Film / The Thing (1982)

"If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?"

John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing is a much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell's novel Who Goes There? than the original adaptation, Howard Hawks' 1951 production The Thing from Another World. It focuses on twelve men who are stuck in an Antarctic camp for the winter of 1982. After finding that the neighbouring Norwegian camp has been mysteriously destroyed, they realize that a deadly alien life form is on the loose. Most terrifying of all is the fact that this alien can change shape, infecting a person on a cellular level and then relentlessly absorbing and duplicating their cells, imitating them from the inside out until there is nothing human left. Therefore, at least one among them may be the Thing.

It stars Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford "Diabeetus" Brimley.

While a commercial and critical bomb when it was first released, The Thing is a remarkable example of what time can do for a film. These days, it is very well known and has been very successful on VHS and DVD. In addition, you'll be pretty hard-pressed to find a "Best/Scariest Horror Movies" list that doesn't include it and it is regarded as one of the best uses of Paranoia Fuel in cinema.

Its visceral depictions of the anatomically creative forms the lifeform adopts when attacking or threatened were milestone achievements in both Special Effects rigging and creature design, and have been cited as influences for later franchises like Dead Space. Especially the third one, as both take place on remote icy outposts.

The film is also unusual in the sense that it subverts Nothing Is Scarier while retaining every ounce of Paranoia Fuel. It was one of the first films to believably pull off Daylight Horror sequences, thanks to a fusion of masterful puppetry, makeup, and advanced FX rigging, bolstered by new green-screen effects like high-end claymation, matte painting, and early CGI. By using each for the tasks it did best, and combining several approaches in a single shot to create seamless composite effects, Carpenter left surprisingly little room for Narm to set in.

In a serious case of either Tempting Fate or Paranoia Fuel, The Thing (along with The Shining) is screened every year for those "wintering-over" at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, after the last plane leaves them in the long winter blackout.

Its popularity has caused the story to be continued in other media. In the 1990s, Dark Horse Comics published a series of four comics continuing the film's story, called The Thing from Another World. A video game sequel (also simply called The Thing) was made in 2002 - please go there for game related tropes. And lastly, a prequel, (also simply called The Thing) focusing on the Norwegian camp prior to the events of this film was released in 2011, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Halloween Horror Nights 2007 in Orlando introduced a house that was a sequel to the movie, featuring the alien being moved to a new research station in Florida, but whether or not it is canon is unclear (most likely not).

Unrelated to that thing, those things, this thing, this other thing, the ever-lovin' Thing, you know, that thingy thing, or an alternate English name of Mothra.

This film contains imita- uh, I mean examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the original story "Who Goes There?", the story ends at the cabin where they locked up Blair when the last three survivors discover the half-finished spaceship and kill the Blair-Thing. The movie includes this final confrontation too, but afterwards is far more ambiguous with two survivors of whom one or both may be another Thing.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The book suffers from this; in the original film, it's implied that The Thing sabotaged the blood by picking up the keys Windows dropped when he saw Bennings being assimilated. However, in the book, Bennings is killed by being dragged under an ice shelf after chasing some infected dogs with Childs and Macready; leaving the obvious question of where did The Thing get the keys from?
  • Ambiguous, Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the film the characters have lost so much it isn't worth it to be paranoid anymore. On the plus side, the Thing is dead. Probably. Maybe. On the downside, Mac and Childs definitely soon will be, too. Both men decide that it's worth it if they both die, just so the Thing can have no hosts to mimic, and to ensure the other that they're not the Thing (for which there is potential evidence to support every theory about which, if either, is infected.) This is the good ending. John Carpenter felt it was inspiring that each of the survivors were willing to give their lives to save the rest of the world.
  • Animal Immortality: Brutally averted, as the very first Thing to appear, the Dog-Thing, promptly starts doing truly horrible things to the other dogs - digesting and assimilating them where they stand is just the start. Just to hammer that home, the remaining dogs are Mercy Killed to stop the further spread of the Thing. Unfortunately, they're far too late.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the movie only Mac and Childs are shown to be alive, each unsure whether or not the other is the Thing. Since they are stranded, with no provisions, it's implied that they will both die.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: One of the most horrific examples to be put on film.
