‘This Movie Was Hell’: 5 Ways ‘Predator’ Nearly Fell Prey To Disaster

‘Prey’ wouldn’t exist without the nuts who made ‘Predator.’
‘This Movie Was Hell’: 5 Ways ‘Predator’ Nearly Fell Prey To Disaster

While 2018’s The Predator wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk success (and worse, was the first movie in the franchise to cast a real-life predator), this week we’re getting a new movie set in the Predator-verse; Prey, which is about a Commanche tribe battling the dreadlocked alien menace 300 years in the past – meaning that we probably won’t get any gratuitous scenes of machine gun fire … and probably no meme-worthy arm-wrestling fights, either.

In retrospect, though, it’s kind of amazing that this series has had such longevity, considering how many times the original 1987 film nearly crashed and burned during its production …

No One Knows Exactly Why Jean-Claude Van Damme Was Fired

Famously, the original actor hired to portray the titular outer space monster who terrorizes Arnold Schwarzenegger and his posse of macho men was none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme, AKA the Mussels From Brussels, AKA that dude who snorted his weight in cocaine while bringing your favorite ‘90s arcade game to life. Of course, Van Damme wasn’t in the finished movie, and the reasons for his dismissal vary wildly depending on who you ask.

According to casting director Jackie Burch, young Van Damme used to come by her office “jumping up in the air” and “begging” for work. She suggested him for the role of the Predator because “no one moves like him.” Unfortunately for Van Damme, while he believed that he would be wearing “a tight leotard” with “half-animal makeup” on his mostly-visible face, he was instead tasked with wearing a ridiculous, cumbersome alien costume which, at that point, looked like a cross between the Alien Xenomorph and Splinter, the mutant Ninja rat. 

20th Century Studios

The first costume Van Damme was outfitted with was the bright red suit used for the scenes where the Predator is cloaked; Van Damme, not realizing that it was in the service of a visual effect, allegedly complained that he looked “like a superhero.” When he was informed that the red outfit was actually so he could be “invisible” for much of the movie, Van Damme supposedly just got even “angrier” to the point where he was “seething while shooting.” 

According to one account, Van Damme was fired because he hated the costume so much that he angrily threw the “$20,000 head” on the ground, and it “shattered.” Other crew members claim that he was fired for being too short, while some say that he was fired for refusing to stop kickboxing, even after producer Joel Silver had to tell him: “Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer,” prompting Van Damme to counter: “I must do that; that’s how I see the Predator.” 

Actor Bill Duke recounted that Van Damme was let go because he kept passing out from dehydration, while Van Damme himself has stated that he was fired for refusing to do an unsafe jump that resulted in a stuntman being injured (which the assistant director and others flatly denied ever happening). Or it could just be that Van Damme was scrapped when the studio decided to go with a Predator design that looked less like it should be battling Godzilla in 1978.

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The Cast Was Full Of Testosterone-Fueled Maniacs

As for the human actors in the movie, things were no less unhinged. For starters, the beefy cast wouldn’t stop competing to see whose muscles were bigger. According to Carl Weathers, he would rise at four in the morning in order to get in a secret workout, so his co-stars would assume that he was naturally that jacked. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger would get up at 5:30 AM and run for an hour and a half through the hills of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where the movie was shot.

Schwarzenegger also challenged actor/wrestler/future Governor/conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura (oh, and we forgot “former Rolling Stones bodyguard”) to a bicep-measuring contest, which Ventura lost by three inches. And then there was Sonny Landham, who played Billy, and later advocated for literal genocides. Apparently, Landham would get drunk and start trouble at local clubs, so the production had to “hire a bodyguard to protect the world from Sonny” because “if he started drinking, all bets were off.”

One of the seemingly more stable members of the cast was Shane Black, the screenwriter behind Lethal Weapon, who was only hired to act as part of a scheme to “get him to Mexico” and ”make him rewrite” the script, which he had previously refused to work on. According to Black, after countless rewrites, the filmmakers just circled back to the original draft anyway. 

Making Predator Very Nearly Ruined Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Wedding

Arguably making the Predator shoot history’s most grueling bachelor party, during filming, Schwarzenegger took off to get married to Maria Shriver – but cut things very close. The wedding day was April 26, 1986, and Arnie completed a Predator night shoot on April 24 before hopping on a private plane chartered by Joel Silver and arriving in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts the next morning.

Reportedly, Shriver was “none too happy” with Schwarzenegger, who caught the rehearsal dinner but missed some of the “final preparations for the ceremony.” And because Predator was nowhere close to being finished, the newlyweds had to head immediately back to Mexico for their honeymoon – which according to Schwarzenegger, was “a bit of a mistake” because their hotel room bathtub was “filled with frogs,” causing Shriver to freak out, effectively ending the whole “honeymoon idea.”

The Predator Actor Couldn’t See While Wearing The Costume

If they were to make Predator today, it could probably be cobbled together in two afternoons in a green screen-filled parking lot with a few house plants, but in 1987 it meant journeying to the actual jungle. Puerto Vallarta (where some remnants of Predator can still be found today) is full of hills – making transporting lighting and camera equipment a real nightmare and creating an atmosphere of constant “tension” for the actors. 

Seemingly no one had it easy while making Predator; director John McTiernan even fell out of a tree and injured his wrist while looking for a good “camera position.” But the shoot was especially hard for actor Kevin Peter Hall, who took over from Van Damme. Since the original Predator costume was too goofy even for the future star of Double Team, the monster was reworked at the last minute, thanks to creature effects maestro Stan Winston (and a nosy James Cameron). Unfortunately for Hall, the new design left him “essentially blind” while wearing the costume.

So he had to rehearse the scenes without the head, then try to remember where everything was while shooting the scene – which resulted in Schwarzenegger accidentally getting smacked in the face by the Predator claws during fight scenes. And speaking of accidents involving Schwarzenegger …

Arnold Schwarzenegger Literally Pooped Himself

Even for non-matrimonial reasons, the Terminator star was frequently uncomfortable while making Predator, with several scenes involving him swimming at night in the cold. For the sequences in which he’s slathered in mud –

– Schwarzenegger spent three weeks caked in pottery clay, which “became cold and wet” and necessitated heat lamps and belts of schnapps to stay warm. Worse still, much of the cast became sickened by the water at their hotel after the “filtration system broke down.” According to Shane Black, actors (including Sonny Landham) continued filming but had to “run to the bathroom and s**t their guts out” between takes. 

Schwarzenegger revealed years later that he too was affected, stating: “while I was on a run, the runs hit.” And after he quickly headed to the side of the road, “some cars driving by got quite the show.” Tragically, he didn’t think to yell: “Get to the crapper!”

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Thumbnail: 20th Century Studios


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