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They Live (1988)


Average Rating: 7.1/10
Reviews Counted: 46
Fresh: 38
Rotten: 8

Critics Consensus: A politically subversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underrated genre film from John Carpenter.

Average Rating: 4.5/10
Reviews Counted: 9
Fresh: 5
Rotten: 4

Critics Consensus: A politically subversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underrated genre film from John Carpenter.


Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 36,814



Movie Info

A homeless drifter discovers a reason for the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor: a conspiracy by non-human aliens who have infiltrated American society in the guise of wealthy yuppies. With the help of special sunglasses that reveal the aliens' true faces and their subliminal messages ("marry and reproduce," "submit to authority"), our hero tries to stop the invasion. This satire of Reaganomics and the "greed is good" era also has one of the funniest (and longest) fight scenes in … More

Drama , Horror , Mystery & Suspense , Science Fiction & Fantasy , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Ray Nelson , John Carpenter
In Theaters:
Oct 10, 2000
MCA/Universal Pictures


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Critic Reviews for They Live

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (9) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (8) | DVD (14)

As a movie, They Live is lethargic. As election propaganda, it's terrific.

Full Review… | August 6, 2013
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

John Carpenter's They Live has cult favorite written all over it, and part of the reason is the way it regenerates the cheap, juicy, surprisingly potent sci-fi of the 1950s.

August 6, 2013
Boston Globe
Top Critic

They Live is the looniest movie of the season and also one of the most engaging.

Full Review… | October 10, 2012
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

The joke is in the material; the idea itself is funny and daring. And some time soon, They Live suggests, with grim, knowing wink, the joke may be on us.

Full Review… | October 10, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

A fantastically subversive film, a nifty little confection pitting us vs them, the haves vs the have-nots.

Full Review… | June 4, 2007
Top Critic

All in all, an entertaining (if ideologically incoherent) response to the valorization of greed in our midst.

Full Review… | June 4, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Carpenter should stick to what he's good at-scaring folks-and leave the political satire to Spitting Image.

Full Review… | February 19, 2014

Behold the message as articulated by John Carpenter's sublime sci-fi opus: "I'm giving you a choice: Either put on these glasses, or start eating that trashcan."

Full Review… | December 1, 2013
Slant Magazine

Director John Carpenter's They Live is an undistinguished sci-fi thriller.

Full Review… | August 6, 2013
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Too bad director John Carpenter doesn't match this tantalizing premise with snappy, thoughtful filmmaking; long stretches of the movie are trite and silly.

Full Review… | August 6, 2013
Christian Science Monitor

It's a little bit V and a little bit Lethal Weapon. A little bit "1984" and a little bit Rambo. It's got sledgehammer political satire, humor, goofiness and little bit of Wrestlemania thrown in to boot.

Full Review… | August 6, 2013
Philadelphia Daily News

Arguably John Carpenter's most underrated film, They Live combines kick-ass action, clever allegory and eerie, they're-among-us sci-fi paranoia to hugely enjoyable effect.

Full Review… | August 4, 2013
Flix Capacitor

They Live is a paranoid thriller that stretches a paper-thin budget with inventive special effects that serve the story and a message that still holds water today.

Full Review… | December 12, 2012

Carpenter sweeps aside political preaching to allow the film to finish on a note of humour when the aliens are finally revealed for what they are.

Full Review… | October 10, 2012
Electric Sheep

A loopy movie that got its messages right.

Full Review… | May 9, 2012
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

They Live is thought-provoking while maintaining its B-movie credentials.

Full Review… | April 15, 2008

An erratically amusing throwback to the science-fiction paranoia films of the 1950s.

Full Review… | June 4, 2007
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Carpenter's ability to fuse the bawdy humor and action with an intelligent script make for a genre film that is both thoughtful and entertaining

Full Review… | August 19, 2006

great cult flick

July 22, 2006

Audience Reviews for They Live


"They Live" is one of those films where you can recite all the negatives about it with ease. Bad acting, subpar special effects, clunky dialogue, heavy-handed plot all should add up to a horrendous film, but as any connoisseur of film knows "They Live" is one of the most admired B-movies (or cult films) to come out of Hollywood.

That's because "They Live" has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Despite John Carpenter's attempt to tell a very important story and deliver a very important message he does it in such an absurd way that there's no opportunity for "They Live" to let that potentially heavy-handed plot to feel ponderous to get through. Does the message leave much of an impression post-viewing? No. But this mix of sci-fi and horror is easy to enjoy. It's a simple premise and after the plot kicks in, it's all about destroying any ugly-faced alien no questions asked.

