Predator, one of the most popular action movies of the 1980s, opened in theaters 30 years ago this week, and for the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the film’s premium-format 70mm presentations; and, finally, an interview segment with action movie and John McTiernan authority Eric Lichtenfeld.
- 1 = Box-office rank among films in the Predator franchise (adjusted for inflation)
- 1 = Number of Academy Award nominations
- 1 = Number of weeks North America’s top-grossing movie (week #1)
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
- 1 = Rank on list of top-earning films of 20th Century Fox’s 1987 slate
- 3 = Number of 70mm prints
- 4 = Box-office rank among films directed by John McTiernan (adjusted for inflation)
- 5 = Number of sequels, spinoffs and reboots
- 5 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1987 (summer)
- 7 = Number of months between theatrical release and home video release
- 8 = Rank among top-earning R-rated films of 1987
- 9 = Box-office rank among films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (adjusted for inflation)
- 12 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1987 (calendar year)
- 1,623 = Number of opening-week engagements
- $39.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (LaserDisc)
- $79.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (VHS and Beta)
- $7,413 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
- $12.1 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
- $15.0 million = Production cost
- $25.9 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
- $32.3 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
- $38.2 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
- $38.5 million = Box-office gross (international)
- $59.7 million = Box-office gross (domestic)
- $82.2 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
- $82.9 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
- $98.3 million = Box-office gross (worldwide)
- $128.6 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
- $211.5 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)
A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES
“Powerful! A top action film.” — David Elliott, The San Diego Union
“A knock-your-socks-off thriller!” — Scott Cain, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Predator begins like Rambo and ends like Alien, and in today’s Hollywood, that’s creativity.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Predator is an ominous high-tech Stone-Age mixture — ominous because the production is high tech and the script, and its values and mentality, are Stone Age. It’s in the bare-bones action-adventure mode that producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon used in The Warriors and The Driver, chic action-fables where nothing impedes the streamlined flow — neither logic, originality nor a single naturalistic moment. Sometimes the form works, but in Predator, they’ve hit nada. There’s a difference between Walter Hill’s minimalism and vacuity — which is what we get from Jim and John Thomas’ screenplay. It’s arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie. There’s no need to do a Mad magazine parody of this; it’s already on the screen.” — Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times
“As Mr. Schwarzenegger demonstrated in The Terminator, he is much better at playing such creatures than at wrangling with them, though in this film he does the latter. The last part of the film concentrates on man-to-monster battles through the jungle. Care to guess who wins?” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“There are some really obnoxious things about Predator, but the bottom line is that it is a fast-paced, skillfully structured, exciting, extremely violent and bloody piece of totally mindless entertainment.” — Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“It’s what you’d expect from director John McTiernan, who made his debut last year with a quirky, imaginative horror film called Nomads, though it isn’t all you might hope for. McTiernan never seems in complete control of the wildly disparate elements he has assembled, and the movie doesn’t settle into one groove long enough to establish a firm hold on the audience. It’s a promise more than an accomplishment.” — Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune
“When Schwarzenegger first established himself in Conan the Barbarian, he earned a secure place in the Bad Dialogue Hall of Fame by explaining that he liked to kill his enemies for the joy of listening to ‘ze lamentation of zeir vimen.’ He also proved himself able to ignore the lamentations of the critics, and his self-assurance has improved with his command of English. And his study of the screen personality of Clint Eastwood has obviously been assiduous.” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer
“[Predator is a] movie for those who find it entertaining to watch virtually the entire cast of a movie eliminated, one by one. In this ineffective, bloody spoof of machismo, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the head of an elite military unit that finds itself scurrying for survival in hostile jungle terrain while being stalked by a super-efficient alien hunter. It’s Platoon and Aliens fused with a Miller beer commercial.” — Elvis Mitchell, Detroit Free Press
“John McTiernan’s pedestrian direction emphasizes pyrotechnics, blood, gore and a singular determination to avoid fleshing out his characters. Schwarzenegger’s men are allowed one distinguishing characteristic each: one guy chews tobacco; another is an Indian into mysticism; another wears glasses and tells bad jokes and another guy is as bald as a billiard ball. They all die, just like the movie.” — Roxanne T. Mueller, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
“Putting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the middle of a movie that combines Rambo and Aliens sounds like a great idea. But unfortunately, Predator, which combines horror film effects and war movie action, is not as good as the films it apes.” — James Verniere, The Boston Herald
“Rambo Meets Alien in the Jungle might have been a better title for this predictable and very silly action film. When the creature finally takes its uncamouflaged form, it’s just another hulking, slimy monster with, you guessed it, green blood. Thirteen-year-old boys might find him scary, but otherwise the predator is a totally unreal, unconvincing and unworthy opponent…. Even Schwarzenegger is below par in this barbequed turkey, Predator is for the birds.” — Marylynn Uricchio, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
THE 70MM ENGAGEMENTS
Event and prestige movies (and instances to appease a filmmaker’s ego) on occasion are given a deluxe release in addition to a standard release. This section of the article includes a reference/historical listing of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Predator in the United States and Canada. These were arguably the best theaters in which to experience Predator and the only way at the time to faithfully hear the movie’s discrete multichannel audio mix and Golden Reel Award-winning Sound Editing.
