The Thing (also known as John Carpenter's The Thing) is a 1982 science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, written by Bill Lancaster, and starring Kurt Russell. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. It infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group.
Ostensibly a remake of the classic 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's film is a more faithful adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired the 1951 film. Carpenter considers The Thing to be the first part of his Apocalypse Trilogy, followed by Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. Although the films are unrelated, each feature a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should "The Thing" ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it consumes humanity and takes over the Earth.
The theatrical box office performance of the film was poor. This has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released at the same time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation, and another popular science fiction film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, being released on the same day. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. It was subsequently 'novelized' in 1982, adapted into a comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics, and was followed by a video game sequel in 2002, a film prequel released in 2011 and a spin-off released in 2015.
In Winter 1982, an American Antarctic research station is alerted by gunfire and explosions. Pursued by a Norwegian helicopter, an Alaskan Malamute makes its way into the camp as the science station's crew looks on in confusion. Through reckless use of a thermite charge, the helicopter is destroyed and its pilot killed in the resulting explosion. The surviving passenger fires at the dog with a rifle, accidentally grazing George Bennings (Peter Maloney), one of the researchers, in the process. As Lars pursues the dog, he is shot and killed by a bewildered Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander. Not knowing what to make of the incident, the station crew adopts the dog.
Unable to contact the outside world via hand radio, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) risk a flight to the Norwegian camp only to find it destroyed, most of its personnel missing, and a corpse in the radio room with its throat and wrists slashed. Finding evidence that the Norwegians had dug something out of the ice, the pair return to the station with the partially-burned remains of a a humanoid corpse with two faces. An autopsy of the cadaver by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) is inconclusive, save to find that the creature had what appeared to be a normal set of human internal organs.
At Bennings' request, the station's dog-handler, Clark (Richard Masur) kennels the stray with the rest of the station's sled dogs. The dog itself soon transforms into a huge hideous creature and begins to attack the other dogs. The loud barking from the dogs cause Clark to return, finding almost the entire sled team in the process of being assimilated by the creature. MacReady overhears the commotion and pulls a fire alarm, and everyone gathers to the kennel. After MacReady and Garry shoot the creature to no avail, Childs (Keith David) arrives and incinerates it with a flamethrower.
A subsequent autopsy by Blair reveals that the stray dog was an alien capable of absorbing and perfectly imitating other life-forms. Realizing the implications of this, Blair quickly becomes withdrawn and suspicious of the others. A second helicopter expedition discovers an alien spacecraft unearthed by the Norwegian research team, revealing that the creature had awakened after being buried within the ice for thousands of years.
Bennings and Windows (Thomas G. Waites) quarantine the remains of the dog-creature and the Norwegian cadaver in the storage room, while Fuchs (Joel Polis) confers with MacReady in a Snowcat that Blair is becoming unstable and his research indicates the burned creatures are still alive. Moments after Windows left, strands of tentacle-like sinew emerged from the remains of the dog creature and the Norwegian, and proceed to assimilate Bennings. Windows returns to find the creature assimilating Bennings, and alerts MacReady, who activates the fire alarm; the team corners the alien in mid-transformation outside and burn it with fuel. Afterwards, Blair calculates that the creature will assimilate the entire planet within three years upon reaching civilization and suffers a mental breakdown: to prevent the alien from escaping, he disables the helicopters and tractors, kills the remaining dogs, and proceeds to wreck the radio room until the team overpowers him and lock him in the tool shed.
Now isolated, the crew realizes that they might be contaminated and speculate on how to determine who is human. Windows finds that the medical blood supply has been destroyed, eliminating the chance of blood tests that could reveal the infected party; because the perpetrator used Garry's keys to access the blood, the team nearly dissolves into rampant paranoia as to who is guilty. MacReady puts Garry, Copper, and Clark into isolation, and orders Fuchs to continue Blair's work before an encroaching Arctic storm forces them inside tight quarters.
