The Real Reason Jean-Claude Van Damme Was Fired From Predator

Spend a couple of minutes reading about the production history on any movie and you'll quickly come to the conclusion that the film industry is basically a century-long issue of Marvel's old "What-If..?" comic. For instance, Indiana Jones almost fought a guy with a flamethrower arm in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Wolverine nearly had a cameo in Spider-Man, and 1993's Super Mario Bros was nearly — and this is true — a watchable movie.

And for a brief window of time, Jean-Claude Van Damme was the alien monster inspiring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and company to return, post haste, to the chopper. Yes, the star of Universal Soldier and Timecop was nearly the titular Predator in 1987's Predator. He made it as far as shooting some scenes in the suit before being unceremoniously fired from the picture. What exactly happened to rob us of interplanetary banter between two of the twentieth century's most ubiquitous and inscrutable onscreen European accents? The answer, according to those in the know, comes down to height and whining.

The original predator was one ugly...

The thought process behind hiring Van Damme was that an agile martial artist would bring an extra layer of physicality to the movie monster. Van Damme recounted his audition process in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, recalling that he jumped through the air and did the splits. A lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme stories are about doing the splits. There were a couple of problems, though. First off, the original Predator suit was a lot more cumbersome than the one in the final draft, looking less like a fleshy murder crab, and more like a cross between a nineties Power Rangers monster-of-the-week and a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. Its backwards-jointed legs required that stilts be worn for long shots, so the fluid movements of a professional athlete got lost in the proverbial mix.

Also, and this is important, according to effects designer Steve Johnson, Van Damme wasn't aware that he'd signed on to wear a suit for the entire movie. He thought he was going to get a face-to-face rumble with Arnold in a Hollywood movie, then showed up, and instead was shoved inside a rubber monster costume.

At least he still had Street Fighter to look forward to

This is where the stories start to diverge. Johnson and others involved in the picture claim that Van Damme complained constantly: The suit was too hot, it was too cumbersome, you couldn't see his face, and so on. On the other hand, Van Damme, in an interview where he complains about the hot, cumbersome suit, states that he was fired after voicing reservations about a stunt that he was asked to perform, as he felt it was unsafe. He goes on to claim that the stunt man who replaced him was injured performing said task, and that production had to be shut down for a few days, though Screen Rant points out that there's no record of such an injury occurring.

Whatever the case, the original Predator costume was scrapped, and so was the original Predator actor. A new monster was designed by Stan Winston, and the 7-foot 2-inch Kevin Peter Hall was cast to play the monstrous movie villain. He also, and this is fun, played the pilot of the choppah to which the protagonists famously struggled to get into. Predators, man. They're always wherever you least expect 'em.