423 user 216 critic

They Live (1988)

4:54 | Clip
They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. They live.


John Carpenter


Ray Nelson (short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning"), John Carpenter (screenplay) (as Frank Armitage)
1,575 ( 196)
3 nominations. See more awards »





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


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


Obey or else - alien invasion of the subliminal kind... See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Unsurprisingly, both men have a problem with authority. "I have this adolescent hatred of authority," says Carpenter. "I've never gotten over it since I was a kid." Piper adds "Ask me for my shirt off my back I'll give it to you, tell me? Not a chance." See more »


At the beginning of the alley fight, Nada sets down a cardboard box; Frank sets down a backpack. Towards the middle of the fight, as Frank tries to walk away, both items disappear. See more »


Frank: [21:43] I have a job, now. And I plan on keeping it. I'm walking a white line all the time. I don't bother nobody, nobody bothers me. You better start doing the same.
Nada: White line's in the middle of the road. That's the worst place to drive.
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 »


Down by the Riverside
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User Reviews

Corny, but engaging and still relevant minor sci-fi classic
24 March 2020 | by a_chinnSee all my reviews

This is another film I'm giving more stars to than it probably deserves because of a childhood fondness for it. For whatever reason, this film made an impression on me and always stuck in my memory. Despite the limited acting ability of professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper in the lead, the idea of aliens secretly taking over and subliminally lulling the populace into complacency (through TV, media, consumerism, and other distractions), the story remains interesting and relevant today (i.e. more screens, more apps, more distractions). A prescient film if there ever was one. Writer/director John Carpenter made this film in the 1980s Regan Era, but in the age of the 1%, the decline of the middle class, and police shootings, this film surprised me how relevant it is today and even more so than when it came out. Roddy Piper plays an out of work construction worker who discovers an alien race has secretly taken over the government, media, and the business world and have perpetrated a subliminal campaign to keep the masses asleep and in their place. When Piper discover specially designed sunglasses that allow him to see his world plastered with subliminal messages telling the masses to "SLEEP" "OBEY" "CONSUME" "WATCH TV" "DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY" "MARRY AND REPRODUCE" or "THIS IS YOUR GOD" printed on money. In this film, billboards and television are the main modes of conveying this message, but imagine how much easier it is to placate the masses in the internet age with smart phones, tables and laptops in the hands of most every citizen. Thematically, this film is Carpenter's most overtly political film. In terms of storytelling and tone, Carpenter has always had something of a throwback style and this film, although thematically serious and fairly grim at times, actually reminded me of the corny sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. However, it works. One the spectrum of corny sci-fi, this is not goofy sci-fi for kids, like "Invaders from Mars," but I would liken it to scrappy politically subversive science fiction films like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" That film took on McCarthyism and Carptener's film is taking on the 1%. There are a number of Carpenter regulars in the film including Keith David, George "Buck" Flower, Peter Jason, and Al Leogn in an uncredited bit part. You also get Meg Foster and Sy Richardson so it's a solid cast. Overall, "They Live" is smart social commentary, even if it's told with a lot of hokum (and I'm not even going to get into epic fist fight between Piper and Keith David, which alone make the film worth watching).

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Official Sites:

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Release Date:

4 November 1988 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

They Live See more »


Box Office


$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,827,903, 6 November 1988

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo (4 channels)| Dolby Surround 7.1 | Dolby Atmos

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

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