Jean-Claude Van Damme’s first appearance in a blockbuster film was meant to be in the first Predator film. But things didn’t turn out that way.
1987 saw the release of one of the most iconic action/sci-fi flicks of all time with Predator. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers, this testosterone-fueled film has won an army of loyal fans over the years – even if the multiple sequels haven’t always been received with open arms.
Packed full of violence, copious gore, and a whole lot of attitude, it was a perfect recipe for success when released back in 1987. And yet, there was another element that helped this film become so popular; it had a certain martial arts star attached to its production, at least, in its early drafts.
Die-hard fans of the original film might know that the eponymous Predator was played by Kevin Peter Hall. The actor’s imposing stature made him the first choice when directors needed someone to step into some kind of monster suit, and he ended up being the one that Schwarzenegger’s Dutch faces off against in the film’s climax.
In an alternate universe, however, things could have been quite different for Predator. The first choice to play the alien creature was none other than the martial artist and renowned actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. To make things even more interesting, the suit that Jean-Claude Van Damme was set to use in the movie was radically different from the now-iconic Predator look that horror fans know and love.
One thing that’s worth pointing out is that Van Damme wasn’t as popular in 1987 as he was during the 90s. His name might not have been able to sell more Predator tickets, and perhaps that was the reason why director John McTiernan was okay having the martial artist in a silly-looking alien suit for the whole movie.
Speaking of absolutely unthreatening monster designs, the original look of the Predator was something that looked straight out of a cheap B-movie. The final design, made by none other than Stan Winston – the special effects genius that made possible movies like Jurassic Park and Aliens – has stood the test of time, looking great even by today’s standards.
The design of the Predator costume is one of the film’s crowning achievements and is also one of the lead reasons why Jean-Claude Van Damme was fired from the project. The first drafts of the film have the Predator being a sort of sneaky alien creature that looked more like a Xenomorph than the hulking beast that is the final movie’s design.
Allegedly, Jean-Claude Van Damme was difficult to work with on the set of Predator – a set that was already marred with difficulties, to begin with. For starters, shooting an action flick in the humid Mexican rainforest is not as easy as it sounds, much less if you’re wearing a bulky rubber suit.
The story goes that Jean-Claude Van Damme, punished by the hot and humid weather, and unable to breathe properly due to the Predator suit’s original design, collapsed on more than one occasion, bringing the film’s production to a halt as he recovered. Additionally, the director wasn’t pleased with Van Damme’s predilection for kickboxing, which he tried to introduce into the Predator’s fighting style.
In the end, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who proposed that they hired Stan Winston to redesign the Predator costume, and the rest, as they say, is history. Predator would have been a radically different film with Jean-Claude Van Damme, there’s no doubt about that – still, there’s good reason to believe that the version of the movie we got, in the end, is the superior one.
Years later, in 2010, Predators would pay homage to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s costume design with the ‘River Ghost’ species, proving that there’s still a chance that a version of the Predator that kickboxes might exist somewhere in the movie’s universe.
Tell us, did you know that Jean-Claude Van Damme was the original Predator?