Few science fiction/action movies are more violently satisfying — and confusing — than the Predator franchise. Rife with potentially non-canonical adventures, species DNA tampering and countless blood feuds, things can get pretty hard to follow during the Predator movies. What started as a survival-horror story about a group of the toughest commandos 1980s Hollywood could dream up has since blossomed into a franchise that has endured for decades.
Some aspects of the title creature have been carved into the public’s consciousness, like its infrared-equipped visor, long dreadlocks, and gnarly mandibles. However, some aspects of the galaxy’s greatest race of hunters still remain shrouded in mystery — although with each new installment in the franchise, fans learn a little bit more about these prideful warriors. Unfortunately, it can be hard for even the most diehard fans to keep up with a series that’s spend years jumping around in time and canon.
In order to help Predator cinephiles keep track of the sprawling franchise, it’s worth going through the timeline and picking out just what fans have learned about the species with each new story. There are a slew of comic books, novels, video games and more that exist to further complicate the Predators’ story, so for the purposes of clarity, let’s just stick to the film franchise. This is the Predator story, finally explained.
What is a Predator?
There’s a lot we know — and a lot we don’t — about the Predators. For example, the word "predator" is just what earthlings call these monsters. Their language appears to be a collection of clicking noises represented through a complex series of dashes in writing, so we don’t know what they prefer to be called — at least in the movies, although the Predator expanded universe reveals they’re known as the Yautja, or the Hish-Qu-Ten. Still, there are a handful of broad strokes that come up throughout each film.
First of all, the race seems to be guided by a desire to hunt for sport. Often they’ll seek out whatever passes for the greatest warriors in a given area and stalk them as trophy game (collecting skulls is a bit of a go-to, but not always). They’ve even been known to pass on human beings that don’t pose an immediate threat or challenge, hinting that they might be guided by a twisted sense of honor or sportsmanship.
Typically, they seem to travel in units of no more than three to hunt. When they arrive, they’re ready for combat, with elaborate armor designed to help them track prey and turn invisible, and a helmet that allows them to see heat signatures and other highly specific filters on the visual spectrum.
If you do manage to get through that armor, you’ll be greeted with bright green luminescent blood (assuming they don’t self-destruct first).
Where do the Predators come from?
Not much is known about the Predators’ place of origin. They’re advanced enough to travel the galaxy to hunt the most dangerous species for sport, but they’ve shown signs of having a singular home world as well as a distinct culture and hierarchy. However, none of that is really explained to any of the human beings that encounter the Predators — they’re often too busy running for their lives to swap stories.
Instead, humans typically deal with the warrior class of the Predators — those that are brave enough to leave the stealth ships and put boots on the ground to collect human trophies for sport, honor, or some kind of political power. The Predator species has a sort of tribe mentality and is not above having conflicts amongst themselves. In addition, blood feuds break out when the aliens start to experiment with hybridization as well as some galaxy-spanning eugenics. In short, part of what makes the Predators so scary is the fact that humans don’t quite know where they come from or what exactly they want other than to hunt them down and dispatch them with extreme violence.
Sometimes they’re hunters, sometimes they’re conquerors. Either way, these beasts are just downright scary.
Predator: Welcome to the jungle
The first time we see Predators encountering modern human beings is in 1987, in the jungles of Central America. The first Predator film sees U.S. Special Operations Forces veteran Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer lead a group of five highly trained commandos and an old friend from the CIA on a daring mission against some guerrilla troops.
After a successful (albeit deceptive) mission, the group learns that they’re being stalked by someone or something on their way to their extraction point. One by one, the creature picks off Dutch’s men, who rely on their training but are simply no match for their bigger, stronger and more technologically advanced opponent. However, the armor starts to crack when Dutch realizes that the creature seems to be hunting for sport, ignoring their unarmed female captive.
Dutch instructs her to head to the chopper unarmed while he hangs back. When he’s knocked into the mudbank of a river, the Predator has a tough time seeing him because his heat signature has been reduced. Armed with some camouflage and makeshift traps, he engages the creature once more.
Through a series of clever strikes and brute force, Dutch is able to damage the Predator, who takes off its mask in an apparent show of respect before Dutch faces off against the Predator one final time. He then manages to capture the creature in a trap, forcing it to set off a self-destruct bomb to eliminate any trace of its failed hunt.