Fuchs, attempting to continue Blair's research, goes missing shortly after a power failure. Fuchs' body is found severely burned, MacReady speculates that Fuchs used a flare to burn himself before the Thing could reach him. MacReady comes under suspicion when a scrap of torn shirt containing his name tag is found at the camp, and he is locked outside in a severe blizzard. Somehow finding his way back to camp without a guide line, MacReady breaks into a storage room and threatens the rest of the crew with dynamite. In the course of the standoff, Norris (Charles Hallahan) appears to a heart attack after he and Cooper unsuccessfully attack MacReady from behind. When Copper attempts to revive him by defibrillation, Norris' body transforms and bites off Copper's forearms, killing him. MacReady then advances towards the Norris-Thing and torches its body, causing its head to sever itself in an attempt to escape, leading MacReady to theorize that every piece of the alien is an individual animal with its own survival instinct. He then burns the head with his flamethrower after Palmer (David Clennon), the backup pilot, spots it attempting to flee.
In an altercation preceding a test proposed by MacReady, Clark, in an act of mutiny, attempts to stab MacReady with a scalpel, only to end up being shot in the head and killed by MacReady in self-defense. The rest of the crew complies with the test; blood samples are drawn from each member of the team, including Clark and Copper's corpses, and jabbed with a hot wire to see whose blood will react defensively. First, Windows, MacReady, Copper and Clark are proved Human. Upon discovering that Clark was uninfected, Childs denounces MacReady as a murderer, but MacReady ignores him. When Palmer is tested, blood flees from the hot wire, revealing that he is an imitation. Exposed, Palmer then transforms and begins mauling Windows. MacReady attempts to burn Palmer, but his flamethrower jams and fails to ignite. After it finishes mauling Windows, MacReady finally gets the flamethrower working and burns the Palmer-Thing , then finishes it off with a stick of dynamite, before burning the infected Windows.
Confirming that MacReady, Childs, Garry, and Nauls (T.K. Carter) are still human, the surviving crew set out to the tool shed in order to administer the test to Blair while Childs keeps watch, only to discover that he has escaped by tunneling his way underground. They follow the path and discover that not only has Blair been assimilated, but he has also been constructing a small flying vehicle of alien design underneath the tool shed to reach and infect the mainland. They return to the surface to witness Childs inexplicably abandoning his post at the main gate, followed by the facility losing power. Realizing that the creature now wants to freeze again so a future rescue team will find it, the remaining crew acknowledge that they will not survive and set about destroying the facility in hopes of killing the creature.
While setting explosives in the underground generator room, Garry is killed by the infected Blair. Nauls follows the sounds of the creature and is never seen again. The only indication of Nauls' fate is sealed by a lone noise MacReady hears from the other underground chamber. Alone, MacReady prepares to detonate the charges when the creature, larger than ever, emerges from below the floor and destroys the detonator. MacReady attacks it with a stick of dynamite, setting off the rest of the charges and destroying Blair and the entire facility.
MacReady wanders the burning ruins to face his fate with a bottle of Scotch and encounters a returning Childs. Childs claims that he thought he saw Blair in the storm, so he went on after him and got lost, but MacReady is unconvinced. With the polar climate closing in around them and without any method to determine whether or not either of them is really human, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust, sharing a drink as the camp burns and the cold returns, awaiting their inevitable deaths.
