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Film / The Thing (1982)

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

A much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There? than Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World, this 1982 Sci-Fi Horror film is also the first entry in director John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy", the others being Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness.

The film 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.


The cast includes Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and Richard Dysart.

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. In January 2020, it was reported that a remake of Carpenter's original film was in development at Blumhouse Productions and Universal Studios, this time adapting Frozen Hell, the original iteration of the story "Who Goes There?" was shortened from.

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 canonical is unclear (most likely not).

A board game by USAopoly called "The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31" was released in late 2017. The tabletop game follows the exact plot of the movie and follows the spirit of the film that it's based off of.

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.
  • Adaptational Villainy: While they didn't become villains of their own free will, Bennings and Norris are absorbed by the title creature and become alien agents. In Who Goes There?, they were never assimilated and remain human throughout the story. In particular, the scene where Thing Norris kills Dr. Copper is absent, and Copper survives, too, Norris in particular remaining a useful ally in exposing and defeating the alien. While Bennings's fate is a little more ambiguous, he isn't listed by Copper at the end as one of the casualties, heavily suggesting he survived.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: This is an inverted example in that the original book rather than its 1982 film adaptation has this specific Plot Hole. In this 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?
  • Adaptation Title Change: The Thing is an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There, deriving it's title from prior adaptation The Thing from Another World.
  • Alarm SOS:
    • When the dog-Thing starts to transform in the kennel, MacReady hears the real dogs' terrified barking and howling from several rooms away, and pulls the fire alarm to get the attention of the other members of the team so they will come and help out.
    • Windows discovers that Bennings has been attacked and copied by the Thing, and tells MacReady and Fuchs. MacReady looks out a window and sees the Bennings-Thing running away. The fire alarm is pulled again to bring the other team members, but it isn't shown who did it.
  • Alien Autopsy: Dr. Blair performs two autopsies on the Thing, the first when the split-faced and charred humanoid body is found and taken back to the American base, and the second shortly after the Dog-Thing was incinerated. The first autopsy has Blair find human internal organs in the split-faced Thing, implying that what they're looking at was once human. The second autopsy has Blair discover that the creature that attacked Clark's dogs was imitating the dogs it was absorbing. A Deleted Scene shown here has Blair give more details about his discovery, as well as the fact that there is still cellular activity within the remains...
  • Alien Blood: Blood samples are taken from all the characters and exposed to heat to test which one is the shapeshifting alien. The alien blood, it turns out, is capable of leaping around the room as an independent organism. The character who proposed and carried out the test did it because he figured that the blood might well do that, as severed pieces had previously been observed operating independently. Also, while it can imitate red blood color, it appears its default color is actually green.
  • Alien Invasion: A strange alien found in the Antarctic with the ability to mimic any living creature. Whether it intended to go to Earth in the first place is unclear. It still threatens to take over.
  • Ambiguous 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.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The film is almost literally one situation after another full of plot threads that are never fully resolved and left to the viewer's interpretation. Who got to the blood? What happened to Fuchs and Nauls, when were Palmer, Norris, and Blair infected? Are Mac and Childs infected or are they still human? To this day fans still debate on these questions and more.
    • Not long after the Thing arrives in the outpost in the shape of a dog, a dog enters someone's room and presumably infects them. The audience can only see their shadow and, while the general consensus is that it's either Norris or Palmer, it's never outright confirmed.
  • 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.
  • Animalistic Abomination: The monster spends most of its time as an Alaskan pack dog. You catch a glimpse of what it really is, before it proceeds to eat all the other dogs. It also appears very much like a spider/insect-like organism in the prequel and in Carpenter's movie it still retains arthropod features like random insect legs. More horrifyingly, in the novel that inspired all of this, it is also heavily implied it assimilated an albatross, so it can now fly. That said, there's no way of knowing what it really looks like, if it even has a "true" form at all, rather than being purely amorphous. Heck, its nature as an abomination is debatable.
  • Antagonist Title: The Thing is the alien creature trying to take over the protagonists.
  • Apocalypse How: The Assimilator alien organism is liable to cause a Class 4 with certainty, and more than likely a Class 6 to Earth's biodiversity, if it ever spreads outward from Antarctica.
  • Apocalyptic Log: MacReady leaves a log to warn the eventual rescuers about the title monster.
    I'm going to hide this tape when I'm finished. If none of us make it, at least there'll be some kind of record. The storm's been hitting us hard now for... 48 hours... We still have nothing to go on. One other thing: I think it rips through your clothes when it takes you over... Windows found some shredded longjohns but the nametag was missing. They could be anybody's... Nobody... nobody trusts anybody now, and we're all very tired... there's nothing more I can do, just wait. R.J. MacReady, helicopter pilot, US outpost 31.
  • Arch-Enemy: The Thing to R.J. MacReady.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Dr. Copper has his arms bitten off by the titular Thing. This kills him likely due to blood loss as the next time we see him, it's as a corpse tied up next to another (seemingly) human corpse to be blood tested alongside the survivors.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Clark casually shuts the dog-Thing in the enclosure with the sled dogs, without taking time to introduce it to the others or putting the animals on individual leads to keep them apart and prevent them from fighting. Had it been an actual dog, they'd quite possibly have ganged up on the intruding stranger and injured it.