Predator seeks urban prey
The Predators return years later for 1990’s Predator 2 — and instead of the jungle, one of their number opts to hunt in urban Los Angeles.
After witnessing the heroism of police Lieutenant Michael R. Harrigan, this Predator proceeds to hunt the cops and robbers in his orbit. Harrigan unknowingly tracks the monster before encountering Agent Peter Keyes, who informs him that the U.S. government is aware of the extraterrestrial threat posed by the Predators. Keyes reveals the bout with Dutch in Central America was only the latest in a string of encounters in combat zones.
The feds set up a trap for the Predator at a slaughterhouse, revealing that the species feeds on animal meat — meaning they don’t hunt for sustenance. Keyes’ team springs the trap thinking they have the upper hand by masking their heat signatures. However, the Predator switches to a different view on his helmet and tracks their flashlights. Surprise surprise, everyone dies but Harrigan.
At another point in the film, the Predator chooses to spare a pregnant woman, despite her being a threat to it. For some reason, they value procreation of Earthlings, but more on that later. Eventually, Harrigan chases the Predator to its ship and engages it in single combat. After he scores a narrow win, several more Predators uncloak themselves and collect their dead comrade’s body. They present Harrigan with an antique pistol as a trophy for besting their champion and allow him to leave the ship unharmed before they take off from the planet, seemingly in defeat.
Predator kills that might not count
This is where things get complicated.
The same year fans caught a brief glimpse of a Xenomorph skull in Predator 2, Fox — which owned the Alien franchise as well as the Predator movies — licensed a series of crossover comics tie-ins that eventually led to the 2004 film Alien vs. Predator, in which it’s revealed that the Predator species arrived in ancient Egypt and helped humans construct the pyramids. In exchange, the people provided sacrifices as hosts for the Xenomorphs so that the Predators could routinely return to Earth to hunt them as some kind of twisted rite of passage.
Alien vs. Predator was followed by a sequel, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, but there’s an ongoing debate over whether these films count as canon for either franchise. When Ridley Scott returned to the Alien franchise for the prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, he ignored the AvP story of the Xenomorphs — but the Predator franchise seemed unaffected by that, and made winks to the crossover films as late as 2018’s The Predator.
Either way, Predators have a storied history in comic books and other extended material, and the Alien crossovers make up a big part of that history. Regardless of the disagreement over whether the films actually happened in each respective universe, since the people behind Alien are the ones brushing off the crossover movies and not the people behind Predator, they definitely count for our purposes here.
The Predator teaches us what pyramids are really for
In 2004, a group of scientists led by industrial tycoon Charles Bishop Weyland discovers an underground pyramid some 2000 feet beneath the ice in Norway. He leads the team on an exploratory mission just as a trio of Predators arrive at the entrance to the pyramid. Through their exploration, they learn that the Predator species created the Xenomorphs for the ultimate hunt every 100 years. Allowing Weyland’s team to find it was their clever way of providing hosts for the creatures to spawn in.
The movie, though not well received, provides perhaps the biggest glimpse into the culture and the purpose of the Predators, revealing that early humans worshiped them as gods and willingly allowed the Xenomorphs to spread across the galaxy. It’s also heavily implied that the hunt every 100 years is a rite of passage for elite hunters of the species.
Two of the trio sent on the 2004 hunt die quickly while one manages to eradicate this century’s Xenomorph threat by befriending a tough-as-nails woman named Alexa Woods. However, it succumbs to its injuries shortly after battling the Queen. As a slew of Predators that had been surveying the conflict appear, they too offer her a weapon as a trophy for her successful fight and leave with their fallen comrade, presumably back to their planet. However, as soon as they leave the dead Predator alone, a Predator/Xenomorph hybrid emerges from its chest to terrorize the ship full of hunters before it even leaves Earth’s atmosphere.
The first hybrid Predator experiment
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem picks up right after the events of AvP. With a hybrid onboard (hereby known as the "Predalien"), the ship doesn’t last long and crash-lands in Colorado. A lone survivor sends a signal to the Predator home world warning them that the Xenomorph threat persists. One hunter takes it upon himself to go to Earth and eliminate them.