  • Antagonist Title: The Thing is the alien creature trying to take over the protagonists.
  • The Assimilator: Let's face it, almost any villain in any medium that can absorb or infect people to replicate them draws some inspiration from Carpenter's The Thing. It's a monster that's best described as a living virus as each part of its body can live and act autonomously from the main body and all it needs to do is infect a person with even a small piece of itself for its tissue to spread, grow, replicate, and consume the host. It has the ability to partially or completely assume the form of any creature it has previously infected and absorbed and can use the knowledge and skills of the people it has copied.
  • Asteroids Monster: Every cell of the Thing is an independent organism with a survival instinct. At various times during the film, you see parts of a Thing emerging or being removed, and trying to scuttle off on their own. Subtly foreshadowed by the Asteroids arcade machine in the base.
  • Author Appeal: John Carpenter is a huge fan of the original The Thing from Another World. It appears in Halloween (1978) (which itself is a slasher film version of the film.)
  • Badass Normal: Everyone, whenever they fight the Thing, but especially Mac, who manages to go toe-to-toe with it.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: One of the Norwegian's clearly decided this, as the Americans find him with his wrists slit. It's possible that Fuchs immolated himself rather than be assimilated, since the Thing would gain no benefit in killing him.
  • Bilingual Bonus: More like "Bilingual Spoiler", as anybody who speaks (or at least can understand) Norwegian would have much of the movie's plot ruined since the Norwegian pilot in the beginning of the movie tries to explain that the dog he was shooting at is no dog at all.
    "Se til helvete å kom dere vekk. Det er ikke en bikkje. Det er en slags ting! Den imiterer en bikkje! Den er ikke virkelig! ...kom dere vekk, idioter!", which, translated, means "Get the hell away. It's not a dog/mutt. It's a thing! It's imitating a dog/mutt! It's not real! ...get away, idiots!"
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: When one human-impersonating Thing is burned, its head breaks off, extends a very long tongue, and uses this to drag itself across the floor.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted. Of the two black dudes, both survive into the final act, when there are four humans left including them. We don't actually see either of them die, although it's implied that everybody dies.
    • A horrifying deleted scene showed Nauls' death, but it wasn't filmed due to time and budget constraints. The scene is shown in storyboard and takes place in the final act; after the Blair-Thing assimilates Garry, Mac and Nauls split up. Nauls goes down a narrow hallway and eventually stops in front of a large cabinet. He find Garry's body then looks up and is grabbed by Blair, looming above him in a tentacled, blob-like form with a malformed arm. The next scene would've been Nauls' death scene occurring just before the final form of the Blair-Thing appeared in front of Mac. After the floor burst open, Nauls' head emerged from the hole, rolling and crying out "Help me!" Then the rest of Nauls' body would rise out, skin and flesh melting off the bones and missing a hand. While Mac stared horrified, small tentacles pop out all over Nauls' body while a large one moved up his throat then out his mouth, silencing his cries. Nauls' head rolled around as the large tentacle ballooned before it burst Nauls' jaw and ribcage open, killing him.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to the 1950s film... and compared to a hell of a lot of horror films at the time. However it wasn't trying to be a remake of The Thing From Another World, which was a loose adaptation of the short story and didn't include the shapeshifter/body horror aspect. A lot of the gore isn't actually from humans being killed. The gore mostly comes from the horrible transformations the alien goes through and the Eldritch Abomination nature of its final forms. It's even bloodier than the prequel made in 2011 thanks to, ironically, having little CGI technology to work with.
  • Body Horror: This film is infamous for its transformation sequences. Once a Thing is forced to reveal itself, Eldritch Abomination is the most charitable way of describing what pops out - a severed head growing extra eyes on stalks and skittering away on spider legs is perhaps the most tame example.note 
  • Bolivian Army Ending
  • Bookends: Of the most nightmarish variety imaginable. The first good look we get at a live Thing is the Dog-Thing, whose centerpiece is a mangled dog head. The very last Thing to come out of the Blair-Thing before MacReady dynamites it is another twisted dog head. In the cable version it gets even worse - the movie ends the same way it began, with a disguised Dog-Thing running across the Antarctic plains.
