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Played by: Kurt RussellThe camp's helicopter pilot, and The Protagonist.
- Anti-Hero: He's the ostensible protagonist and his desire to stop the titular alien is admirable, but he's also a rude, anti-social Jerkass. Arguably, his motivations are also less about saving the world and more about beating The Thing, as implied by the parallels with the computer chess game.
- Badass: All the other characters get more and more paranoid and scared, while MacReady just wants to destroy the titular Thing more and more. He never freaks out and screams when he sees it, instead spouting one-liners and getting more and more determined to kill it.
- Badass Beard: Unlike some of the other team members (who presumably grow one out due to the frigid Antarctic weather), Mac's beard also serves to show him as a badass; he kills more Things than anyone else in the film.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: All Mac wanted to do was go to his home shack and get drunk, but The Thing situation getting worse made him unable to have a single drink. To add insult to injury The Thing invades his shack to frame him. At the end after the big explosion Mac was carrying a bottle with him before he collapses into the snow prior to Childs finding him.
- Determinator: As mentioned above.
- Establishing Character Moment: He's introduced playing chess against a computer. When he loses, he destroys it by pouring his drink into the circuits — demonstrating both an unwillingness to concede defeat, and that what he lacks in pure intelligence he makes up for by playing dirty.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Choleric. He's the most determined to destroy The Thing and takes lead early on.
- The Hero: Out of all the characters he's definately the central focus of the film, and determined to stop the Thing from spreading.
- 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.
- To be fair to MacReady, when the screen plus what the computer says it does are analyzed, the computer literally did cheat.
Played by: Wilford BrimleyThe camp's Biologist.
- And Then John Was a Zombie: The Thing takes him over at some point between his isolation and the climax, and he tries to consume the remaining survivors.
- Ax-Crazy: Wehn he becomes mentally unhinged, he destroys the radio equipment and attacks the others. With more emphasis on the Axe.
- Chairman of the Brawl: Blair attacks with a chair when the rest of the team rushes him in the radio room.
- Final Boss: He's the final Thing-Monster at the end, assuming Childs isn't one as well.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: When he discovers just how dangerous The Thing is, he goes completely bonkers. Before this he was calm, detached, and overall a reasonable fellow.
- Properly Paranoid: His fear of the thing is completely justified.
- Sanity Slippage: When he realizes the potential of a Thing outbreak on the mainland, he is determined that all outside contact should be broken and he and his team left to die for the good of mankind. He eventually becomes a raving lunatic who attacks Windows and shoots up the communications room.
- Smart People Wear Glasses: He and Fuchs are the only ones with glasses, and also the most intellectual ones.
Played by: TK CarterThe camp's cook.
- Adaptational Heroism: The cook Kinner in Who Goes There? suffered Norris' fate while Nauls is the last person to die in the film.
- Adaptation Name Change: A cook character under the name Kinner appeared in the original story.
- Black Dude Dies First: Averted. He's the last casualty of the Thing.
- Deadpan Snarker: At the beginning of the movie, he's carefree and jocular. As things get more serious, so does he.
- Establishing Character Moment: Enters the room with the dead Norwegian on rollerskates, quips that they might be at war with Norway, contradicts the leader of the camp, insults the only guy agreeing with him, and then leaves. This shows that he isn't prone to taking things too seriously.
- Pretty Boy: Somewhat younger and more effeminate than the rest.
- 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 ClennonThe camp's assistant mechanic.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Claims the aliens "taught the Incas everything they know", and is generally a bit out there.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sanguine. He frequently makes wisecracks and can be seen smoking pot in a number of scenes.
- Jerkass: Openly distrusts and antagonizes Windows. The thing is, Windows is human, but Palmer has been assimilated. He also mocks Garry for finally getting a chance to use his 'popgun' in the beginning. He says this while Garry is still clearly disturbed by the fact that he had to kill the Norwegian in an act of self-defense for the camp.
- Precision F-Strike:"You've got to be fucking kidding..."
- The Stoner: Openly smokes marijuana joints in front of the whole group, spouts off on how aliens are real and "taught the Incas everything they know." His generally non-threatening and comical personality might be why the alien assimilated him, because he didn't draw much suspicion.
- You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: When he sees the Norris-Head-Spider...Thing.
