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Characters: The Thing (1982)
This page is for tropes related to characters appearing in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982).

Due to being a Character Sheet, spoilers are below.

R.J. MacReady

Played by: Kurt Russell

The camp's helicopter pilot, and The Protagonist.

  • Awesome Mc Cool Name
  • Badass: All the other characters get more and more paranoid and scared, while MacReady just gets more determined to kill the creature. He never freaks out and screams when he sees it, instead spouting one-liners and getting more and more determined to kill it.
  • Cool Shades
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Choleric.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • He figures out how the Thing operates quite quickly and begins making very rational decisions to help stop its spread and identify it. Everyone else is quick on the uptake of the concept and generally avoid being Genre Blind.
    • He also Defies the Not Quite Dead trope and insists that even corpses be tested for being the Thing.
    • His first reaction upon hearing that something "Weird and pissed off" is in the dog Kennels? Call for the guy with the flamethrower.
      • Actually the flamethrower (and the fire alarm) where his response after hearing the dogs going nuts in the kennel. MacReady remembered how the Norwegian helicopter was filled to the brim with flammables, and how they'd burnt the two face body at their camp.
  • The Hero
  • Jerkass
  • Nice Hat: Wears one whenever he leaves the outpost.
  • Sore Loser: At the beginning, playing chess on a computer, MacReady would rather destroy the game than lose it— which is what he does at the end of the movie, burning down the camp in order to deny the Thing victory. This was noted in an article in Script Magazine.

Dr. Blair

Played by: Wilford Brimley

The camp's Biologist.


Played by: TK Carter

The camp's cook.

  • The Chick
  • Pretty Boy: Somewhat younger and more effeminate than the rest.
  • Soul Brotha
  • Uncle Tomfoolery
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The last time we see him, he's walking down some stairs. The original script had him getting attacked by a jack-in-the-box like alien, only they cut the scene as the special effects didn't look real enough, and Carpenter liked leaving it ambiguous anyway.


Played by: David Clennon

The camp's assistant mechanic.


Played by: Keith David

The camp's chief mechanic.

Dr. Copper

Played by: Richard Dysart

The camp's Physician.

  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Norris has had a heart attack, and Copper tries to resuscitate him with the defibrillator. Suddenly, Norris' chest opens up and bites Copper's forearms off, revealing Norris to be one of the Things. Copper presumably dies from shock and/or blood loss, because the next time we see him (after Norris-Thing has been taken care of), he's dead.
  • Death by Adaptation
  • Nice Guy
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death

Vance Norris

Played by: Charles Hallahan

The camp's Geologist.

George Bennings

Played by: Peter Maloney

The camp's Meteorologist.

  • Creepy Long Fingers/Fingore: When he is assimilated, The Thing is caught before it can wholly replicate him, leaving it with monstrous lower arms with stinted, malformed fingers.
  • Hell Is That Noise: After he has been assimilated by The Thing and it's discovered by the others, its scream is completely... alien.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: He's shot in the leg, but he's walking less than a minute later. Justified, as the bullet barely grazed him.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Though he was shot at the beginning of the film.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: His assimilation and subsequent death is what clues the others in on The Thing's abilities and that, just because it looks dead, doesn't mean it is dead.


Played by: Richard Masur

The camp's Dog Handler.

  • Badass Beard
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tends to remain calm and diplomatic instead of arguing, and goes along with the group's decisions without protesting even when he has every right to be angered by them (notice how he doesn't hesitate when Mac tells him, Copper, and Garry — at the time the main suspects — to move away from the others). But when the group's safety is being threatened, he will not stand idly by. When Childs tries to take command, Clark pulls a knife on him. And when Mac wants to have everybody tied up, Clark tries to take him out.
  • Boom, Headshot: Gets shot by MacReady while lunging against him with a scalpel.
  • Friend to All Living Things
  • In the Back: Tries to stab Mac when he's looking the other way. Gets shot for his trouble.
  • The Mutiny: Attempts to overthrow MacReady by stabbing him in the back. Mac turns around and shoots him in the head.
  • Nice Guy
  • Red Herring Mole


Played by: Donald Moffat

The Leader of the camp.