  • Bowdlerise: Subverted; a lot of the harsh language was cut out in cable airings, but that made certain scenes relentlessly bleak and nauseating without even a bit of comic relief (see Body Horror above). The Cable ending involved the most Grim Dark ending possible, worse than the original: The base is wrecked, everyone is dead - and a disguised Dog Thing runs off across the plains.
  • Brain Food: Once its face is done melting, the Palmer-Thing's head splits in two to reveal a gaping maw filled with sharp teeth and a long tongue, the latter of which wraps around Windows' neck and reels him in before the jaws clamp shut. The Thing manages to hold him in there for a full thirty seconds as MacReady fiddles with the flamethrower. Eventually Windows is released, but since he got infected and his face was horribly maimed Mac had no choice but to torch him.
  • Canon Foreigner: Windows, Fuchs, Childs, Palmer, and the Norwegians don't appear in Who Goes There?, while the other eight cast members do.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: By the end of the movie, every single character is dead or about to be.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the station members are men. Don't want any hanky panky down there! Indeed, the only female presence in the film - Mac's chess computer, voiced by Adrienne Barbeau - is destroyed at the beginning of the movie.
  • Clipped-Wing Angel: Oddly enough, the Thing, particularly if caught mid-transformation. 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.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: Although for once this is actually a rather sensible policy, given that the "corpse" is a really contagious alien organism. Clark becomes prime suspect #1 due to his creepy behavior and prolonged exposure to the infected dogs. Funnily enough, after MacReady kills him in self-defense it turns out he was human all along.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: The Bennings-Thing is also "creepy misformed fingers", but they're clearly playing off the horror this trope provides when his hands are revealed. The poster of the 2011 prequel also utilizes it.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Assimilation by a Thing counts as this by default. In addition to that, Windows is brutally mauled by one of the Things (and then set on fire for good measure), Copper bleeds to death after having his forearms bitten off, Garry gets a Thing arm down the throat and is dragged around by the Blair-Thing as additional biomass for a One-Winged Angel transformation which also happened to Nauls in a more graphic in a deleted scene, and Fuchs is implied to have set himself on fire to avoid assimilation.
  • Darker and Edgier: Much more so than the Howard Hawks version. And more so than the original novel, which has an ostensibly much more optimistic ending.
  • Daylight Horror: Somewhat. The base is entering a polar winter, so beyond a certain point in the movie it's just dark all the time. The alien usually attacks when it happens to be dark outside. However, some of the most intense scenes in the movie happen in the well-lit interiors of the base in plain view.
  • Death by Pragmatism: Blair is the first character to realize how incredibly dangerous the Thing is, and flips out, destroying the radio, the vehicles, and killing the surviving dogs. Admittedly, destroying everything the team could have used to warn the surrounding stations about the Thing isn't a particularly pragmatic solution, but considering what will happen if the Thing escapes the Antarctic, it's at least partially justified. This gets him locked in a storage shed, alone, while multiple Things start freely roving the base. Eventually, the inevitable happens.
    • "Warn others"? Ha! The Norwegian tried that, IN PERSON, and look where that got him. Now try it over the radio. You think they'll believe you? How 'bout saying there's a crazy person on the loose? So what to do? Obviously they'll try to restrain him when they see him. How? By getting close enough for the Thing to dismember and attack every person close enough.
    • That, of course, assumes that Blair wasn't already a Thing. After all, his shirt had changed from the last time he was onscreen.
    • In any case, they would have been unable to warn the other stations via radio as Windows had failed to contact anyone for the past two weeks, and according to him due to the atmospheric conditions it was unlikely that any of the Antarctic stations would be able to contact each other.
  • Decapitation Required: Averted horribly. Decapitation does absolutely nothing to the Thing. When its head is removed it acts as an independent organism and tries to escape.
  • Declining Promotion: Norris is offered a chance to take over command by the resigning former commander, but turns it down.
