Predator: A Franchise Review



I remember seeing Predator at the tender age of eleven. I was sleeping over at my friend's house and he had it on VHS. (For those of you who are too young, a VHS looks like a thick black rectangle. These rectangles had movies on them in a definition FAR inferior to the stunning 4K we are able to watch things in today. And you had to rewind it after you were done. No menu options here.)


I've always been a big Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. So much so, that I don't actually remember what my first Arnie movie even was (maybe it was Jingle All the Way?). I just remember loving Arnold. The muscles, the accent, the puns; it's all so glorious. My friends and family will attest to occasions when I speak like Arnold for literal hours at a time.


Predator was such an awesome concept: the most badass men ever being hunted and killed off by an extra terrestrial. I loved it!

Then I found out that there was a second film! With Danny Glover no less! Murtaugh himself fighting the next Predator? I was overjoyed. So maybe the sequel wasn't quite as good as the first, but I still had a lot of fun seeing my favorite hunter take down drug dealers and police officers alike in the big city.


Thus began my life-long obsession with the Predator franchise. From comics, to novels, to crossovers, to video games; I've gathered a nice little collection of interconnected media over the years.


And since this year marks the debut of the newest addition to the franchise (a prequel tentatively titled Prey) I thought this was the perfect time to revisit and rate one of my favorite sci-fi action franchises!


**Please note that I have decided to watch these film in chronological order, NOT in the order they were made. (Which doesn't make a difference until you get to the last two films).**


So, let's dive right in with the original Predator!

And remember:


"If it bleeds, we can kill it."



 



This is the perfect 80s action film. It embodies every element of 80s action and then turns it all on its head: the macho dialogue, the bright colors, the ridiculous and offensive humor, the “strong man” action heroes, etc. All of it is pitch perfect. And director Joh McTiernan handles it all with extreme precision. His best film is probably a toss up between Predator and Die Hard.


Both changed the face of action films.

The build up and suspense here is perfect. The beginning comes across as a typical macho Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and plays the part completely straight-faced right up until the moment our “perfect action heroes” start getting hunted down. Predator is actually a genius satire of 80s action films. It perfectly sets up all of the tropes and then gives your heroes a villain that makes them look like wimps by comparison. If you want to dive deeper into that particular rabbit hole, take a look at this fantastic article here.


Predator also features one of Arnold’s best performances. There's a real sense of camaraderie and brotherhood between the characters. Especially Mac and Blane. Carl Weathers is fantastic as always. All of the characters here are iconic and highly memorable. Billy’s laugh kept me up at night. It was terrifying. This hands down is one of the most quoted films ever.


"I ain't got time to bleed." / "What's the matter? CIA got you pushing too many pencils?" / "If it bleeds, we can kill it." I could go on for hours.

That reveal of the skinned bodies still packs a whallop. This film has mastered the art of suspense (something some of the sequels have a hard time doing). And flipping to Predator-Vision does a great job of making you question what is actionally happening. What is following them? Is it a different soldier? Is it a robot? Is it just an odd camera choice? Then when that hand reaches out, it's a genuine shock. Good suspense never gets old.


Predator is such an amazing concept for an alien film.

The creature design is iconic. But how can it not be? It's Stan Winston! And the whole endeavor is bolstered by Alan Silvetri's iconic musical score. This is one of his very best. Personally, I think it ranks up there with his scores for the Back to the Future films and The Mummy Returns.



Predator has not aged a day. The jokes still land and the action is still gripping. It features great performances, fantastic directing, and an excellent creature. Whether you view this as a satire of 80s action films, or simply an action-packed genre film, Predator is pretty much a perfect viewing experience.



10/10



 



While not quite as good as the original, this is a really great sequel. Glover, Paxton, Busey, they’re all really good! The action is tight and brutal, and I love the inner city gang war element.


There isn't much of a plot, but that doesn't seem to bother this briskly paced adventure.