  • The Captain
  • Moe Greene Special: He shoots the rifle-toting Norwegian through his eye.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: His killing the Norwegian ensured the survival of the Dog-Thing, which then lead to the rest of the plot. In short, he caused every single bad thing that followed.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Relinquishes his authority of his own accord when it becomes obvious the others do not trust him, apparently with no hard feelings.
  • Red Herring Mole
  • Suddenly Shouting: Garry has just been proved to be human and not a Thing, and he is very annoyed.
    Garry: I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch!


Played by: Joel Polis

Dr. Blair's Assistant.


Played by: Thomas G Waites

The camp's radio operator.

The Thing

The Antagonist, who tries to kill the heroes and make copies of them.

  • Alien Blood: Every cell of The Thing will try to defend itself, as opposed to regular human blood, which is inert. This is part of the basic nature of the Thing; even when it's replaced multiple people, each individual will act independently. In essence, every cell of the Thing is the Thing as a whole. In the original short story, people repeatedly make the mistake of assuming that you can't be a Thing if you attack a Thing.
  • The Assimilator: The entire modus operandi of the alien entity. Also, quite possibly, the most frightening example.
  • Asteroids Monster: Every cell of the Thing is an independent organism. At various times during the film, it gets parts chopped off it, which grow new appendages and scuttle off.
  • Big Bad
  • Cannibalism Superpower: This seems to describe the Thing quite well.
  • Clipped Wing Angel: Oddly enough, the Thing. What with all the flamethrowers in the Antarctic base, any piece of the Thing which takes an easily recognizable form on-screen is immolated relatively quickly. The real problem is in finding who it is in the first place.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: It knows it wouldn't stand a chance against a united camp (especially after nearly being killed already), so it sets out to spread paranoia, covertly destroy any equipment and cause sleep-deprivation until enough of its enemies are out of the picture.
  • Decapitation Required: Subverted horribly. Decapitation does absolutely nothing to the Thing. When its head is removed it acts as an independent organism and tries to escape.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Thing either approaches this or embodies it completely.
    • Humanoid Abomination: The thing spends most of it's time looking like a good ol' homo sapien. It's even clever enough to act like us perfectly. Until it's got you alone.
    • Animalistic Abomination: It also spends most of the time disguised as a dog, and in the 2011 prequel it first surfaces as an insect/arachnid like thingie that may or may not be a distorted form of the alien pilot. In Campbell's novel, it is also implied it assimilated an albatross, and is now flying towards us.
  • Face Stealer: The Thing steals people's identities by absorbing them.
  • From a Single Cell: The characters speculate that all it takes is one Thing cell to infect someone. Alan Dean Foster, in the novelization, seemed to think this is implausible, and has Blair talk in detail on the subject. Of course, that depends on whether you think Blair was still trustworthy at that point. Ultimately it's left up to fans to decide what pseudoscience to believe.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Rare case of this not being an issue, it only occurs because the story doesn't explore what it's motives are, and it would likely be a lot less frightening the viewer did understand it.
  • Harmless Freezing: The original Thing was frozen for around 100,000 years. When it's thawed, out it's completely fine. Childs even points out how impossible this sounds, to which Mac points out that it's from outer space and different from us. After the Thing abandons its plan to escape, its new goal is to kill all the survivors and simply freeze itself again until new hosts wake it up.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing: The Thing hisses and moans when it's currently in an imperfect copy of its host. The blood also finds a way to scream when it jumps from the petri dish.
  • Kill It with Fire: Fire is the only thing the characters have on hand that can kill the thing. Since it's a shapeshifter, shooting it would barely inconvenience it and it can survive for thousands of years frozen. Luckily, ice stations have handy flamethrowers.
    • Shock and Awe: Both Who Goes There? and the unmade sequel miniseries have using electricity as a prominent way to deal with The Thing. One of the Boss-Things in the videogame was killed through electricity.