    "I'm sorry fellas, but I'm not up to it."
  • Developing Doomed Characters: To an extent. The first twenty-five minutes or so are spent watching the crew of Outpost 31 dealing with the aftermath of the Norwegian attack and investigating the destroyed outpost. Each American camp member is given an Establishing Character Moment during this. However, at the same time, the dog the Norwegians were hunting is nearly omnipresent which adds to the buildup for when the Thing finally reveals itself.
  • Distress Call: The Norwegian camp got it out far too late.
  • Downer Ending: In some versions edited for broadcast on TNT/TBS, an Alternate Ending is included that is much grimmer than the original cut. After fading to black on the burning camp, the camera fades up again on a husky running across the Antarctic landscape. So not only is everyone dead but the Thing definitely survived. Can be seen here. Blair did say earlier that a dog couldn't make it very far, so there may be hope yet.
  • Dwindling Party
    • Bennings gets killed and assimilated by the Not Quite Dead remains of the Dog-Thing before being burned by MacReady.
    • Fuchs immolates himself so that the Thing can't assimilate him.
    • Norris has a heart attack, but he is outed as a Thing during the failed defibrillation.
    • Copper bleeds to death after his forearms get bitten off by the Norris-Thing.
    • Clark gets shot dead byMacReady after he tries to attack him.
    • Palmer is outed as a Thing after the blood test goes awry and gets burned alive and dynamited for good measure.
    • Windows is viciously maimed by the Palmer-Thing and is torched out of mercy.
    • Garry asphyxiates after an infected Blair shoves his hand down his throat.
    • Nauls disappears in the underground cave and is presumed dead.
    • Blair is blown up by MacReady after fully transforming into The Thing.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: Played with. The Thing, if it landed most anywhere on the planet, would easily assimilate all higher life on it, including us. The crew of the spaceship, however, crash lands it into just about the only place where it wouldn't be easy for the Thing to take over the planet. There is hardly any life around to assimilate, and it freezes before it can get to any. The base crew also has flamethrowers, which is the only reliable way to kill it.
  • Eat Brain for Memories: A Thing can do this when it consumes a human being and converts it into a Thing. The new Thing has all of the memories of the original person.
  • Eaten Alive: In a strange but very real way, once the Thing gets ahold of you, it devours you from the inside out and leaves a perfect-looking copy of you, ready to explode into a monster at any time. This is especially apparent with the Dog-Thing, as one of the dogs is obviously being digested alive by the malformed Dog-Thing, whining piteously in pain. This was also Nauls' fate in a deleted scene.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Even after 30 years, fans still debate if the last survivors were infected, allowing the Thing to possibly live to assimilate once more.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In keeping with Mac's strategy against the chess computer, he will do whatever it takes to win against the Thing, even if it means blowing the base - their only shelter - to bits.
    "Yeah, FUCK YOU, too!"
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The movie creates its notorious sense of paranoia from this, though in this case it isn't so much "anyone could have committed the murder" as "any one of twelve men could in fact be a hostile shape-shifting alien capable of creating a perfect copy of people that it kills". Naturally, a good chunk of the plot is simply driven by the guys trying to figure out who to trust.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The other dogs in the kennel sense that there is something very wrong with the newcomer...
    • Not when it's first put in the kennel however, implying that The Thing can fool a dog as well as it can humans. Eventually the dogs rouse themselves and start growling and snarling at the newcomer, despite its (initially) normal appearance. Presumably The Thing changes its internal organs first, perhaps affecting its scent which the other dogs would pick up on.
  • Evil Is Visceral: The alien while assimilating its victims.
  • Expositron 9000: The base computer, during the explanation of The Thing's infection and replication mechanism.
  • Eye Scream:
    • The Norwegian in the opening is shot in the eye.
    • Several different eyes can be seen on the the body of the Dog-Thing, presumably former belongings of the dogs it was in the process of assimilating.
    • The eyes of the Palmer-Thing swell up with blood before bursting.
  • Face Palm of Doom: A particularly nasty variation performed on Garry by the Blair-Thing, which forces its hand into his throat.
