Every franchise has its own gimmick. Superhero films have good superheroes versus bad supervillains. James Bond has the titular super-spy taking on various missions. Mission: Impossible has, as the name suggests, an impossible mission that can only be accomplished by the one and only Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). The Fast and Furious franchise has fast cars, furious people, and an overarching theme of family. The Ocean’s franchise is about heists. So on and so forth. But it looks like people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Predator movies. That’s why the expectations vary from person to person. Well, I am here to set the record straight.
There’s one simple rule to making a Predator film. It can have its roots in any genre or subgenre. Survivalist action, hard-boiled crime, adventure, small-town drama, battle royale, etc. And then the Predator shows up. That’s it. The Predator’s needs are simple. It wants a good game of hunting. So, it’s going to do everything in its power to make the humans run. If the humans have the will to survive, they are going to do their best to swim or sink in a puddle of their own blood with the skull and spine ripped off. Now, you can watch every entry in this franchise with this mindset instead of expecting all of them to do the same thing the first movie did. Since I’ve already done that, here’s the definitive ranking of the Predator movies so far.
7. The Predator (2018)
Directed and co-written by Shane Black (he played Rick Hawkins in the first film), along with co-writer Fred Dekker, this film opens with a Predator ship crashing into Earth. This interrupts a hostage rescue mission being conducted by U.S. Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). His team is torn apart by the Predator. But he manages to incapacitate it and ship some of its parts to his estranged family to prove that alien life exists. Quinn is captured by Government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) for examination and he also takes away the Predator for inspection. Of course, the Predator escapes, and then a bigger Predator arrives on Earth to kill it and retrieve the armor that Quinn sent to his family. Amidst all this, there are a bunch of off-beat government captives and an evolutionary biologist who gets involved.
I don’t have a singular good thing to say about this film. I don’t know what this film is trying to be. I don’t know why this film is the way it is. At times, it is blatantly offensive with its portrayal of autism and Tourette syndrome. Other times, it’s trying to appease everyone by coaxing itself through a knock-off version of Marvel’s “hundred jokes per scene” machine. But none of it makes sense. Because it’s directed by the guy who was in the first Predator movie, who has made one of the best Marvel films and has made hilarious films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016). So, what the hell happened here? There’s a skeleton of a government conspiracy thriller in it. However, it’s hardly prominent. The action is so painfully generic. The characters are all obnoxious. And then there’s the stupid sequel tease.
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6. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
The first and only sequel in the franchise, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem takes up from where Alien vs. Predator left off. It’s not really necessary to watch Alien vs. Predator in order to understand the set-up of Requiem because all the information is laid on the table very clearly. A Predator gets impregnated by a face-hugger (from the Alien franchise) and what bursts out of its chest is a, get ready for it, Pred-Alien. The scene then shifts to a quaint town in Gunnison, Colorado, where this Pred-Alien lands and unleashes the face-huggers. A Predator learns about this and arrives with the intention of not only erasing every sign of Predator tech but destroying the Pred-Alien and its Xenomorph offspring. It is directed by The Brothers Strause and written by Shane Salermo.
Credit where credit is due, the movie has a sick opening. How many movies nowadays start things off with something as raw as a father getting his hand burnt off by Xeno blood and his six or seven-year-old son becoming the host of a chest-burster? The answer is hardly any. The overall setting is great and ripe for all kinds of horrific action. The practical effects (the one involving a lady pregnant with chest-bursters is bonkers) and VFX is decent. The ending is surprisingly ballsy. Everything else is utter garbage. There’s such a heavy color grade all over the film that you can hardly see anything. I am not kidding. There are scenes after scenes where you can’t perceive what’s going on. The characters are very cliched. So, the randomness of the kills isn’t as shocking as The Brothers Strause want them to be. And, with the intention of being repetitive, you can’t see a single thing properly.
5. Predators (2010)
Directed by Nimród Antal and written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators starts off as a classic battle royale film where a mercenary, Royce (Adrien Brody), finds himself in the middle of a jungle. He soon comes across Edwin (Topher Grace), who’s a doctor, Isabelle (Alice Braga), a sniper from the IDF, Stans (Walton Goggins), a death row inmate, Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian commando, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), a member of the Mexican drug cartel, Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza Inagawa-kai enforcer, and Mombasa (Mahershala Ali), a Revolutionary United Front death squad soldier. While trying to figure out who they are, why they are where they are, and where they are on the face of the Earth, the group realizes that they are on a different planet. And on this planet, they are the prey and they are being hunted by a trio of Predators. So, since they are the worst of the worst, they can either kill or be killed.
The success of Battle Royale (2000) motivated many filmmakers for a whole decade to make movies like it. Antal undoubtedly understood the assignment and used it to make a Predator movie. Now, call it fatigue among the audiences or poor marketing, the movie wasn’t received very well. But, upon a rewatch, you see that it’s a really well-made movie. Call it a product of its time or anything else you want, but Antal takes the sticky, griminess of the first film and elevates it to the next level. He strikes a brilliant balance between practical action, practical effects and visual effects. The cast is insane and they absolutely sell the hell out of their respective roles. It has quite a few surprises up its sleeve, with the biggest one being Laurence Fishburne as Noland (a U.S. Army Air Cavalry soldier who has survived on this planet for multiple hunting cycles). It’s just that, as soon as the third act kicks in, it loses steam and tapers off towards its explosive end.
