The film's budget was around $15 million. 20th Century Fox released it in the United States on June 12, 1987, where it grossed $59,735,548. Initial critical reaction was mixed; criticism focused on the thin plot. In subsequent years, critics' attitudes toward the film became positive, and it has appeared on a number of "best of" lists. It spawned two sequels, Predator 2 (1990) and Predators (2010), and two crossover films with the Alien franchise, Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). Another film, The Predator, is scheduled for 2018.
A spacecraft flies near Earth and releases a bright object which enters the atmosphere. In the Val Verde jungle, Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer and his team — medic Mac Elliot, tracker Billy Sole, gunner Blain Cooper, explosives expert Jorge "Poncho" Ramírez, and radio operator Rick Hawkins —are tasked by the CIA with rescuing an official held hostage by insurgents. CIA agent, liaison and former US Army Colonel George Dillon, a former commando and an old friend of Dutch, is assigned to supervise the team despite Dutch's reservations.
The team discovers the wreckage of a chopper and three skinned corpses, whom Dutch identifies as members of a U.S. Army Special Forces unit he knew personally. They reach the insurgent camp and kill the soldiers, including a Soviet intelligence officer searching through secret CIA documents. Confronted by Dutch, Dillon admits the mission was a setup to retrieve intelligence from captured operatives and that the dead unit disappeared weeks earlier in a failed rescue. After capturing a guerilla named Anna, the group proceeds to extraction, unaware that they are being tracked with thermal imaging by an unseen observer.
Anna escapes and is chased by Hawkins, but they are ambushed by the creature. It spares Anna but kills Hawkins and drags his body away. Dutch organizes a manhunt, during which Blain is killed by the creature's plasma weapon. An enraged Mac initiates a firefight which wounds the creature, revealing luminescent green blood, but fails to draw it out. The unit regroups and questions Anna, learning that their stalker is a creature locals call "el demonio que hace trofeos de los hombres" ("the demon who makes trophies of men").
That night, Mac mistakes a wild pig for the creature and kills it. In the confusion, the creature steals Blain's body, leading Dutch to realize their enemy uses the trees to travel. The next day, an attempt to trap the creature fails, leaving Poncho injured. Mac and Dillon pursue the alien, but it outwits and kills them both. It catches up with the others, killing Billy and Poncho and wounding Dutch.
Realizing the creature does not target unarmed prey because there is "no sport", Dutch sends Anna to the helicopter unarmed. The creature pursues him through a river, causing its cloaking device to malfunction. Though the creature is only a few feet from Dutch, it does not see him and moves on. Dutch realizes that mud covering his body is masking his heat signature from the creature's thermal sensor.
While the creature removes the spinal columns from the bodies, Dutch crafts traps and weapons and lures the creature with a war cry. He disables its cloaking device and inflicts minor injuries, but is cornered. Acknowledging Dutch as a worthy foe, the creature discards its mask and weapon and engages him in close-quarters combat. Dutch is almost beaten but crushes the creature under a trap's counterweight. As the creature lies dying, Dutch asks "What the hell are you?", but it simply repeats the question in garbled English before activating a self-destruct device, echoing Billy's laughter as the countdown begins. Dutch takes cover just before the self-destruct device explodes in a mushroom cloud. He is picked up by his commander, General Phillips, in the helicopter.
For a few months, following the release of Rocky IV, a joke was making the rounds in Hollywood. Since Rocky Balboa had run out of earthly opponents, he would have to fight an alien if a fifth installment of his boxing series were to be made. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took the inspiration from the joke and wrote a screenplay based on it. The Thomas script for Predator was originally titled Hunter. It was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985, and turned over to producer Joel Silver who, based on his experience with Commando, decided to turn the science fiction pulp storyline into a big-budget film. Silver enlisted his former boss Lawrence Gordon as co-producer and John McTiernan was hired as director for his first studio film. New Zealand director Geoff Murphy was also considered to direct.
According to the documentaries included on the Region 1 release of the special edition, the original monster suit was vastly different from the final product, designed by Stan Winston. The original monster was a disproportionate, ungainly creature with large yellow eyes and a dog-like head, and it was nowhere near as agile as later portrayed. McTiernan consulted Winston after production became troubled. While on a plane ride to Fox studios alongside Aliens director James Cameron, Winston sketched monster ideas. Cameron suggested he had always wanted to see a creature with mandibles, which became part of the Predator's iconic look.