  • Assimilation Backfire: The Thing's assimilation and imitation of Vance Norris is so good that it even copied his bad heart. Thing Norris has a heart attack during a stressful situation, leading to the doctor's attempts to resuscitate "him" with an electrical defibrillator. The Thing is forced to attack the doctor and expose itself to stop the painful electrical shocks.
  • 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 Beard: MacReady, along with Barbarian Longhair. Bennings, Clark, Fuchs, Windows and one of the Norwegians also have beards.
  • Badass Normal: Everyone, whenever they fight the Thing, but especially Mac, who manages to go toe-to-toe with it.
  • Batman Gambit: The alien puppet whose identity isn't discovered until near the end of the film is executing a Batman Gambit from early on. Given how paranoid and trigger happy everyone was, he could have been shot or Mac could have let him go when he asked, although it could be argued that his insistence that he had calmed down was intentionally unconvincing.
  • Belly Mouth: One of the many ways in which the eponymous being surprises the humans, and the first time it reveals its ability to take human form, is when Dr. Copper tries to electrically resuscitate Norris and has his arms bitten off when the Thing opens its chest into a toothy maw before he can zap it further.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: One of the Norwegians 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! Det imiterer en bikkje, det er ikke virkelig! Kom dere vekk, idioter!", which, translated, means "You get the hell away. It's not a dog, it's some sort of thing! It's imitating a dog, it's not real! Get away, you idiots!" (The word bikkje is pretty low-register, almost "mutt" rather than "dog.")
  • 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 finds 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.
  • Black Eyes of Evil:
    • Just prior to busting out, the eyes of the Dog-Thing become pitch-black, and once the lights go out, they become like bottomless pits in its face.
    • The mutated, half-formed Bennings-Thing also has pitch black eyes.
  • Blob Monster: The Thing really is an amorphous being, being simply a multi-cellular organism. Unfortunately, not only does it absorb its prey, it is also extremely plastic, hence it can both copy its victims and assume grotesque, hideous, and gory forms.
  • 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.
  • Bloody Murder: The shapeshifting monster is capable of regenerating each severed but unburned piece of itself into a fully autonomous being. Even blood will crawl away from danger and can (if allowed) potentially respawn into a full-grown monster. As the final act draws near, the Thing is finally flushed out by MacReady touching a heated wire to blood samples of every remaining crew member — and, as he predicts, the Thing's blood attempts to protect itself.
  • 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 
  • Body of Bodies: The Blair-Thing absorbs several people and gathers all its biomass into a twisted amalgam as a last-ditch survival effort.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film ends with MacReady and Childs isolated in Antarctica. With the base destroyed, they have no way to call for a rescue team and are unable to determine whether each other is infected. Exhausted and realizing the futility of their distrust, they share a bottle of scotch as they slowly freeze to death. The videogame that follows up on the story reveals that Childs succumbed to hypothermia. MacReady is still alive, but whether it's because he was rescued in time or replaced by a Thing is still ambiguous.
  • 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.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Blair fires seven shots from a six shot revolver without reloading.
  • Boom, Headshot!: MacReady shoots Clark in the head when Clark tries to stab him with a scalpel.
  • 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 Grimdark 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.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: The characters are able to make a stand against the monster, but by the time they're done all but two are dead, and the survivors are likely to freeze to death. It's also not entirely clear if they actually succeeded in destroying the Thing or if they've only temporarily contained it, and there is a faint possibility one of the two survivors could be a Thing. To make things even darker there's an alternate ending where a dog is seen running away from the ruins of the camp, implying that the Thing escaped, and MacReady's efforts were for nothing.
  • Buffy Speak: Unable to come up with a better term for them, the characters refer to the alien species as "Things". The subtitles capitalize this as the proper name for the creatures.
  • Came Back Wrong: Windows is horribly mangled and then thrown aside by a Thing, seemingly dead, but shortly afterwards his body begins to squirm, prompting one of the men to exclaim: "He's coming back!" However, he has also started to make disturbing and quite inhuman grunting sounds, so it is clear to everyone that what is 'coming back' is not truly Windows, but a Thing in the making. The flamethrower is applied to Windows' infected remains before he can "revive" fully.
  • Came from the Sky: The film opens with the spaceship containing the Thing crash-landing in Antarctica.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: This seems to describe the title creature quite well.
  • Canon Foreigner: Windows, Fuchs, Childs, Palmer, and the Norwegians don't appear in Who Goes There?, while the other eight cast members do.
  • Central Theme: Paranoia and the loss of trust.
  • 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.
  • Closed Circle: The film takes place at an Antarctic research base which lacks the resources for anyone to get off the continent without outside help. Blair destroys their communications equipment to keep the Thing from escaping alive, leaving everyone stranded for the next couple months until someone comes for routine resupplying, trapped with the monster than can assume the form of anyone it's killed. Then The Thing uses this to its advantage, destroying the base so everyone else will freeze to death while it hibernates until the resuppliers come and give it a way to the rest of the world.