- Kurt Russell - R.J. MacReady
- Keith David - Childs
- A. Wilford Brimley - Blair
- Thomas G. Waites - Windows
- Richard Masur - Clark
- T.K. Carter - Nauls
- Richard Dysart - Copper
- Charles Hallahan - Norris
- Donald Moffat - Garry
- David Clennon - Palmer
- Peter Maloney - George Bennings
- Joel Polis - Fuchs
- Norbert Weisser - Dead Norwegian/ Matias
- Larry Franco - Norwegian with rifle/Lars
- Adrienne Barbeau - (Voice of computer chess game, uncredited)
- John Carpenter - (Norwegian video footage)
- Nate Irwin
- William Zeman
- Anthony Cecere
- Kent Hays
- Larry Holt
- Melvin Jones
- Eric Mansker
- Denver Mattson
- Clint Rowe
- Ken Strain
- Rock A. Walker
- Jerry Wills
- Jed - Alaskan Malamute/Kennel-Thing
The screenplay was written in 1981 by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt Lancaster. The film’s musical score was composed by Ennio Morricone, a rare instance of Carpenter not scoring one of his own films. The film was shot near the small town of Stewart in northern British Columbia. The research station in the film was built by the film crew during summer, and the film shot in sub-freezing winter conditions. The only female presence in the film is the voice of a chess computer, voiced by Carpenter regular (and then-wife) Adrienne Barbeau, as well as the female contestants viewed on a videotaped episode of Let's Make a Deal.
The film took three months to shoot on six sound stages in Los Angeles, with many of the crew and actors working in cold conditions. The final weeks of shooting took place in northern British Columbia, near the Yukon Territory, where snow was guaranteed to fall. John Carpenter filmed the Norwegian camp scenes at the end of production. The Norwegian camp was simply the remains of the American outpost after it was destroyed by an explosion.
The Thing is notable in Carpenter’s career; it was his first foray into major studio film-making. The Thing was the fourth film shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (following Carpenter's Halloween, The Fog and Escape from New York) and the third to feature Kurt Russell as the lead actor. Russell would appear in two additional Carpenter films following The Thing: Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.. Most of the horrifying special effects were designed and created by Rob Bottin and his crew, with the exception of the dog creature, which was assisted by Stan Winston, who is thanked during the credits.
In the documentary Terror Takes Shape on the DVD, film editor Todd C. Ramsay states that he made the suggestion to Carpenter to film a "happy" ending for the movie, purely for protective reasons, while they had Russell available. Carpenter agreed and shot a scene in which MacReady has been rescued and administered a blood test, proving that he is still human. Ramsay follows this by saying that The Thing had two test screenings, but Carpenter did not use the sequence in either of them, as the director felt that the film worked better with its eventual nihilistic conclusion. The alternate ending with MacReady definitively proven to be human has yet to be released.
The Thing fared poorly at the box office. It was released in the United States on June 25, 1982 in 840 theaters and was issued an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (limiting attendees to 17 and older without a guardian). The film cost $15,000,000 to produce, and debuted at #8 at the box office, with an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million. It went on to make $13,782,838 domestically. Carpenter and other writers have speculated that the film's poor performance was due to the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial two weeks earlier, with its more optimistic scenario of alien visitation (which received a "PG" rating from the MPAA). The Thing also opened on the same day as Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner, which debuted at #2.
- "I take every failure hard. The one I took the hardest was The Thing. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit...The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane. Even the original movie’s director, Christian Nyby, was dissing me."
- —John Carpenter on the reception of The Thing
The film's ground-breaking make up special effects were simultaneously lauded and lambasted for being technically brilliant but visually repulsive. Film critic Roger Ebert called the special effects "among the most elaborate, nauseating, and horrifying sights yet achieved by Hollywood’s new generation of visual magicians", and called the film itself "a great barf-bag movie" He criticized the lack of clarity in the plot and added that there was nothing wrong with the film's gross-out ambitions (noting that he both liked being scared and WAS scared by many scenes) ultimately giving the film 2 and a 1/2 stars. In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80's". Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "Designer Rob Bottin's work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art".
In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "a wretched excess". Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, called the film "a hell of an antidote to E.T.". In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it. There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama. The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep".
The Thing received nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects.
