Like many a horror franchise, Predator has seen its share of ups and downs over the years. Some entries in the series are considered classics, and others are notorious pieces of trash. A few of them could even be deigned unwatchable.
The latest movie in the franchise, Prey, is on Hulu now, so we thought we’d see how it stacks up against the rest of the franchise. Is it possible that Prey or one of the other sequels could lay claim to the throne as the ultimate Predator movie? Read on to find out!
7. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
No movie on this list misses the point as massively as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The plot, setting, characters, and action sequences are so dull and uninspired that they make two of the coolest movie monsters ever feel cheap and bloodless—at least figuratively speaking. In a literal sense, there is a ton of blood on screen, but it has no meaningful effect. Xenomorphs and Predators waging bloody war in a sleepy little town isn’t necessarily the worst concept in the world, but it’s hard to get excited about all of the extraterrestrial violence when none of the human characters are interesting or worth giving a damn about.
The “predalien” at the center of the plot is essentially the culmination of everything that happened in its predecessor, Alien vs. Predator. It’s a cool idea on paper but falls completely flat. This has a lot to do with the way the movie is shot: Most of the footage of the xenomorphs and Predators are close-up and in near pitch-dark environments, making it almost impossible to get a clear view of what the hell is going on. The intent seems to be to emphasize the horror and mystique of the creatures by only showing them in glimpses—or perhaps they just wanted to save money and use darkness to hide the cheap effects—but the approach backfires big time.
There’s a theme revolving around trust in government that’s thrown in during the final act when facehuggers have overthrown the town, and the “heroes” request evac from the military. It’s an odd attempt to add sociopolitical messaging to the story that only serves to distract from the action, which isn’t all that great to begin with.
6. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
While Alien vs Predator does land low on our list, it’s worth noting that it is significantly better than AVP: Requiem. There’s actually a lot to like here, particularly when it comes to the sets. The meat of the movie takes place in an underground Predator pyramid in Antarctica with ornately carved walls that periodically shift around the human heroes, a crew of archaeologists and engineers funded by billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, a staple of the Alien franchise). When a trio of Predators, plus a xenomorph queen and her horde, decide to do battle, the humans predictably get stuck in the middle… and obliterated.
The script and dialogue are indefensibly shoddy, as per usual with Paul W.S. Anderson movies, but the actors actually do a decent job with what they’re given. Lead Sanaa Lathan has enough personality to pull us through the story as expedition leader Alexa, and Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner is a surprise standout as an engineer who just misses his family.
The big misstep with the movie is how it presents the Predators and xenomorphs. They’re often shown in full-frame, which is a nice way of showing off the character designs, but robs their scenes of any sense of terror, which is key element of both franchises. What makes things worse is that most of the deaths are actually quite dull and limited by the movie’s PG-13 rating, save for the results of the final showdown between a young Predator, the Alien Queen, and Alexa. As sci-fi action movies go, AVP is middling at best, but it still slays Requiem.
5. The Predator (2018)
The thing about Shane Black’s The Predator is that it kind of accomplishes what it sets out to do. It brings the Predator lore into the big budget blockbuster realm and delivers an explosive, high-octane adventure that nods to the franchise roots with cheeky, self-referential one-liners and jokes.
What lands it on the lower half of our list is that it’s such a drastic departure from the Predator formula that it doesn’t feel like a Predator movie at all. There is virtually no horror here, which is a bummer. What’s worse, there’s no emphasis on the thrill of the hunt. The fugitive Predator at the center of the plot is actually super badass, but to hunt down his missing gear, he literally hitches a ride in the back of a van. Not exactly the edge-of-your-seat, skull-hunting action we come to expect from the franchise. The film ultimately feels a bit like a misjudged attempt at a family adventure since much of the plot revolves around a young child (Jacob Tremblay) wearing the Predator’s gear for Halloween, and a climactic showdown that has “post-production reshoots” written all over it.
To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take itself too seriously though. The cast is also pretty solid (Sterling K. Brown is a great wiseass antagonist), and some of the set pieces are pretty satisfying (the pair of mid-flight deaths on the Predator ship in the finale are great). But then there are silly comedy bits—the Predator hound, the semi-rapey motel room scene—that are completely out of touch and uncomfortable.
4. Predator 2 (1990)
Time has been kind to Predator 2. When the film was released in 1990, fans were disappointed that Arnold Schwarzenegger elected to not return for the Los Angeles-set sequel, which is an understandable reaction considering how iconic his performance was in the first movie (more on that in a bit). The Stephen Hopkins-directed follow-up is nothing like its predecessor on the surface either, with its urban setting and lack of oorah military bravado.
