The Thing (also known as John Carpenter’s The Thing) is a 1982 American 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. The Thing infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it absorbs, and paranoia develops within the group.
The film is based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella Who Goes There?, which was more loosely adapted by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby as 1951’s The Thing from Another World. 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 narratively unrelated, each features a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should “The Thing” ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it consumes humanity.
On June 25, 1982, The Thing opened #8 in 840 theaters and remained in the top ten box office for three weeks. The lower-than-expected performance has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was also released by Universal Studios at the same time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation.However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. The film subsequently spawned a novelization in 1982; a comic book miniseries adaptation, entitled The Thing From Another World and published by Dark Horse Comics, in 1991; a video game sequel, also titled The Thing, in 2002; and a prequel film with the same title on October 14, 2011.
A Norwegian helicopter pursues an Alaskan malamute to an American Antarctic research station. As the Americans run out, the helicopter lands. One Norwegian accidentally drops a thermite charge, destroying the helicopter and pilot. A rifleman pursues the dog, firing, until he is killed by Garry, the station commander. The team decides to send helicopter pilot MacReady and Doctor Copper to the Norwegian camp for answers, but find only a charred ruin, with the body of a man who committed suicide and a large block of ice with a hollowed cavity. Outside they discover the burned remains of a humanoid corpse with two faces. MacReady and Copper return with the humanoid corpse, where their biologist, Blair, performs an autopsy, finding a normal set of human internal organs.
Clark kennels the Malamute with the station’s sled dogs where it begins to metamorphose and attacks them. MacReady pulls the fire alarm when he hears the commotion, and calls for a flamethrower. Childs incinerates the creature, and Blair does another autopsy, which leads him to believe the creature is capable of perfectly imitating other life forms. The Norwegians’ records lead the team to a crater containing a flying saucer and a hole left by the block of ice they suspect the creature came from. The station’s geologist, Norris, hypothesizes that the crater is likely over 100,000 years old. Blair becomes suspicious of the others and withdraws, calculating that if the alien escapes to a civilized area, all life on Earth will be assimilated in a few years. Fuchs secretly tells MacReady that he is worried about Blair, and that according to Blair’s journal, the creature’s “dead” remains are still active on a cellular level. They warn everyone not to share food or drink, and to avoid being alone with the creature, which has been brought into a storeroom.
Bennings is assimilated by the creature but he is caught outside by the team before his metamorphosis is complete, and MacReady burns him before he can escape. They realize Blair is conspicuously absent, just before MacReady sees him running inside. They discover he has wrecked all the transports and killed the remaining sled dogs. The team corners him as he is destroying the radio, and then locks him in the tool shed. Determined to learn who is infected, they discover the blood stores have been sabotaged before they can perform a blood-serum test Copper recommends, and the paranoid men begin to turn on each other.
MacReady takes charge and orders Fuchs to continue Blair’s work, but Fuchs disappears when the power goes out. As a storm closes in, MacReady, Windows, and Nauls continue the search for Fuchs outside where they eventually find his burned body. Windows goes back to tell the others, and MacReady takes Nauls to check out his shack, where the lights have mysteriously come on. On the way back, Nauls cuts MacReady loose from the tow line, assuming he has been assimilated when he finds a torn shirt with MacReady’s name on it. As the team debates MacReady’s fate, he breaks in and threatens to destroy the station with a bundle of dynamite if they attack him, causing Norris to suffer an apparent heart attack.
When Copper attempts to revive Norris by defibrillation, his chest gapes open and closes like a giant mouth full of teeth, biting off Copper’s arms and killing him. MacReady incinerates the creature and orders Windows to tie up everyone for a new test, killing Clark when he tries to resist. MacReady explains his theory that every piece of the alien is an individual organism with its own survival instinct that will react defensively when threatened. One by one he tests everyone’s blood with a heated piece of copper wire. They are all still human except Palmer, whose blood flees from the copper wire; when he is exposed, he begins to metamorphose and attacks Windows, forcing MacReady to burn them both.
Leaving Childs on guard, the others head out to test Blair, only to find that he has tunneled under the tool shed. They realize that Blair is now the Thing and has been scavenging the equipment he appeared to destroy in order to build a small escape craft. Discovering both Childs and the station’s power generator missing, MacReady speculates that the Thing now intends to freeze itself until a rescue team arrives in the spring. They decide to dynamite the complex hoping to destroy the Thing, but Garry is killed while Nauls disappears. Blair transforms into a much larger monster and attacks, destroying the detonator, but MacReady triggers the blast with a stick of dynamite and the base explodes.
Stumbling through the burning ruins, MacReady finds Childs, who claims he got lost in the storm while pursuing Blair. Exhausted and with virtually no hope of survival, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust, sharing a bottle of scotch as the camp burns.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film: