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They Live (1988) Poster

(1988)

Trivia

John Carpenter wanted a truly rugged individual to play Nada. He cast wrestler Roddy Piper in the lead role after seeing him in WrestleMania III (1987). Carpenter remembered Keith David's performance in The Thing (1982) and wrote the role of Frank specifically for the actor.
Jump to: Director Cameo (1) | Spoilers (1)
The line "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum" was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper. According to director John Carpenter, Piper had taken the line from a list of ideas he had for his pro wrestling interviews.
The big fight sequence was designed, rehearsed and choreographed in the back-yard of director John Carpenter's production office. The fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) was only supposed to last twenty seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the five minutes and twenty seconds scene intact.
Roddy Piper, being a married man at the time of filming, refused to take his wedding band off. That's why in several scenes you can see a wedding ring on.
Roddy Piper's character never gives his name nor is he referred to by name throughout the entire movie. He is simply referred to as "Nada" in the credits, which means "nothing" in Spanish. The name is most likely a reference to George Nada, the main character of Ray Nelson's short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning," which was the basis for 'They Live'.
According to a title-card in the made-for-DVD short documentary He Lives: Interview with John Carpenter (2013), "They Live opened at the #1 at the US box office. And disappeared from theaters soon afterwards".
The film was made and released about twenty-five years after its source short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson had been first published in 1963. According to John Carpenter, this movie was also based on an Eclipse Comics comic-book adaptation of this story.
For years after the film's release - and even on the movie's DVD commentary - Roddy Piper maintained that the film was based on an actual incident in the 1950s in which a company manufactured a TV that planted subliminal messages in women's brains instructing them to make extravagant purchases. Piper was unaware that the "documentary" he had seen, L'affaire Bronswik (1978), was in fact a comedy short.
Many movie posters for the film featured a long blurb that read: "You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they're people just like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong.".
The aliens superficially resemble walking, rotting corpses. John Carpenter didn't want the aliens to look like the "high-tech" creatures of other science fiction films. He decided that since these beings were corrupting humanity, they themselves should resemble corruptions of human beings.
The only character given a first and last name is Holly Thompson (Meg Foster).
Director John Carpenter had "final cut" on the film according to He Lives: Interview with John Carpenter (2013).
All the various aliens throughout the movie, both male and female, were portrayed by stunt coordinator Jeff Imada.
After Prince of Darkness (1987), this was the second and final film that John Carpenter made for Alive Films.
Graffiti artist Shepard Fairey got his "obey" name from this film.
John Carpenter was impressed with Keith David's performance in The Thing (1982) and needed someone "who wouldn't be a traditional sidekick, but could hold his own." To this end, Carpenter wrote the role of Frank specifically for David.
One of the alien TV broadcasts refers to the director by name. An alien commentator is complaining about sex and violence in the media, and his dialog breaks off with the words, "Film-makers like George A. Romero and John Carpenter have to show some restraint. They're simply--."
The role of Nada was originally written for Kurt Russell. John Carpenter felt he should cast somebody else after casting Russell in three of his films prior to this one (Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986)).
The communicators used by the guards near the end is also the PKE meter used in Ghostbusters (1984).
Roddy Piper was reported to have complained to producers when a pair of sunglasses he stole failed to reveal any aliens with the exception of those on set.
Writer-director John Carpenter has said of this movie that it was a critique of Reaganomics, a "vehicle to take on Reaganism". However, over the years, several neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups co-opted the movie for their own purpose, spreading rumors that it is really an allegory for Jews controlling the world. This forced Carpenter to respond on Twitter in 2017 by stating "They Live is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world".
After finishing the film, John Carpenter was going to direct an action horror film Shadow Company sometime around 1989. Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker, movie was to be produced by Walter Hill (who also co-wrote some of the script) with Kurt Russell in the main role. The script was about group of US Special Forces soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. Years later, after their bodies are brought back, the soldiers, who were members of an Army project involving dark experiments, rise up from their graves, raid the armory from nearby Army base, and attack the town in which they were buried, killing everyone in it and wiping it off the ground during Christmas night. Due to some problems in pre-production, the movie was never made, although original script has gained cult following from fans of Carpenter, Black and Dekker.
Actress Meg Foster was cast after director John Carpenter had seen her performance in the Canadian film Ticket to Heaven (1981).
At the beginning of the movie, when Nada is walking the streets and pauses by a storefront filled with TVs, one TV image shown is of Mount Rushmore. The shadows on the Presidents' eyes are particularly dark and Abraham Lincoln appears to be wearing a pair of the sunglasses. This foreshadows Nada taking on the role of 'The Great Emancipator'.
One of two major Hollywood studio science-fiction films released in the year of 1988 that featured alien characters assimilated into modern day society on the planet Earth. The films are Alien Nation (1988) and John Carpenter's They Live (1988).
On an episode of Monstervision (1993) in 1997, Roddy Piper mentioned that John Carpenter had wanted him to discuss the film's political subtext (which was critical of Reaganomics) while doing promotions for the film. However, due to being in the United States on a green card, Piper felt it wasn't his place to discuss American politics. He also noted that he had rather liked President Reagan and thus didn't really agree with the film's politics, so he would shy away from talking about them while promoting the film.
The film is partially shot in black-and-white which involved only the scenes and sequences where the aliens were visible to the audience when characters are wearing the sunglasses for most of the film. But this visual aesthetic ceases towards the end of the picture whereupon the aliens become visible in color for the film's final act.
After The Thing (1982), this is Keith David and John Carpenter's second and final film together.
The film became the subject of so many neo-Nazi postings which claimed that the film's aliens were actually meant to be Jews who were subverting white society and taking over the world, that John Carpenter made a lengthy, angry, and public statement in early 2017 stating that this theory was bigoted garbage with no truth and no connection to his ideas for the film.
The fight scene between Keith David and Roddy Piper was used as a direct reference for the scene in South Park: Cripple Fight (2001) where the handicapped children Jimmy and Timmy settle their differences.
SQ1's video for "Can You Feel" references the scene of revelation in "They Live".
Originally scheduled for an October 21, 1988 release date, the film was moved to November 4, not only in order to avoid competition with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) but to capitalize on the November 8 presidential election, in tandem with the film's social commentary.
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Another project in which John Carpenter was involved in around 1988 and 1989, after he finished They Live, was action thriller titled Pincushion. Script for the film was written by screenwriter John Raffo and later version of the script was co-written by Jeb Stuart, who wrote the screenplay for Die Hard (1988) a year before, and Carpenter also worked on the script. The script was described as "female version of The Road Warrior (1981)". The plot of the script took place in post apocalyptic America suffering a plague after a biological disaster, and it was about female mercenary whose job is to take a child cross-country to an emergency medical research center but she only has few days to deliver him, which makes her job race against the time. The boy - the title "pincushion"- had his blood medically altered at birth to develop into a vaccine against the plague. In the course of protecting the boy, female mercenary battles the minions of a corrupt military leader who wants custody of the boy for financial and political gain, and all the other enemies that she encounters along the way.

