In this post I am taking a look at They Live (1988) – one of the most underrated sci-fi/horror films of the 1980s. In my opinion, They Live is a fantastic movie which deserves to be studied and discussed at great length, and introduced to new audiences at every opportunity.
For those who are new to They Live, the film is a politically charged B-movie from director John Carpenter. They Live tells the story of a drifter – played by former wrestler Roddy Piper – who uncovers an alien plot to keep the human race subdued through mass consumerism.
Sounds pretty damn good, right? Yep, it’s awesome and in this post I want to share a little more information with you, so that you get a better understanding of the film.
Below are nine facts about They Live. Each fact will give you an insight into the movie, filling in a few details you might not be aware of.
They Live is based on the short story, ‘Eight O’clock in the Morning’. The story was written by Ray Nelson and originally published in 1963 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
They Live takes its inspiration from the sci-fi movies of the 1950s – specifically Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – as well as the social and economic divisions that arose during the Reagan administration (1981 – 1989), i.e. poverty, the class divide, consumption etc.
They Live was shot on a budget of around $3 million. The movie was filmed in just eight weeks, with the majority of the shoot taking place in downtown LA.
The man with no name
Roddy Piper’s character in They Live is never named on screen; instead, he is a simply viewed as a nameless drifter. During the closing credits, the character is identified as Nada (i.e. nothing), to suggest his name is not important.
The aliens that appear in They Live (the ones with the terrifying skull-like faces) were designed by Sandy King, an associate producer on the film. King is now the wife of director John Carpenter.
The biggest expense on They Live was the supermarket scene – a key moment in the movie where Nada sees aliens masquerading as humans. This scene proved to be the most expensive to film as the crew had to construct a faux supermarket for the shoot, after a real supermarket proved ineffective.
I see your true colours
In the movie, Nada is able to see the aliens by donning a pair of sunglasses. When looking through the glasses, the aliens appear in black and white – a stark contrast to the colour that is seen in the rest of the movie.
The black and white shading is a metaphor for seeing the truth. The truth is ordinarily coloured by lies and can only be uncovered when viewed in black and white.
Do quote me
The film’s most iconic line, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum,” takes place 41 minutes and 31 seconds into the movie. But did you know that the line – delivered by Nada – was written by Roddy Piper?
Speaking on the documentary Independent Thoughts with John Carpenter, the director said: “Very early on, whilst I was finishing up the script, Roddy said ‘Look, for these interviews I do, when I wrestle somebody, I have a lot of things that I make up – and here’s a bunch of them.’ He had written and scrawled them down and there it was. And I thought, ‘that’s a great line’ so I put it in there. I was just the typist, that was his line. Completely his line.”
The end is here
And finally, in contrast to the vast majority of films, They Live does not have a happy ending – in fact, the ending is very bleak. Although the aliens are eventually exposed to the world, the heroes – including Nada – are killed for their efforts.
The downbeat ending was something John Carpenter was adamant it stayed in the film. He felt that it was important to note that in order to win, you sometimes have to lose.
If you’ve never seen They Live, then get hold of a copy as soon as you can and dive right in. And if you’re more than familiar with the film, then give it another watch or gift a copy to someone who is yet to see it.
They Live really is a gem of a film and ranks high in Carpenter’s portfolio. And should you want more from John Carpenter, then of course check out Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), or The Fog (1980) as all three are excellent Carpenter movies.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post about They Live on It’s A Stampede! For more film-related content, please check out one of the recommended reads below.
- What is the best order to watch The Exorcist movies?
- John Carpenter films in order
- What is the best order to watch the Blade movies?