  • Communications Officer: The appropriately named "Windows" (possibly a nickname meaning "window to the outside world"), although a dead radio makes it impossible for him to ever contact anybody.
  • Composite Character: R.J. MacReady is based on the original story's McReady (The Hero, second-in-command of the base) and Van Wall (chief pilot).
  • Cool Guns:
    • The crazed Norwegian uses an HK93 to try and shoot the dog-thing, accidentally hitting one of the Americans in the leg.
    • MacReady uses an Ithaca 37 shotgun. Windows manages to grab one before he is subdued by the others.
  • 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 way 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 novella, 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 Adaptation: Dr. Copper and Norris survive the events of Who Goes There? In the film, Norris is replaced by the titular monster and Copper is killed by said duplicate.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: Fuchs is one of the smartest members of the team, and is one of the first characters to realize how dangerous the title creature is. He's also Killed Offscreen in short order, either directly murdered by the Thing or deliberately setting himself on fire to prevent it from absorbing him. Justified as the Thing may have targeted him on purpose both to stop his research and to stir up distrust and paranoia among the remaining humans.
  • Death by Pragmatism: Since even the audience doesn't know who's been assimilated already, it's difficult to say whether this trope is or is not in effect for Blair, who flips out at the beginning of the film. It may be that he destroys the radio and vehicles, and kills the surviving dogs to stop the Thing from using them, or it may be that the Thing does all that in his shape to stop the others from escaping. His shirt changes for that scene from the last time he was onscreen.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Bennings gets one hell of a death scene, but averted otherwise. Copper and Windows' deaths are easily missed, what with all the Transformation Trauma going on simultaneously. We never find out what happens to Mac, Childs, and Nauls, but it's strongly implied that they all die.
  • 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."
  • Deer in the Headlights: Windows freezes in horror when the Palmer-Thing drops off the ceiling in front of him. The Thing uses his moment of indecision to maul him to death.
  • 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.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: MacReady replies "Yeah, fuck you too!" after the monstrous Blair-Thing roars and attempts to attack him - right before blowing it to hell with a thrown stick of dynamite.
  • Distress Call: The Norwegian camp got it out far too late.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Palmer during the blood test, an early giveaway for attentive viewers that he's infected.
  • Divide and Conquer: The Thing realizes it can't win against a united camp, so it tries to sow paranoia and distrust among them. It frames MacReady as a Thing to keep the remaining humans from being united under his leadership and assimilates Norris and Palmer, the two least likely to be suspected as Things.
  • The Dog Is an Alien: The alien masquerades as a dog for a while.
  • 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.
  • Drone of Dread: The score makes heavy use of minimalist drones to evoke apocalyptic dread. The political/sociological documentary The Power of Nightmares borrows from the film's soundtrack.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: A retroactive example thanks to the prequel. Lars was an all-around awesome character in it, surviving the destruction of the Norwegian camp by the Thing. He's unceremoniously shot in the head in the first few minutes of this film.
  • 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 by MacReady 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 of the World as We Know It: It's made very clear that if the Thing ever escapes the desolate wasteland of Antarctica into greater civilization, it's a game over. The plot becomes just as much about keeping it from ever leaving as about the immediate survival of the team.
  • 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 Is Visceral: The alien while assimilating its victims; the Dog-Thing is the most spectacular example.
  • Expositron 9000: The base computer, during the explanation of The Thing's infection and replication mechanism.
  • Extreme Omnivore: As part of its MO, The Thing consumes and imitates any form of life. And we DO mean ANY. Be glad Antarctica is practically devoid of life, or our heroes would have been dealing with more mutated animals than just the 'dog' they incinerated.
  • Eye on a Stalk: The spider-like Thing that splits off from a duplicated body grows eyestalks to see with.
  • Eye Scream:
    • The Norwegian in the opening is shot in the eye.
    • Several different eyes can be seen on 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.
  • The Faceless: The titular creature is seen frequently, but in forms which are obviously an ever-changing mishmash of other alien life forms, dogs, and/or men. Its natural shape is never revealed, even in death. It may not even have a "natural" shape.
  • Face Palm Of Doom: A particularly nasty variation performed on Garry by the Blair-Thing, which forces its hand into his throat.
  • Face Stealer: The titular alien is able to infect and take over anyone who comes into contact with a single cell of it.
  • Fade to White: Used extensively in the daylight scene transitions.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • (In Norwegian) "Get the hell away! It's not a dog! It's a thing! It's imitating a dog! It's not real! Get away idiots!" One of the Norwegians.
    • "Get them from Garry, there's some stuff I want to get from here." Bennings, to Windows about the keys.
    • "Clear! AAAAAHHH!" Dr. Copper
    • "No, no, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let's do what Mac says. I mean, he wasted Norris pretty quick, didn't he?" Clark
    • "What do we do now?" Childs
  • 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: For an Antarctic research station, the Americans seem to have an awful lot of flamethrowers lying around.
  • 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.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the blood test, the only one who's not looking at MacReady is Palmer. Instead, he's looking down with a resigned, almost rueful expression on his face, like "Damn, I guess the game is up."