It’s hard to contend with the utterly iconic cast from the first film, but this sequel tries its hardest and comes up with its own extremely memorable cast. Danny Glover and Bill Paxton are great as always, and this film also features one of my favorite Gary Busey performances. He’s at that perfect level of over-the-top.


Predator 2 got a lot of flack for taking the Predator out of the jungle, but I honestly think it works! It makes you realize that this creatures can hunt anyone who is carrying a weapon, anywhere. The Predators are always watching; waiting for a new trophy. The film also makes good use of its locations. And since none of the later sequels take place in a city, this film now feels special because of that. And I love the expansion of the mythology on display here. It feels like a natural progression from the first. The respect bit at the end is a wonderful addition. The 1715 gun is badass. But of course, I can't bring up Predator 2 without mentioning the Easter Egg that birthed an entire spinoff franchise.


The Alien skull.


Yes, this is where it all started. The Alien skull in the trophy room is where the idea of crossing over the Alien and Predator franchises all began (on-screen anyway, the Dark Horse comic series had been been quite popular at the time of Predator 2's release).


Stephen Hopkins is a solid director and he adds just the right amount of horror here. He cut his teeth directing the criminally underrated A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and went on to direct the 1998 blockbuster adaptation of Lost in Space.


“Want some candy” is still terrifying.

Predator 2's main problem is simply the fact that is was made in the early 90s. Bad edits or sound cuts litter the film (like the transition with the woman moaning or the trumpet blast that doubles as a scream). These types of choices plagued films in the 90s. I have no idea why we thought they were cool at the time, but thank God we've moved on.


Alan Silvestri's score is still fantastic as always. Those drums really do help make Predator, well, Predator.


While it wasn’t well received during its original run, time has been very kind of Predator 2. It’s not as intense as the first, and the script isn't as sharp. But it holds up due to stellar performances, strong pulpy directing, and a few surprises along the way. This is a 'B' movie on an 'A' move budget with an 'A-' script. As such, it’s highly entertaining. So even though it does lack the satirical spin of the original, this holds up very well as a standard sequel.



8/10



 


AKA: Predator 3


This one actually has some pretty neat elements. I really enjoy the history of the Predators and their hunting of the Aliens. Linking it to mankind was a nice touch by having the Predators act as ancient aliens teaching us how to build. That was cool. As was the idea of the hunt acting like a test of manhood. The plot elements here are interesting. What lets this film down is the pedestrian dialogue and the the cardboard characters. They really are uninteresting and unremarkable.


Director Paul Anderson knows his way around pulpy, bloody action films. He has given us films like Resident Evil, Death Race, and (his best film) Event Horizon. You'd think he would be the perfect choice for a crossover of two hardcore sci-fi action franchises. And he actually does handle the action and suspense fairly well. But the problem is Paul is being held back. This film’s biggest issue is the fact that it was filmed for a PG-13 rating as opposed to an R. Which makes no sense because both the Predator and Alien franchises has been exclusively R rated films. There is an unrated cut on blu-ray, but even that feels slightly neutered. Yes, they add more GGI blood to make it gooier, but you need to do more than that.


If this was originally filmed as an R, the shots would have been more intense and frantic, darker and grittier. Like Anderson’s next film Death Race.

That grit and tone would have fit right at home in this film. But the studio wanted this to be PG-13 so they could make more money and the result feels sanitized. The unrated cut does what it can (and I do appreciate the effort), but if they had simply shot the film as R in the first place it would have been much better. This is the only Predator and Alien film made with a PG-13 as the studio immediately realized their mistake.


Another downside is the fact that this film has barely any of the music from the past Alien or Predator films. It has the jungle drums here and there, but that’s about it. Those familiar themes are sorely missed.


But there is some stuff here to enjoy. Placing the Predators in another new location is fun. Even though this is the first time we've seen them outside of their typical hot environment, the cold isolation of the arctic is a smart way to mirror the hostility of space from the Alien franchise. And the fights (bloodless as they may be) are still exciting. Even if one Alien takes out two Predators, simply seeing these two sci-fi monsters clash is a fan's dream come true.



