An alien spacecraft in orbit over Earth sends down a shuttle. In the jungles of Central America, a team is sent to rescue a foreign cabinet minister and his aides from rebel kidnappers. Major Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a Vietnam War veteran, is in charge. His men are Sergeant Mac Eliot (Bill Duke), explosives expert Jorge Pancho Ramirez (Richard Chaves), heavy gunner Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura), tracker Bob “Billy” Sole (Sonny Landham), and radio-man Rick Hawkins (Shane Black). Also included, against Dutch’s wishes, is his old rival CIA-agent Al Dillon (Carl Weathers). The testosterone is strong with this whole bunch.
They discover the wreckage of a helicopter and three skinned corpses. Dutch knows them as Green Berets that were sent earlier by the CIA on the same mission. They find a guerilla encampment and kill several of them, along with their Soviet intelligence officers. Dillon admits to Dutch that this is not a rescue mission, but an attempt to forestall a Soviet-backed invasion. They capture a guerilla named Anna Gonsalves (Elpida Carillo) and learn that more rebels are coming. An unseen presence is trailing them, but Sole sees it as Anna escapes.
Hawkins captures her again, but he is killed, as is Cooper. Eliot makes the team fire into the jungle in all directions, and the unseen creature is wounded. Sole insists it is not human. They set traps but a wild boar sets them off. Eliot kills the boar and Cooper’s body is stolen. Dutch realizes the creature is travelling through the trees. Anna says she has known about the creature since her childhood and Dutch lets her go.
The next day, the creature (Kevin Peter Hall) sets off another trap, but it escapes and injures Poncho. Eliot and Dillon are killed. Sole is killed too, and Poncho. Dutch realizes that it does not attack unarmed individuals, and he send Anna to the pickup chopper alone and unarmed, so she will be safe. Dutch flees, but it catches up to him in a muddy riverbank.
He surrenders to it, but it does not see him, and he realizes it is because he is covered in mud, hiding his body heat. He sets more traps and disables its cloaking device. It fires at him, and he falls into the water, losing his camouflage. It corners him and removes its armor and mask to fight him hand-to-hand. He crushes it in a trap and demands, “What the hell are you?” It repeats the question and activates its self-destruct device. Dutch manages to escape the explosion.
The film was directed by John McTiernan and written by Jim and John Thomas. Early reviews were bad, but it has become a classic and it spawned a franchise of film, novels, comics, video games, and action figures. It crossed over with Alien and inspired three other movies. The film was nominated for an Oscar for special effects. The music was by Alan Silvestri and the creature by stan Winston. The novice writers slipped their script under the door of Michael Levy, who brought it to producer Joel Silver. Schwarzenegger came on board, suggesting the commando team to start with, ending with the two antagonists.
They cast the biggest actors they could find. At first, Jean-Claude Van Damme was to play the creature, using his martial arts skills, but he was hidden and restrained by the costume, and at 5-foot-9, he literally did not measure up, so they hired Kevin Peter Hall, who was 7-foot-2. He had just played Harry in Harry and the Hendersons. It was shot in the jungle in Mexico. The work was demanding because of the heat and the humidity, the snakes and scorpions and leeches, not to mention Montezuma’s revenge. Because Kevin Peter Hall could not see in the mask, he kept knocking Schwarzenegger around. Arnie said it was not a film-shoot, it was a survival test. On a flight to Fox Studios, Stan Winston consulted with his seat-mate James Cameron on the design of the creature. Cameron suggested the mandibles.
A practical joke that involved filling Arnie’s shower stall with giant frogs backfired when Maria Shriver went into the shower first. Jesse Ventura was overjoyed to learn that his arms were an inch bigger than Arnie’s and bet a bottle of champagne, but Arnie had coached the wardrobe department to lie and Ventura lost. It was Jesse Ventura’s first movie. The Predator’s face was inspired by the wrinkle-faced bat. The moving gun on the Predator’s shoulder was called the parrot gun. The Predator is only on the screen for eight minutes. The real Goblin Spider species is called Predatoroonops because of its mandibles. The movie inspired Pentagon research into light-bending camouflage. Joel Hynek, who designed the camouflage, was the son of J. Allen Hynek, who created the Close Encounter hierarchy for alien contact.