  • Final Boss: The Blair-Thing. It basically was the combination of Blair, Garry, Clark's body, and presumably, all the rest of the living-Thing biomass on the base, mashed together to fight as one.
  • Fingore:
    • A minor example in the blood test scene - the blood is taken via fingertips using a scalpel.
    • When Bennings is assimilated, The Thing is caught before it can wholly replicate him, leaving it with monstrous lower arms with stinted, malformed fingers.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Ah, the flamethrower...
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: A person killed by a Thing will become one unless their body is destroyed by fire. After Windows was killed by the Palmer-Thing, MacReady had to burn him with a flamethrower. Unfortunately the bodies at the Norwegian camp were burned too hastily, so there are still active cells that can infect others.
  • Focus Group Ending: Reportedly, an alternate ending was made for this express purpose, where MacReady is rescued and confirmed to be human. This was apparently the crew's idea. They never meant to include it in the final cut, but they felt it was better to be safe than sorry if the studio demanded a change. Otherwise, they'd have to go to the trouble of getting Kurt Russell back on the set.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The initial cut was so gory that test audiences complained of nausea. John Carpenter alleviated this by changing nothing. Carpenter got away with more gore than the censors would typically allow for an R-rated movie by using different colors for the Alien Blood, such as the Norris-Thing having green-and-yellow slime for blood.
  • Glass Cannon: The Thing is a monster that can kill a single unsuspecting human easily but if its discovered they can be taken down by the base's flamethrowers without much effort. Even a stick of dynamite can take down it's final form.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • In one interpretation, the Thing becomes a perfect copy of the original organism, even its flaws. This would mean that Norris' weak heart condition was transferred into the Thing, causing it to have a heart attack. However, it's possible that Norris's heart stopped beating because he was being taken over, and the process was completed as he lay inert.
    • The men quickly burn all of the Thing they come across, killing every single cell, so they don't find out until it's too late that each part of the Thing is an individual organism..
  • Gorn: And so, SO much of it in the John Carpenter version.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In one of the goriest movies from the 1980s, the film actually plays this straight when the Norwegians' helicopter explodes, taking the pilot with it.
  • Grand Theft Me: The Thing's MO. It's unclear if it directly robs the victim of their consciousness, or slowly subsumes it, bit by bit, to maintain a guise. Carpenter kept it ambiguous.
  • Heal It with Booze: In the beginning, the Norwegian shoots Bennings in the leg and they're given a flask of booze that they take a swig from before pouring it over the wound.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Norwegian at the beginning, Lars, who we would learn more about and what led to the fateful morning in this film in the prequel.
  • Heroic Suicide: MacReady, Nauls and Garry decide to destroy the camp and themselves with it to prevent the alien infection from spreading to the rest of the world.
    "Whether we make it or not, we can't let that thing freeze again. Maybe we'll just warm things up around here. We're not getting out of here alive... but neither is that thing."
    • Also implied with Fuchs, who is found as a charred corpse. There was no reason for the Thing to kill him off instead of assimilating him, so it's safe to assume that he did it to himself in order to avoid being assimilated and thus being used to assimilate the rest.
  • A House Divided: When they realize what the Thing is capable of, people start choosing sides and trying to convince each other they're not the Thing. The alien is smart enough to play into this by planting Red Herring clues.
  • Idiot Ball: People make a lot of mistakes throughout the movie, which is really what drives a good part of the horror - people are fallible, and, under this kind of pressure, will almost inevitably screw up a lot. Special notice should go to Nauls at the end of the film, who walks towards a moving form (the Blair-Thing pulling Garry's body) without telling MacReady, who's literally 3 or so feet away from him at the time. We never see Nauls again.
  • Imposter-Exposing Test: MacReady figures out a way to test for Thingness by reasoning that the Thing's blood cells are separate organisms with a survival instinct, so therefore, they can determine who is the Thing by how their blood samples react to a hot wire. It works... horribly so...when it unexpectedly outs Palmer as a Thing.