This film is a classic case of the studio forcing the creative team to make a watered down version in an effort to rake in the most amount of money possible. It's a shame because Alien vs. Predator has a really strong premise and some solid enough action. It just really needed some better characters and a harder, more R-rated edge. But all-in-all, it's still a fun time waster.



6.3/10



 


AKA: Predator 4


Aliens vs.Predator: Requiem film tries to bring the action straight to the heart of America and say “wouldn’t this suck if it happened in your back yard?” It would suck, and a lot of innocent people do indeed die. We’re finally back to a "jungle", though this is the dense forest of Northwestern America. But still it is nice seeing the Predator among the trees again. I find it interesting that both AVP films went for colder climates rather than the Predator’s usual warm. But I guess that’s just part of mixing the cold Alien environment of that franchise into the mix.


Wolf, as he’s credited, is one of the most badass Predators in the whole franchise and he has some awesome new toys including laser grid mines and a fucking metal whip. He slices through aliens left and right and has a mean one-on-one duel with the Pred-Alien.

Speaking of, the Pred-Alien is one of the nastiest villains of either franchises. It’s got a great design that is teased throughout the film in various ways until we get the final reveal in the hospital. And it's a Queen too, which is terrifying and introduces some of the grossest parts of this film: the gut-bursters and womb-bursters. With this ability, the Pred-Alien is able to build her own army.


The unrated cut address several issues throughout the film; calling to attention and even rearranging small plot details like how Wolf receives information or keeping him within his “I don’t kill people without guns” morality. These additional moments are short, but help the film feel a little more complete than the theatrical cut.


The downside is this film has the least memorable characters of the franchise. But that’s because they're intended to be everyday folks, not special forces members, or yakuza, or inner city drug task-force members. They’re high school kids, pizza shop workers, and moms and dads. Upon rewatch, while they’re extremely cliche, most of them are still very real. I know people from my small hometown just like some of these folks (which probably isn't a compliment). So that helps smooth over the cliche of it all. But still, they could have at least been funny, or charming, or... something. Give them better dialogue at the very least.


AVP:R is officially the 'B' movie of the franchise.

This is a Predator film crafted around a micro budget (to see a Predator movie crafted under budget, see The Predator). AVP:R is pretty much a grindhouse/exploitation film. It’s nasty, it’s gooey, it’s gory, and it is not afraid to kill off children and even babies. That may turn some away. But the directors do a solid job with the budget they have. Yes, there are a few confusing shots. And yes, the film is very dark. But the blu-ray is much lighter than the film was in theaters, so just watch it with all the lights off and you should be fine. And keep in mind that some shots are supposed to be extremely dark with just the outline of the Alien visible. It is a horror film after all.


This one also has one of the best musical scores in the franchise. It perfectly blends the eerie and atmospheric music from the Alien franchise (Aliens in particular) with the iconic jungle drums and loud brass of the Predator movies. Bravo Brian Tyler.


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is all about showing us the brutal fights we wanted to see in the first AVP, but never got. The story and characters take a back seat to the carnage that ensues when a really pissed off Predator has to clean up a whole town full of Aliens. It's a 'B' movie creature feature. And you know what? I'm totally cool with that. AVP:R gets a really bad rap, but truth be told, I like it more than AVP. There. I said it.


Look, neither AVP film is high cinema. But they are both very entertaining mind numbing action/horror films. Combined, the two films do a solid job of showcasing Aliens fighting Predators. The Predators get some cool new weapons and we get to see a Queen Alien and a hybrid Pred-Alien in action as an added bonus. In addition, we not only see the Predators' first interactions and shared history with human kind, but we also get our first ever glimpse at their home world. So while the films may fail in terms of character and dialogue, they somewhat make up for it with solid action, gnarly creature effects, and cool visuals and concepts. And I'm a sucker for monster fights.



