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They Live (1988)

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A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.

Director:

John Carpenter

Writers:

Ray Nelson (short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning"), John Carpenter (screenplay) (as Frank Armitage)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Roddy Piper ... Nada
Keith David ... Frank
Meg Foster ... Holly
George 'Buck' Flower ... Drifter
Peter Jason ... Gilbert
Raymond St. Jacques ... Street Preacher
Jason Robards III ... Family Man
John Lawrence John Lawrence ... Bearded Man
Susan Barnes Susan Barnes ... Brown Haired Woman
Sy Richardson ... Black Revolutionary
Wendy Brainard Wendy Brainard ... Family Man's Daughter
Lucille Meredith ... Female Interviewer
Susan Blanchard ... Ingenue
Norman Alden ... Foreman
Dana Bratton Dana Bratton ... Black Junkie
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Storyline

Nada, a down-on-his-luck construction worker, discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is: people being bombarded by media and government with messages like "Stay Asleep", "No Imagination", "Submit to Authority". Even scarier is that he is able to see that some usually normal-looking people are in fact ugly aliens in charge of the massive campaign to keep humans subdued. Written by Melissa Portell <mportell@s-cwis.unomaha.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

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. See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 November 1988 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

They Live See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,827,000, 6 November 1988, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$13,008,928
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo (4 channels)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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. See more »

Goofs

The shotgun that Roddy Piper's character uses can only hold 5 to 6 rounds (including one in the chamber) due to the length of the magazine tube. Yet it is fired 9 times without a reload. See more »

Quotes

Nada: I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The screenplay writer for "They Live" which is credited to "Frank Armitage", does not exist. John Carpenter used many pseudonyms when giving credit to his works in films. With his vast amount of work that he did himself, (directing, producing, writing and composing the musical scores), he did not want to appear to be braggadocios and vain by having his name appear over and over in the credits of his movies. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Honest Game Trailers: The Sims (2015) See more »

Soundtracks

Return to Church
(uncredited)
Written by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
Performed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Clever and fun, with plenty of Carpenter weirdness
14 February 2005 | by mstomasoSee all my reviews

WARNING: The author of this review loves challenging films.

They Live is based on a pulp sci-fi story about aliens who live among us and manipulate us through subliminal advertising, other mind control techniques, and sometimes, guns and bulldozers. Like most Carpenter films, its artistic, fun, intelligent and does not take itself too seriously.

As usual, Carpenter's casting is brilliant. Roddy Piper plays the good-hearted but not very bright construction worker who is both the hero and protagonist of the film. Keith David, whose character is just a little bit brighter, is his unwilling sidekick. Piper's character sees some strange goings-on in a local church, hears some weird paranoid ramblings from a street preacher, and becomes especially curious when the church is raided by 30-40 police officers and the vagrant camp where he lives is bulldozed one night. Soon after, he finds a pair of sunglasses in the now abandoned church, that literally changes his view of the world around him. The fight scene between David and Piper, while straight out of TV wrestling, is one of the most jarring and bizarre scenes in the movie - it goes on for a very long time - which nicely and subtly points out its significance in moving the plot forward. When Piper finally gets the sunglasses on David's face, he is vindicated and the last shred of doubt about his sanity disappears. From that point forward, they are both committed to saving the world from the alien menace. Further description of the plot would approach a spoiler so I won't go any further.

Both of the main characters succeed in dominating the screen, to the point that it is hard to even notice the contributions of the rest of the cast. Both actors are surprisingly good, though understandably typecast (these are, after all, two very big guys) but - who the hell is Keith David? look him up here on IMDb.com and I'm sure you'll be as surprised at I was. He's quite an accomplished character actor.

Raymond St Jacques, for all of his five or so minutes of screen time, makes a lasting impression, and Meg Foster is perfect for her ambiguity. Overall, the character development in this film is quite excellent despite the difficulty of pulling it off in a decidedly B sci-fi genre.

From an artistic and technical point of view, the film must be judged against Carpenter's other works. Carpenter has practically created his own film genre, and each of his films bears his mark very clearly. Carpenter's camera work is remarkable for its unremarkableness. He chooses not to use gimmicks and allows his cameras to tell the story without embellishing it. Like his version of The Thing, this technique fits very well in this film, as it helps the viewer suspend disbelief in what would otherwise seem as ludicrous as an episode of the X-Files.

Carpenter often makes his own soundtracks. Of these, the soundtrack for this film is very good, but terribly repetitive and, after a while, a bit grating. Nevertheless, its goofy redundancy helps to lend a comic edge to the film.

Is there a point?

I would argue that there is. Carpenter is always more interested in fun than poignancy, but he doesn't shy away from recognizing the value of the material he brings to the screen. Of all of his films, They Live is one of the most overtly political - as it carries some very clever messages about capitalism, conformity, poverty and the horror that everyday life can be for some people. This is all done, however, with a good sense of humor and an almost teenage sense of rebelliousness, all very typically Carpenter.

A great film for B-movie fans, intelligent sci-fi fans and those who enjoy film as an art form.


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