  • Improbable Age: The makeup effects, a landmark at the time and still very impressive, were done by Rob Bottin, who was only twenty-two at the time. Although Bottin did work for a year without giving himself a day off, often sleeping and eating on set and John Carpenter sent him to a hospital for exhaustion.
  • It Can Think: During its initial appearances, the Thing only makes incoherent animal noises and appears to be driven by simple instinct, but it soon becomes apparent that it's highly intelligent. Granted, this was already strongly implied by the spaceship (assuming the spacefarers weren't its victims, too), but that doesn't change how unnerving it is when the ruined blood samples make it clear just how intelligent it is.
    • Also some understated Fridge Horror later on, when the blood test reveals that it was smart enough not to infect the people under highest suspicion. Everyone knew that Clark had been alone with the infected dog for a long time, so he was too obvious a suspect to infect right away. The other two major suspects, Copper and Garry, were also human - it was smart enough to frame people to divert suspicion from its true identity.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: By smashing up all the equipment, Blair essentially trapped everyone there, but he had recognized the danger of allowing the Thing access to the outside world, a concept which the others would soon pick up on. Of course, he might have been taken over by this point anyway.
  • Jump Scare:
    • MacReady's test makes the Thing's Alien Blood scream and jump out of the dish, made much more startling in that he assumed said testee was human, and telling the next person he was going to check that he assumed he was the Thing.
    • Also, when Copper is trying to use shock paddles on Norris, and a giant mouth opens in his chest and bites off Copper's hands.
    • Let's not forget the scene where the lights go out. Fuchs takes out a flare, and a shadowy figure suddenly slips across the room quickly with a horrific noise so unnerving that no words in the English language (or ANY language, for that matter) can describe what it sounds like.
  • Kill 'em All: Implied. Only Childs and Mac are alive in the end, and Childs might be a Thing. Even if he isn't, they'll both freeze to death in the Antarctic winter without shelter.
  • Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers, kerosene and explosives, no other way. Shotguns won't "do the Thing." Notable examples include:
    • When Mac torches the Palmer-Thing with a flamethrower, then blows it to pieces with an entire bundle of dynamite for good measure.
    • In another scene, after finally killing the Palmer-Thing, they bulldoze snow around it to form a pit, pour kerosene on it, and take several minutes to make sure it's completely burned, down to the last cells.
  • Losing Your Head: Decapitating the monster doesn't work; in one instance, the head grows legs and attempts to sneak off.
  • Made of Explodium: The helicopter of the Norwegians. While a thermite grenade going off near it probably would damage the landing gear, thermite grenades are not explosive and would not have the range to do what they did in the movie - and even if the box of them went off all at once, the helicopter would melt and burn, not explode.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When Mac visits the imprisoned, oddly much calmer Blair, a noose is hanging from the rafters. Neither character comments on it.
  • Molotov Cocktail: To ensure the alien's destruction, the remaining survivors start destroying their outpost by throwing stacks of dynamite into each room, followed by a Molotov cocktail to trigger them.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The Thing loves busting out mouths full of sharp teeth, and using them on everything in the vicinity.
  • Musical Episode: John Carpenter's THE THING: THE MUSICAL is a very cheerful and upbeat nutshelling in spite of the movie's gratuitous Gorn and Squick—all in the musical style of Frank Sinatra.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: Played straight.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The main characters are responsible for all of the ways in which the Thing is able to escape and spread amongst them.
  • Nice Hat: Mac's sombrero.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Cross-Species Disease.
  • Not His Sled: The effect isn't tremendous because Who Goes There? isn't that well known, but everyone who was the Thing in the original short story turns out to be human in the film, with the exception of Blair.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • The Norwegian-Thing (and perhaps the Dog-Thing) were burned too hastily, so there is still some cellular activity in them. It's weak, but revives enough to infect Bennings.
    • Averted later when Mac insists on doing the blood test for the two dead humans as well. A deleted line from the shooting script has Mac explicitly point out that Norris looked pretty dead, and he thinks the Thing is smart enough to play dead. Though it turns out that both Copper and Clark turned out to be human.