7.2/10



**So far, each film has tried to showcase the Predator in a different setting. That helps gives each film a defining look while keeping it relatively similar: jungle; city; arctic; northern forest. From this point on, we will be visiting different versions of the same locations: alien jungle, different neighborhood, and different northern forest.**



 


AKA: Predator 6 (the sixth film made)

AKA: Predator 5 (chronologically, the fifth film in the franchise)

AKA: Predator 4 (the fourth solo Predator film made)

AKA: Predator 3 (chronologically, the third solo Predator film)


Here's where the order of chronology and production order get switched. Director Shane Black has stated that his film takes place before Predators. So that's why I'm watching it here instead of at the end. It's placement does make sense though. Predators is the most high concept sci-fi of the franchise, so this feels like a step into that. Maybe the Predators we see in that film are the result of the DNA mixing that this film introduces.


The Predator starts off with the best intentions. The first act is a solid enough Predator movie. The humor is a little much, but this is a Shane Black script, so that is definitely part of his style. The group of looney soldiers is a fun idea, even if they're maybe a bit too goofy. It also has connections galore! This film finally acknowledges the events of AVP, which officially brings those spinoffs into continuity.


This film also adds an interesting new wrinkle to the Predator mythos. The Predators are now taking DNA from the top kill of a given planet, and are injecting themselves with that DNA. This gives the Predator the tactical edge that the animal he hunted had. These genetically altered Super Predators are the ultimate hunters and now have different unique abilities based on the different kinds of DNA they've stolen. They use this DNA reconfiguring in their pets too; the Super Predator featured in this film has a pair of hunting dogs that have been mixed with his DNA. It's a cool concept and certainly should have yielded an awesome film. But sadly, this is all in the first 30 minutes. If the film had ended here, we would have had a pretty cool Predator short film.


But unfortunately, the film continues. And from this point on, all of the good decisions are behind us.

The Predator recycles one of Shane Black's favorite tropes: the smart and snarky chid character. Here he introduces Rory (son of Boyd Holbrook's main character, McKenna). Rory has some form of autism that only exists in the movies and basically makes him a super genius. Within minutes of discovering the Predator's equipment, Rory is able to decipher its language, activate its homing beacon, and gain full access to the alien mask and weaponry. And in the film's not so shocking twist, Rory turns out to be the "ultimate prey" that the Super Predator is hunting; fully intending to mix his DNA with its own.


But we don't start off with the Super Predator. No, the film starts off with a typical Predator, doing typical Predator things like skinning and hanging people who get in his way, and savagely murdering the fuck out of everyone he comes across. It's only when the Super Predator shows up that we realize this first Predator was on the run from the big bad. The two fight, but calling it a fight would be far too generous. Super Predator stomps the shit out of regular Predator in a matter of seconds.


At the 44 minute mark, Rory puts on the Predator mask and from that point on the film continues to make mistake after mistake after mistake. Awful dialogue, cheap CGI, unbelievable plot points, awkward creature design, forced humor, odd plot pacing, weird editing -- and what happened to that innocent dog?! Seriously, go back and watch this movie again. As our heroes escape the Super Predator in one scene, there is a shot of a dog running towards the van, and then in the next shot, he just disappears.


And not just from the scene, but from the WHOLE DAMN MOVIE. Tell me what happened to that dog! IS HE OKAY?!

The idea of evolving the Predators by having them adopt traits to make them better hunters is pretty sweet. The Preda-Dogs, however… less so. They are literally just dogs with Predator faces and dreadlocks. It looks soooo silly. Just give them a different design! Like, maybe the one featured in Predators (we'll get there). At one point, McKenna shoots one of these Preda-Dogs in the head. But that doesn't kill it. No, this simply lobotomizes the beast, returning it to the temperament of a normal friendly dog. You read that right.


It is by far the dumbest thing in this franchise.

The Preda-Dog also becomes a baffling deus ex machine at the end of the film; springing out of nowhere at the perfect time to help our heroes defeat the villain. It's grown-inducing. Add to that the fact that the CGI effects in the finale are the worst visual effects in any of the Predator films thus far. It's shocking how bad most of the digital shots look in this film. This is a big budget Hollywood production from 2018 and it has effects that would feel at home in the late 90s, early 2000s. Ouch.


