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Film / Them!

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"Exoskeleton armored, exoskeleton might
Exoskeleton horror, exoskeleton bite
Beware of Them!"
The Misfits, "Them"

A classic Sci-Fi Horror movie from 1954, directed by Gordon Douglas and starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness.

A little girl is found wandering in the New Mexican desert, the only survivor of an unknown calamity that befell her vacationing family. When roused from her catatonia, she can only scream "Theeeeem!" Official investigation finally leads to the discovery that the culprits are Cadillac-sized ants, mutated by atomic radiation. The race is then on to locate and destroy the ants' nest before new queens hatch out and fly across the world.

Made a ton of money for Warner Bros., and so helped establish many of the giant-monster-running-amok cliches for American cinema. Sadly, the vast majority of its imitators lacked the budget and the writing and acting talent on display here.


Not to be confused with the 2006 French horror film Them, the 1960s Blues Rock band fronted by Van Morrison, or THEM (2021).

The Film Features examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Edmund Gwenn's character, Dr. Harold Melford, is a mild example.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The Los Angeles storm drains are the setting for the climax.
  • Action Girl: Dr. Pat Medford. She goes into the New Mexico nest along with the men, overriding their objections.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Subverted with Dr. Medford. While fascinated by the giant ants, he isn't at all blind to the danger and is adamant they must be destroyed before they threaten mankind.
  • Adult Fear: Thomas Lodge's wife is absolutely broken after learning of her husband's brutal death and her sons' disappearance.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Well, ship out in the middle of the ocean with the ants, but the humans get to pull it off too with their nests.
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  • Ant Assault: A colony of ants is mutated by atomic radiation and grows to the size of cars. When their queens start to fly off and start new colonies, there is a desperate rush to destroy them before they can spread nationwide.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    City official: Now Dr. Medford, since time is of the utmost importance, I recommend we pour gasoline into those drains and light it. That'll burn out anything that's in there and we still be able to control the fires. There will be little or no property damage above the street. Any ants that get through, the troops can take care of them.
    Graham: You can't do that, not yet. Not till we find out for sure if those two kids are in there.
    City official: You think there's a chance they're still alive? Are we supposed to jeopardize the lives of all the people of this city for the sake of two children who in all probability are already dead?
    Graham: Why don't you ask their mother that question, mister.
    Peterson: Yeah, she's standing right over there.
    City official: Yeah, I see what you mean.
  • Anyone Can Die: Peterson, the first important character we meet, dies near the end. Very rare in 1950s cinema. It’s made worse by the fact that he's arguably one of the most likable characters, firmly established as a Friend to All Children (he even saves two boys from the ants before getting killed), and he feels incredibly guilty when Blackburn dies. The fact that the arguably most moral and warm hearted character could be brutally killed off in this universe is the first sign the movie is not going to have a hopeful, optimistic ending...
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: More like 10 foot, but that's still much, much larger than regular ants.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Giant radioactive ants! Which don't care about the old rules of nature!
  • Bug War: The Trope Maker! The antagonists are giant ants and the plots focus on stopping them from spreading around the world.
  • Consummate Professional: Dr. Medford the Elder even addresses his own daughter as "doctor" when he's on the clock.
  • Covers Always Lie: The movie poster: The scantily clad woman in the ant's mandibles? The quotes? Not in the movie.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: The fate of Blackburn.
  • Down L.A. Drain: Where the giant ants ended up.
  • Emergency Authority: Martial law is declared in LA when evidence strongly points to a new nest below the city. A 6PM curfew is imposed, with military police patrolling the city.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The ants are all wiped out, but Dr. Medford Sr. issues a grim warning; the atomic genie is out the bottle.
  • Everybody Smokes: And how.
  • Excited Show Title!: More like scared one, but you get the point.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Averted. Peterson asks one of the investigators at the trailer attack scene how his kids are doing, and the man replies he and his wife have another one on the way. Instead of being another of the ants’ victims, the investigator doesn’t appear again and presumably survives,
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Flamethrowers are used when characters go into ant nests.
  • Foreshadowing: Sergeant Peterson's love of children. Also, the ants swarming over spilled sugar in the store.
  • Friend to All Children: Peterson. It's pretty obvious from his actions and body language that children in any kind of distress really upset him.
  • Gender Misdirection: The characters expect "Dr. Pat Medford" to be a Patrick, not a Patricia.
  • Genre Shift: Starts out as a low-key podunk police investigation, ends with flamethrower assaults in the Los Angeles sewer.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The high pitched sound the ants make.
  • Heroic BSoD: That little girl.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Peterson.
  • Hollywood Apocrypha: Dr. Medford Sr. quotes some as the scope of the problem appears...
    "And there shall be destruction and darkness come over creation
    "And the Beasts shall reign over the earth."
  • Hot Scientist: Joan Weldon as Pat Medford.
  • I Love Nuclear Power: The ants are enormous because of radiation-induced mutations. They appear in New Mexico because that's the site of the first atomic bomb test at Alamogordo.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Ben: "If I can still raise an arm when I get out of here, I'll show you how well saturated I can get!" Robert quickly agrees, and even Dr. Medford Sr. thinks it sounds like a good idea, though he regretfully concludes he's too old for it.
