For years before director Dan Trachtenberg was established enough to get a Predator movie made, he imagined a scene where a lone Comanche warrior faced off against a bone-armored hunter from beyond the stars. That vision panned out into a worthy studio gamble; when Trachtenberg’s Predator prequel Prey hit Hulu in 2022, it was lauded as a reinvention of a tired franchise and one of the Disney-acquired 20th Century Studios’ first straight-to-streaming hits. Today, Trachtenberg says it’s hard to shake what made the project so special to him — especially with sequel talk aflutter.
“While making the movie, we really enjoyed conjuring up all the special unique things that we could do, not only just in this franchise but also in this genre, that would be unexpected,” he says when I ask about the status of a Prey 2. “Some things happened that are very expected, but some things were very much not. And so all that stuff was and continues to be really fun to think about and explore and… who knows?”
A recent issue of the industry trade Production Weekly flagged Prey 2 as a project in active development at 20th Century Studios, leading alien-slasher enthusiasts to foam at the mouth in anticipation. For now, Trachtenberg is playing it cool. The director wasn’t ready to spill any details while promoting Prey’s 4K Blu-ray release, but agrees there’s potential in a sequel, and one that could play in theaters the next time around. That was certainly his intention with the original film, even if the plan was always to debut it on Hulu.
“I think Prey had big-screen potential!” he says. “I never considered Prey as Oh, this is just for streaming. No one ever said, ‘Let’s execute differently because we know it’s for streaming.’ It wasn’t ever in the ether for us.”
In fact, according to Trachtenberg, there was little to no pushback from the studio over his pitch to swerve away from the hyper-masculine war-movie vibe of the original 1987 Predator. He chalks that up to emailing the right people at the right time. (Email: still powerful!) Bit by the bug of a great idea and navigating Hollywood with a glow after the success of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Trachtenberg messaged 20th Century Fox executives with his elevator pitch for Prey, even though the studio was already working with writer-director Shane Black on what would become 2018’s The Predator. Trachtenberg thought Fox could make both.
“That’s where the name Prey came from,” he says. “Because I was sure there was going to be a new Predator trilogy, but I thought maybe we called this one Prey to function sort of like in Star Wars with [Solo] and Rogue One. I said, ‘Could this be a thing?’ — it was that casual. And then it was like, Oh my god, this is too cool!”
Fox was ready to work with Trachtenberg on what he was then dubbing “an R-rated Disney Princess movie” until actual Disney came knocking. When The Walt Disney Corporation acquired the 21st Century Fox parent company in 2019, work on Prey all but stopped. Trachtenberg’s reps encouraged him to just take the Predator name out of the script he was writing and go pitch studios an entirely original alien adventure movie. But on a mission to deliver the “unexpected,” he declined; to pack a true surprise, he needed to reframe an iconic monster design and play in a sandbox full of expectations.
Trachtenberg held out hope that he could reconnect with 20th Century Studios when the dust settled, and it was the right call: When the revamped studio was on the prowl for flashy but modestly budgeted streaming exclusives, Prey came back into the glowing red crosshairs. While Trachtenberg wasn’t able to enact his dream to have the actors speak only in Comanche (a concession Hulu made up for with the film’s Comanche-language dub track), he says everyone at the reorganized studio was on board to make a kick-ass movie that didn’t fret over nostalgia for the franchise. Pitching a movie that he says cost half the budget The Predator got didn’t hurt either.
“It’s like, would you rather high-five yourself over Blank Thing Part Five, where you’re not even that confident in what the movie is, but you know it’ll make money?” he asks. “Or would you rather high-five over something that not only is more original, but also shining the light on characters and people that the light is not often shined on?”
With the greenlight, Trachtenberg and his creative team set off to reinvent the look, design, and narrative of the Predator franchise. In fact, the director’s MO to surprise longtime fans extended all the way to a vision for marketing the movie. While Trachtenberg shot the movie under a codename in order to obscure the fact that Prey was a Predator prequel, he ultimately knew that some Hollywood trade would blow his cover and ruin the surprise. (And they did.) But he still had plan to slow-drip the reveal all the way through to the alien’s entrance in his movie. As a guy who grew up in the peak era of dissectible tentpole trailers and internet movie rumors, he could picture the whole thing.
“The original concept, keeping in mind the timeline — my hope was that we could have a teaser come out that is just Naru dealing with her band, then she sets out into the wilds to prove herself, then she sees a fire in the sky. And that would be it. And then when the 2018 Predator came out, you would see the same teaser, but then it would just go 30 seconds more. And the coolest version would have been: She’s hunting a bear, attacked by a bear, the bear’s knocked out, then blood drips down and reveals the Predator, and you’re like, Oh my god, this is a Predator movie coming! That would have been my dream.”
That plan didn’t pan out. By the time Prey hit Hulu, everyone who knew the Predator series knew they were getting a new Predator movie. (Though by anecdotal accounts, Prey was the first Predator movie for plenty of young viewers, too.) But the reception proves Trachtenberg right — a goal of originality and delivering the “unexpected” still works, even in the smaller-screen movie era. He isn’t telling how he’d do the same for Prey 2, but he’s giddy as he avoids spilling any secrets. The goal, if he tackles a sequel, will be the same: to rock expectations.
“I’ve heard from people who worked on the movie that there are people who saw it with kids and it was their first R-rated movie,” he says. “That brings a tear to the eye, because that’s that’s how formative [Predator] was for me growing up.”