  • Flying Saucer: The guys find one in the bottom of an enormous crater. There was also the Blair-Thing's homemade craft, though it is blown up before it can be used.
  • 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.
  • Four Is Death: Notably, we only get to see the Thing's full transformations four times: the dog in the kennel, Norris in the infirmary, Palmer during the blood test, and Blair in the finale.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Windows freaks out and runs for a firearm and the others chase after him, pay close attention to who is positioned where during the confrontation. Norris and Palmer - the only two present who are infected - are standing off to the side with Fuchs. They were subtly trying to isolate Fuchs while the rest of the group was distracted. And though he's out of focus in the background, look at where Palmer is staring: directly at Fuchs.
    • When MacReady and Dr. Copper visit the Norweigan base at the beginning of the film, a lot of damage and environmental cues mirror things that will happen later at the American base.
    • During the blood test, Palmer is the only one who doesn't visibly seem upset or agitated. More significantly, while Mac is potentially getting ready to set any of them on fire, he's not even looking at MacReady.
  • Flower Mouth: The Dog-Thing first reveals itself as an alien beast in the kennel with the other dogs by opening its head like a flower before attacking them.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you pause the scene where Palmer's blood leaps out the petri dish, you can see in response to the test, the blood grew fangs, eyes and claws.
    • In addition if you pause at MacReady's chess computer screen, you'll notice that while he's in a bad spot, he's not in checkmate and there are viable moves he could still make to save his game. So he was right, the computer was a cheating bitch because it declared victory despite having not won yet.
  • From a Single Cell: One of the more dangerous qualities of the Thing, provided it has biomass to feed on. The kicker? It only needs a single cell to consume you from the inside out.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: The Thing's motivations are never explained, nor its intentions. Whether it's hostile, simply acting in self-defense, or has some other motive that doesn't even make sense to us is never made clear since the film focuses on the people desperately trying to stop it, and it's all the more frightening for it.
  • Glass Cannon: The Thing is a monster that can kill a single unsuspecting human easily, but if it's discovered it can be taken down by the base's flamethrowers without much effort. Even a stick of dynamite can take down its 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' 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 Things 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.
  • Hand Gagging: Played for horror when the Blair-Thing shows up to kill Garry, simultaneously silencing and assimilating him by MORPHING HIS HAND INTO HIS MOUTH. Afterwards we're shown Garry's body being dragged by the hand-melded mouth.
  • Hard-to-Light Fire: When MacReady's blood test reveals that Palmer is a Thing, he attempts to burn it with the flamethrower. However, the flamethrower malfunctions, and by the time MacReady can finally get the fire running, Thing!Palmer had already eaten Windows.
  • Harmless Freezing: The original Thing was frozen for around 100,000 years. When it's thawed out, it's completely fine. It's acknowledged that this should have killed it and it only survived due to its Bizarre Alien Biology.
  • Heal It with Booze: In the beginning, the Norwegian shoots Bennings in the leg, and he's handed a bottle of booze that he takes a swig from before pouring it over the wound.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The film uses background music, most notably in the beginning, that is nothing more than an instrumental heartbeat. An imitation of a heartbeat, if you will.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The blood test scene where MacReady casually puts a heated wire to a tray of Palmer's blood and the blood explodes with a hideous screeching sound. It should be hilarious but it's horrifying.
    • The Thing is overall one of the greatest masters of this trope in cinema. The scene where the lights go out in Fuchs' room (it only attacks in the dark) and as he walks to the door with a candle, a shadow darts by with a...sound so alien, there are no words in the English language to describe it.
    • The Bennings-Thing's scream. It still disturbs many fans of the movie. And in some fanfics, it causes a reaction of horror in the individual cells of any non-Thing life form.
    • The combinations of sounds from the Jed/Kennel Thing. Especially that insect droning.
  • 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.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing: The Thing screams a lot.
  • 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.
  • Human Popsicle: This is how the creatures were found by human explorers, both in the film and the original short story. One character in the film speculates that, facing defeat, the Thing might simply return to the ice and await the next group of suckers to uncover it.
  • 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.
    • Additionally, when Fuchs looks out the window of his lab, he sees the shadow of a figure run by. Knowing full well that the Thing is loose in one or more imitations, he goes outside alone and unarmed to investigate. It ends with the charred remains of Fuchs being found outside by MacReady and Nauls sometime later
    • Even after realizing that the Thing is highly intelligent, can easily pick them off one by one and replace them with perfect copies of themselves, the group still insists on splitting up ever so often. This allows the Thing to wander off and sabotage the group's efforts to find out who is who by infecting other characters and planting false evidence against non-infected characters.
  • Impeded Communication: After the Antarctic research team discovers that they've been infiltrated by the title alien monster, they try to make contact with the outside world to warn them but can't because radio contact has been cut off by bad weather.
  • Impostor 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.
  • Improvised Weapon: A folding table is used by MacReady to overcome axe-wielding Blair.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: John Carpenter's The Thing, to separate it from The Thing from Another World. Although Carpenter has a knack for doing this with every film he directs. This seems likely to be the real explanation, since the original story was entitled Who Goes There? and using that title would have been sufficient if distinguishing it from the earlier movie had been the only goal. On the other hand, they may not have totally wanted to divorce it from the original.