Of the 200+ new movies released during 1987, Predator was among only seventeen to have 70mm prints prepared for selected engagements. Less than one percent of Predator’s initial print run was in the 70mm format, which were significantly more expensive and more time- and labor-intensive to manufacture compared with conventional 35mm prints.
The film’s 70mm prints of Predator were blown up from spherical 35mm photography and printed in a pillarboxed 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The noise-reduction and signal-processing format for the prints was Dolby “A,” and the soundtrack was Format 42 (three discrete screen channels + one discrete surround channel + “baby boom” low-frequency enhancement).
Trailers for The Pick-up Artist and Revenge of the Nerds II circulated with the Predator prints and which the distributor recommended be screened with the presentation.
For the release of Predator, 20th Century Fox employed the services of Lucasfilm’s Theater Alignment Program (TAP) to evaluate and approve the theaters selected to book a 70mm print.
The listing below includes the 70mm engagements of Predator that commenced June 12th, 1987. Not included are the moveover, second run, revival and international engagements (or any of the movie’s countless standard 35mm engagements).
So, for historical reference and nostalgia, the first-run North American theaters that screened the 70mm version of Predator were….
- Los Angeles (Hollywood) — UA’s Egyptian Triplex
- Los Angeles (Westwood Village) — General Cinema’s Avco Center Triplex [THX]
- New York (Manhattan) — Trans-Lux’s Gotham
Eric Lichtenfeld is an action movie and John McTiernan authority and writer of the book Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie (Wesleyan, 2007). He has taught or spoken about film at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Cinematheque, Loyola Marymount University, UCLA, Wesleyan University, and the Harvard School of Law. Eric has also contributed supplemental material for several DVD and Blu-ray releases, including Speed, Die Hard and the subject of this interview, Predator.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way should Predator be remembered on its 30th anniversary?
Eric Lichtenfeld: You could point to the fact that it’s so well-loved, even all these years later. You could also point how it introduced a movie icon and launched an intellectual property that has remained strong even though none of the creature’s later on-screen appearances have been very successful creatively or commercially.
To me, though, it’s mostly about the filmmaking. I often say that Predator is an oddly touching movie — and I don’t mean “touching” in terms of the character relationships, or how Mac mourns Blaine, or any of those things. Watching the film is a moving experience for me because the filmmakers took so much care — more than they needed to. The movie is brutal, but it’s elegantly made. And it’s not even the action (though that’s done perfectly well). It’s all the suspense, the atmosphere. It’s how patiently John McTiernan and his collaborators ratchet up the tension. It’s how thoughtful the sound design is — and even more, how quiet it is, especially for a major action movie. It’s the camera movements and compositions, the editing, the soundtrack — all in service of a premise that, let’s as face it, is as goofy as it is mythic. And that’s why I’m moved when I watch it. Because when I do, I see filmmakers using the language of moviemaking so well simply because they didn’t know how not to.
Given the star power and the concept, I believe that Predator would have been just as successful even if it had been only half as well-made. So that’s a big part of why it should be celebrated. (It’s also why the movie should be restored, since the DVD and Blu-ray don’t accurately reflect how the movie actually looked or do justice to it.)
Plus, without Predator, we wouldn’t have the iconic creature. We wouldn’t have had McTiernan’s Die Hard or The Hunt for Red October. And “If it bleeds, we can kill it” would never have been a thing.
Coate: What did you think of Predator? Can you recall your reaction to the first time you saw it?
Lichtenfeld: I first saw it on home video, after having heard so much about it. I was a young adolescent male and thought it was great in exactly the way you would expect a young adolescent male to think it was great. It wasn’t until later, when I came to know anything about film and filmmaking that I saw how truly good it is, too.
Coate: How is Predator significant as an action movie?
Lichtenfeld: Judging just from the concept, Predator should have been the quintessential 1980s action film, and nothing more: a B-movie on steroids. And yes, it’s violent, gory, and macho. But even taking that into account — and the fact that it features Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his ‘80s-ness — Predator is much more elegant than it has any business being. So to me, it always comes back to the craftsmanship. Predator proved that more could be done with an action movie than what people — whether critics or fans — expected of it.
