Shaun Munro ranks the Predator franchise from worst to best…
The Predator franchise has certainly endured its fair share of ups and downs over the last three decades. From the sequels and kinda-reboots that have attempted to take the series in ambitious new directions – with wildly varying results – to those shameless spin-off fans routinely pretend don’t exist, Predator continues to receive a staggeringly inconsistent treatment on-screen.
On the 33rd anniversary of the release of the original Predator on Friday June 12th 1987, we rank the six movies in the series to date…
6. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Directed by The Brothers Strause.
Starring Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis and Ariel Gade.
AvP: Requiem was touted as the more violent, to-the-point R-rated follow-up to Paul W.S. Anderson’s predecessor, so fans were naturally distressed when this sequel turned out even more dissatisfying and ham-handedly executed than the first film.
It certainly gets mild credit for its ruthless brutality; a young boy is chest-bursted in the opening of the film and a pregnant woman is later graphically killed in full, grisly detail.
Elsewhere, characters who would conventionally be spared in a movie like this – the cute female love interest (Kristen Hager) for one – are randomly killed off, yet it ultimately ends up feeling more self-consciously edgy than giddily subversive. Part of the problem, inherently, is that we don’t care about any of the film’s characters, leaving the poor, talented likes of Reiko Aylesworth and John Ortiz deserving much better.
Despite the nothing characters, it is nevertheless a film front-loaded with ghastly “character development”, switching between a tedious family dynamic and obnoxious teenagers who look and talk like they stumbled off the set of a straight-to-video American Pie spin-off.
Though there’s plenty of the head-exploding mayhem fans demanded, AvP2 might be one of the worst-lit major Hollywood movies of the 21st century.
Suffering D.P. Daniel Pearl was forced to shoot Requiem in dark shadow to the point of lunacy, not merely confining the much-hyped Predalien to the shadows, but rendering most of the night-time scenes nigh-on incomprehensible. By the time the finale rolls around, you’re just watching two black blobs fighting in shadow and it’s utterly infuriating.
Ruthlessly violent as fans requested, but like the first AvP, Requiem pines too much for the human element in a monster-on-monster affair.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
5. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen and Ewen Bremner.
It’s still not really clear why Fox felt that Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) was qualified to direct a wish-fulfilment film starring two of the most beloved movie monsters of all time, with a PG-13 rating no less (though the Unrated Edition adds splashes of CGI gore).
This was a neat idea to 15-year-old boys everywhere – this past one included – and to give it some mild praise, AvP leans into the shameless fan-service with charming abandon; the Predator’s razor-wire net is neat as hell, and slicing a Facehugger in half with a shuriken has a sure gonzo appeal.
Honestly, there’s more here that isn’t bad than you might expect; the VFX have aged relatively well for a movie released in the early 2000s, there’s some appropriately eerie production design and location work, and the animatronic effects look pretty fantastic. Anderson’s direction even passes for basically restrained at points, and his coverage is silky smooth for the most part while convincingly blending practical and CGI elements.
AvP does a not-bad job of expanding the monsters’ lore without dumping exposition, at least until act three. However, the long-winded set-up is a major issue, with audiences having to wait 35 minutes for the first Predator-human encounter. As for the actual titular showdown you paid money for? An hour.
As is so often a problem in creature features, the film places too much of a focus on human survival at the expense of the loony titular attraction. There are also some wildly controversial tamperings with Alien and Predator mythology – the sped-up Xeno gestation cycle and a daft, over-explained flashback detailing a centuries-old feud between the species – but nothing tops the unintentionally comical team-up between Lex (Sanna Lathan) and the surviving Predator.
Speaking of which, Sanna Lathan does a fine, stand-up job in this movie and clearly deserved a much better film, namely one where she’s not paired with a Predator for the mostly wordless back-end of the third act.
Lance Henriksen is also fun and the likes of Ewen Bremner and Colin Salmon fill out the supporting cast nicely, while the peripheral meat puppets are offed with an agreeable nastiness that belies the family-friendly rating. For instance, two characters are violently dispatched mere moments after trading stories about their kids. Charming.
Though surprisingly well-made, AvP takes far too long to arrive at the shlock-filled showdown everyone came to see.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
4. The Predator (2018)
Directed by Shane Black.
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Sterling K. Brown.
This one really stings. Fans were rightly excited by the prospect of former Predator alum Shane Black returning to the franchise he once starred in, yet this cynical attempt to broaden the series into more generic, mass-market blockbuster fodder falls disappointingly flat.
With Black pulling double-duty as writer-director, slivers of his quick-draw, rat-a-tat wit occasionally shine through, but he too often tries too hard to match the exaggerated vulgarity of the original Predator, provoking more eye-rolls than laughs in the process.
Though the cast is certainly game – Boyd Holbrook, Sterling K. Brown and Trevante Rhodes all do fine work here – they’re too often stranded in a tonally and narratively messy sci-fi horror-actioner with little interesting to do or say. Taking the brilliant Thomas Jane, who would be perfect to play the lead in a Predator movie, and casting him as a Tourette’s-afflicted, PTSD-suffering comic relief army vet is offensive for several reasons.
It’s common knowledge that The Predator was heavily tinkered with in post-production, with most of the third-act being re-shot following disastrous test screenings. The entire film, however, has an overly frantic, rushed clip to it, where characters rarely feel like more than cutouts and action beats are busily edited into incomprehension.
That’s to say nothing of an incredibly eyebrow-raising central plot, placing too much of an emphasis on a young autistic boy (Jacob Tremblay) key to the Predator’s arrival, and overwriting the classic monster with a Bigger, Better Hybrid that’s ultimately just a gaudy CGI abomination.
