. It made its budget and marketing expenses back with international tickets, as it made $127.2 million worldwide, but the performance was mediocre enough to leave the franchise in stasis for nearly another decade as the studio tried to figure out what else they could do with the brand.
Now, the drought of Predator movies is coming to an end, however, as writer/director Shane Black -- who was actually an actor in the 1987 original -- will be delivering his new feature, The Predator, to cinemas this fall. There remain some big questions about why the aliens have returned to Earth, and it's been confirmed that we will see some dangerous genetics work, but we'll have to wait until September 14th to see what the full film has in store.