  • Infernal Retaliation: Several incarnations of the monster keep causing trouble even after catching fire.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: When MacReady punches out Blair in the radio room, he leaves shaking his hand that he used to punch him.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • It is also implied to have singled out MacReady as the leader of the survivors and then cast suspicion onto him by planting evidence that pointed to him being assimilated. It is very clear that this isn't just some predatory animal or even simply an intelligent one; this is a fully sapient creature of human intelligence-or higher.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: MacReady. He blows up an expensive computer for no reason other than it beat him at chess, isn't even sad at the death of Bennings, which was partly his fault for bringing the Norwegian Thing back to base, threatens to kill Nauls just because he showed them evidence he was a Thing, holds the entire team hostage and kills Clark. However, when Norris has a heart attack, he orders them to untie the doctor, even though there is a high chance he could be a Thing, only holds the team hostage because they were trying to murder him, seems concerned when Bennings is shot in the leg, seems very reluctant to shoot Childs when he protests and tells Mac to shoot him, and at the end he is willing to sacrifice his life to stop the Thing. He also forgets his grudge with Childs, as they both sit in the freezing snow, knowing they can't survive.
  • 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 and Replace: The title creature is a cross between Kill and Replace and Puppeteer Parasite. It infects a host, slowly replacing them from the inside out until none of the original remains becoming just the form of a new "colony" of Thing cells.
  • 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: Both Fuchs and Nauls die offscreen. Only Fuchs' burnt corpse is found.
  • 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.
  • Kubrick Stare: Used as a Red Herring when Windows is receiving the blood test. He's shown staring at Mac in this fashion as if he's about to attack him, but as soon as the test proves negative Windows visibly relaxes.
  • Last-Name Basis: All of the characters only refer to each other by their last names. This is only averted after Bennings is shot and MacReady calls him "George".
  • Late to the Tragedy: The alien got dug up by, and slaughtered, a Norwegian expedition team before it found its way into the American outpost in Antarctica. The 2011 prequel film shows what happened at the Norwegian outpost.
  • LEGO Genetics: It seems that the Things can do this instantaneously, both at will and by instinct. It allows them to sample and utilize the genetics of any creature they come into contact with, and to form hybrid forms.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: This is even more of a bad idea than usual, given that the alien can take over and copy humans. Even when the protagonists have finally worked out who's an alien and who isn't, events serve to split them up again, so when that person reappears, so do the old suspicions.
  • Light Is Not Good: While not present in the actual film (unless you count the ice and snow), the most common poster depicts a man with a white radiance emanating from and obscuring his face, implying he was assimilated.
  • 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.
  • Made of Plasticine: Dr. Copper tries to resurrect Norris via defibrillation. As he attempts to strike the patient's chest with the defibrillator, the patient's stomach opens up and grabs hold of the doctor's arms with a massive set of teeth, tearing his arms off. Now sure, this would probably be legitimate, alien strength and all...if the arms hadn't torn off a few inches above the teeth grip.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The apparently insane Norwegian who is taking potshots at a harmless dog is wearing snow goggles. As the weather worsens people also wear goggles whenever they are outside, adding to the Paranoia Fuel with their sinister appearance.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • When Mac visits the imprisoned, oddly much calmer Blair, a noose is hanging from the rafters. Neither character comments on it.
    • When Windows is freaking out and the others are trying to calm him down, Palmer, who is likely to be infected by this point, is wearing earbuds, not paying any attention to the conversation at all, and is staring at Fuchs.
  • Message in a Bottle: MacReady is shown dictating an Apocalyptic Log into a tape recorder, in which he states that he intends to hide in the faint hope that it would be found by a search party if they're all killed. Or worse.
  • Mind Screw: Despite having a narrative that's more or less easy to follow, it really leaves out a lot of crucial details that the audience is left to fill in. To this day fans of the movie still debate on who got to the blood, whether Blair was infected before or after he was locked up (which, depending on how you look at it, can provide wholly different interpretations of his actions over the course of the film), how Fuchs ended up being burned to death outside, and most of all whether the Thing really was defeated, or if perhaps one, both, or neither of the survivors have been assimilated.
  • Minimalist Cast: The film is centered entirely around the twelve members of the Antarctic research team. The only other people who show up alive and in person are dead in the first ten minutes. Otherwise you just have a corpse and a few people who show up in video recordings.
  • Mistaken for Dog: Played completely and horrifyingly straight when the characters bring a malamute home to their base camp and it turns out to be an incredibly dangerous alien.
  • 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 in the musical style of Frank Sinatra.
  • Mutagenic Food: The titular monster is like a virus, it can infect people by merely touching them. Since small particles are enough to take over a body, one of the scientists suggests that everyone prepare their own food and eat out of cans in order to prevent contamination via the digestive system.
  • 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.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Part of what makes the film so terrifying is that it only takes ONE cell for the creature to survive. The fact that it's basically a virus that spreads its cells to others makes it that much worse and nearly impossible to kill.