It’s not without its fun moments, though it’s also cringe-inducingly referential to the original film, and too often finds unintentional thrills with its more out-there elements, especially the full nature of the new Predator’s mission and the hysterical sequel-baiting final scene.
Fitfully amusing but chaotically edited, visually ugly and ultimately quite charmless, The Predator is a crushing, troubling disappointment for fans of both the series and Shane Black.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
3. Predator 2 (1990)
Directed by Stephen Hopkins.
Starring Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, María Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton and Kevin Peter Hall.
Nobody could dare call Predator 2 a lazy sequel, with its ambitious shift to the concrete jungle of late-90s Los Angeles. Without the same tonal assurances of its predecessor, though, Stephen Hopkins delivers a wildly uneven, at times unbearably goofy follow-up to the action classic.
Though its release predated the L.A. riots by two years, it’s incredibly difficult not to view Predator 2‘s portrait of urban decay with those optics in mind. Hopkins’ direction may often be flat and uninteresting, but he at least creates a palpable hellhole aesthetic for the city, one which amusingly brings the Predator a-knocking.
Danny Glover may be no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but his more down-to-Earth appeal makes him an entertaining lead all the same, while a wise-cracking Bill Paxton, hard-ass Gary Busey and peak-popularity María Conchita Alonso bring plenty of added value to the table.
Unfortunately the movie’s tonal whiplash is extremely irritating, switch-footing from gruesomeness to cartoonish silliness on a dime. The infamous “Want some candy?” scene and the sequence where the Predator repairs itself in an old couple’s apartment feel wholly at odds with, say, the terrifyingly intense subway massacre and the memorable slaughterhouse battle.
It’s also fair to argue that Predator 2 may have demystified the titular creature a little too much, even if the final meeting between Harrigan (Glover) and the Predator army on-board their ship is a blast, punctuated by his ballsy challenge: “OK, who’s next?”
A bold attempt to expand its predecessor’s mythos, though fundamentally hamstrung by a schizophrenic tone and Hopkins’ dull direction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
2. Predators (2010)
Directed by Nimród Antal.
Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins and Laurence Fishburne.
Just as the soft-reboot craze was kicking off, Fox decided to fashion their own Predator “rebootquel”, and though Nimród Antal (Armored) was an oddly uninspired directorial choice, he ultimately did fine work in this stylish and well-cast if overly familiar follow-up.
Unlike the AvP films, the characters are both well-defined and interesting, such that the 40 minutes it takes for the Predators to show up isn’t much of an issue. The banter crackles with something approaching the fiery wit of the original – though the rape joke is embarrassingly bad – and the jungle locale feels distinct enough from the 1987 movie thanks to the creepy flora and fauna residing on the alien planet.
For everything it gets right though, Predators is ultimately too indebted to the original film, with an overabundance of cringe-worthy, on-the-nose throwaway nods, especially Adrien Brody’s utterance of, “Kill me, I’m right here! Come on!”
Credit to Brody where it’s due, though; his casting baffled many fans, yet he put in the leg-work and pulled off the gruff action hero just splendidly. Props to the script for also bothering to make him relatively harsh and unlikeable, while Alice Braga’s Isabelle ends up being the real heart and soul of the film.
Topher Grace’s late-day heel-turn is pretty unnecessary all things considered, and some of the “lesser” characters cling a little too eagerly to stereotypes, but this is certainly the best pairing of players and parts since the first film.
Given the solid universe-building on display here, it’s a shame Predators ended up being a fairly low-key one-off. Though too reverent of the original Predator, this is a respectable entry into the franchise regardless.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
1. Predator (1987)
Directed by John McTiernan.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall, Richard Chaves and Elpidia Carrillo.
Was anything else ever going to take the number one spot? Of course not. Predator may tout a simple premise, yet John McTiernan’s direction is anything but. The first act has a patient, deliberate rhythm to it, with the titular entity not revealing itself until the end of act one, but the jungle itself is such an imposing, unsettling character that it’s hard to much care.
Though Predator certainly isn’t carried by its cast, they are a spectacular bunch, boasting the charisma of an oiled-up pro-wrestling roster – including actual wrestler Jessa “The Body” Ventura among them – as they rip through hysterical, howlingly un-PC dialogue.
It’d be so easy for the movie’s hyper-masculine heroes to seem like dated relics today, but the macho facade is clearly shot through with a cute sense of self-awareness. It also helps inform the psychology of the scenario and make the mid-film “turn” that much more compelling; these well-trained men are, for the first time in their careers and possibly their lives, facing off against something they can’t remotely comprehend. This is surely best exemplified by the now-legendary “deforestation” scene.
There’s also an unexpected depth of character development to savour; the men express palpable pain at losing their pals, resulting in a few surprisingly sombre, even affecting moments. When Mac (Bill Duke) says his farewells to Blaine (Ventura), whose heart was recently exploded out of his chest by the creature, it actually means something.
Though a card-carrying horror movie in every which way, most of the film unfolds in broad daylight, a bold move given its scarcely-veiled slasher film formula and the obvious mood a night-time setting can create. This is McTiernan’s way, though, slyly subverting conventions, as with the movie’s final, near-wordless 25-minute showdown between Arnie and the Predator.
Speaking of which, the movie’s many, gratuitous action sequences, from the opening mercenary raid onwards, are delightful and bolstered by some stupendously well-aged visual effects, not to forget an immortal Alan Silvestri score (which the series is still dining out on today).
Pure action cinema at its most efficient and charmingly unpretentious, Predator remains a lean masterpiece over three decades on.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.