The idea of changing up a Predator's prey (with the kid being hunted because of his intellect) is also a solid idea in theory. But it’s handled so clumsily. The film tries to make autism a super power. The kid is a genius on the level of Albert Einstein. Because of this, Rory just comes across as the stereotypical “super smart movie kid”. The film then does pretty much everything in its power to help you forget that when you boil it down, the Predator is hunting a mentally challenged child. Yikes. Not exactly in the best taste. (And this is coming from the guy who just watched babies get killed in AVP:R.)


But The Predator's biggest mistake is teasing us with something that we never get in the film itself. At one point, it is revealed that the first Predator was actually trying to befriend mankind and wanted to give us a gift to help us in our fight with the Super Predators. First of all, if the Predator was there on a diplomatic mission, why was it murdering people left and right? Some of those kills could be argued as self defense, but others are clearly unwarranted. But aside from that plot hole, what hurts the most is the fact that McKenna doesn't receive the gift until after the story is over. The gift in question? A suit of badass Predator armor that would have been extremely useful in that Act 3 finale. Why wasn't the suit used during the action?! That would have been awesome to see! But nope. This film basically ends by showing its audience how much cooler it could have been.


If you read interviews with Shane Black and his writing partner Fred Dekker, you'll see that the film we ended up with was NOT their original pitch. The studio wanted something more akin to a typical hunt and forced them to change things. Their original idea (which you can read about here.) sounds fantastic and would have been an action-packed love letter to the fans. But as it stands, The Predator is not that love letter. This is a classic example of the studio coming in and ruining what could have been a really cool movie in favor of something "safer". (Check out this article here to read about the extent of the changes made.) If the studio had given this movie the right time, care, and budget, it could have turned out alright. I really want to like this film every time I watch it... but I just can't. *Sigh* oh well.



Films don’t have to be perfect (clearly, since I still enjoy both of the AVP films). As long as you do a few things well, you can be forgiven for messing up a couple times. But if you make a ton of mistakes and don’t do any good in the process? You can’t come back from that. This is the only Predator film I don’t own. Both AVP films are better than this. That’s right, I said it! This film may have higher highs than those films, but the lows are sooooo much lower… and goofier. Simply having an R rating doesn’t give you a pass. I was very disappointed when I saw this in theaters, and it was just as disappointing upon rewatch. It's such a shame because of all the talent involved. This should have been a home run.


I really hope the new Predator film (a prequel film entitled Prey) learns some lessons from this one.



4.3/10



 


AKA: Predator 5 (the fifth film made)

AKA: Predator 6 (chronologically, the sixth film in the franchise)

AKA: Predator 3 (the third solo Predator film made)

AKA: Predator 4 (chronologically, the fourth solo Predator film)


And we end the franchise (chronologically speaking) on a high note! Predators begins with your main characters waking up mid free-fall. Hot damn, now that is how you start a film! And it doesn't let up either, with the shocking discovery that we aren't even on planet Earth anymore. This brings to focus a great central mystery with an awesome concept backing it up. What’s really cool is this could be a totally different movie and I would be just as invested because the concept is a great idea even without Predators. The addition of the Predators in this film just sweetens the deal!


The planet could have been anything, but making it a game hunting preserve was the perfect choice. It’s a wonderful next step in the franchise. And then we don't get just one, but multiple Predators. Not only that, but they’re bigger and gnarlier; part of a new group that has either advanced themselves (as we saw in The Predator) or is simply a different caste of warrior. I really like how this film gives each Predator a different gimmick. This helps to not only make them identifiable, but also to showcase their different hunting styles.


Adrien Brody! Danny Trejo! Walton Goggins! Laurence Fishburne! Even Topher Grace is great in this!

