Like the aliens in The Predator, cinema is always evolving. You can find the DNA of the strongest species of films from the past in the movies of today. Unlike the aliens in The Predator, cinema doesn’t always come out better than before. The Predator itself is a good example of a hybrid creation with many flaws. Some may say (myself included) that it’s a total failure. So whether you do see it or would prefer to skip it for its better progenitors (and other relevant titles), I have some recommendations for what to watch next:
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
A lot of alien invasion movies take one of two approaches: the aliens come in peace, or the aliens are here to destroy us. The Predator takes on both ideas with its split of two Predators with different agendas. The first one has gone rogue and brought a gift to humans that will save us from being wiped out and replaced by a colony of Predators. The other is a big bad bounty hunter type whose mission, with his hunting hounds in tow, is to ruin the first Predator’s plans and slaughter as many humans as he has to in the process. That’s kind of similar to the premise of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is about an alien who visits Earth with a warning and a gift intended to encourage human to cease making nuclear weapons or face the consequences of the next alien visit being deadly.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
One of a few movies that writer/director Shane Black has cited as an influence on The Predator, this World War II action movie is about 12 convicted murders grouped together and sent on a suicide mission to assassinate a lot of high-ranking Nazis. Black first reportedly referenced The Dirty Dozen at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, calling his film’s band of misfit “loonies” “the dirty half dozen.” More recently, in an interview with The National, he said: “I wanted to take the traditional tough guy unit of commandos and play with that a little bit. This sort of leaner, meaner group. The Dirty Dozen of it as opposed to the perfect Seal Team Six version.”
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
The Dirty Dozen is one of the movies that influenced the male characters side of The Predator, along with a number of other “macho movies” that Shane Black screened for cast and crew, including Kelly’s Heroes, North Dallas Forty, and Slap Shot. But this sci-fi drama based on a book by Michael Crichton was shown as a balance to those works. Black shared with Daily Hunt: “For the guys and their relationship, I went back to sort of my favorite macho movies. On the war front, movies like Kelly’s Heroes. And also North Dallas Forty. Just the really kind of rough, hearty sports films too — Slap Shot. Because I wanted that loose, real collegial rhythm among the guys. And then I also showed them The Andromeda Strain, things like that, because Olivia Munn plays a scientist in the movie. We wanted to get that flavor in there too. But yeah, things that aren’t necessarily science fiction films, but are films about a group of teammates.”
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
While co-writer Fred Dekker also recently acknowledged The Dirty Dozen while promoting The Predator at the Toronto International Film Festival, he also reportedly said he and Black were looking to early Spielberg. Yeah, there’s some E.T., Close Encounters, and Jaws in there, but the part of the new Predator sequel that deals with a young boy and his connection to the alien visitors actually reminded me more of Disney’s E.T. knockoff Flight of the Navigator. Complete with a Henry Thomas lookalike in star Joey Cramer, the sci-fi family film focuses on a kid who, like Jacob Tremblay‘s character in The Predator, winds up with a map in his head and a psychic bond with a spaceship (that can turn invisible) and its inhabitants. And the government is very interested in him for that reason.
The Monster Squad (1987)
For his return to the Predator franchise in creative capacity, Shane Black recruited his old screenwriting collaborator Fred Dekker. The two most famously worked together (with Dekker also directing their script) on The Monster Squad, which itself was also inspired by the Spielbergian formula of kids and sci-fi/fantasy. The cult classic is about a bunch of preteens who save the world from a bunch of Universal Monsters icons, including Dracula as the leader and a Wolf Man who famously is revealed to have “nards.” Black and Dekker went on to write another script together called Shadow Company, about missing-in-action soldiers from Vietnam who haunt their families, and some of that screenplay’s ingredients wound up repurposed for The Predator.
