Judging by its fanbase, you’d assume the Predator series had the same consistency behind it as its xenomorph-shaped counterpart the Alien franchise.
Fans are obsessed with its masked hunter, with comic book stories and novellas continuing the alien warrior’s exploits whenever cinema takes too long to serve up an adequate offering.
Like its cinematic space twin, the Predator has appeared in video games on everything from the SNES to the PS4, while a steady stream of merch — from movie posters and tees, to simple kids toys and pricey collectables — have been readily available ever since director John McTeirnan’s first movie arrived in 1987.
Read more: Prey is ‘Predator meets The Revenant‘
On 5 August, new franchise instalment Prey, helmed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg and set in 1719 colonial America hits Disney+, with its muted arrival flanked by a weight of tentative-expectation typically reserved for the heavyweights of nostalgic pop-culture.
Watch a trailer for Prey
However a glance at the Predator’s ropey IMDB-credits tell a different story, one that resembles anything but a consistent legacy.
Instead, the Predator’s back-catalogue looks more like a fumbled bar fight than a well executed vision worthy of its fans’ adoration. So why has the franchise constantly struggled to find the perfect story for its enigmatic lead character?
To answer this, maybe we need to go back to the beginning – or more accurately, the end of the beginning.
Predator 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger
After McTiernan’s jungle-set original — which pitted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle-bound paramilitary man Dutch against an alien trophy hunter — became a surprise hit, 20th Century Fox quickly started eyeing up a sequel but soon hit setbacks.
With McTiernan following up Predator with Bruce Willis’s classic shoot-em-up Die Hard just over a year later, the director’s asking rates had increased, and with Fox eager to keep the Predator 2’s budget as close to the original as possible, the filmmaker dropped out, leaving the Predator’s future up for grabs.
While losing an original franchise helmer certainly isn’t enough to derail everything (remember when James Cameron sent Ripley to bootcamp in Aliens?), that wasn’t the end of Predator 2’s rocky start. Soon after, Schwarzenegger also disappeared, leaving the movie’s alien alone in the arena without its OG enemy to fight.
Read more: Is Predator 2 a misunderstand masterpiece?
Despite many sources citing salary issues for Schwarzenegger’s departure, Predator 2’s eventual director Stephen Hopkins later insisted that Dutch’s departure was nothing personal.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day was going to happen at around the same time and Jim Cameron said to Arnold: ‘Do one or the other – don’t do both,’” revealed Hopkins in a 2020 interview. “It’s hard to turn down one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. I was quite close to shooting and Arnold suddenly disappeared from the project.”
Read more: Arnie’s planned The Predator cameo revealed
With that, Predator 2 was forced to pivot. Despite sibling screenwriters and Predator creators Jim and John Thomas penning a sequel inspired by the success of 80’s buddy cop movies — one that would’ve placed Dutch alongside a tough LAPD cop in an urban-set adventure — Schwarzenegger’s departure forced the duo to focus entirely on the latter. That role — Lieutenant Mike Harrigan — was played by Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover.
While Hopkins’ 1990 sequel continued the Predator mythos and undoubtedly has its fans, many suggested it lacked the pacy, energy and action of McTiernan’s original, something the series has arguably never quite been able to recapture.
Predator 3: Deadlier of The Species
In the years since, many attempts at a third movie have been broached, with a couple of spec-scripts even doing the rounds in Hollywood.
There was Predator 3: Deadlier of The Species, an amalgam threequel that reintroduced Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, paired him with Glover’s Harrigan and placed both in a blizzard-ravaged New York City, where a new predator had arrived with the goal of killing the former military vet once and for all.
Predator: The Zoo
Then there was The Zoo, another commissioned screenplay that also brought back Schwarzenegger and Glover but this time plonked them on the Predator home world as alien-beating trophies for new warriors to hunt.
With Schwarzenegger routinely declining to return and his stint as California’s ‘Governator’ putting a temporary pause on his film work, neither of these scripts made it out of development hell.
Robert Rodriguez’s original Predator 3
Coincidentally, director Robert Rodriguez — who would later go one to direct 2010’s Predators starring Adrien Brody with an alien-home-world-set plot similar The Zoo — had his own “crazy”, “huge and “big, big big budget” screenplay doing the rounds at around the same time in the late 90s.
Like new prequel Prey, his innovative take saw a space hunter visit 17th century America and stalk its trophies on a ship, with unlucky victims forced to fight it off with nothing but bravery and crude weapons.
However before any of these movies could leave the page, 2007’s lacklustre Aliens V Predator arrived and took the character in a far different and more tongue-in-cheek direction.
Despite Rodriguez having plans for a Predators sequel that would’ve continued the story of Brody’s hero Royce and was later described as “Die Hard on a Predator ship”, original Predator bit-player Shane Black tried his hand at reinvigorating the franchise with 2017’s The Predator.
Read more: A brief history of Predator
However Black’s attempt — which introduced a new breed of Super (read: Tall) Predator — was given the cold shoulder by fans and critics, earning just 33% ratings from both on Rotten Tomatoes.
With Prey taking things back in time to follow a young female comanche warrior forced to face off against a new predator and earn the respect of her tribe in the process, the franchise takes steps in a bold new direction.
While it’s hard not to wonder how the series might’ve played out had Schwarzenegger not ran for the chopper so soon, Prey’s early buzz and stand-alone ethos could suggest that the franchise may have finally found its target.
Prey will stream exclusively on Disney+ from 5 August.