Carpenter was going to make the film for Columbia Pictures and he wanted Jamie Lee Curtis to play the main role, but Columbia producers wanted to cast singer Cher because of the contract they had with her, and once Cher was hired she and producers fired Carpenter and had the script re-written by other writers, only for entire project to end up being cancelled. Carpenter said in later interviews how Pincushion and another unproduced script, action zombie horror Shadow Company, are two films which he regrets he never got to make. Over the following years Pincushion script was being sold and bought by many movie studios who kept trying to get the movie made by having script re-written many times by other writers, directors such as John Woo and Rob Cohen were considered to direct the film, and actresses like Sharon Stone, Demi Moore and Madonna were considered to play the main heroine. The film however was never made, but even today the original script is considered by many people in movie industry to be one of the best unproduced movie scripts ever written.
Shepard Fairey credits the film as a major source of inspiration, sharing a similar logo to his "OBEY" campaign. "They Live was...the basis for my use of the word 'obey'," Fairey said. "The movie has a very strong message about the power of commercialism and the way that people are manipulated by advertising."
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Tommy Morrison's first movie
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Often cited by British author David Icke as John Carpenter's best film.
The final of three movies with George 'Buck' Flower about alien visitation. The first was Starman (1984) (who played the cook who gave the alien a ride). The second was Mac and Me (1988).
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Director Cameo 

John Carpenter: Uncredited, as the voice that says "sleep".

Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

When Frank (Keith David) angrily asks Nada (Roddy Piper) how many people he had killed, Nada replies that they weren't people. The only human character killed by Nada is Holly Thompson (Meg Foster).

See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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