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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, Hollywood

‘Predator’ (1987): The Mecca of 1980s Hollywood Action


Directed by: John McTiernan || Produced by: Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver, John Davis

Screenplay by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black || Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Elpidia Carrillo, Richard Chaves, Sonny Landham, Kevin Peter Hall

Music by: Alan Silvestri || Cinematography: Donald McAlpine || Editing by: Mark Helfrich, John F. Link || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 107 minutes

In a part of the world where there are no rules, deep in the jungle, where nothing that lives is safe, an elite rescue squad is being led by the ultimate warrior. But now, they’re up against the ultimate enemy. Nothing like it has ever been on earth before… It kills for pleasure, it hunts for sport. But this time, it picked the wrong man to hunt.”

There are so many great moments, so many great lines, and so many visuals, both in classic 1980s action poses and in creepy, science-fiction heat-vision, that were made into iconic hallmarks of that decade’s action genre, as well as science-fiction in general, by the classic 1987 John McTiernan film, Predator. The movie is often mentioned with other hallmarks of the macho, violent, action-packed decade of the era, such as Commando (1985), the Rambo series (1982, 1985, 1988), Die Hard (1988), Bloodsport (1988), Cobra (1986) and Robocop (1987).

Top: Guns? We got ’em. Bottom: Stereotypical 1980s Hollywood action meets stereotypical 1970s Hollywood sci-fi horror.

Although the 1980s were filled with as much action-schlock as any other decade, it had its great standouts as well, and the best of the best refused to be pigeonholed into a single, well defined genre. Predator has as much in common with sci-fi and suspense films as far as tone and cinematography are concerned, but its visual style and finishing garnish carry that definitive 1980s “tough guy”-coat. It’s this commando style that defined that era’s action films as a whole, regardless whether that image was merely skin deep or penetrated down to a movie’s core. The commando was the action icon, or visual label that best summarized blockbusters of that decade, much like the comic book superhero (e.g. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The Avengers) defined the 2000s and 2010s.

Although McTiernan’s companion classic to his most famous film, Die-Hard, has never been considered on the same level of its sister franchise’s best film, James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), it is a far deeper movie than its IMdb or DVD description suggests. The first 30 minutes is definitive commando-action, with giant explosions, giant guns, and heavily muscled stars shooting everything in sight. After the initial wave of carnage subsides, however, the movie’s primary tone takes over, making Predator resemble far more of a suspenseful thriller. Predator takes the concept of invincible, muscle-bound heroes with even bigger guns and turns it on its head. After taking ample time to illustrate how badass and deadly its cast of commandos are, the narrative uses that idea to inject a dose of foreboding into the audience. Within minutes of our heroes’ thorough annihilation of an entire enemy compound, the film reveals that a far more sinister, malevolent, and deadly force is stalking the commandos from just out of sight. All of a sudden, our team of invincible action heroes don’t seem so invincible anymore, and that’s what makes the story so interesting.

The technical aspects of Predator are stellar. The camerawork ranges from violent, bombastic, over-the-top action to more suspenseful, slowly paced, racking focus telephoto shots to the infrared perspective of an otherworldly hunter, sensing the heat that rises from the bodies of our protagonists. This wide range of cinematographic styles is impressive and integrated tastefully, transitioning from wide-angle action camerawork to creeping tropical ambiance without a moment of tonal confusion. The mood of the film as a whole is foreboding, but that dread is toned down in the early parts of the movie in favor of a more dramatic, action-packed opening, and then cranked up for the remaining 2/3 of the narrative. The fantastic screenplay lays the groundwork for this build in tension, but McTiernan’s camerawork translates it to the screen flawlessly. The location shooting in Central American jungles captures a sense of claustrophobia and the feeling of the forest steadily creeping in, threatening to consume our heroes like the titular beast itself. All things considered, the film crew, director of photography Donald McAlpine in particular, did a masterful job building the movie’s setting.

Our team of buff commandos is also a legendary selling point of Predator. Everybody does a great job and plays their simple, yet likable characters effectively. The stars are lead man, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his best action role that isn’t a cybernetic Terminator), Carl Weathers (apparently on his day job when he isn’t busy punching Rocky Balboa in the face), Jesse (The Body) Ventura, and Bill Duke. They kick guerrilla-ass and spout off cheesy one-liners like it’s nobody’s business. Predator has some of the most memorable, quotable lines in the entire action genre, not just the 1980s. It doesn’t quite have the rich, natural, free-flowing dialogue of the first two Alien(s) films, but as far as badass, tough-guy quotes go, Predator is up there with the best of the best. Such as:

  • If it bleeds, we can kill it.
  • I ain’t got time to bleed.”
  • You’re one ugly motherfucker…
  • And, of course, “Get to the chopper!

Come on, even Robocop doesn’t have one-liners this good. Predator’s dialogue isn’t just concise, personable, and effective, but also delivered by some of the more charismatic action stars in any American action movie, ever.

Predator montage

Top: Jesse Ventura guest-stars as Blaine, a commando with an attitude and a handheld M134 minigun dubbed “Old-Painless.” Bottom: The titular villain prepares its trophies.