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4. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Paul W.S. Anderson has gained a fair bit of notoriety now and the internet loves to hate him because of his Resident Evil movies. But put down your pitchforks because this is, let’s say, a different version of him that was at the helm, directing and co-writing the film, along with co-writer Shane Salerno. The story follows Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) who launches an expedition to Antarctica where a heat bloom has been detected. His team, led by Lex (Sanaa Lathan), is made of Prof. Rosa (Raoul Bova), Dr. Miller (Ewen Bremner), Maxwell (Colin Salmon), Mark (Tommy Flanagan), and several others. So, what are they looking for? Well, they aim to find an ancient pyramid. But little do they know that that pyramid is an arena where Predators manufacture Xenomorphs and battle them to the death. If they win, then all’s good. If they are about to lose, they nuke the place.
The whole mythology around the Predators and the Aliens is actually insane. The battle that takes place between the Predators and the Aliens is bombastic, inventive, and downright gnarly. The creature work, stunt work, and costume design for the Predators and the Aliens are worthy of all the applause in the world. The practical effects for the Queen are jaw-droppingly gothic and, might I say, beautiful. The mechanics of it all borrow from the Alien films but it has that Anderson flavor to it. Then there’s the VFX. I am not kidding, it can go toe-to-toe with many modern, VFX-heavy films. It is that immaculate. The human characters truly feel trapped in this epic fight to the death and Sanaa Lathan makes sure that you root for Lex even if you can’t root for anyone else. That’s why the team-up with the Predator works as well as it works. This is a long-winded way of saying that AvP deserves a rewatch.
3. Predator 2 (1990)
Directed by Stephen Hopkins and written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas, Predator 2 takes place in Los Angeles amidst a brutal heat wave and even more brutal turf war between heavily armed Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels. A Predator enters to spice things up and ramp up the tension by killing people on the Colombian and the Jamaican side, just to see how Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) is going to react to it. Things get personal when, in an attempt to capture the killer, Mike’s friends start to get killed one after the other. And although Mike wants to stay on top of this case, he is constantly shoved aside by Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey). Busey’s character was originally supposed to be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even though Arnold didn’t come back, the character didn’t change too much as he’s the only person aware of the events of 1987.
Without beating around the bush, Danny Glover deserved and still deserves all the awards in the world for his performance in this movie. If all the sweat added by the make-up team, the existence of Predator, the skinned corpses, the constantly buzzing streets of Los Angeles, and the late Bill Paxton don’t get your heart pumping and send your blood pressure levels through the roof, Glover will. His frenetic energy, his anger, his frustration, and his willingness to nab the murderer is palpable. You start to empathize with him because you are the only person who knows what he’s up against. By the time you are way into the absolutely horrifying third act, you are sure that he’s not going to make it. And that’s why the cathartic ending is so fulfilling. The only thing that holds back the movie from being perfect is the writing for the supporting cast. Apart from that, Predator 2 is a great film.
2. Prey (2022)
Director and co-writer Dan Trachtenberg along with co-writer Patrick Aison take things back to 1719 as they follow a Comanche tribe going about their life. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is expected to cook food and clean hides because she’s a woman. But she aspires to be a hunter. She shares an amicable relationship with his brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). However, it’s quickly established that Taabe has a habit of taking credit for Naru’s achievements. So, in order to remove all distractions between her and the animal she needs to kill to complete her initiation ceremony, she treks through the land, with her dog Sarii keeping her company. That’s when a Predator shows up and starts searching for the most powerful creature on this planet’s food chain. Initially, it doesn’t see Naru as a threat and that’s why she keeps getting by. Then it makes things personal. And by the time it can realize how dangerous Naru is, it’s too late.
Although Prey is ranked at #2 on this list, I can confidently tell you that this is tied with Predator for the #1 spot. Trachtenberg and Aison take a very simple story about a girl coming into her own and pepper it with balls-to-the-walls action sequences, some very cool setups and payoffs, and a mean-as-hell Predator. I kid you not, the Predator in this movie has so much character and oomph to it that you kind of want to watch more of it. A whole lot of that credit goes to Dane DiLiegro (the dude in that sick costume) and the VFX artists. Jeff Cutter’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, especially the stuff that’s done at night-time. Claudia Castello and Angela M. Catanzaro’s editing is fantastic. The production design, art direction, make-up, special effects, and stunt work are truly amazing. Sarah Schachner’s score is masterful. And although there are a lot of talented artists in the cast, this is an out-and-out Amber Midthunder film.
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1. Predator (1987)
Directed by John McTiernan and written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas, this unbeatable classic starts with a shuttle from an alien spacecraft entering Earth. Vietnam War veteran Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his military rescue team is brought in to conduct a rescue mission in a guerrilla-held territory in a Central American rainforest. CIA officer Al Dillon (Carl Weathers) is assigned to go with them for reasons that are very clear from the get-go. The first twist comes when they discover the wreckage of a helicopter and three skinned corpses. Corpses of Green Berets. Then, they mount a ballistic attack on the guerillas but realize that their mission is a big dud. So, they have to go to the extraction point and get the hell out of there before the rest of the guerillas get to know about their existence. And, boom, a Predator shows up and hands them their derrieres.
What can be said about Predator that hasn’t been said already? It’s a perfect movie. I have watched it several times over the years and it hits the spot every single time. Yes, after the first viewing, the reveal that it’s actually an alien that’s hunting the paramilitary rescue team is gone. But that does not diminish the tension of it all due to the immaculate direction, writing, cinematography (by Donald McAlpine), editing (by John F. Link and Mark Helfrich), musical composition (Alan Silvestri), and performances from the cast. Although it used to be the norm (and isn’t anymore), the fact that it all goes down in an actual tangible forest puts your mind in the middle of this escape. I’ve no clue why Schwarzenegger is ridiculed for his acting chops because he looks to be delivering a performance of a lifetime. And then there’s the finale that is crafted so beautifully that it should be put up in the Louvre.