  • The Night That Never Ends: The majority of the film takes place at night. The exact timeline isn't entirely clear but most fans approximate the film to be set roughly over the course of a week. This is actually a justified example, since the story takes place in at the beginning of winter in Antarctica.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Cross-Species Disease.
  • No Ending: The film ends with the two surviving heroes still stranded in Antarctica, unsure of whether the other is actually an alien.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Possibly. As much as a nightmare inducing assimilatory monstrosity it is, there is no indication that it is doing anything other than acting as any organism does: reproducing and trying to remain alive. On the other hand the creature seems to have a calculating nature and superior intellect to an animal, so if it can pretend and trick humans perhaps it is not mindless and can understand what it does.
  • No One Could Survive That!: When MacReady is cut loose from his cable in the storm, his survival is regarded as proof that he must no longer be human.
  • 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 ends up that both Copper and Clark turned out to be human.
  • Nothing Is Scarier
    • Mostly in the first part with the dog wandering around, and it's putting on an incredible performance.
    • All the assimilations happen offscreen with the exception of the interrupted Bennings, nor we do we learn exactly how it happens - we never to learn that someone is a Thing until after it's already too late, which leaves the audience in the same position as the characters - constantly guessing who's still human and who's been infected.
    • While we get many good looks at the Thing and its various transformations, each more horrific than the last, a lot of the appeal of the film is this trope, as we don't actually know anything about it beyond what it does. Where it came from, why it's here, what its goals and motivations are (or if it even has any we can comprehend), if it's intelligent and trying to destroy us or just an animal doing what it has to in order to survive, or even if it's just trying to communicate in a manner we find real answers are available. And like the Alien, it all makes the Thing that much more memorable of an antagonist.
    • During Blair's autopsy of the corpse found in the Norwegian base, he recovers several organs from it. They're all apparently human. The camera lingers on the distinctly inhuman corpse afterward.
    • Bennings's infection is telegraphed in one of the subtlest yet creepiest methods possible. After the remains of the Dog-Thing have been destroyed, he and Windows carry the corpse from the Norwegians' camp into a storage room. Windows then leaves him alone in the room with the corpse (covered by a sheet) with his back to it, and nothing happens for several seconds...then something moves under the sheet.
  • Novelization: By Alan Dean Foster.
  • Obscured Special Effects: Done with extreme cleverness, not because the effects were unconvincing, but because it was scarier. Half the time, you won't even realize what's being hidden from you. Almost every time we get a Reaction Shot by one of the protagonists to the horrific transformation sequences, with each new cut we're getting a shot of an entirely new model in various stages of transformation.
    • A great example is in the blood test scene, when the infected Palmer's head starts mutating. His transformation is broken up into three phases - one where he's just kind of making a weird expression, the second where his face starts bubbling, and third where his head has collapsed into a hideous fleshy blob that's no longer recognizable as human - all of which are shown in their horrific glory, but twice the camera cuts between Palmer and the horrified reactions of the other guys to avoid showing the transitional mutations between each phase.
  • 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, and when 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" breaks 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.
    • Even a dog gets in on this. When the dog-Thing begins transforming in the kennel, one of the huskies stops barking at it, backs away, glances at the chain-link fence, looks back at the Thing, and starts ripping the former up with its teeth.
  • One-Way Trip: An alien capable of duplicating and replacing people infests an Antarctic camp. If it makes it out into the world, humanity is doomed. After it's apparently destroyed, the two survivors (one of whom may be an alien replacement) talk it over.
    Childs: The explosions set the temperatures up all over the camp. But it won't last long though.
    MacReady: When these fires go out, neither will we.
    Childs: How will we make it?
    MacReady: Maybe we shouldn't.
  • 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 where 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, as the Thing's modus operandi causes the scientists' fear to escalate to the point where they can no longer trust each other.
  • Parasite Zombie: The moment the Thing's cells get inside a host, the host is doomed. The Thing's cells quickly kill and replace the host's cells, until nothing is left but a colony of Thing cells that still looks like the victim. Especially creepy because Things can access their victims' memories, allowing them to mimic them perfectly.
  • Partial Transformation: The Thing can change any part of its body into any living material it had previously absorbed. It loved spider legs. Combine this with the mechanic that "every part is a whole new animal" and you get situations where you cut one's head off, they both keep fighting, and the head grows spider legs to crawl away.
  • Patience Plot: The movie ends with the entire facility in flames and only MacReady and Childs left alive, facing each other down. Neither one of them knows if the other is a Thing or not, and there's no way to prove it to themselves because they don't dare get close to each other. Once the fires go out, if they're human they'll freeze to death. If they're a Thing, they'll go into hibernation and wait for a rescue team to arrive. The film ends with both of them sitting and staring at each other. Waiting.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: That hideously mutated corpse gives us the slow-motion version of this trope when the camera finally focuses on it.
  • Personal Arcade: There is an Asteroids arcade machine and a "Heat Wave" pinball at the ice station, one of the few times this trope is not played for laughs. The specific theme of the pinball is ironic (or perhaps intentionally foreshadowing the film's fiery ending) and the game's presence hints 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.
