I’m a pretty big Predator fan. Ever since I was a kid. I may have been the only 7 year old in Ohio with a foot-tall dynamic replica of a Predator. There’s a picture of 4 year old me posing with the 1991 HBO movie guide that featured Predator 2 on the cover. My parents were pretty lax when it came to movies. I had the (much more age appropriate) Predator comic books from Dark Horse. The Batman Versus Predator crossover series. But, man, I remember playing the NES game. It was awful. Just one of the worst NES games I ever played. This is all just to say I have strong opinions about the Predator franchise. So let’s rank the movies (Prey will be added soon).
7. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
This movie has always frustrated me. The execution was so abysmal. I’m rewatching clips right now and it’s medium close-up after medium close-up. Cut after cut after cut. There’s no craft. Which, look, I get it. We’re talking about Predator movies. But what made Predator, Alien, and Aliens the successes that they were was that they had awesome concepts and quality cinematics. When Predator movies have some style, they’re such a great experience. But Requiem has the same visual aesthetic as a Lincoln commercial. I keep waiting for Matthew McConnaughey to roll up in a Navigator and tell everyone to “Get in.”
Wolf was cool and had some great moments but deserved a better script or his own trilogy or something. Honestly, every other character did nothing for me. Didn’t like the Predalien. Xenomorphs were fodder. The humans were generic. It’s just a very lazy script in most ways. Though, I will say, the government nuking the whole area was pretty hilarious. One character watches like, “Is that what I think it is?” While another gives a look that says, “You have got to be kidding me…” It’s the choice you make if you’re being as lazy as possible and just want to wrap things up without worrying too much about the ramifications of what happened. “How can I resolve all of these storylines? Ah, f*** it, let’s nuke half of them.”
I’m sure some people like the concept and action scenes enough that they would rank this higher. I’m just not one of those people.
6. Alien vs. Predator
So I was in high school when Freddy vs. Jason came out in 2003. Went to a drive-in theater with some friends. And we were all pretty surprised with how much we enjoyed Freddy vs. Jason. It was fun. Ended with a Mushroomhead song. What more could you ask for? So when they announced Alien vs. Predator for 2004, I was excited. I loved both franchises. Of course, I was hoping the Predator would win. But I was down for anything. Dumb, young, naieve me. I thought if Freddy vs. Jason was surprisingly decent that AVP would be just as good. Maybe even better!
Flash forward to 2004, I’m in the theater, watching AVP. And I hate my life. I’m bored. Angry. Very angry. As with Requiem, it was just bad filmmaking. Bad shots. Bad editing. Bad craftsmanship. It’s just not a good viewing experience. Honestly, YouTube channels like DEATH BATTLE! or Bat In the Sun’s Super Power Beat Downs do better than AVP. With that said, the reason I ranked it higher than Requiem is that AVP at least has a sense of atmosphere and concept. It tries to do a little world building. Requiem is about as shallow as it gets. So AVP putting in even a little effort means it ranks higher.
I will say, as hard as I am on this movie. I can see some of the charm of it. AVP does have a very 90s vibe to it and a “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore” quality. It’s probably a good thing they don’t. But, still. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, as we’ll see in a bit.
5. Predators (aka Predator 3)
This might be the most controversial selection here. Predators received a decent response from people while The Predator got memed into oblivion. So I’m sure having Predators beneath The Predator won’t sit well with a number of you. Let me say, there’s a huge gap between AVP and Predators. I like Predators. I hate AVP. So at least know that.
There’s a lot to like about Predators. After how bad AVP and Requiem were, it was nice to get back to something with some degree of quality. You have some interesting humans and human-based subplots. You have some interesting Predators and Predator-based subplots. There’s a samurai showdown. I don’t have much in the way of complaints. Some of the casting just didn’t land well for me, though super-jacked Adrien Brody was a shock. Some of the action sequences left me wanting more. The movie just didn’t quite execute in the ways I wanted it to. So even though it was an improvement, I was still left wanting a lot more than what I got.
I guess my biggest complaint would just be that I thought Predators was a little too safe in how much it leaned on the source material. Similar location. Similar “pick them off one-by-one” structure. At the end, Brody goes full Arnold. I wanted more of the new and less of the callbacks.
4. The Predator (aka Predator 4)
Okay, I know. You’re upset. Hear me out. I said my main criticism of Predators is that it relied too much on recreating aspects of the original Predator. Well, The Predator does not have that issue. Which is definitely a line in the sand. A lot of fans of the franchise want things to stay the same. And I get that. I do. But I want evolution. New directions. And The Predator certainly gives us those.