Silver and Gordon first approached Arnold Schwarzenegger with the lead role. To play the elite band of soldiers, both Silver and Gordon, with co-producer John Davis, searched for other larger-than-life men of action. Carl Weathers, who had been memorable as boxer Apollo Creed in the Rocky films was their first choice to play Dillon, while professional wrestler and former Navy UDT Jesse Ventura was hired for his formidable physique as Blain. Native Americans Sonny Landham and Richard Chaves, and African-American Bill Duke, who co-starred alongside Schwarzenegger in Commando, provided ethnic balance. As a favor to writer Shane Black, whose first screenplay had become Silver's blockbuster Lethal Weapon a few months earlier, Silver hired Black to play a supporting role in the film, which also allowed him to watch McTiernan direct.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator creature, the idea being that the physical action star would use his martial arts skills to make the Predator an agile, ninja-esque hunter. When compared to Schwarzenegger, Weathers, and Ventura, actors known for their bodybuilding regimens, it became apparent a more physically imposing man was needed to make the creature appear threatening. Additionally, it was reported that Van Damme constantly complained about the monster suit being too hot, causing him to pass out. He also had allegedly voiced his reservations on numerous occasions regarding the fact he would not be appearing on camera without the suit. Additionally, the original design for the Predator was felt to be too cumbersome and difficult to manage in the jungle and, even with a more imposing actor, was felt to not provoke enough fear. Van Damme was removed from the film and replaced by Kevin Peter Hall.
Commitments by Schwarzenegger delayed the start of filming by several months. The delay gave Silver enough time to secure a minor rewrite from screenwriter David Peoples. Principal photography eventually began in the jungles of Palenque, Mexico, near Villahermosa, Tabasco, during the second week of April 1986, but the film overall was filmed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Much of the material dealing with the unit's deployment in the jungle was completed in a few short weeks and both Silver and Gordon were pleased by the dailies provided by McTiernan. On Friday, April 25, production halted so that Schwarzenegger could fly to Hyannis Port in a Learjet chartered by Silver in order to get to his wedding on time. He was married on April 26, 1986, to Maria Shriver, and honeymooned for only three days while the second unit completed additional lensing. The production resumed filming on May 12.
Both director McTiernan and Schwarzenegger lost 25 pounds during the film. Schwarzenegger's weight loss was a professional choice. McTiernan lost the weight because he avoided the food in Mexico due to health concerns. Unlike McTiernan, most of the cast and crew suffered from traveler's diarrhea since the Mexican hotel in which they were living was having problems with the water purification. In an interview, Carl Weathers said the actors would secretly wake up as early as 3:00 a.m. to work out before the day's shooting. Weathers also stated that he would act as if his physique was naturally given to him, and would work out only after the other actors were nowhere to be seen.
According to Schwarzenegger, filming was physically demanding as he had to swim in very cold water and spent three weeks covered in mud for the climactic battle with the alien. In addition, cast and crew endured very cold temperatures in the Mexican jungle that required heat lamps to be on all of the time. Cast and crew filmed on rough terrain that, according to the actor, was never flat, "always on a hill. We stood all day long on a hill, one leg down, one leg up. It was terrible." Schwarzenegger also faced the challenge of working with Kevin Peter Hall, who could not see in the Predator suit. The actor remembers, "so when he's supposed to slap me around and stay far from my face, all of a sudden, whap! There is this hand with claws on it!" Hall stated in an interview that his experience on the film, "wasn't a movie, it was a survival story for all of us." For example, in the scene where the Predator chases Dutch, the water was foul, stagnant and full of leeches. Hall could not see out of the mask and had to rehearse his scenes with it off and then memorize where everything was. The outfit was difficult to wear because it was heavy and off-balance.
The film was dedicated to the memories of Agustin Ytuarte and Federico Ysunza, who were both killed on March 31, 1986, in the crash of Mexicana Flight 940.
R/Greenberg Associates created the film's optical effects, including the alien's ability to become invisible, its thermal vision point of view, its glowing blood, and the electrical spark effects.
The invisibility effect was achieved by having someone wearing a bright red suit (because it was the farthest opposite of the green of the jungle and the blue of the sky) the size of the Predator. The red was removed with chroma key techniques, leaving an empty area. The take was then repeated without the actors using a 30% wider lens on the camera. When the two takes were combined optically, the jungle from the second take filled in the empty area. Because the second take was filmed with a wider lens, a vague outline of the alien could be seen with the background scenery bending around its shape.