Unfortunately, the sequel focuses heavily on the members of the small Colorado town where the Predator and Predalien have their conflict. As a result, it doesn’t do much to further the story of the species other than to highlight the lengths the Predators will go to in order to claim victory over the Xenomorphs. The movie concludes with the Predator facing off against the Predalien in single combat. Both of them inflict mortal wounds on the other before the government drops a tactical nuke on the small town that’s now overrun with aliens. Seeing the level of awareness that the U.S. government has regarding the Predator threat after all these years of attacks is interesting, but not necessarily satisfying in terms of explaining the hierarchy of this species.
The film ends with the Predator’s plasma blaster falling into the hands of Weyland’s corporate partner, Yutani, who declares that the world simply isn’t ready for this kind of technology to be unleashed on human beings.
From Predator to hunter-gatherer
Set days before Halloween in 2018, The Predator kicks off as a group of soldiers is attacked by a Predator during a mission on foreign soil. U.S. Army Ranger Quinn McKenna manages to survive and mail himself some of the creature’s armor in order to prove that he actually saw what he saw. He’s debriefed and held captive with a ragtag group of other soldiers when the Predator in question wakes up — really, really angry to find itself in a government lab. It escapes, prompting the soldiers to steal a prison bus and set off on a mission to retrieve the mailed armor.
When they arrive at McKenna’s house, they find his son took the armor to wear as a makeshift Halloween costume. With the Predator and a couple of never-before-seen quadruped, dog-like Predators on their tail, they track down the boy and retrieve the armor. Unfortunately, the Predator catches up and forces them to surrender the items. It ends up being a moot point, as a larger Predator suddenly shows up and kills the first.
This new, beastly-looking alien reveals through a voice translator that the species has stepped up its hunting game and is now collecting DNA of other species to create stronger hybrids. This puts a target on McKenna’s autistic son, whose trait is desirable for the Predator species.
Armed and dangerous
While The Predator may seem like another action-packed romp filled with soldiers battling the galaxy’s most worthwhile hunters, the film holds a much stronger canonical connection than that. Not only does it reveal that Predators are evolving by using human and other DNA, but it preps the ground for a potential war.
It’s theorized in the film that, because Predators like a warm climate, global warming is hurling humanity toward becoming the most attractive new hot spot for invasion. It also turns out that the original Predator that attacked McKenna and his gang had human DNA and was delivering a mysterious package to humanity.
The film ends with McKenna and a group of scientists realizing that the package the Predator delivered was left on purpose. Inside is a suit designed to fit on a human body — one that looks like it’s made for the specific purpose of combating Predators. It doesn’t take long for McKenna to call dibs on the new tech, meaning humanity is now prepared to fight Predators when they come a-hunting.
Suddenly, the human race seems less likely to roll over and die when the genetically enhanced hunters land. It’s still unclear what exactly the future holds for Earth after it’s armed with this new suit, but we’ve been given some insight into the Predators’ next move.
Big game hunters
While it’s the penultimate Predator movie to date in terms of when it was released, 2010’s Predators arrives last chronologically in the series. It’s unclear specifically what year Predators takes place, but it’s after the 2018 adventure, and the story begins when a group of soldiers from all around the world wake up to find themselves in an unfamiliar jungle staring up at an alien sky.
After realizing that they’re dealing with Predators, they deduce that they’ve been hand-picked as some of Earth’s greatest warriors and brought to some kind of intergalactic game preserve. Their theory is proven right when they discover a madman who has survived on the new planet for "ten seasons" by scavenging and hiding. He also reveals that there is a blood feud between the normal-looking Predators that fans have seen in previous movies and new, larger Predators.
One can deduce that the Predators’ DNA splicing eventually went awry, causing a rift among the species. While it seems that the Predators use the game preserve to sharpen their hunting skills, it’s also possible that the technology brought to Earth in The Predator made it so the planet is no longer a viable hunting ground, which clearly hasn’t stopped them from bringing the hunt to their own turf.
Sadly, although two members of the party defeat the monsters, they fail in their mission to get off the planet and back home to safety. As a result, no one on Earth knows about this new strategy of kidnapping humans to hunt off-planet, meaning McKenna’s cool new suit may be useless to save humanity after all.