Yes, The Predator has the same editing and cinematography issues as all the 21st century entries in the franchise. It also has a strange cast. And obviously the Autism subplot is one of the weirdest things a movie has ever chosen to do. But at least the movie surprised me, you know? I had no idea what it was going to do from one moment to the next. If it was going to do something smart or stupid. Either way, it was at least doing something original, which is kind of rare these days and often all I really want. I don’t need every movie to be this artsy, perfect thing. They can be dumbas long as they’re entertaining. And as dumb as The Predator is, it kept me entertained.
Prey exceeded my expectations. Which was a relief. It looked and felt better to me than Predators. Which probably had a lot to do with the time and setting. The idea of “Predators in different eras” has been a fan favorite discussion ever since Predator 2 served as such a contrast to Predator, especially with the introduction of the 1715 French pistol and the implications of that. But no one has ever really gone for it. Until now. And it worked! Lo and behold.
My favorite thing about Prey is how dynamic they made the Predator—who is apparently named Feral. A lot of the time, the Predator has that bulky, stiff movement like A New Hope Darth Vader. The most terrifying Vader has ever been was in Rogue One. He was mobile and agile rather than rigid and slow. It’s the same thing here. Technology improvements, especially in the world of suits and CGI, mean Feral gets to feel much more like a predator than any previous incarnations of the character. When he takes out the French? Amazing. And fist-fighting a bear? That definitely earns my respect.
I put it above Predators and The Predator because I think Prey exceeds those movies in pretty much every way. Cinematography. Performance. Story. Editing. Feral. And I liked the twist that Naru was hunting Feral the entire time. It’s a subtle inversion since the dynamics aren’t too different from the “investigation” stage of the original movies. But it defines Naru enough and has this “two hunters hunting each other” aspect that I dig it. Rather than simply trying to escape. Not too far off from Danny Glover in Predator 2 as a cop tracking a criminal but because the setting, tone, and characters are so different the two don’t really overlap in execution.
But I’m keeping Prey below the original two, at the moment, as there is, and this may sound weird, kind of a video game slickness to it. Every action sequence reminded me of quick time events. “Hit square now! Now hit triangle. Wait…wait…press L1 and R1 rapidly! Now hit X Square X Circle X Triangle! Enjoy watching the end of the fight!” It was something in how the fights looked and played out. In the video game world, design choices tend to fall under “arcade” or “simulation”. The latter refers to realism and the former to a degree of excessiveness. The Gran Turismo series is known for its simulation style of racing cars. While Mario Kart is firmly an arcade style game. Madden football games lean more towards simulation but have some arcade-type aspects like the Hit Stick. While a game like NFL Blitz was pure, over the top arcade fun.
Prey just had a degree of the “arcade” about it. Which can be a lot of fun. It’s cool seeing Naru use a rope ax with such brutal efficiency. It’s cool seeing Feral tear through the French. But I prefer a bit more simulation in my Predator movies. I like how grounded Predator and Predator 2 are. They’re still bombastic in a lot of ways, especially Predator 2, but they always felt more believable than not. Where sometimes Prey was on the border of my suspension of disbelief.
I think Predator is almost a perfect movie. What’s funny to me is that it’s essentially the equivalent of that Jane Austen adaptation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies except smart. Predator is The Most Dangerous Game but instead of a human being hunted by a human in the jungle, it’s a human hunted by an alien in the jungle. Without doing any other work, that setup inherently has this existential thematic tension that you just don’t find in Predators, The Predator, or the Alien vs Predator movies.
Add in this has the best director in the history of the franchise. John McTiernan went from Predator to Die Hard to The Hunt for Red October. He also made Last Action Hero (underrated) and The Thomas Crown Affair. So a legitimate classic, a B-tier classic, a cult classic, and one of those “Hey, that was pretty good” movies. You can see it. The pacing. The editing. The cinematography. They’re all top notch. I mean, it’s not Kubrick or Kurosawa top notch. But for a sci-fi horror action movie with beefy dudes fighting an alien, it’s about as top notch as you get.
Of course, critics weren’t thrilled with it. A lot of them completely missed what made it special. Some even called it derivative. Which is just an astounding claim to launch at a movie that had the practical and special effects that it did. Maybe they meant derivative since it was based on The Most Dangerous Game and they couldn’t appreciate the twist on the subject matter? Or maybe they just saw it as similar to Halloween, Alien, or Jaws in that it’s a monster that builds a body count until the hero finally confronts it and wins? I hope that wasn’t the case because that’s ridiculous to me.