  • Novelization: By Alan Dean Foster.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Windows gets several of these — when he realizes whoever got to the blood did so by retrieving the keys to the fridge that he dropped, and when he sees Bennings being assimilated, the Palmer-Thing drops down from the ceiling in front of him.
    • Everyone during the failed defib scene. Especially Palmer, who has that one great line.
    • When the "lynch mob" break down the storeroom door to find Mac holding a flare inches away from a bundle of dynamite.
    • The look on Mac's face when Fuchs, reading from Blair's journal, tells him that there's still cellular activity within the burnt remains of the Thing, and it's not dead yet.
  • One-Winged Angel: If a Thing manages to complete a transformation, the result is fast, savage and completely hostile; it will attack everything in the vicinity with More Teeth than the Osmond Family, and usually at least one person gets killed before the others manage to burn it. Particularly noteworthy when it confronts MacReady at the end, having combined into a huge monster shapeshifter mash-up. If a Thing is caught before it can complete its transformation, however, it ends up a Clipped-Wing Angel.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: On numerous occasions you can hear Donald Moffat (Garry) slip back into his British accent.
  • Pants-Free: During the disorder of the Kennel scene were some of the guys rush out of their rooms half-dressed, you can see Dr.Copper only wearing a shirt and no underwear.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe and out.
  • Personal Arcade: There is an Asteroids arcade machine at the ice station, one of the few times this trope is not played for laughs. In fact, it foreshadows the idea that each component of the monster is a danger in and of itself.
  • Perspective Flip: The short story The Things by Peter Watts, which is told from the creature's POV, and makes it somewhat sympathetic.
  • Plunger Detonator: The remaining crew members set up dynamite charges to blow up the base, with a detonator to set them off. Unfortunately the Blair-Thing grabs and destroys it before MacReady can use it, but The Hero improvises, tossing a lit stick down into the basement area with the rest of the charges and running for the hills.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If only they knew to speak Norwegian, or if the Norwegian knew English...
  • Practical Effects: One of the more iconic examples of the benefits of using practical effects, The Thing especially benefited as the effects were more horrifying than cleaner computer-generated imagery, and the less refinement made the Thing seem even more alien.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Upon seeing a human head grow legs and walk away:
      Palmer: You gotta be fucking kidding...
    • Upon seeing a monster crawl out of the stomach of another big monster:
      Mac: Yeah? fuck you, too!
    • Right after one of the movie's most intense fight scenes:
      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!
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    MacReady: Yeah, fuck you, too!
  • Pyrrhic Victory: If the protagonists have won at all it's come at a devastating cost.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: When the Norwegian gets out of the helicopter he speaks in Norwegian without any translation.
  • Re Cut: Of the TV variety. When the movie was due to premiere on TBS, a good deal of gore was cut out - to the point where they were falling under the expected runtime. To make up for the cut footage, previously cut material (such as character exposition) was edited in. A new twist to the ending was also featured in this version, but not in broadcasts on other networks (such as AMC or Sci-Fi).
  • Red Herring Mole: All the characters set up to be The Thing turn out to be human. In fact, in the end it turns out that only 3 characters (Palmer, Norris and Blair) had been infected.
  • Rule of Symbolism: MacReady destroying the chess computer by pouring whiskey into it mirrors the metaphorical game of chess played through the rest of the movie, and how he will destroy the game, or burn down the entire facility, to prevent his opponent from winning. Notice how in the end, he hands Childs a drink?
  • Scare Chord: The Thing seems to be capable of making its own, a high-pitched, short, inhuman wail, heard when Fuchs sees the shadowy figure after the lights go out and when Blair appears behind Garry in the basement before giving him his Face Palm of Doom.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Already opened when our guys find it.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Right from the start, we can guess that that dog is the Thing. It's no spoiler to say that we're right. And in one bit, it's seen in shadow, licking the hand of a man who, from his shadow, is either Palmer or Norris, both of whom turn out to be the Thing as well. It's actually the shadow of a crew member, who looks a lot like both the relevant characters. Carpenter felt like being indeterminate again.
  • Shock and Awe: Sufficient voltage can cause a Thing to lash out instinctively (this is how Norris is outed as a Thing during the defib scene).
