The Predator film series, which has been around for 35 years as of June, has spawned five sequels—including the forthcoming Prey—as well as two crossover/spin-offs that bring the “Yautja” face-to-face with the Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise. That’s a lot of intertwined mythology and interlocking storylines, not to mention a lot of time shifts throughout the Predator universe.
To help keep track of all those twists and turns and timeframes, The A.V. Club looked back at the characters, stories, Easter eggs, and minutiae from each film to map an overarching Predator timeline. Our rundown reaches back to the foundations of America itself, and stretches far into our future—at least until those three little dots tell you that you’re the extraterrestrial hunter’s next target.
While some trailers now running call Prey “The Predator’s first hunt on Earth,” that would require discounting the Alien Vs. Predator movies as non-canon. Ridley Scott effectively tried to do this by making Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which show the Xenomorphs originating around the year 2093. But the AVP movies cannot be extricated similarly from the Predator franchise, which repeatedly acknowledges them. However, if we accept that Yautja can time travel ... well, we’ll get to that.
Yautja, who maintain a particular affinity for hunting indigenous peoples of the Americas, first arrive on Earth somewhere between 750 and 500 BCE, when the Mayan civilization began building cities. It was the Predators who taught them how, and in return the locals worshipped them like gods. Per the first Alien Vs. Predator, the Mayans willingly offered human sacrifices to incubate the Xenomorphs, and a large-scale collapse of Mayan cities in the 9th century occurred because the Yautja were sore losers, a trait maintained across the franchise. When defeated, a warrior will typically set off a miniature nuclear device, literally leveling the playing field while also conveniently erasing any evidence they were ever there.
After an incident in which too many Xenomorphs broke loose and caused the use of the mini-nuke, Yautja build their own pyramid deep under the island of Bouvetøya near Antarctica, where no humans will find it until summoned. Unlike the Mayan city versions, this one is specifically designed as a training simulator, with Xenomorph eggs and a queen in suspended animation. Every 100 years, they send out a mysterious signal to lure in a curious few humans, inevitably turning them into incubators. It’s something of a crucible for Predators, who thrive in hot climates, to send them through freezing weather to test their skills, three at a time.
The Yautja seem to develop a specific affinity for indigenous peoples of the Americas, and one resurfaces in the Comanche Nation in our 18th century. They soon discover what humans will in 1987, over two centuries later: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Save for its cloaking device, this particular Predator prefers projectiles and blades; in general, a Yautja won’t use its laser weapons unless facing an opponent with guns. This particular hunter looks significantly different from those that preceded it and that come after—more like the larger evolved strain from Predators.
It is here that we see the origin of something that will show up much later in the timeline—proving that the Predators aren’t done with this particular era yet.
A Norwegian whaling settlement is wiped out by Yautja and Xenomorphs, in the first known incidence of the underground pyramid making contact with humans.
In 1945, the U.S. government documents Yautja involvement at the battle of Iwo Jima.
In the 1970s, the U.S. government documents Yautja sightings in Cambodia. It’s unclear which particular Cambodian conflict is referred to.
In 1982, the U.S. government documents Yautja sightings during the Siege of Beirut and concludes they are drawn to both heat and conflict.
Guatemalan villagers notice a mysterious hunter that tends to show up during particularly warm years, and stalk its prey in the jungle. A U.S. Military rescue team in Guatemala find themselves ambushed by a Yautja. Of all the team members, only Native American Billy (Sonny Landham) seems to instinctively understand what they’re dealing with—and recognizes that the creature will engage in hand-to-hand combat if challenged. In the end, only one member of the team survives, along with a local woman who witnessed the events.
This incident remains one of two that the U.S. government retains full knowledge of beyond the circumstantial, after debriefing the survivors.
During the incident, lone survivor Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) twice tells people to “Get to the chopper!” This line will be uttered by many more humans in the years to come.
A Yautja warrior stalks members of a Colombian drug cartel in Los Angeles. As revealed by Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), a government agency called the OWLFP is fully aware of the 1987 incident and has passing knowledge of those in Iwo Jima, Cambodia, and Beirut.
The Yautja is ultimately defeated in combat by LAPD Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover), who disarms the suicide nuke by slicing the timer in half with the alien’s bladed disc. This Predator turns out to be one of several who have a spaceship hidden beneath the city; what the others were doing remains unknown (in the movies, at least).
Inside the Yautja spacecraft, several alien skulls, including that of a Xenomorph, are on display. Notably, the skulls do not appear to include spinal cords, despite the Yautja predilection for ripping those out too. This will be explained decades later.
