2022 marks the 35th anniversary of Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John McTiernan, and the start of the franchise that continues this year with the prequel installment Prey.
From the beginning and up to now, former executive John Davis produced every entry in the franchise which wasn’t set in stone until Arnold saw the script and got involved.
Davis recalled to Variety the script was shoved under somebody’s door at Fox. “The Thomas brothers snuck the script onto the Fox lot and under somebody’s door,” he said. “We got there on Monday, and there was this script.”
He would move out of his comfy studio office to personally produce it for the opportunity to work with Schwarzenegger. “He was a really good friend of mine. We were always both trying to figure out how we could work together,” Davis explained.
“And so I’m the executive on this movie at Fox, and what happened is I became a producer. I auditioned to become a producer,” he continued. “And Arnold says, ‘Well, you’re becoming a producer now. You need to actually produce this movie and come to the jungle with me. Let’s go make this.’”
Go to the jungle they did — with Schwarzenegger’s private chef to make things worthwhile. “We’d be in the jungle, and his chef would make like, smoked salmon on toast,” Davis added. “I’m thinking, ‘This is crazy cool! I should do this the rest of my life!’”
As much of a vacation as it seemed, it was still hot and they were exercising sweat equity. “You hang out with all these people in the jungle all day, and you’re making this movie and you’re doing these cool action scenes. And you’re figuring out how to crash a helicopter and you’re sweating with all these guys.”
It was work and almost left unfinished until leadership at Fox changed hands. “We ran out of money, so we didn’t shoot the end,” Davis remembered. “And then a new head of the studio, Leonard Goldberg, came in. And he saw three-quarters of the movie and he said ‘Okay, it’s pretty good. Why don’t you guys just go finish it.’”
McTiernan would enter the picture at this point and Davis knew he was right for the job. “And I met [John] McTiernan somehow. I saw one movie he had done before and I said, ‘This is the guy to direct this movie.’”
It must have been his unique approach, especially to casting, that won Davis over. “[McTiernan] never read any actors. His process was, ‘I can tell in a conversation,’” Davis recalled. “That conversation would enlighten him to whether or not the actor was right for the movie. And at the end of the day, we had two governors in the movie [Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura].”
What really cemented the movie in Davis’s opinion was the title monster — the Yautja to some fans — that he puts on a pedestal with Hollywood’s Golden Age of horror icons.
“The alien is an iconic creature. A comic monster, if you will,” he says. “Monster movies get made again and again and again and again. Look how many Dracula movies have been made. Or the Wolf Man. I mean, you can go through these iconic monsters or creatures.”
And he thinks Fox established two of the greatest creatures in film history – the Predator‘s intergalactic hunter and Alien‘s Xenomorph.
“Once you establish them, people know them, understand their mythology of them, and want to see them again in different situations,” said Davis. “And I think both ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ on the 20th Century Fox side are their most mythic monsters. These are 20th Century Fox’s most mythic creatures.”
Before the two mythic monsters squared off in 2004, a Predator sequel followed but without McTiernan and Schwarzenegger, “The Thomas brothers wrote that also, and Stephen Hopkins directed it. It was a really wonderful script,” Davis thought.
The latter bowed out, however, over money. “Arnold was gonna play [the lead] role. The studio was negotiating with him, and the whole deal fell apart over $250,000. And it was obvious: Joe Roth, who was the head of the studio at the time, just said, ‘I won’t go past this number’ and Arnold wanted this other number,” Davis said.
Danny Glover stepped in for what was the last Predator solo movie for a while — in contrast with today when a new entry in the series is churned out every few years for better or worse.
It was during the making of 2018’s The Predator that Prey director Dan Trachtenberg approached Davis with his idea of a period piece but under the condition it would be a secret.
“Dan came to me and we went to the studio, and it was in the middle of making the other movie,” Davis recalled. “And we decided, ‘Alright, let’s do this, but we’re gonna make it a top secret project.’ So the whole idea was to keep this top secret.”
He added, “The other movie would come out, and then we would announce that we were ready right away to make this. Now, it took a lot longer than right away because different things happened and Fox got sold. It moved over into Disney, and I think it’s great. Disney understood the potential of this franchise.”
Davis gave Prey a glowing review, saying, “Dan did a terrific job. This movie is his imagination. This movie was his idea. People just need a fresh reinterpretation of this franchise from time to time. And if they have it, it will survive 100 years.”
And he sees the places the next Predator movies can go. “Well, maybe there’s an origin story. Right? Maybe there’s another ‘Alien vs. Predator’ story in a different situation. And maybe there’s a new modern-day version. And maybe there’s something somewhere in between. I think this character can show up throughout history.”