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: An inversion with the cable cut: All their suicidal efforts to stop the Thing are in vain. The end result: the shaggy dog running across the Antarctic plains, headed for life to infect and ready to take over the planet.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Norwegian scientists finding the saucer is an exact recreation of the scene in the 1951 film.
    • The effect used for the main title is a slicker version of the one used in 1951.
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: Wheras The Thing From Another World was a Pragmatic Adaptation due to effects limitations of the 1950's, this remake is a Type 4 (Nearly Identical Adaptation) that is much more faithful to the original Who Goes There? novella.
  • Sore Loser: When we meet MacReady, he loses a game of chess to the computer, accuses it of being a "cheating bitch", and then pours whiskey into the CPU. MacReady's character will destroy the game rather than lose to 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.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Garry, after the intense fight scene with the Palmer-Thing during the blood test:
    Garry: (calmly) 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!
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Pretty much whenever the Thing's new host is uncovered.
  • Taking You with Me: MacReady grabs a bundle of dynamite and threatens to light if the others try to rush him. It also keeps them from burning him.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: The bulk of the film essentially boils down to the cast wanting to kill the Thing, but not knowing who is or isn't infected.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: After flaming Palmer-Thing, MacReady chucks his dynamite bundle at it for good measure.
  • They Look Like Us Now: Milked 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 says 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 craft to attempt to escape, it seems probable that they know what they are.

    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 Garry's gun - "I'm not up to it.". Note also Nauls's expression when his turn comes for the blood test. Though he does turn out to be human, it is pretty clear that he is terrified he will not pass the test.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In a movie mostly filled with smart characters facing impossible choices, the Norwegian pilot plays this straight. When he drops his thermite grenade near the helicopter he goes after it in the snow, which only succeeds in destroying himself along with their ride home.
  • Trapped with Monster Plot: The only alternatives the characters have are staying inside or freezing to death outside in the Antarctic winter.
  • Trash the Set: The burned-down Norwegian camp was actually the same set as the American camp after the final battle.
  • Unwanted Assistance (In-Universe): MacReady's reaction to Palmer backing up his talk of Flying Saucers.
    Childs: I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullshit.
    Palmer: Childs, happens all the time, man. They're falling out of the skies like flies. Government knows all about it, right, Mac? Chariots of the Gods, man. They practically own South America. I mean, they taught the Incas everything they know.
  • Virus Victim Symptoms: Played with in a scene with Blair, which just underscores the paranoia.
  • Wham Line:
    • When dealing with the power issue.
    Garry: The generator's...gone.
    MacReady: Any way we can fix it?
    Garry: It's gone, MacReady.
    • Delivered by Garry with a mix of awe and utter defeat and despondence. They're in the basement, and the generator wasn't simply "broken" by the alien. Off-screen, it somehow removed the entire large machine weighing several tons, leaving no trace of it behind. It casually reveals just how strong the alien they are up against is. They are screwed.
    • Earlier...
    Fuchs: "Damn it, MacReady, there is still cellular activity in these remains... they're not dead yet."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out who sabotaged the blood samples, or whose shadow it was on the wall. Presumably it was one of the men later revealed to be Things - Norris, Palmer, or possibly Blair or even Fuchs, but which one is never specified. More importantly, we never see exactly what happened to Nauls. They did film a resolution for that last one, but they weren't happy with the special effects on it, and Carpenter decided it would be more effective just to leave that particular thread hanging.
  • Worm Sign: Near the end of the movie the giant Blair-Thing races underground towards MacReady, splitting floorboards as it goes, to get to the detonator before MacReady can use it.
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Said by Palmer when he sees the Norris-spider head walking away.
    "You got to be fucking kidding..."
    • The funny thing is that by this point, Palmer is most certainly a Thing himself, which changes the tone of the scene completely. He says this a few seconds after Windows turns to see the Norris-spider head - realizing that at least one other person noticed it, he's trying too enthusiastically to "helpfully" point out an alien, to throw suspicion off himself.
    • Or he's flabbergasted that part of "himself" would be so stupid to try to escape in such an obvious fashion.