Predator is also one of the movies that put action movie tropes in a fantastical context. It fused action, science fiction, and visual effects in a way that helped lay the foundation for what we saw during the CGI revolution of the ‘90s. And from that, action blockbusters evolved into the form we usually see today (without all the not-so-family-friendly gore and violence, of course).
Coate: Where do you think Predator ranks among director John McTiernan’s body of work?
Lichtenfeld: In the upper echelon, but not at the level of Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. That’s not to take anything from Predator; it’s just that it’s much more linear and has fewer moving pieces. It’s less complex. Instead of cutting among multiple characters and character groupings in multiple places, most of Predator features our guys essentially moving in a straight line, stopping, and moving in a straight line again, deeper and deeper into the jungle. So in that sense, it’s probably the simplest of McTiernan’s movies. But it’s also where we see McTiernan playing with ideas and techniques that will be so important in many of his other, even better movies.
It’s an amazing accomplishment for a director’s first studio film — especially given the conditions under which it was made.
Coate: Where do you think Predator ranks among star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body of work?
Lichtenfeld: It’s close to the top if not the very top. I’m sure lots of people would give the latter distinction to the Terminator movies he made with James Cameron (and they’d have a strong case), but what distinguishes Predator is that it’s the first movie where Schwarzenegger softens in front of the camera. Until then, his performances were stiff, angular, all persona. He’s more natural in Predator. Even afraid. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that McTiernan was the director of the movie where Schwarzenegger turned that corner. Just take the last shot of him, as the helicopter flies away and his eyes drift to the jungle canopy far below. It’s consistent with moments from Die Hard, Red October, and even The Thomas Crown Affair, where a leading character nears the end of the movie utterly exhausted or even smashed.
Coate: What are your thoughts on the Predator sequels and spin-offs? How do they compare to the original?
Lichtenfeld: I never saw the second Alien vs. Predator or Predators. (Though I did once watch a commercial for Predators with McTiernan in a bar, and that was pretty surreal.) But from what I’ve seen, there’s no comparing any of the sequels or spin-offs to the first. In fact, they’re so far apart, I wonder if there’s any point in trying to. This could be the lens I see it through — or I could just be out of touch — but are any of the sequels or spin-offs really loved? Are they quoted? Does anyone break into a smile when they’re channel surfing and see that one of the Alien vs. Predator movies are on? And it’s strange, because it’s not as if they simply made a string of sequels: Predator 2, 3, 4, and 5. They did try to do some different things. And yet, at least to me, they’ve never really felt like anything more than franchise maintenance. The original, on the other hand, took the most basic, stock elements available, and combined them into something memorable.
Coate: What is the legacy of Predator?
Lichtenfeld: A big part of the legacy of Predator is obviously the Predator. Stan Winston’s creation belongs in the pantheon of movie monsters. Another part is the franchise the movie spawned — and I don’t just mean the movies and spin-offs, but also the comic books and video games. They’re what really sustained and furthered the franchise for the fourteen years between Predator 2 and Alien vs. Predator. As I detailed in my book, that period saw at least eight original publications from Dark Horse Comics and six games on multiple platforms. So the franchise hasn’t had a significant hit at the box-office since 1987, and yet the property endures. In other words, it bleeds, but they can’t kill it. And that reflects the impact of original movie.
But even if there hadn’t been sequels and spin-offs (and licensed comics, graphic novels, video games and toys), I like to think that Predator would still have a legacy. It’s a well-loved film, even a ritualized one. Even if you set aside the iconic imagery, our pop-culture is studded with the movie’s one-liners and other bits of dialogue alone. Hell, Jesse Ventura used one for the title of a political treatise! In the end, though, Predator’s legacy may be as simple and straightforward as the movie is on the surface: very well-made and still very well-loved. That may not be a complex thought, but I think any filmmaker whose work could be described that way thirty years after it was released would have reason to be proud.
Coate: Thank you, Eric, for sharing your thoughts on Predator on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of its release.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Amercent Films, American Entertainment Partners, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and trade reports published in Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.
Don Beelik, Eric Lichtenfeld and Brian Walters.
Kevin Peter Hall (“The Predator”), 1955-1991
Don Bassman (Re-recording Mixer), 1927-1993
Richard Shorr (Sound Effects Editor), 1942-2001
John Vallone (Production Designer), 1953-2004
Stan Winston (Creature Creator), 1946-2008
R.G. Armstrong (“Gen. Phillips”), 1917-2012