Jean-Claude Van Damme Walked Away From The Biggest Sci-Fi Franchise

No one that worked on Predator seems to know the one reason why Jean-Cladue Van Damme, originally cast as the alien, ended up leaving the movie.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

jean-claude van damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme is a quintessential ’80s and early ’90s action star. While he never quite reached the heights of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, his high-octane roles in BloodsportKickboxer and Universal Soldier have cemented him as an icon among action movie aficionados. However, one major role you never saw him in was the titular Predator in Predator, despite the fact that he was originally cast in the role. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Belgian martial artist eventually walked off the set because the producers refused to let Van Damme turn the Predator into a kickboxer. 

“[Producer Joel Silver] was telling him, ‘Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer.’ And Van Damme was like, ‘I must do that; that’s how I see the Predator,'” recalls visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek. “Joel said, ‘Well, you’re fired. Get out of here.’ And Van Damme says, ‘Kiss my balls!’ and walks out, and that was the end of that.”

Visual Effects Supervisor Joel Hynek’s version of Jean-Claude Van Damme getting fired from Predator

Predator began filming in 1986, before Jean-Claude Van Damme performed in any of his iconic roles. At the time, he only had two credited roles: one as Ivan Kraschinsky, the Russian in No Retreat, No Surrender, and one as “gay karate man” in Monaco Forever. Casting director Jackie Burch claimed that Van Damme would regularly come into their office, show off his moves, and beg them for work. Eventually, they chose to cast him as the iconic alien. 

“Jean-Claude Van Damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping up in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for work,” said Burch. “He was nobody. He didn’t have any credits. So finally I said to Joel, ‘He’d be great as the Predator because no one moves like him.’ I mean he really is quite amazing.”

However, during the production of Predator, the crew ran into problem after problem with Jean-Claude Van Damme. According to the crew members interviewed, Van Damme hated the fact that his face wasn’t visible in the costume. He also reportedly freaked out after the mask was put on him, throwing it to the ground and shattering it. On top of that, he reportedly passed out while wearing the suit multiple times, since it was so hot inside. 

Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer

The interesting part about the Hollywood Reporter interview is that nobody seems to be able to agree on why exactly Jean-Claude Van Damme was let go from the project. The claim by Jackie Burch that Van Damme walked off the set is just one of many reasons that the crew put forward. Other crew members claim that he was fired because he complained too much, because he broke the mask, because he was too short, because he couldn’t stay conscious while wearing the suit, and because he was let go after Fox executives decided that they didn’t like the original creature design. 

Regardless of the reason, Jean-Claude Van Damme didn’t end up wearing the suit in Predator. The role instead went to the late Kevin Peter Hall. Hall, who was a towering 7 feet 3 inches tall, returned to the role in Predator 2though he never had any other high-profile roles over the course of his career. Hall died in 1991 after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion while working on the fantasy comedy TV series Harry and the Hendersons.

Losing out on the role in Predator didn’t end up harming Jean-Claude Van Damme too much, as it turned out. His next film, Bloodsport, launched his career as an action star. The film made $50 million on a budget of roughly $2 million, kickstarting a successful career that still lands him roles to this day. He most recently appeared as the voice of Jean-Clawed in Minions: The Rise of Gru, and is set to appear in What’s My Name?, Silent Kill and Darkness of Man.