The five Predator movies range from iconic to forgettable, and we ranked them all from worst to best.
In 1987, FOX studios released Predator, the brainchild of brothers Jim and John Thomas and director John McTiernan. Reviews at the time were mixed, praising the action and cinematography, but a bit more critical of the simple story and lack of depth for the title creature. However, audiences have been kinder to the first film over the years, and its influence on action movies in the ensuing decades has not gone unnoticed. As a creature that can turn invisible, sees through infrared light detecting body heat, and can move fast enough to avoid most bullets, the Predator has become an iconic movie monster, and still strikes terror in audiences today. With such a hit on their hands, FOX has tried to make more movies with this creature to recapture the thrill of the original.
This fate has led Predator to be one of the most hit or miss franchises in the modern cultural conscience. The initial prompt for a Predator movie seems easy: Predator terrorizes a group lost in the woods, one person has to outsmart the Predator, dramatic fight at the end, roll credits. While some directors stuck to this premise, a few have tried to overcomplicate things by adding human focused subplots and ideas that don’t mesh well with the Predator series. In spite of this, new Predator movies are being made to this day, indicating there is some demand for it. What is this magic touch which the Predator movies have to utilize to be great? Which ones pulled it off? Let this list help you figure it out.
Here are all five main series Predator movies ranked from worst to best. This ranking omits the Alien vs. Predator series as those movies are considered more of a spinoff and also need the context of the Alien franchise, which has already been covered in detail on this site.
5. THE PREDATOR
Director: Shane Black
The Predator seemed like a godsend when it came out. Shane Black, who had acted in a major role in the original movie, was set to direct. Things seemed great and perfect for a revival of the franchise.
Unfortunately, things did not go quite as planned. Shane Black’s regular directorial style features dialogue-heavy moments, quips and verbal humor, and exaggerated scenes of comedic action. None of which were a good fit for Predator, a series all about survival and minimal storytelling in favor of onscreen drama. This movie instead focuses on scientists and war veterans planning for an invasion with the main Predator appearing only at the end to be dispatched quickly. In this movie, a kid named Rory (Jacob Tremblay) finds the Predator helmet and activates it by mistake, sparking an impromptu invasion. The Boy’s father Quinn (Boyd Holbrook), and his scientist team have to analyze the helmet to keep the Predator from destroying everything. This plot alongside Quinn’s drama with his ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski), the personal struggles of all the scientists, and Rory’s own backstory make the movie seem overstuffed. Shane Black seemed to have a different movie in mind and threw in the Predator at the last minute.
The biggest controversy in this movie arises from its portrayal of autism spectrum disorders in the character of Rory. Rory falls into the all too common stereotype of an “autistic savant”, being able to decipher any language on command and process information quickly despite his social awkwardness. The movie frames his autism as “the next step in human evolution”, a view rejected by neuroscience and a problematic framing of the condition. Most Hollywood films view autism as a “smart, but quirky” disorder, which is one side of the story not always applicable in real life and a little bit patronizing to autistic people as a stereotype. Perhaps Black needed some consultation with autistic people before deciding to depict the character this way.
In the United States, The Predator performed worse than even the original movie released thirty-one years prior ($52 million vs. $51 million, not including inflation). It is also Shane Black’s last film to date as director, with Black blaming himself for much of the film’s failure. Such reception seemed to spell doom for the franchise, and it took a major reinvention to bring it back, but that is a story for further down the list.
4. PREDATOR 2
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Predator 2 had the highest expectations, but also the strangest change in direction. It feels like a script for a different movie in a different genre, but still works for how it uses the Predator. The Thomas Brothers worked with a new director, and the new direction is an acquired taste, but not a downgrade by any means.
Rather than the distant jungle setting of the first movie, Predator 2 is set in the busy city of Los Angeles. It is less of a military or sci-fi movie and more of a cop drama, involving the Predator killing street criminals and a morally gray cop tracking him down. Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) is a stubborn cop more concerned with justice than adhering to protocol, but his notions are tested when the Predator appears. Glover’s performance as a hardened cop makes for great drama considering he has no limits to the extent of his justice, and his ruthless attitude to see the job finished makes him the perfect candidate to confront the Predator. Seeing him battle a supernatural threat like the Predator gives a shocking swerve for his character as he now has to think outside the box to defeat him. All of this is accentuated by showing the corruption and desolation of early 1990s Los Angeles, with the criminals the creatures hunts being just as grimy and scary as the Predator.
The best way to describe Predator 2 is “the same, but different”. It has the same premise, the same stakes, and the same man vs. supernatural conflict as its predecessor, but with a different setting and more subplots. While some may find this change of pace welcome, others may think it overly complex or superfluous. Either way, Predator 2 has its moments despite being a step down from the original.
Director: Nimrod Antal
While Predator 2 took liberties with its formula, Predators took things back to basics. The premise of Predators is based on the classic “game of death” scenario, which was a welcome turn for a franchise all about characters staying alive as long as they can. A distant sequel to the first movie, this one explains how there is more than one type of Predator, and both of them exploit human criminals for sport. Instead of being set on our planet, they import human mercenaries to an alien world while studying them to find a way to return to Earth. This change of setting catches characters and audiences off guard and makes the circumstances less predictable, as like the humans, viewers have no idea how to adjust to the new setting.
On paper, this premise is brilliant. It expands the world of the franchise, adds depth to what was a one-dimensional movie monster at first, and reframes who the true antagonist is in these movies. The Predators are just aliens, and their alien exploits are often thwarted by humans whose mission is to kill them. The Predators now serve as distant antagonists utilizing human weaknesses against them, and the main focus is on human-on-human conflict. This juxtaposition is genius and had future films stuck to this template, it would have turned the franchise on its head.