Despite the short-sighted criticism, Predator won people over. Its impact and legacy is undeniable. Now it makes all kinds of Best Of lists. It’s an accepted classic. And is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s all-time roles. Prior to Predator, Arnold was well-known for Conan the Barbarian and Terminator but both of those were strong, silent characters. Commando was popular but hard to take seriously. Predator just showed off this humanized, thoughtful dimension to Arnold that carried over into the 90s and led to him becoming the biggest movie star in the world.
I’m pretty sure I saw Predator when I was 4 years old. Which is wild. My parents didn’t really care about movie ratings. I remember watching Total Recall with my mom. I remember watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I was a big fan of Arnold. So I ended up renting Predator and watched it on repeat how some kids do Frozen. There was a short, short period where I was afraid of trees. But otherwise no apparent adverse effects. Aside from a love of the Predator franchise.
This should be number one. I know that. You know that. But it’s not. I’ll explain.
1. Predator 2
So this movie got dunked on when it came out. Critics hated it. But it’s so good. A lot of movies in that mid to late 80s and very early 90s had a very bleak outlook on cities. Crime in New York City and Los Angeles was rampant. And you saw how much it affected cinema. Taxi Driver kind of ushered in the whole “look how awful it’s getting out here” movement in 1978 and we had over a decade of movies building on it. A lot of sci-fi took it to the extreme, representing these bleak dystopian mindsets. You saw it in Batman, RoboCop, even The Terminator and Blade Runner. Predator 2 decided to throw its hat in the ring. And man is it intense. I think with how much things improved in the 90s that Predator 2 is easy to look back on safely as over the top entertainment. But when it came out, it was kind of hitting on a lot of fears of the time and I think that did not play well with critics and viewers.
While the original Predator was able to seclude everything to a jungle and simply be The Most Dangerous Game But With An Alien, Predator 2’s setting allowed it to actually make some socio-political commentary. Which is kind of the “What’s Ja Rule” think of the movie world. No one was asking Predator 2 to hold up a mirror to society. But it did it anyway. And whether it was intentional or not, there’s an interesting intersection of forces. There’s the criminal element, the police element, the government element, the pedestrian element, and the way in which this alien presence interrupts the status quo. At times, it’s a benefit. Other times, it’s monstrous. I think you can get into some actual academic analysis of the socio-political stuff. Which sounds crazy. And, again, I don’t think was intentional. But, nonetheless, it’s part of the reason this movie has resonated over the decades and lives on as a cult favorite.
Then it also just does a great job of changing up the formula. You had Arnold in the jungle. Now it’s Danny Glover in the city. Both films use the location to their benefit. Predator 2 is original in enough ways that you’re not just repeating the same beats as Predator (looking at you Predators). The Predator has new, cool weapons. The final showdown is pretty epic. And the twist at the end increased the lore of the franchise in a shocking but amazing way. I love it.
The reason I have this more flawed film ahead of the more perfect film is annoyingly nerdy and involves a quick anecdote about Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is one of the great short-story writers. He was wildly inventive and surreal and inspired many, many authors. He has one story called “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” that’s a review of a book. It reads like something written in the New Yorker. This thoughtful, academic critique of a novel. The novel by Pierre Menard is a translation of Don Quixote except the author, Menard, hasn’t just translated the text but re-created it. Every single line is a perfect match to Cervantes’s original. Practically speaking, it’s nothing more than a copy. No difference between the two works. Except the reviewer says Menard’s work is the superior work because of the date of creation.
What’s that mean? Well, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the 1600s. Meaning that the subtext of the novel could only include world events that preceded it. But Menard’s Quixote was written in the 1900s. Meaning the subtext includes everything that happened after Cervantes wrote his version. So Menard’s Quixote could be a commentary on, say, World War I. Or post-America Britain. Menard’s Quixote actually has the subtext of the original Don Quixote’s existence. Leaving the reviewer to state that Menard’s is the deeper and richer work.
So Predator stands on its own. It has all the context and subtext of everything that preceded it. While Predator 2 contains the context and subtext of being a sequel to Predator. Meaning every choice in Predator 2 includes what made Predator so great. Which makes Predator 2 have a richness to it that’s impossible for the antecedent to contain. If you’re thinking I’m overthinking this. I completely agree. But this is how I watch movies. And from that weird, pretty pretentious perspective, I have Predator 2 above Predator. Predator is the superior movie but Predator 2 is the more interesting one.
Predator 2 over Predator? Shenanigans!! Shenanigans!!
I would say Predator as #1, Prey as 2, Predator 2 as #3, and don’t care about the rest.
I get that!