Sylvester Stallone is one of the great action icons of all time, but did you know he inspired this science fiction franchise?
Sylvester Stallone is undeniably one of the great action stars of all time. Even if you do not take into account his accomplishments as a dramatic actor, director, and (attempted) comedian, no one can make a convincing argument that he did not help shape the form of modern action movies with the Rambo franchise, Cobra, Cliffhanger, and, uh, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. However, it is an odd, almost forgotten detail of Hollywood history that Sylvester Stallone is indirectly responsible for the greatest science fiction action franchise of all time, Predator. While he has never (or at least not yet, give it time) starred in one of the many films involving alien hunters collecting skulls and spines as trophies, it was his career that provided the initial inspiration for Predator.
It is ironic that the first movie would go on to star Sylvester Stallone’s great 1980s rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though he only starred in the first installment of the series in 1987, the former Governor of California would forever be associated with the Predator franchise, while Sylvester Stallone would choose science fiction misfires like Judge Dredd and Demolition Man. But Predator would never have come into being if it were not for Stallone’s willingness to appear in sequel after sequel to his own movies, which eventually became a Hollywood inside joke. Reputedly, the idea that Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa would eventually work his way through all the potential opponents on Earth and start fighting aliens had become a running gag by the time 1985’s Rocky IV saw him fighting communism itself, as embodied by Dolph Lundgren.
The rookie screenwriting team of Jim and John Thomas apparently did not exactly take the idea of Sylvester Stallone fighting extraterrestrials seriously but were inspired enough by the idea to come up with a script titled Hunter. That movie was essentially a riff on the immortal Most Dangerous Game plot, but with a group of various kinds of aliens (we are picturing the patrons of the Mos Eisley Cantina) hunting down various humans. Eventually, that central idea was slimmed down to a single alien and the various humans into a special forces commando in Central America, reflecting the horrendous constant violence of the area at the time. The film was eventually retitled Predator and a great franchise was born.
Interestingly, the idea of Rocky vs space invaders was not the only way Sylvester Stallone inspired Predator. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Thomas brothers had written the screenplay for Hunter in a weekend, hoping for overnight success, because they had heard that is what Sylvester Stallone had done with his script for Rocky. Granted, the legend of Rocky’s overnight success should be taken with the grains of salt that were Stallone’s many bit parts and semi-sordid roles of the time. But his ability to produce a single great story in a short time and successfully break into Hollywood was one of the key things that made the script for Predator ever happen in the first place.
There does not seem to be any indication that Sylvester Stallone was ever approached to star in Predator, even if he had indirectly inspired it. While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were the two twin godheads of 1980s action, it is worth noting that by the time the first Predator movie was released, they were in very different places. By 1987, Stallone was on his fourth Rocky, second Rambo, had written and directed numerous movies, and had two Academy Award nominations.
Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger was dogging at his heels, but he was still starring in pulpy, nearly plotless films like Commando and Raw Deal. While making a violent high concept science fiction film was a step up for Schwarzenegger (and can be argued led to even more high-concept films like Total Recall), Sylvester Stallone was beginning to look at changing up his image with comedic pictures like Tango & Cash, Oscar, and Over the Top.
Predator became an enormously huge hit, launching the career of the Thomas brothers, making director John McTiernan a valuable action filmmaking property, and spawning a vast multi-media empire from the simple idea of Sylvester Stallone beating the hell out of an alien in the boxing ring. Just this year, the stripped-down prequel movie Prey has become one of the most acclaimed science fiction action movies in years. In Hollywood, the strangest ideas can somehow do that.