  • Playing Possum: The Thing does this, most notably with Norris-Thing. It doesn't quite work out as planned, though. Instead of being treated like a dead body, Norris-Thing is shocked with a defibrillator and retaliates by biting off Doc's arms when he goes in for a second shock. It was more successful with the attack on Bennings by what was assumed to be a completely dead and burned body.
  • 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.
  • Polar Madness: Set in an Eerie Arctic Research Station, it features some eccentricity and tensions among the crew fairly early on. When two Norwegians show up at the camp, shooting at a fleeing dog and throwing bombs all over the place, it's assumed that they've gone crazy after too many winters... right up until the "dog" begins sprouting tentacles and trying to assimilate people. After this, communications failures, the inescapable winter, growing paranoia and the near-omnipresent threat of the Thing quickly drive the base personnel to the brink of insanity - and in the case of Blair, right over it.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The movie begins with a man chasing after a dog with explosives and a rifle, trying to warn the others that the dog is a monster in disguise and must be destroyed. The man's warning is unheeded and he is shot and killed because he was speaking Norwegian while the main characters were American and couldn't understand.
  • 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 lessened refinement made the Thing seem even more real and alien.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film is more faithful to the original short story than the original film, as it actually uses the shape-shifting alien, but it updates the setting to the year it was released and simplifies the cast to only twelve men (although most of them were in the original book).
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Upon seeing a human head grow legs and walk away:
      Palmer: You've 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!
  • Properly Paranoid: Though played straight for most of the film, it's horrifically subverted in the case of Clark. He seems to be the most likely candidate for being infected as he was alone with the initial Thing for quite some time, and doesn't have an alibi for most of the cases of sabotage that one or more infected has been behind. In the end, it's later proven that he wasn't one of the infected... after MacReady has already shot him through the skull. Childs makes sure to point out that MacReady screwed up royally in that respect. (Although, in fairness to MacReady, Clark did try to attack him.)
  • Pyrrhic Victory: If the protagonists have won at all, it's come at a devastating cost.
  • The Radio Dies First: Early on, it's established that the radio's been dead for weeks and Windows hasn't been able to get through. Later Blair uses an axe to make sure that it won't get used again. Fans still debate whether Blair had been assimilated by that point, and so was actually committing sabotage under the guise of insanity.
  • Rage Quit: 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. He will destroy the game rather 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.
  • Rated M for Manly
  • 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. That we know of for certain, that is...
  • Red Shirt: Essentially the dogs fill this role, dying so the characters and audience can start to understand what the Thing is and what it does before any of the major characters start to get killed off.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Many. A good one is during the blood test, where Palmer has a curiously calm, almost resigned expression on his face like "Well, shit. Here goes."
  • Riddle for the Ages: The ending. Is Childs a Thing or not? Is MacReady? There's plenty of evidence towards any number of conclusions and fans are still debating it to this day. For what it's worth, the video game sequel provides one definite answer. Childs isn't, but it's still ambigious if MacReady is.
  • 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 — and then laughs when Childs doesn't refuse it?
  • 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.
  • Scare the Dog: The Thing-dog when it reveals its true form, terrifies the other sled dogs so utterly that one of them tries to tear open the chain-link fencing of its pen in a desperate attempt to escape the mutating horror, to no avail.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: As mentioned above, when The Thing first reveals itself in the kennels, the dogs become utterly terrified, so much so that one tries to escape by biting through the fence. You can even see it glance at the fence and back again, as if realizing the futility of the situation. Two of the dogs do indeed get away, and they don’t stop once they’re out of the kennels.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Already opened when our guys find it. And at the end, when the Thing recognizes that all modes of transport and communication have been destroyed, it tries to freeze itself again until a rescue expedition finds it.
  • Setting Update: Who Goes There? was written in the 1930s. The film gave the year as 1982, the same year it was released.
  • 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 looked a lot like both the relevant characters; Carpenter felt like being indeterminate again.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: The film is mostly fairly good with this, with The Thing usually seeming to obey conservation of mass. However, at the end the Blair Thing is able to turn into a quite large monster. In fairness, he seems to have attacked another man first, and it's possible he consumed additional material since the transformation happened offscreen.
  • Shapeshifter Mashup: The Thing's final form is this.
  • Shapeshifter Weapon: The Thing can spontaneously grow teeth, claws, arms, mouths, etc. anywhere on its body.
  • Shapeshifting Failure: The team stumbles onto the Thing before it could complete its assimilation of Bennings. Thus, when they confront it, it looks just like him except with grotesquely inhuman hands.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: According to Word of God, MacReady is meant to be a former military helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam and survived a terrible tragedy. This serves as a catalyst for why he adapts fairly well to the horror of the situation and doesn’t hesitate to shoot Clark after he tries to attack him.
  • 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.
  • Shouting Free-for-All: After MacReady is accused (in his absence) of being a Thing, the others discuss when he might have been converted. They accuse each other of being Things and all start shouting at each other.
  • Skeleton Crew: Not on board a vessel of any kind, but the dead man in the Norwegian camp counts.