  • Immune to Bullets: Unless you aim at the antennae, effectively blinding the ants. They're not completely immune, but quite resistant, and it's better to Kill It with Fire (or gas).
  • Infant Immortality: Though this is still a pretty grim dark movie, mostly played straight, but averted for one subtle instance offscreen before the start of the film; see Fridge tab...
  • Informed Ability: The ants are certainly dangerous, but Dr. Medford's prediction that they could drive humanity to extinction seems unfounded. Even ignoring their inability to cross the oceans without some monumentally unobservant boat or plane crews (see below), pistol-caliber rounds are shown killing them. In an all-out war there'd certainly be heavy human casualties, but with the advantages of explosives, air support, and superior numbers, we'd kill them far faster than they could spawn, and eventually locate their queens.
  • It's All My Fault: Peterson leaves Blackburn in charge of securing the latest crime scene and waiting for back-up, which gives way to Curiosity Killed the Cast. Afterwards, Peterson blames himself, despite the police captain assuring him that he behaved appropriately.
  • It's Personal: Peterson takes the death of his partner at the hands of the ants very personally.
  • Kill It with Fire: This film had flamethrower-toting heroes stalking monsters through dark tunnels decades before Alien.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Exactly why is Peterson, a New Mexico State Trooper, still hanging around assisting the FBI and the Army long after the story has left New Mexico in the dust? (Actually, given the security concerns, it makes sense to restrict the personnel involved to those who need to know. Peterson already knows, so it's better to keep him around. Plus, he's an experienced police officer, and obviously a combat vet, both useful qualities.)
  • Male Gaze: Our first glimpse of Pat combines this with Feet-First Introduction, She's Got Legs, and Skirts and Ladders. As she exits from the bottom of a plane, her skirt gets caught on a ladder, putting her legs on display for a few seconds. A crewman offers assistance, but she demurs.
  • The Men in Black: The pilot who witnesses the flying ants can't get anyone to believe him, and the doctor tells the protagonists he's going to let him go as he thinks he's faking insanity to excuse crashing his aircraft. Instead the protagonists order the doctor to commit the pilot until the government tells him otherwise. Ah, those were the days; none of this memory-wiping flashy stuff...
  • Noisy Nature: The ants display good lung-power, constantly chittering and shrieking vaguely cicada-like noises. No, it's not biologically accurate. But damn if it isn't creepy...
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Much of the beginning of the film shows only the aftermath of the ants' attacks. We see only the damage they have caused and a few bodies, one of which is filled with acid and chewed to bits. This helped build up their menace prior to them turning up on screen.
  • Police Procedural: The movie has the straightforward quasi-documentary style of contemporaneous Police Procedurals like Dragnet.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Every layer of government behaves as rationally as it can, under the circumstances. This becomes an Invoked Trope when the authorities go public; before beginning their announcement, they introduce a tableful of generals and scientists to support the statement that's about to be made, so the public will believe it.
  • Screaming Woman: Used effectively (i.e. with restraint) for once. Pat Metford screams the first time she (and the audience) catch sight of a giant killer ant at close quarters, but is calm and professional the rest of the movie. And of course there's the catatonic girl who suddenly breaks into a Title Drop when she smells a vial of formic acid.
  • Splash of Color: The entire movie is grayscale with the exception of the title at the start.
  • Sound-Only Death: Blackburn hears the sound of the ants outside the wrecked store he's stationed guarding at. As it's growing dark due to both a duststorm and night approaching, he turns off the light in the store and moves towards the hole while drawing his pistol. He steps outside and out of frame, and the audience is treated to the sound of the ants' calls intensifying, several shots, and finally Blackburn's screams.
  • Square-Cube Law: Obviously ignored, but let's face it — you couldn't have the movie if you didn't.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Impressively averted, considering the era it was made.
    • The military gasses the nest of giant killer ants, and the next stage is for someone to go down into the nest and confirm they're all dead. This is universally recognized as a very bad idea, yet Hot Scientist Dr. Pat Medford argues firmly and convincingly that she has to go down into the nest as her father is too old and she can't give the two male leads "a crash course in insect pathology".
    • Later in the movie, when they search the drains under Los Angeles, Pat is in one of the lead jeeps looking for the new nest.
  • Stock Scream: Several uses of the Wilhelm Scream. (Although this was long before it became an example of this trope.)
  • That Came Out Wrong: A pilot (played by Fess Parker) who's been locked up in an asylum for his claim of seeing giant flying ants defends his sanity:
    Pilot: "You think I'd make up something like that? A fella'd have to crazy to make up something like that! I mean..."
  • Title Drop: When the little girl is snapped out of her Heroic BSoD, she SHOUTS it...
    "THEM! THEM!"
  • Too Dumb to Live: No one noticed a bunch of giant ants nesting on a ship? This is at least lampshaded when a character asks the same question.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Initially, it's believed some kind of escaped homicidal maniac is behind all this, due to the grisly deaths and how no money is ever taken. The police captain only starts to doubt this shortly before the coroner brings in his report.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: The elder Melford appears to be trying to avoid this situation. It's clear he immediately has a good idea what's going on, but he insists on not telling the others until irrefutable proof is found. Only Pat knows what he's thinking, and she pointedly refuses to explain to Graham when asked.


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