Despite mixed contemporary reviews, the film maintains a 80% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was listed as one of the best of 1982 by Filmsite.org and Film.com. The film ranked #97 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies), and a scene from The Thing was listed as #48 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 17th scariest film ever made. The Thing was named "the scariest movie ... ever!" by the staff of the Boston Globe. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
Prequel, Sequel and Spin-Off
In 2004, John Carpenter said in an Empire magazine interview that he has a story idea for The Thing II, which centers around the two surviving characters, MacReady and Childs. However, Carpenter felt that due to the higher price associated with his fee, Universal Studios will not pursue his storyline. Carpenter indicated that he would be able to secure both Kurt Russell and Keith David for the sequel. In his story, Carpenter would explain the age difference of the actors between the two installments by having frostbite on their face due to the elements until rescued. The assumption of the sequel would rely on a radio signal being successfully transmitted by Windows before Blair destroyed the communications room. Thus, after the explosion of the base camp, the rescue team would arrive and find MacReady and Childs still alive. Carpenter has not disclosed any other details.
The Sci-Fi Channel planned to do a four-hour mini-series sequel to the film in 2005, titled Return of the Thing. Carpenter stated that he believed the project should proceed, but the Sci-Fi Channel later removed all mention of the project from their homepage. In February 2009, a positive review of the abandoned screenplay for the Sci-Fi miniseries was published on Corona's Coming Attractions.
In September 2006, it was announced in Fangoria magazine that Strike Entertainment, the production company behind Slither and the Dawn of the Dead remake, is looking for a writer or writers to write a theatrical prequel to The Thing.
A prequel, also titled The Thing, focusing on the Norwegian crew that first discovered the alien, was due to be filmed in 2010 and released in 2011. It was shot in Toronto.
A spin-off, also titled Harbinger Down was released in 2015.
In 2007, the Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the film property was designed as a haunted attraction called The Thing - Assimilation. Guests walked through Outpost 3113, a military facility where the remains of Outpost 31 were brought for scientific research. Scenes and props from the film were recreated for the attraction, including the bodies of MacReady and Childs. In 2009, the event's icon house, Silver Screams, contained a room based on the film.
Books & Comics
A novelization of the film based on the second draft of the screenplay was published in 1982 by Alan Dean Foster. Although the novel is generally true to the film, there are minor differences: the Windows character is named Sanders, and an episode in which MacReady, Bennings and Childs chase after several infected dogs which escape into the Antarctic tundra was added (this sequence was featured in Lancaster's second draft of the screenplay). The disappearance of Nauls is also explained in the novel; pursued by Blair-Thing into a dead end, he kills himself rather than allow it to assimilate him.
Dark Horse Comics published four comic miniseries sequels to the film (The Thing from Another World, The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing From Another World: Eternal Vows, The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research), featuring the character of MacReady as the lone human survivor of Outpost #31 and depicting Childs as infected (The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear Issue 3 of 4). Questionable Research explores a parallel reality where MacReady is not around to stop the Thing and a suspicious scientist must prevent its spread, after it has wreaked destruction on Outpost 31. The comic series was titled The Thing from Another World after the original 1951 Howard Hawks film in order to avoid confusion and possible legal conflict with Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four member, the Thing.
In 2002, The Thing was released as a survival horror third-person shooter for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, acting as a sequel to the film. The video game differs from the comics in that Childs is dead of exposure in the video game, and the audiotapes are present (they were removed from Outpost 31 at the start of The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research). At the completion of the game, R.J. MacReady is found alive and helping the main character complete the last mission. The game used elements of paranoia and mistrust intrinsic to the film. Some retailers, such as GameStop, offered a free copy of the 1998 DVD release as an incentive for reserving the game.
- On 25 June 2012 passes 30 years since "The Thing" has debuted on the screens of theaters for the first time (alongside with Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner").
- 25.06.2013 - 31st anniversary of "The Thing". Same number as the Outpost.
- The original tagline for the film, "Man is The Warmest Place to Hide", was written by Stephen Frankfort, who wrote the Alien 1979 tagline, "In space no one can hear you scream."
- The tagline was later changed by Universal Studios, to "The ultimate in alien terror", trying to capitalize on Alien's audience.
- Carpenter attempted to make a last-minute change of the film's title to Who Goes There?, to no avail.