Imagine our surprise, when after asking him to write a short chunk on the upcoming Predators film, Michael Bowen — theater critic and scholar of many things, including American cinema — admitted complete ignorance about the franchise. Not only had he never seen Predator, Predator 2, Aliens vs. Predator, or Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem — he'd never even heard of them. Ever.
Art Director Chris Bovey said it best: "That's like never having heard of air."
Far from mocking the Michael Bowens of the world, though (and we pray there are but a few), our aim here is to educate. May this information serve you well:
Genesis (1986ish, potentially apocryphal)
Following the 1985 release of Rocky IV, some huckster in Hollywood said that, if there was ever a Rocky V, the eponymous hero — having beaten every other bad-ass on earth, seemingly — would have to fight an alien. John and Jim Thomas — according to an uncited Wikipedia source — took the joke literally, penning a script that was essentially Rocky vs. An Alien. They called it Hunter.
Rather than the script making its way to Sylvester Stallone, it ended up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the hands of fate went to work.*
Arnold Schwarzenegger, fresh off the success of Commando, saw "hunter" and immediately disliked the mano-a-mano angle. Thinking an alien who couldn't kill one soldier was way less scary than an alien who couldn't kill a group of soldiers — and also being a big fan of racial
stereotypes equality — he demanded a rewrite of the Thomas script that included an entire squad of bad-asses (some muscle-bound black guys and a couple Native American trackers). The cast included a who's who of contemporary 'roid ragers and two future governors: Jesse Ventura and Arnold.
Crucial dramatic irony: While the soldiers think they're fighting some wily jungle-dwelling commies or narco-traffickers or something, the audience knows they're being quietly stalked by an invisible walking hookworm with death mandibles, dreadlocks and a wrist-mounted nuclear warhead. Joke's on them. Action's on us.
Line that will live in infamy: "I ain't got time to bleed." — Jesse Ventura as Blaine. Later the title of Ventura's 2000 autobiography and anti-big-government screed.
Predator 2 (1990)
Having failed to kill our planet's biggest bad-asses, the predators set their sights slightly lower, going after Danny Glover and Bill Paxton.
Socio-political message: It's gangs that are the real problem. The predators have come to a dirty future-tense Los Angeles in the year 1997 because rival Colombian and Jamaican gangs have gotten so good at killing themselves and innocent people the predators have no choice but to throw down the mass murder gauntlet.
Vital industry context: Films whose original setting was transported into the "gritty" inner city for the sequel were a favorite trick of Hollywood at this time. Predator 2 thus bears some karmic similarity to Short Circuit 2 (1988), with less hilarious sentient robots and more human flaying.
Foreshadowing: Though the abomination Alien vs Predator was almost a decade and a half off, you can see the germ of the idea when Glover boards the predator ship and sees an alien skull amongst the trophies.
Alien vs Predator (2004)
So there's this anomaly deep beneath the ice of Antarctica, right? And this team of scientists uses these massive drilling machines to explore it, right? Except, at the exact same time, the predators — who built the thing a bajillion years ago as a nursery for little baby aliens — are coming back to have themselves a hunt.
Epic Fail: Though Alien vs Predator debuted as a Dark Horse Comic in 1990, it took someone 10 years to come up with the cojones to spin off an adaptation of the cross-franchise marketing stunt. It took another four years and four screenwriters to cobble together a script for director Paul W.S. Anderson to butcher.
Anachronismania: The fake archaeologist babble in the film's first third suggests that the humans believe that the predator structure — a pyramid! like in Egypt or whatever!— hints that, you know, our whole culture is owed to the predators' desire to keep little baby alien nurseries all over the galaxy.
Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Almost too bad to talk about: The predator ship leaves the Antarctica pyramid with a bunch of aliens and face-huggers as trophies and the body of the predator who killed the queen in the first AvP. Except that predator corpse has its chest exploded by the mutated super alien/predator hybrid inside! Which kills everything! And then the ship crashes into Rednecktown, USA.
Shades of Cannonball Run II: The alien scourge is ultimately squashed when a single predator and a bit of white trash team up a la Burt Reynolds and that orangutan.
Decision that will live in infamy: This script only had one writer, which might seem like a step in the right direction for the franchise, but it was the same guy that butcherer of cinema Paul Anderson had to re-write in the first AvP.
But it worked with Spike Jonze: Somehow, producers made a worse directing choice than Anderson to direct the sequel: the Brothers Strause. Prior works include a Nickelback video or two.
Disclaimer: No hill folk were harmed in the making of this film.
The predators, stinging from countless losses on Earth, to an ever-less-imposing cast of earth bad-asses-then-Danny-Glover-then-archaeologists-then-rednecks, decide to take home court advantage. A group of the world's worst killers, including a Yakuza assassin and Adrien Brody, is abducted and sent to a heavily jungled planet, where they must work together to ... you know.
It's not clear yet if anyone was probed in the making of this film.
Shocking fact: Oscar-winner Adrien Brody apparently begged to be the lead in this film and dedicated himself to the character, reportedly gaining 25 pounds of muscle. He now weighs 98 pounds.
Regrettable trailer hook: "This planet is a game preserve ... and we're the game." — Adrien Brody
*An antecedent tragedy to this whole affair is that the world has never yet seen Rocky fight an alien, and with Stallone's advancing age and compulsive use of human growth hormone burning the candle at both ends, the window for that showdown is closing.