- Played by: Keith David
- Badass: He's the only one tough and smart enough to make it to the end with MacReady.
- Bald Black Leader Guy: Assumes this role briefly when Nauls comes back with MacReady's torn clothes. He also tried to take over when Garry stepped down, but Mac and Clark nixed that idea.
- The Big Guy: It's even stated in the script that he is 6'4. Keith David is close enough.
- Black and Nerdy: You don't get to be chief mechanic without technical know-how.
- Black Dude Dies First: Averted. He is the only character besides Mac to survive the film, if both are human that is.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: At the end of the film, he calmly accepts his death and shares a drink with MacReady. That is, of course, assuming he's still human...
- The Lancer: He becomes MacReady's second man once the team is whittled down to four people.
- Scary Black Man: He's one of the more intimidating team members and one of only two black ones, the other being the more effeminate Nauls. Especially when Mac is suspected of being another thing, and he breaks through the door with an ax so he can kill him with his flamethrower.
- Played by: Richard Dysart
- 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: In Who Goes There?, he is the one who remembers that Blair is still in the shack and hasn't been tested, after which point nobody dies.
- Nice Guy: He is adamant to provide his patients with the proper care.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: There's next to no buildup to his death scene. The Thing goes so far as to fake a heart attack and receive medical treatment, then out of nowhere reveals its killer jaws and eats the Doc's arms.
- Played by: Charles Hallahan
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted. His story counterpart was described as being well-built, something Norris is sorely lacking here.
- Adaptational Wimp: Is one of the key staff members in the orignal story and muscular, a big guy with a heart condition who gets infected here.
- Adaptational Villainy: Is infected by one of the Things compared to his original character who was human.
- Death by Adaptation: In Who Goes There?, he even says the story's last lines.
- Declining Promotion: See below.
- Field Promotion: Defied. He gets offered one when Garry steps down, but turns it down for fear of not being capable of doing the job right."I'm sorry fellas, but I'm not up to it."
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Phlegmatic.
- Heart Trauma: He suffers a heart attack, and is hauled off for first aid. This turns out to be a ruse, because he was a Thing all along.
- Nice Guy: He's a very meek, quiet guy. He also rejects an offer to lead the team because he worried that he's not up to the task.
Played by: Peter MaloneyThe camp's Meteorologist.
- Adaptation Name Change: Zig-zagged; his name in Who Goes There? is usually Benning, without the s, however he's occasionally called Bennings.
- Adaptation Personality Change: He's more paranoid and nervous in the book (athough he dies before the The Thing's imitation properties are fully revealed in the film); his job also changes from aviation mechanic to meterologist. Considering that he survives the book and is victim #4 in the movie, he's certainly Properly Paranoid.
- Creepy Long Fingers: When he is assimilated, The Thing is caught before it can wholly replicate him, leaving it with monstrous lower arms with stinted, malformed fingers.
- Death by Adaptation: He survives Who Goes There?; although he isn't mentioned after wondering how many people are infected, he isn't listed among the dead by Copper.
- Kill It with Fire: Is incinerated by the crew when he is infected.
- Last Name Basis: The only one of the men to avert it, and even then only once.
- 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 MasurThe camp's Dog Handler.
- Adaptational Heroism: Was one of the Things in the orignal story. Avoids getting infected in the film before dying.
- 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: His job is to take care of the sled dogs on the station, and he loves the animals. This devastates him when they're forced to kill all the infected dogs.
- 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: He's one of the calmest, most softspoken guys in the film and a Friend to All Living Things.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Despite being shot at point-blank range, his head still remains mostly intact with only a bullet hole to show for it.
- Red Herring Mole: MacReady suspects him to be one of the Things, and shoots Clark when he makes a move on Mac. It later turns that out that he was still human, for which Childs calls MacReady a murderer. A scary example of It Can Think - the Thing was smart enough to realize that everyone knew that it was alone with Clark for a long time, so it was too obvious to bother infecting him.
Played by: Donald MoffatThe Leader of the camp.
- Adaptational Heroism: Was one of the Things in the orignal story.