The film’s fatal flaw is how the characters are not as endearing or memorable as the first one. Since they are all violent criminals, it can be hard to sympathize with any of them, and makes their deaths feel more welcome than tragic. Adrien Brody also does not come across as a believable action star. He is a decent actor in his own right, but playing a violent, unpredictable mercenary like Boyce was not a good fit for him. The action is well directed and the setting unique, but the people driving the story are not the ones worth spending two hours with for this type of movie.
Still, Predators was interesting enough to hold attention and develop the story further. It was not anything revolutionary, but there was an attempt to try something new and not just remake the first movie. Sadly, the two movies that followed did not expand on the ideas offered by this one, and it serves as an oddity in the franchise.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Full Review: Prey (Film Review): Breathing New Life Into a Dead Franchise
Prey strikes a balance between keeping true to the franchise formula and trying something new, which is a rarity in long running series like this one. It is the first Predator movie to be set in pre-modern times, opting to be placed on the American Prairie during the 1700s. This allows for the movie to explore an underreported culture in movies: Native Americans. By using the Predator as a gateway to native culture, Prey can inform as well as entertain. Prey was even the first major motion picture to be dubbed into the Comanche language.
Protagonist Naru (Amber Midthunder) has one of the best arcs in the Predator series. Rather than be established as a hunter, she is working towards the goal for her tribe. She must prove herself ready when she faces the Predator by the end. In addition to this looming threat, she must face threats within her own village, as fur trappers are depleting the tribe’s resources and forcing them to move. The duality of this conflict places Naru at the center of change, and her strength comes from navigating this change. Midthunder’s performance is compelling enough to make this a breakout role and perhaps launch her into further success and expand Native American roles in general.
In a unique twist, this is the rare Predator movie which seems to advocate for non-violence. Unlike most of her tribe, Naru seems to go out of her way to avoid facing the Predator. She opts to trap it, hide from it, and misdirect it. Only when her own life is at risk does she confront the Predator head on. If there is one lesson to be learned from this movie, the best way to survive the Predator seems to be to just leave it alone.
Prey is commendable for what it tries with representation and altering a franchise formula, but is held back in how it may not go far enough with one or both of these. The Comanche portrayal is quite modernized, with little of their hostile takeover by settlers shown and almost none of the culture’s rituals or practices put on display. The acting is great, but the characters apart from Naru do not have much material, making their deaths less impactful. Perhaps showing the tribe and their practices may have fleshed it out more. Plus, the final climax and depiction of the Predator at the end seem to homage the first film, meaning director Dan Trachtenberg still had to be bound by some of the series’ constraints.
The representation of this specific native culture also makes it feel like this did not need to be a Predator movie specifically. The premise could have worked just as well with a traditional Native American monster. The predator itself looks great with a fearsome redesign and unique new powers, but its presence comes across as pandering for a movie which otherwise has little to do with the Predator series.
In spite of this, Prey is well worth watching. Native American representation is almost invisible in movies, and having an all-Native cast is a step in the right direction. The cinematography and direction are immaculate, and the story stands on its own the best as a good horror movie. This is just the reboot the series needed to keep it fresh.
Director: John McTiernen
Full Review: Predator (1987) Film Review: A Subversive Action Thriller
Perhaps this makes the list a bit anticlimactic, but the original Predator is cinematic perfection. It served to cash in on the two prevalent trends of films in the 1980s: science fiction and military thrillers. Yet it becomes its own thing with a strong cast, great direction, and a unique monster cinema had never seen at the time.
Predator’s plot concerns an alien invasion. Unlike other alien movies, the attack is not so abrupt or world-ending; just an encounter in the rainforest. The plot throws viewers in as it tackles a military operation to capture this strange beast in a remote part of Central America, where the only way out is to face the creature. A troop of elite soldiers including Major Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwartzenegger) and Hawkins (Shane Black) seem the perfect group to hunt it down. They are war veterans, meaning they have training for this job, but are still caught off guard by the Predator when it catches them. Schwartzenegger’s seriousness and dedication to finishing the mission even when everything fails makes this one of the defining roles of his career, and the movie rides on his guidance of the cast.
The story is quite simple, but for a movie like Predator, less is more. It establishes its title villain well, building suspense with its invisibility powers to catch the audience off guard with the big reveal. An all-star cast of actors known for their tough guy/military roles draws the audience in, and catches them off guard when they fall one by one making every death impactful and memorable. The film is just a little over 100 minutes long and does not feel rushed in the least, as it takes enough time to both build up the menace of the Predator and find the right way to defeat it. This delicate balancing act is one few horror movies since have pulled off, but using the setting and atmosphere to its advantage, Predator remains a compelling survival horror movie.
While the novelty may have worn off over time, Predator still manages to be suspenseful and engaging, with the final confrontation being built up in the best way possible. This mastery of suspense and payoff is what made Predator stick in audiences’ minds and solidified its legacy.
Overall, the main gimmick of these movies seems to be the Predator itself. It is a creative monster that can turn invisible and has a whole arsenal on its body; this should be enough of a draw to see the movie. There are only so many ways to tell the story of running from it, so any attempts at a sequel may seem repetitive. These movies all tried their best to capitalize on it and depict unique scenarios. They do not try to tell a linear story until it grows stale. Each movie is self-contained with its own setting and characters, which means whatever generation is watching movies at the time can go in fresh, which may be why they keep making new ones.
If you want a recommendation for which ones to watch, the original Predator is a must-see for its cultural impact alone. Prey and Predators are enjoyable despite their flaws as well, but are best advised to watch after the original to get a feel for the series and its tropes. But no matter what, each one has its own set of highs and lows to make for a unique viewing experience.
All Predator movies are now available to watch on digital and on demand. Read our other lists of films ranked from worst to best.