Getting Predator Produced Took Some Sneaky Thinking From The Scriptwriters

There was a joke going around Hollywood in the '80s after the release of "Rocky IV" that since the Italian Stallion had brawled his way through the toughest fighters on the planet, the next logical step was for him to fight an alien. It's a story often attributed to inspiring screenwriters Jim & John Thomas to take that idea and run with it, resulting in "Predator."

The problem with the story is that "Rocky IV" was released in 1985 and the Thomas brothers completed their script, then entitled "Hunter," in 1983 (via Games Radar). Yet it still rings true: in the heyday of classic '80s action, it was only a matter of time before someone like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger went toe-to-toe with a hostile extra-terrestrial.

It's an idea so simple that it makes you wonder why someone didn't do it quicker. After all, the '80s was bursting with men-on-a-mission military action flicks like "The Delta Force" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II," and aliens were really big after "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Aliens," to name but a few. As it was, "Predator" came along at just the right time, catching Arnie on his ascendancy to Hollywood's greatest action hero and providing a dry run for director John McTiernan, getting his action juices flowing before taking on "Die Hard."

When you consider all those elements, "Predator" sounds like a no-brainer. Yet it took a sneaky approach from the screenwriters to even get their script read in the first place.

So what happens in Predator again?

After a prologue over Earth, where an interstellar ship drops a smaller craft off into our atmosphere, Major "Dutch" Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) is brought in with his crack rescue team to locate a cabinet minster whose helicopter went down across the border in a non-specified Central American country. His team are a colorful bunch: there is Poncho (Richard Chaves), the explosives expert; Billy (Sonny Landham), a Native American tracker; tobacco-chomping, minigun-toting Blain (Jesse Ventura) and his best buddy Mac (Bill Duke); and Hawkins (Shane Black), a radio operator with a penchant for dirty jokes. Also along for the ride is Dillon (Carl Weathers), Dutch's old pal from their Vietnam days, treated with derision by the rest of the team because he now works for the CIA.

Once across the border, the team quickly find the missing helicopter. The cabinet minister has been taken hostage by insurgents, but Billy quickly picks up their trail. Dutch becomes dubious of Dillon's story, especially after a gruesome discovery; three skinned corpses dangling from a tree.

They locate the rebel camp and witness the execution of a hostage, then go in all guns blazing. After they've wiped out all the guerillas and picked up a prisoner of their own, Dillion reveals that their true mission was to thwart a Soviet-backed invasion. Now the team must trek through the jungle to the extraction point before more insurgents arrive. Along the way, they realize that the hostile locals are the least of their worries, as an unseen enemy starts picking them off one by one.

Does Predator still hold up?

"Predator" has aged well compared to many of its '80s contemporaries, starting out like another knuckle-headed action flick before turning into a gripping sci-fi horror. John McTiernan directs with no-nonsense style and the cast is great; they're 2D characters, but each actor really makes them distinctive. The suspense is ramped up by Alan Silvestri's exciting score and the sound design is brilliant, making us strain our ears to pick up signs of the Predator lurking among the other jungle sounds. The filmmakers sensibly leave the creature to our imaginations for almost an hour, other than the Predator POV shots and still striking camouflage effects. When we finally see the creature, it's an awesome moment.

For all the one-liners and macho posturing, the screenplay smartly and believably turns Dutch's bunch of badasses into the underdogs. They're the best of the best, a formidable team capable of mowing down an entire camp of bad guys without hardly breaking a sweat, but they become the helpless victims as they are hunted by the Predator. It was also the first movie to give Arnie an opponent that not only made him look merely human but could also kick his butt. It all leads to a thrilling extended showdown between Dutch and the Predator. The fearsome monster was an astonishing piece of creature design from Stan Winston, an alien as terrifying and memorable as the Xenomorphs in the "Alien" franchise.

The screenplay by the Thomas brothers zips along really well, but without an agent or reputation in Hollywood at the time, they just couldn't get anyone to read it. That's when they resorted to some guerilla tactics of their own.

How the screenplay got to Larry Gordon

Writing a screenplay can be tough, but at least John & Jim Thomas had a great workspace; they wrote "Hunter" in three months sitting on a Californian beach while John was recovering from a back injury. Regarding the concept, Jim said (via Hollywood Reporter):

"What would it be like to be hunted by a dilettante hunter from another planet the way we hunt big game in Africa?" And at first, we were thinking about how a band of hunters would branch out and hunt various and dangerous species on the planet, but we said: "That's going to be way too complex." So what's the most dangerous creature? Man. And what're the most dangerous men? Combat soldiers. At that time, we [the U.S.] were doing a lot of operations in Central America, so that's where we set it.

Once they finished the screenplay, they contacted just about every agent and producer in Hollywood, but everyone rejected it. Next they tried a more unconventional method of getting their work to someone, sliding a copy under the door of Michael Levy, a producer at 20th Century Fox. From Levy, the screenplay found its way up the chain to Larry Gordon, who was just starting his tenure as president of the studio.

Gordon was the ideal person for the script; he got his start with Roger Corman so this kind of genre material was right up his street. As a result, the Thomas brothers received a call and managed to sell their screenplay without any representation, which was almost unheard of in Hollywood at the time.

With an entire franchise following the original "Predator," the rest is history, especially since half of those sequels and follow-ups aren't particularly great.