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
In this sequel to the underrated Gremlins wannabe Critters, a race of deadly aliens again attack an American town and again the humans are aided in the creatures’ defeat by a pair of bounty hunters from outer space along with a young local boy. Like The Predator, this movie is set during a holiday, to even better use — having the Krites’ eggs painted as Easter eggs followed by a church grounds egg hunt gone horribly wrong is perfectly funny and bloody. It’s the first movie where we also get to see a larger version of the alien, but Critters 2 does have its own kind of super-size threat in balled-up form.
Con Air (1997)
Since I’ve already included The Dirty Dozen, is there any reason to also recommend Con Air? Darn tootin’! Con Air is — sorry, diehard fans — a very bad movie. But it’s a very enjoyable bad movie, in which Nic Cage sporting an accent so bad it must be intentional saves the day from a bunch of convicted murderers who take over their transport vehicle. The same thing happens in The Predator, but not in so much ridiculously awesome fashion as Con Air‘s prison-bound plane. Shane Black wishes he could write a line of dialogue as iconic as “put the bunny back in the box.” Speaking of Cage, he’s got his own new movie out this weekend called Mandy. Go see that, too.
Autism: The Musical (2007)
For this week’s documentary pick, I obviously had to go with something on kids on the autism spectrum. Jacob Tremblay’s character specifically has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism that Hollywood likes to highlight as being extreme geniuses who are experts at codebreaking and linguistics but not so good with social skills. In the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical, which is about a bunch of autistic kids who put on a musical, there is one main character who has Asperger’s: Henry, the son of famous singer/songwriter Stephen Stills. There are plenty of other docs out there focused on autism and Asperger’s as subject matter worth checking out, but I can’t recall any addressing the belief, mentioned in The Predator, that they are the next step in human evolution like magical-powers-less X-Men.
Now here’s a movie that does align autism and superheroes. In her feature film debut, Thai martial arts star Yanin “Jeejah” Vismitananda plays an autistic girl named Zen who becomes an expert fighter simply by watching and mimicking the moves she sees in Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa films. When she’s older and her mother is sick and in financial need for medical expenses, Zen begins to take on local gangsters (including her mother’s ex, who leads the syndicate) and delinquent debtors who owe her family money. All that isn’t quite enough to make Chocolate (aka Zen, Warrior Within) a movie to relate to The Predator, but then there’s this: one of the main baddies who Zen fights near the end has an erratic fighting style as a result of him having Tourette’s syndrome. How many other movies besides this and The Predator have a character on the spectrum and a character with Tourette’s?
Larson’s Field (2013)
This week’s spotlighted short film is technically a proof of concept for a feature, one that surprisingly hasn’t been greenlit and produced in full. Written by Kieran McGowan and directed by Joshua Sallach, Larson’s Field is a bit of a modern E.T. knockoff, kind of like Super 8 and Stranger Things, with a group of kids who find what they think is a dead alien. But like the shipwrecked Predator in The Predator, the extraterrestrial turns out to be still alive and it manages to escape from the spot it’s initially brought to. But there seem to be government agents and maybe more aliens on their way to its location. Also, to add more connection to The Predator, this film is set on Halloween.
A woman scientist is approached by government agents and brought to a facility to take part in a study of alien visitors. That’s a description for part of the beginning of The Predator or the main plot of this Oscar-winning sci-fi drama starring Amy Adams. In addition to covering the Olivia Munn role, she’s also got the Jacob Tremblay part down since she’s an expert in linguistics and has been called upon to help communicate with the extraterrestrials. And those extraterrestrials, like the first Predator in The Predator, are here to give humans a helpful gift. I guess The Predator is just Arrival for audiences who prefer action and bloodshed to thought-provoking and good-looking sci-fi.
Finally, for any of you who still haven’t seen this Best Picture-winning drama, do so immediately. Because you’ve surely come away from The Predator realizing that Trevante Rhodes is, if not the absolute best thing about the sequel (I think that’s so), a terrific movie star on the rise. And because the absolute best thing he’s ever been in is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.