You fully believe Topher has been brought there as a medic, which explains his gawkiness compared to the rest of the rough and tough cast. But then the film takes a turn and reveals him as Dr. Death. This was the perfect twist; and it makes him a very different kind of hunter. Everyone is fantastic in their roles and tried their very hardest. They each have just the right amount of pulp. Like Walton Goggins. He is disgustingly perfect as Stans, the white supremacist. Or Laurence Fishburne, who clearly relished playing Noland. I completely believe that he's survived on this planet all this time... at the cost of his sanity and morality. That imaginary friend of his is wonderful and provides several of the film's best comedic moments. Long story short, we're finally back to memorable characters!


The Predators also have some really cool new gadgets, like a surveillance drone. And the hunting dogs used in this film are far better than the Preda-Dogs featured in The Predator. They not only look cooler, but are viciously effective. The directing is also pretty great here. Nimrod Atal knows suspense and how to handle a dramatic reveal. And Robert Rodriguez’s producing helps keep the energy manic and engaging. Maybe the film would have better if he directed it himself, but I’m not going to nitpick because Nimrod still does a great job. The special effects here are far better than in The Predator, even thought this film came out eight years prior. Aside from a really bad looking digital fireball, theses are among the very best special effects in the franchise. But I’ll forgive a single bad CGI shot since all the others are solid, and every other element of filmmaking technique is handled very well.


We also get a Predator vs. Predator fight! Like a legit one too, not like the one in The Predator where he just gets his ass stomped. This one is fierce and brutal.


This is the best Predator film since the original, no doubt about it. It's an absolute thrill ride from start to finish. The Predators are vicious, and smarter than ever. Our motley crew of characters is also very memorable, with Walton Goggins and Lawrence Fishburn being the real standouts. And it even has a few very welcome surprise along the way. This film rocks.


Side Note: The creature the group kills early on in the film bears a striking resemblance to the original Predator design and suit that Van Damme wore before it was redesigned. Awesome Easter Egg, guys!



8.8/10



 



Conclusion:


The Predator franchise is a bloody, action-packed creature feature romp. Each film holds up well when looking at them through that lense. Only the first film really steps outside of the typical genre fair, but that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had. Some are clearly better made than others, but each one is (at the very least) entertaining action background noise.


All of the solo Predator films in the franchise hold up extremely well... aside from The Predator. And as long as you don’t go into the AVP films with crazy expectations, you should have a good enough time. If you watch the series chronologically, you start and end with the best films (Predator and Predators). And AVP sits directly in the middle of the journey, bookended by two solo Predator films.


Some may question my inclusion of the AVP films as a definite part of the franchise. But whereas Ridley Scott's Prometheus and Alien: Covenant went out of their way to craft new mythology that sort of renders the two crossovers pointless in the Alien franchise, Shane Black's The Predator specifically includes references to those films. Those references confirm their inclusion in the Predator franchise, so I included them on this list. But I find it interesting that not only do both AVP films showcase Predators outside of their typical hot environments, but they also feature Predators on specific missions as opposed to a hunt.


Mathematically this franchise equals out to a 7.5/10 making it a "very good" franchise. That feels about right. Maybe I would personally bump it up to an 8 (great), but that's just because I love these types of films so much. I'm a big lover of creature features and monster movies. But if I have to be completely honest, as much as I enjoy them, none of the sequels have been able to match that first film. Predator really stands on its own. The rest of the sequels are enjoyable action sci-fi movies, but the original has that special something that the rest just can't seem to find. Even still, I love this franchise. The concept is clever, the monster is iconic, it has (mostly) memorable characters, and is packed to the gills (or should I say mandibles?) with bloody and gory action. No wonder it's stood the test of time.



8/10 (The original is a bonafide classic. The others vary from totally awesome to kinda eh.)



Side Note A: I love how each film puts its own spin on "the group".

Predator - Special forces

Predator 2 - Inner city cops

AVP - Explorers and scientists

AVP:R - Normal town folk

The Predator - Psychologically scarred soldiers

Predators - Mercenaries and cartel members/serial killers


Side Note B: Is it just me, or has the rubber in-between the mandibles on the Predator not been quite right since the first two films? It stretched like real skin in those films. But ever since AVP, that bit of skin has looked more and more like rubber. I have no idea why it’s so hard to get that looking right. Odd.