But these differences work largely to the movie’s benefit in hindsight. Yes, it’s a departure from Predator in several ways, and Los Angeles turns out to not be nearly as compelling a hunting ground as the lush Central American jungle, but none of that hurts the film because the storytelling and cinematic formula from the first film is preserved. It’s still a movie about a mysterious, terrifying alien preying on hapless humans who have no idea of the bloody mess they’re about to step into.
There’s only one Arnold, of course, but Danny Glover, Gary Busey, and Bill Paxton are uniquely talented actors in their own right and offer up some pretty fantastic performances. The final showdown on the ship absolutely would not have worked without Glover’s performance, which is by and large supremely underrated. And for the record, the subway car scene is one of the very best moments in the entire franchise.
3. Prey (2022)
Unlike every single sequel that came before it, Prey chooses to go small, not big. It strips away all of the machismo, all of the beefy machine guns, and all of the modern horror/sci-fi tropes and caricatures, and harkens back to the purity of the original film while introducing a slew of new ideas at the same time. This is the true spiritual successor to the original Predator.
Set in 1719, the story follows Naru, an aspiring Comanche hunter whose dreams are dismissed by her brother and the rest of their male-dominated tribe. When a Predator begins terrorizing the tribe, she steps up to take on the otherworldly warrior in what is the purest David vs. Goliath tale in the entire series. The decision to remove modern technology from the classic Predator formula is brilliant in that it accentuates the primal aspect of Predator in a new way and presents a scenario in which our heroes must rely on their resourcefulness and knowledge of their land rather than twitchy trigger fingers or masculine swagger.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about Prey is that it isn’t chasing the glory of the original classic. Rather this builds on its foundation to say something new. It’s a simple, straightforward cat and mouse story like the first film, but the cartoonishly toxic males are replaced by a strong-willed female protagonist whose most formidable foe isn’t the Predator, but the oppressive tribe who thinks she should spend her time cooking rather than hunting. The cast is also almost completely native, which is worthy of praise not just within the context of the Predator franchise, but in the film industry as a whole.
2. Predators (2010)
From the first frame to the last, Predators is a screaming fast rollercoaster ride of a film. Seemingly every moment offers a new twist or turn in the plot that, more often than not, turns the story completely on its head. The mystery that hangs over the heads of the group of killers slashing their way through the jungle they were quite literally dropped into is a simple one: Where are they and how the hell did they get there? And every small revelation the group happens upon causes the mystery to slowly unravel, in a way that is utterly gripping and ridiculously entertaining.
It seems to be the case, at least at this point in the franchise’s history, that Predator movies just work best in the wilderness, and the jungle in Predators is as much a character in the story as it is a setting. There’s danger creeping (or bounding) around every corner, and some of the deaths and fights scenes are the most memorable in the series: from Hanzo’s (Luis Ozawa) moonlit samurai stand-off to Edwin’s (Topher Grace) explosive demise. It’s clear that director Nimród Antal and his team took time to craft every scene in a thoughtful way.
Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Clifton Collins Jr., Mahershala Ali, Danny Trejo… this cast is as solid as they come, and they each get a chance to shine. If the movie has a weakness, it’s in its final act, in which the veil of mystery is lifted and we’re left with a somewhat uninspired peek into the Predator’s social systems that we probably didn’t need. But truthfully, it’s hard to fault Predators in any significant way. It’s a showstopper of a film that comes ever so close to besting every other entry on this list.
1. Predator (1987)
Thirty-five years later, and the first Predator still stands above the rest as the reigning champ of the franchise. John McTiernan’s sci-fi horror classic is so canonized and worshiped that it’s easy to forget just how simple and unadorned it is. It’s a man vs. monster fight to the death in a Central American jungle, and on paper, it’s a good idea but really nothing to write home about.
But McTiernan’s filmmaking is just so good that the movie doesn’t need any bells and whistles to hide behind. The cinematography is also underrated, effectively grounding you in the environment and making the action and dialogue easy to follow despite the characters often being fanned out across a veritable maze of trees and ferns. The editing is similarly fantastic; the way the hunt plays out is as much about suspense as it is jump scares, a nuance almost all of the subsequent sequels miss. The disgustingly misogynistic dialogue between the squad members throughout the movie doesn’t age well, but it’s important to remember that there’s a satirical element to the script (these bros do wind up getting eviscerated by a vagina-faced monster, after all).
But let’s be real here. This is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, and he’s the reason Predator is considered a landmark film in the genre to this day. He’s one of the best action stars ever, not because he’s the most cerebral actor but because he just looks so freaking cool on the big screen! It’s really as simple as that, and the movie embraces the simplicity by delivering a musclebound rumble in the jungle for the ages.