- The Captain: He's the definite leader of the team at outpost #31. Palmer mockingly calls him "El Capitan" after Garry shoots the Norwegian gunman.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Has Blair-Thing's hand shoved into his mouth and morphed into him in close quarters away from everyone else.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Appears to have a very short breakdown after having to shoot the Norwegian in the beginning. He steps out of the building he was in and just stares guiltily at the man's body before moving to help the others.
- Moe Greene Special: He shoots the rifle-toting Norwegian through his eye.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: To his credit, there's no way Gary could've known what was going on, but his killing the Norwegian ensured the survival of the Dog-Thing.
- 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: He's suspected of being a Thing during the blood testing scene. It turns out to be Palmer instead.
- Suddenly Shouting: Garry has just been proved to be human and not a Thing, just after a fight with a Thing he was tied to, and he is very annoyed."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 PolisDr. Blair's Assistant.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: MacReady and the others find his charred corpse in the snow outside. They speculate that he burned himself before the Thing could get to him.
- Cunning Like a Fox: His name is German for Fox, and he's probably the smartest and most Genre Savvy of the group.
- Death by Genre Savviness: All the aforementioned Genre Savviness doesn't do him a lick of good. Justified Trope in that it's suggested that the Thing deliberately targeted him to stop his research.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Implied. He is found as a charred corpse. Nauls immediately suspects the Thing did it purposefully, but others suspect Fuchs did it himself to avoid being assimilated. Being separated from the group long enough for the others to consider killing him on sight makes it murky.
- Killed Offscreen: His death scene isn't shown, only his incinerated corpse is found.
- Seeking the Missing, Finding the Dead
- Smart People Wear Glasses: He and Blair are the only ones with glasses, and also the most intellectual ones.
Played by: Thomas G WaitesThe camp's radio operator.
- Communications Officer: Serves this role in theory. However, at the beginning he states that he "[hasn't] been able to reach shit in two weeks". Later on, the radio equipment is destroyed by Blair, making the whole point moot."I doubt if anybody's talked to anybody on this entire continent, and you want me to reach somebody!"
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Palmer-Thing grabs him and bites him in the head, flinging him around before throwing him into a corner to bleed to death and reanimate as a Thing. Thankfully, Mac incinerates him before this happens.
- Deadpan Snarker: His quote above is an excellent illustration of his attitude.
- Deer in the Headlights: Has a tendency to freeze up when confronted with danger. It's what gets him killed.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: When he sees the Palmer-Thing.
- Has one after he sees Bennings being assimilated, another when he realizes the Thing must have gotten the keys to the blood storage after he dropped them, another when Blair loses it and starts trashing the radio room. Honestly, the guy is pretty much a walking nervous breakdown for the entire movie. This is what ultimately gets him killed.
- Jerkass: Is quite abrasive towards the others and very grouchy.
- Kill It with Fire: His final fate.
- Kubrick Stare: Gives one to MacReady just before the latter tests his blood. It's a Red Herring — Windows is human, as is Mac.
- Oh Crap!: When he realizes that he dropped the keys that let the Thing get to the blood.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: If he hadn't dropped the keys, who knows what might have happened? Granted, The Thing probably would have just broken in regardless, but it pinned the blame on two innocent men and thus left them incapacitated for the majority of the film.
I can't wait to see their faces when I spring (Yes, sir)The Antagonist, who tries to kill the heroes and make copies of them. An alien lifeform from another world that assimilates and breaks down biological mass and replicates it.
'Cause they think that I'm a dog-
-But I'm The Thing!
'Cause they think that I'm a dog-
-But I'm The Thing!
- Adaptational Heroism: The Thing in Who Goes There? is portrayed as being inherently selfish, willing to betray other Things just to ensure its own survival, which of course leads to the downfall of them all. Here, the closest we get to such an implication is Palmer pointing out the Norris spider head, although Windows was about to notice it anyway so it made little difference.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Antagonist Title: The Thing, that's all we can call it.
- Big Bad: It's the titular "Thing".
- Body Horror: Dear LORD. . Every single time The Thing appears in a non-human form, it looks absolutely repulsive.
- Cannibalism Superpower: This seems to describe the Thing quite well.
- Clipped Wing Angel: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: When exposed it doesn't just try to attack anyone near by, it roars and screams before transforming. Clark calls it "Weird and pissed off." for a reason.
- Hell Is That Noise: Just about every sound the Thing makes qualifies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.