But in all fairness, the most important element of these characters is their introduction. The most crucial part of the entire movie is the 3-4 minute scene that takes place inside a chopper as the characters are being flown to their drop-off point to begin their rescue mission. These four minutes are more critical than anything else in the whole narrative, because they are what everything else in the movie is based on. In the cool tinge of red lighting of the helicopter’s interior, the script takes minimal, but necessary time to establish the characters’ personalities, mannerisms, and quirks.

Predator is one of the best and most influential action flicks ever made, a staple of its generation and every bit the trendsetter that was John McTiernan’s more mass-appealing Die Hard (1988). Is it flawless? Of course not — among other things, there are a few too many instances where our heroes can’t seem to hit the intergalactic stalker in plain sight, and the eponymous antagonist’s camouflage FX have not aged well, but altogether, Predator gets so much right it’s impossible not to recommend. It’s a true science-fiction action-hybrid, and represents some of Schwarzenegger’s and McTiernan’s finest work in their prime. 


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Predator is powered by a great script that establishes likable characters, paces itself well, and turns famous 1980s action tropes on their heads in creative ways. There are few, if any, action movies that are this macho and also this unique and intelligent. John McTiernan flexes his muscles as one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest action directors. The cinematography, particularly in the latter 2/3 of the film, does an excellent job of fleshing out the movie’s tone and creeping us the fuck out.

However… the number of times our macho characters shoot wildly at the jungle-creeper picking them off one by one and miss almost every time becomes unbelievable. The camouflage FX would have benefited from CGI.

—> Predator comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

? Science-fiction is not for nerds. Not when a seven foot tall terror with dreadlocks rips a guy’s spine and skull out of his carcass in a single piece. Creeps, maybe…

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


48 thoughts on “‘Predator’ (1987): The Mecca of 1980s Hollywood Action

  1. Predator sits in my all time top ten, as a guilty pleasure choice, but a visitor corrected me that theres nothing to be ashamed of having Predator in a top ten. He was right i am not ashamed of loving predator, for the exact reasons you state in your review; it’s equally as brash and macho as it is intelligent and creative. I reviewed this in my all time top ten – you may want to check it out as a comparison point, with having an equal love of the film. Great review, I can tell you love it like me and well done for choosing an iconic and brilliant action film to review.

    Posted by claratsi | February 18, 2013, 9:17 am
    • Thanks for the insight, claratsi. I did take a look at your blog and I read your ‘Pred’ review — we definitely noticed, interpreted, and appreciated a lot of the same things from the film (we even used the same poster pic, haha!). One thing I am really curious about and have to ask tho, is what you thought of the sequels (Predator 2, PredatorS), as well the crossovers with the Aliens franchise (the AvPs)? Those films are divisive among Alien/Predator fans, to say the least.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | March 22, 2013, 8:57 pm
      • Thanks for the read. I liked Predator 2, the first AVP was just passable but Requiem was terrible. Predator was average and a near remake, Brody was terribly miscast for me.

        Posted by claratsi | March 23, 2013, 1:26 pm
  2. Damn…brilliant review!!! I agree completely with all this article has said. Altough Predator and Aliens are about the same quality, I still like Predator just a bit more…why?

    Because when you watch Aliens (which is also very good film don’t get me wrong), even if you haven’t seen the first film, you know that it’s about these xenomorphs and you know that the story will revolve around those. Like I said, it’s still a great film BUT it’s not THAT much of a surprise that aliens show up eventually in the second half (but still the tension is build up rreeaaaallly well so don’t get me wrong).

    In Predator, the change is more drastic and surprising. In the first half of the film you have simply no idea what the hell “Predator” is. Only a very short shot is shown where a space ship throws out some kind of space pod…that’s it!! That’s all that is explained!!

    And when the first half (or more) hour goes by, NOT a single word is given away that there could be an alien in that jungle!! That’s the difference!

    The first half plays like a war movie where some big undestructable soldiers whiping out their enemies like a boss. And then suddenly (like describes in this article) the roles switch. Suddenly the commando team is whiped out one by one like it’s almost embarrasing to watch…THAT’S why this movie rocks so much.

    I tell this because I watched this movie for the first time when I was about 8 years old and I had no clue what the film was about. Imagine the surprise when suddenly a cloacked figure whipes out almost the intirely commando team, just like that.

    So that’s why I think Predator is a very brilliant movie (and just a little better then Aliens). The change from “macho masculin undestructable ground force” to “pack of running (almost) helpless little ducks” thanks to one unknown alien life form is amazingly well done. You just don’t see it coming when you watch the first half of the movie…that’s what makes it great.

    Good review!

    Posted by Dries Van Gijsel | May 9, 2013, 7:51 pm
  3. Thanks for the comment, Dries. You make a good point just how sublimely Predator introduces its plot twist with relatively minimal foreshadowing to great effect. Its multilayered plot definitely gives the screenplay a lot more depth than most non-action fans/film snobs give it credit for.