  • Losing Your Head: Decapitating the monster doesn't work, in one instance the head grows legs and walks away.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Thing knows that paranoia only makes the situation worse for the humans and does what it can to spread that paranoia even more than it already does by nature alone.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: To destroy the Thing completely, not one single cell can be left alive, since even one cell is an independent organism with the power to assimilate an entire host body. The group burns them to ash, but realistically this would be unlikely to kill every single cell - which is why they haul the remains outside where they can freeze. During the scene where Blair is examining the dog-Thing, A deleted line had him mentioning that it was still alive. It's implied that this creature is the one that eventually got Blair. Unless he was infected during the autopsy.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: The Thing can infect Earth life just as easily as it did alien life. It's not clear how long this took or what the alien was like. Actually lampshaded in the original novel, where it's potential to infect us (or carry some alien disease) was initially dismissed based on the otherwise logical assumption that all of Earth's life forms, including plants and fungi, are more closely related to us than the Thing is, and their diseases can't affect us.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: It doesn't do all these stuff for malice. It's just trying to survive and remain alive.
  • One-Winged Angel: Whenever the Thing is exposed, it assumes very dangerous, monstrous forms to attack the protagonists with. Particularely noteworthy when it confronts MacReady at the end, and the Thing turns into a huge monster shapeshifter mash-up. Also an example of Clipped Wing Angel.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe. It's basically the physical embodiment. The Thing is all about creating this in the camp and turning everyone against each other, thus making it even easier to infect them all.
  • Partial Transformation: It is sometimes caught in partial transformation.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: Only in the book, where its true form is apparently a blue-skinned humanoid with three red eyes. There were plans to depict this form somewhere in the movie, but it was ultimately scrapped for looking too silly, which is probably all to the good. In the movie version it doesn't seem to have a "true" form, beyond some kind of blob of undifferentiated cells.
  • Shape Shifter Mashup: Twice.
  • Starfish Aliens: There really is not a word other than "The Thing" to call it, because no one even really knows what it is. It is capable of perfectly replicating anything it has ever come in contact with, and every single cell of its body is a separate, hostile organism. It's so utterly alien that people aren't even sure if it has a true form or not, even the huge, grotesque monstrosity it forms in the end.
  • They Look Like Us Now: Played for all the Paranoia Fuel it's worth.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Discussed. The survivors wonder, if the Thing perfectly mimics who it copies, does it even know it's a fake? The novel claims it does, absorbing the memories and personality of the thing, and Carpenter in the commentary agrees that if it did, it wouldn't matter - it'd use their personality to react accordingly. Given that the Thing-imitations take several actions to frame unassimilated humans, and one of them is secretly building a hovercraft, it seems probable that they know what they are. That said, the actor playing Norris mentions in the commentary that he played his character as being worried that he might be the Thing without knowing it. ( He's very much correct.) Note his reaction when offered Gerry's gun - "I'm not up to it.".
  • The Virus: Possibly the ultimate example. It can consume and imitate any life. Someone infected, assimilated and replicated by the Thing is such a perfect imitation that they never break character until either an opportunity arises for it to kill a bunch of people or it gets exposed. Even if other people get exposed as a Thing, a still-in-disguise Thing will remain in-character and even attack the other of its own kind, just to keep up the act. Worse yet, the monster apparently retains the knowledge of everything it's eaten (one isolated one is trying to build a spaceship to escape) and can even mix-and-match parts from the various creatures it's assimilated.
  • You Are Who You Eat: The Thing absorbs other people so it can assume their identity, leading to paranoia as to who is a thing or not. The alien can either consume a person in one go, but its individual cells also have the ability to slowly do this to an infectee, literally eating them from the inside out.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Nobody knows what the original Thing is or even what it looks like. Even John Carpenter notes that one could go crazy even thinking about it.

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