In a rare sign of respect, the group’s Elder presents Harrigan with an antique weapon that provides a clue to a possible Earth visit a couple hundred years prior.
The 100-year signal near Antarctica goes off again, luring entrepreneur Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) and his team of experts in to become the next incubators.
Following an incident in which most of the humans and Xenomorphs die, the lone remaining Yautja, now carrying a Xenomorph chestburster inside, is rescued by a larger ship. Once the Predalien hybrid emerges from its host and kills all onboard, the ship promptly crashes near a small Colorado town. A “cleaner” Predator arrives from the Yautja homeworld to dispose of the evidence, and after a Xenomorph outbreak occurs, the U.S. government nukes the town, destroying everything save some Predator shoulder cannons and a handful of humans who heeded a warning to “get to the chopper.”
The cannons wind up in the hands of the mysterious Ms. Yutani, who will presumably go on to found the Alien franchise’s Weyland-Yutani company following the death of Weyland Industries’ Charles Bishop Weyland.
Note: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem is the only movie to show the Yautja homeworld. It also reveals that their helmets relay signals between one another with fully archived video feeds, which explains how they can know about prior incidents, even after a particular helmet is destroyed.
The events depicted in Predators are often described as taking place in the future. However, the only information we actually have is in the motion comics on the Blu-ray, which offer specific dates implying the characters are pretty close to the actors’ actual ages in 2010. But since it takes place on a Yautja game preserve planet, and they may have time travel (we’ll get to that), the story arguably takes place outside of human timelines as we know them.
Predators explains the discrepancy between the Yautja who hunt alone in isolated areas, and those seen in war zones. At the war zones, it turns out, they’ve been capturing the world’s most dangerous killers, and bringing them to the game planet for sport. We also learn that the IDF has detailed files on the 1987 and 1997 events.
As established in Alien Vs. Predator, Yautja in controlled hunting facilities travel in threes. But now there are at least two different kinds—a larger, more evolved strain that more closely resemble the hunter in Prey are larger and deadlier. Both strains learn fast from humans, as seen by the way the “classic” Predator jumps behind a log, Arnold-style, to evade fire.
The Predator opens with Yautja ships tearing holes in the fabric of space to arrive near Earth. Could they be tearing through time as well? A deleted ending, which would have seen Alien heroine Ellen Ripley arrive on 21st-century Earth, implies as much. In the final film, there is no absolute confirmation, but they do keep their antique weapons collections in pristine condition.
An entire governmental project called Stargazer now knows of the Yautja—they have the most details on the 1987 and 1997 events, but note that the aliens, who are now officially dubbed “Predators,” have been making more frequent incursions as global warming accelerates. One of the project’s notable employees is a scientist named Sean Keyes (Jake Busey), son of Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes.
Predators depicted two separately evolving tribes of Yautja battling each other and their prey on a game preserve planet; The Predator ups the ante by revealing that different Predators genetically augment themselves with the spinal fluid of their kills. This finally explains why the creatures rip out spines, yet save only the skulls as trophies. In the Stargazer lab, we see not only a helmet and shoulder cannon resembling those of the 1987 Predator, but also a collapsible spear first seen in Predator 2, and a spear tipped with a Xenomorph tail, as given to Weyland’s guide (and sole Alien Vs. Predator survivor) Lex Woods (Sanaa Lathan) in 2004.
Two confirmed Predators and their doglike pets come to Earth in 2018. The first, a renegade who wants to preserve humanity, is killed by a much larger pursuer, part of a faction that wants to gather up the most desirable humans for augmentation before climate change destroys Earth completely. The renegade leaves behind a gift of fully equipped Yautja battle armor made to fit a human, giving them a fighting chance against the new larger breed.
And while the characters in this story refer to motorcycles as choppers, they once again save lives by ordering people to get to them.
Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who may or may not be a descendant of Charles Bishop Weyland, tasks his android named David (Michael Fassbender) to supervise a deep space mission to the planet where human life may have originated. Seeking immortality, he instead finds very hostile creators, known as Engineers. Using Engineer technology and unfortunate human hosts, David uses the ensuing chaos to devise and create a breed of proto-Xenomorphs. Whether or not he created the breed of biomechanical creatures as seen in Alien remains unknown, but murals of Xenomorph-like creatures as seen on the Engineer spacecraft in Prometheus suggest that some form of the Alien species has been around long before David started meddling with their technology.
The status of a sequel to Alien: Covenant currently remains in limbo, but if David did indeed go on to create the perfect organism as we know it, this would seem to overrule Predator 2, The Predator, and both AVP movies. Unless Yautja can, indeed, travel through time.