One of the most famous pieces of trivia regarding John McTiernan’s action classic Predator was that unknown martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme was hired to play the title character, with the original design for the intergalactic trophy hunter seemingly ideal for someone with his particular set of skills to turn the alien killer into an agile and ninja-like nemesis for the intrepid band of heroes.
At the time, the Muscles from Brussels only had a handful of feature film credits under his belt, and Predator would have marked his first major Hollywood production, with the movie releasing in theaters eight months before Van Damme’s breakout starring vehicle Bloodsport. However, the costume was hot, heavy and cumbersome, and it was ultimately decided that the actor was too ill-equipped and even too small to play the big bad.
As everybody knows, the cast of Predator is positively dripping in testosterone, and the crew were concerned that having the diminutive by comparison Van Damme trying to pose a serious onscreen threat to a hulking ensemble that included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Sonny Landham simply wasn’t believable enough, even for a sci-fi actioner.
Van Damme ultimately left the project and was replaced by Kevin Peter Hall, who was over a foot and a half taller, while the Predator itself was given an overhaul by designer Stan Winston, with an assist from James Cameron after the Terminator director suggested mandibles. A rare picture of the future action hero under the costume has now been unearthed, though, and you can check it out below.
It’s interesting to think how things might have ended up for Predator and Van Damme’s career in general had the production stuck to its guns, but it worked out pretty well for all parties in the end.