    As for your comparison to Cameron’s Aliens, I would emphasize that while we were aware of the xenomorph’s presence in the film from the very beginning, the extent of their presence was a major element of surprise. Neither of the concepts of the alien hive nor the queen were introduced prior to Aliens, and Cameron/Stan Winston’s massive elaboration on the alien life cycle and social life was a massive creative leap.

    For that reason, I would say that the further developed biology of the alien, as well as the general jump from horror to action from Alien (1979) to Aliens (1986) make the latter almost, if not just as much, as surprising as Predator. Both films do a great job of throwing curve balls at their audiences, and a great case could be made for either one.

    Posted by The Celtic Predator | May 9, 2013, 11:06 pm
  4. True, in “Alien” there was only one alien, so yeah it is kind of a big shock/surprise to find out in “Aliens” that there is a whole bunch of them and it was the first time they introduced the “Queen alien”. It was a creation you had never seen before on big screen and was scary as hell. Altough it was more of an action movie, it showed us more depth into the species itself.

    So yeah Aliens was definatly shocking too.

    Anyway, Predator and Aliens were (and still are) both masterpieces of their genre! I learned a lot from those movies in terms of building tension.

    And the Queen at the end was just scary as hell!!

    Posted by Dries Van Gijsel | May 12, 2013, 8:03 pm
  5. Oh I want to say another thing about it…(yea I look like a irritating kid now)

    I thought about why exactly the first Predator movie (’87) had a more interesting team of soldiers instead of the new Predators team.

    Well here it is…

    Altough the charisma of team Schwarzenegger was more satisfying, it was also because the members of this team NEEDED EACH OTHER. this group was like a chain. Every member had his or her talent within the group. And the scene when they invaded the base camp with the prisoners showed that. There was the one who told jokes, there was the one with heavy artillery (Blain), there was the leader (Schwarz), the stealth guy with the knife (Mac) the tracker(Billy) etc…and they all take heat (even Schwarzenegger took a serious beating)

    What I mean is that this is the difference with the A.Brody team. you didn’t care as much because there accually wasn’t a team at all…it was a bunch of individuals brought together by faith. And they had little unique characteristics which you mostly couldn’t cheer for. It wasn’t like a chain at all. You didn’t had the feeling they needed each other. They weren’t different enough…they were all just thugs and criminals…that’s it. There was nothing that bonds anyone with each other.

    So you didn’t care as much about them. And you also didn’t had the feeling that the group was getting weaker every time someone dies…no in contrary…you were glad those criminals died…

    So there you have it…I know it sounds a little obsessed that I came back here months later to say this…but it’s just so fascinating why some things work out in movies and some things don’t…

    So what do you guys think?

    Posted by Dries Van Gijsel | November 18, 2013, 6:21 pm
    • I think you bring up a good point, Dries. The fact that the cast in the original ‘Predator’ actually cared about and depended on each definitely made them more fun to root for.

      I think the team aspect also brings up another minor point that I found a bit perplexing, which is how is it that an experienced team of elite commandos, all of whom have been training and working with each other in the field for what can only be assumed is years and years fails to defeat a single predator, but Rodriguez’s rag-tag group of killers who have never worked with each other before and were at each others’ throats half the time managed to kill three “Super” predators? That always made little sense to me.

      You should check out some of the other Alien-Predator reviews on this site. I’m curious to hear what your comments are regarding the rest of the series.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | November 19, 2013, 7:17 am
      • Thanks…yeah I’ll definatly check out the other reviews of alien-Predator franchise.

        Yeah that’s a good point from you too, the A.Brody “bunch” (it’s not exactly a team) could take out three super Predators just like that…

        Oh yeah I forgot to mention another thing. I said briefly that they all take heat…especially Schwarzenegger. Now that’s also why Predator ’87 was more convincing to me…the lead character went to a major struggle.

        I didn’t like A brody in this film because it was like he didn’t need anyone and it was like he never made any misstake. Like you said, if you make characters like that they are called cardboards cutouts. Schwarzenegger at the other hand, not that he was written at a Shakespearian level, but you knew that he had a certain place inside the team and he was somehow put into a very vulnerable position.

        Sure he was badass, but you could see the fear and confusion once the team started to fall apart. The fun part was that the Predator was really screwing up with their minds and the team was just helpless even with all their training and guns. Also, Schwarzenegger literally got beat up pretty badly during and at the end of the movie. No he didn’t that much dept, but you could at least see his struggle, disbelieve and despair…his character does have some kind of transformation during the movie.

        A Brody, while he has played many convincing roles, didn’t had ANY struggle at all in Predators, even at the end with the Super predator he fricking won with ease! (Oh yeah he got knocked down once, just once!!)

        Sorry but that’s bullshit…no one can relate so someone like that…

        Schwarzenegger was completely traumatised at the end in the helicopter remember? A Brody and the girl was like….mehh…we better hide…like they went looking for a place to drink some coffee…c’mon that was so ridiculous.

        So you may have a good point about Rodriguez, maybe he didn’t fully understand what makes Predator so great after all…

        Allright I stop here. Thanks for replying though…I’ll see if I can come up with some arguments for the rest of the franchise.

        Posted by Dries Van Gijsel | November 19, 2013, 9:28 am


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