  • Slashed Throat: The Americans discover a frozen corpse in the remains of the Norwegian camp whose throat and wrists have been slashed.
  • The Sleepless: The whole cast ends up staying awake over three or four days, probably not wanting to go to sleep out of fear of being vulnerable to assimilation. Naturally things get horrific when this mixes with the mass paranoia...
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: Whereas 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: There are no women among the main cast, and the only female presences are a chess computer that's out of commission 30 seconds after the introductory scene of MacReady, and a 10-second glimpse of a female contestant in some game show the two mechanics are watching. This may be Truth in Television, however; there aren't many women stationed in Antarctica.
  • Smart People Play Chess: MacReady is introduced playing chess against the computer. When he loses, he responds by pouring his drink into the computer, destroying it. Throughout the movie, he establishes himself as the most savvy of the crew.
  • Snowed-In: Scientists are stranded in an Antarctic research base due to lack of communications and transport and they can't afford to let the alien escape.
  • Snow Means Death:
    • When Bennings, who has been assimilated by the Thing, gets immolated after trying to escape.
    • When Palmer, assimilated by the Thing, gets immolated and runs outside, attempting to put out the fire. MacReady blows him apart with a stick of dynamite.
    • After MacReady blows up the base, Childs returns, claiming to have gotten lost when chasing after Blair. They share a drink together after realizing that both of them will die whether one of them is a Thing or not.
  • 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.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Mortality: Absolutely smashed to pulp in the first half an hour. The Dog-Thing first attacks the base's sled dogs, and what it does to them is absolutely nauseating. What the Dog-Thing doesn't do, Blair does with an axe later. It's the first real warning that this story will defy most expectations of a horror flick.
  • Spider Limbs: The disembodied head of the Norris-Thing grows a set of spider limbs after its original infected corpse becomes compromised.
  • Spot the Imposter: The blood test scene qualifies. In fact, given the creature's ability to disguise itself, this is a constant theme of the entire film.
  • Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: For some unknown reason the rifle armed Norwegians use their helicopter to do strafing runs on the Thing Dog, instead of just hovering in the air and sniping at it (which would have made for more accurate shooting). Of course, the real reason they did so was for dramatic purposes.
  • 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.
  • The Stoner: Palmer and to a lesser extent his roommate Childs (they were growing marijuana in the storage room).
  • 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!
  • Surprise Checkmate: While MacReady is playing the "Chess Wizard" computer, he appears to be totally surprised when it checkmates him. He retaliates by pouring a drink into its circuits and shorting it out.
  • 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.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Discussed: "I think everyone had better prepare their own food from now on..."
  • 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.
  • Throw-Away Country: The Norwegians only serve to introduce the title creature.
  • Throw-Away Guns: While demolishing the vehicles and radio equipment, Blair uses a revolver to try and keep the other men from stopping him. After getting off a few rounds (none of which hit) he throws the gun at one of the men (and also misses). This is justified by the fact that he was under a lot of stress and not quite thinking straight.
  • 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 novella 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.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: One of the main mysteries of the film is who, exactly, sabotaged the blood samples kept in storage. Early on, they narrow it down to either Garry or Dr. Copper, neither of whom turn out to be The Thing. The other mystery is whether or not Childs became a Thing when he went missing shortly before the confrontation with Blair. The film ends with MacReady and Childs resigned to death from the arctic cold, both of them unsure if the other is human.
  • Unwanted Assistance: In-Universe, this is 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.
  • Weak to Fire: The smallest part of the alien life form is capable of mutation and assimilation, so the only sure way to destroy it completely is with fire. But even then, it's not even particularly flammable. Fire is the only way to do it, but it's still not a very good way.
  • Wham Line:
    • Before it occurs to anyone else, either the computer or Blair types out: "PROBABILITY THAT ONE OR MORE TEAM MEMBERS MAY BE INFECTED BY INTRUDER ORGANISM: -75%-".
    • 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.
    Garry: The generator's... gone.
    MacReady: Any way we can fix it?
    Garry: It's gone, MacReady.
    • 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 — 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.
  • Whoosh in Front of the Camera: When the lights go out in the lab, Fuchs lights a candle and walks towards the door. Just before he reaches it, one of the Things moves across the foreground with a scare chord. You can watch it here.
  • Wormsign: 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 Are Who You Eat: This is how the Thing works. Specifically it's a shapeshifting alien that eats animals (dogs and humans in the movie) and then mimics their appearance and memories to become an exact replica.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: No one knows what the true (or original, if you prefer) form of The Thing is. This is one of those subjects that "one could go crazy thinking about" as Carpenter put it in the DVD commentary. And it remains debated by the fans.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Said by Palmer when he sees the Norris-spider head walking away.
    "You've 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.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: The Norwegians land their helicopter near the American base and start shooting at (what looks like) a Siberian Husky. When some of the Americans come out to see what all the fuss is about, instead of dropping their guns and de-escalating things, the Norwegians keep excitedly shouting (in their native tongue) and shooting at the dog. The base commander pops one of them before they can make themselves understood.


Video Example(s):


Just think of kittens

SF Debris cuts away from a particularly gory scene.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

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Media sources:

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