For the thermal vision, infrared film could not be used because it did not register in the range of body temperature wavelengths. The filmmakers used an inframetrics thermal video scanner as it gave good heat images of objects and people. The glowing blood was achieved by green liquid from glow sticks used by campers and mixed with personal lubricant for texture. The electrical sparks were rotoscoped animation using white paper pin registered on portable light tables to black-and-white prints of the film frames. The drawings were composited by the optical crew for the finished effects. Additional visual effects, mainly for the opening title sequence of the Predator arriving on Earth, were supplied by Dream Quest Images (later Oscar-winners for their work on The Abyss and Total Recall). The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.
The soundtrack was composed by Alan Silvestri, who was coming off the huge success of Back to the Future in 1985. Predator was his first major action movie and the score is full of his now familiar genre characteristics: heavy horn blasts, staccato string rhythms, and undulating timpani rolls that highlight the action and suspense. Little Richard's song "Long Tall Sally" is featured in the helicopter en route to the jungle. Mac also recites a few lines from the song as he's chasing the Predator after it escapes from their booby trap. Silvestri returned for the sequel, making him the only composer to have scored more than one film in either the Alien or Predator series.
In 2003, Varèse Sarabande released the soundtrack album as part of its limited release CD Club collection; the album also includes the Elliot Goldenthal arrangement of the Fox fanfare used on Alien 3.
In 2010, the same year Predators featured an adaptation of Silvestri's score by John Debney, Intrada Records released the album in a 3000-copy limited edition with remastered sound, many cues combined and renamed, and most notably (as with Intrada's release of Basil Poledouris's score for RoboCop) presenting the original end credits music as recorded (the film versions are differently mixed). This release is notable for having sold out within a day.
Released on June 12, 1987, Predator was #1 at the US box office in its opening weekend with a gross of $12 million, which was second to only Beverly Hills Cop II for the calendar year 1987. The film grossed $98,267,558, of which $59,735,548 was from the US & Canadian box office. $38,532,010 was made overseas.
From contemporary reviews, Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film an average score of 40 based on 12 reviews from 1987, with the review opinions summarized as "mixed or average". Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times described it as "grisly and dull, with few surprises." Dean Lamanna wrote in Cinefantastique that "the militarized monster movie tires under its own derivative weight." Variety wrote that the film was a "slightly above-average actioner that tries to compensate for tissue-thin-plot with ever-more-grisly death sequences and impressive special effects." Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed it "arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie." Feminist Susan Faludi called it one of "an endless stream of war and action movies" in which "women are reduced to mute and incidental characters or banished altogether." Though decrying a few plot holes, critic Roger Ebert was more complimentary of the film, rating it three out of four stars, and writing, "it supplies what it claims to supply: an effective action movie." The Monthly Film Bulletin stated that the special effects were "substituted for suspense. The early appearance of the Predator makes the final gladiatorial conflict predictable, and the monster's multiple transformations also exhaust interest in its final appearance, which comes as no real surprise."
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 78% of 40 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7/10.
In subsequent years, the film's critical reaction has been more positive and as a result Predator has appeared on a number of "best of" lists. In 2001, it was one of 400 films nominated for the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list, though it did not place in the top 100. In 2003, the Predator creature was one of 400 characters nominated for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2007, C. Robert Cargill of Film.com ranked Predator as the seventh best film of 1987, calling it "one of the great science fiction horror films, often imitated, but never properly duplicated, not even by its own sequel." Entertainment Weekly named it the 22nd greatest action movie of all time in 2007, and the 14th among "The Best Rock-'em, Sock-'em Movies of the Past 25 Years" in 2009, saying "Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been as manly as he was in this alien-hunting testosterone-fest." IGN proclaimed it the 13th greatest action movie of all time. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked it 336th on their list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
In 2013, NECA released action figure collectables of Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer and the Predator, marketed as "Jungle Hunter Dutch Schaefer", "Jungle Disguise Dutch Schaefer", "Jungle Extraction Dutch Schaefer", "Jungle Patrol Dutch Schaefer", "Jungle Hunter Predator", "Water Emergence Predator", and "Cloaked Classic Predator." That same year, Predator was converted into 3D for Blu-ray release.
The line "Get to the chopper" was subsequently associated to Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially when Schwarzenegger said the line again in some of his later appearances, including The New Celebrity Apprentice and advertisements for the mobile video game, Mobile Strike.