This week marks the 30th anniversary of John McTiernan‘s Predator, which is praised as one of the greatest action flicks of all time. It’s easy to watch the 1987 film now and say, “Damn, this movie is fucking incredible.” But as good as Predator ended up it was a tumultuous and problematic process.
As John highlighted earlier this week, Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the film’s title character. JCVD was originally hired to play the beast in Predator; and the costume at that time, before Stan Winston took over and Van Damme was replaced by the late Kevin Peter Hall, was an absolute abomination.
While the story has been told many times before, McTiernan reiterates to CinemaBlend why Van Damme quit the film:
“We never shot anything with him. It was a complete screw up with his agent, trying to hustle him into a job and didn’t know what the movie was. It’s silly. It was really silly.“
Special effects specialist Steve Johnson explained in this 2014 interview that the original design for the Predator was very different to the character that made it to cinemas:
“It was awful,” says Johnson, “It was ahead of its time, let’s put it that way. But the head did suck.”
In regards to Van Damme, he was allegedly displeased with his role and costume, learning that he’d be invisible through parts of the film.
“He was just off the boat from Brussels, he thought he was going to show his martial arts abilities to the world,” says Johnson. “He thought this was actually the real look of the monster in the movie and he [said] ‘I hate this. I hate this. I hate it. I look like a superhero.’ He was so angry.”
Johnson explaining that the suit was actually a cloaking device, “made him even angrier because he thought he could do his martial arts, he could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger. Impossible. Absolutely impossible.”
While this is the story that’s been shared over the years, I’ve actually heard from people close to both the Predator and Bloodsport productions that there’s more to it. The other side of the story goes like this: Jean-Claude Van Damme had found out during pre-production that his Bloodsport was financed. The Predator production refused to let him out of his contract, which then caused JCVD to sabotage his role and force them to “fire” him. This lines up a bit with the aforementioned quotes, which allege that JCVD became difficult and angry when he saw the costume design and learned of his role.
While it’s impossible to know the full story, it would be awesome to hear Van Damme’s unfiltered side of it. No matter, we all won because Van Damme’s Bloodsport is a masterpiece that helped spawn “Mortal Kombat” and other fighting games, and we were also gifted with gems such as Kickboxer, Lionheart, Universal Soldier, Timecop and, yes, Sudden Death.