Then you have the presence of one of the most nonsensical and infamous fight scenes you'll see. Roddy Piper and Keith David fight for five minutes for no reason other than a pair of glasses. There's no rational reason why the two of them are beating each other up but they keep fighting and keep fighting. But in this film, that's OK.

There's also dialogue written with the 80s penchant for funny, out of nowhere one-liners. The most infamous for "They Live" being "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum." Both the fight sequence and the line of dialogue have been homaged and referenced in numerous entertainment vehicles such as "South Park" and Duke Nukem games.

"They Live" is one of those films you've gotta see if you appreciated B-films in any way. It's a great example of how to walk that line between serious and absurd and walk that line perfectly.

The Gandiman
Tony Gandía

Super Reviewer

probably one of the most overlooked and underrated films by Carpenter yet possibly his most clever. All his own work and a quite beautiful look at how paranoia and fear within an ever decreasing economy can be exploited for a good story.

Now I'm not saying all Americans are suspicious conspiracy theory doom mongers but this film exposes that ever present trait whilst also scratching at the notion of constant gross consumer consumption, greed and subversive subliminal messages touching on hypnosis and domination.

To be honest the whole idea just shows how some Americans (including Carpenter) think most of the time, always looking over their shoulder and suspicious.

As for the film its a romp that just keeps going and you wanna know how it ends. The start is slow and dull, it takes time to get going but once 'Nada' finds the sunglasses of truth things get really interesting in a good way. I love how Carpenter made this film, its dated but still looks great as it has that nice B-movie look which is mainly down to the budget. Think of it as an unintentional result that happens to fit the whole films concept perfectly. Classic 50's alien B-movie fluff enhanced with time.

The whole idea is really very clever and imagined so well. We see the alien corrupted world controlling the now unaware obedient humans in their daily lives through the black and white shades 'Nada' finds. Without the shades the world appears normal, an illusion created to blinker or fog human eyes.

The aliens only appear when the shades are on and boy do they look creepy. Even though its obviously a simple mask the makeup and design is superbly created and really gives an eerie effect.

I have always been surprised with the great performance by Piper also. The guy was a WWF wrestler at the time for gods sake yet his acting here is great, just perfect. He really carries off the suspicion and awakening of the story to a tee. As for his character of 'Nada'...all I can say is the guy certainly has an element of 'Jack Burton' if you ask me.

'I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum'

I also like how this film isn't predictable. It keeps you guessing and your never sure how it will end or who will survive.

The subtle political jabs, crazy ass humour and out n out action is a curious blend but like Carpenter's 86 film 'Big Trouble in Little China' he manages to pull it off with ease and create another cult on his filmography. A great comicbook tale of mindless media/advertising supremacy on an Orwellian alien monitored Earth.

'Brother, life's a bitch... and she's back in heat'

Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

It's like Network with a sci-fi twist, a remake could expand the ideas of the film, but considering how shitty every single remake of Carpenter's movies have been i say we rather stick to this one. It's a lot of fun and Piper fits the lead role perfectly.

Tsubaki Sanjuro

Super Reviewer


An out of work construction worker drifts into town and stumbles upon an alien conspiracy to drain the planet of its wealth and enslave the disenfranchised lower classes. If George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead contained a commentary on consumerism and greed then They Live is a full frontal assault! The decidedly left slanted script pulls no punches as everyman Roddy Piper discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveals a subliminal message transmitted through the TV to keep us docile and advertising as little more than slogans stating "OBEY" "DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY" and "NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT"; even money itself boldly proclaims "THIS IS YOUR GOD"! Carpenter's hatred of corporate corruption and greed is barely disguised but his real venom is for those who would sell out their own for a few crumbs from the master's table. It's very subversive stuff and although the noise and bluster of the action scenes and deadpan one liners stand out to the casual observer, it's the brilliant premise and strong political message that sticks in the memory, right through to a finale in which Carpenter (quite literally!) gives the middle finger to the conservative right. Like Romero's film, it may not have spectacular set pieces and fancy effects but the brilliant simplicity of the idea behind it makes They Live something of an unsung classic.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

They Live Quotes

John Nada:
Either put on these glasses or start eating that trashcan.
– Submitted by Mike B (23 months ago)
John Nada:
It looks like you dipped your face in the cheese dip back in 1957.
– Submitted by Scott E (24 months ago)
John Nada:
Thats like pouring perfume on a pig.
– Submitted by Scott E (24 months ago)
John Nada:
I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass - and I'm all out of bubblegum.
– Submitted by Jed G (2 years ago)
John Nada:
You, you're okay. This one, real fuckin' ugly.
– Submitted by Sheriea J (2 years ago)
John Nada:
I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum.
– Submitted by John M (2 years ago)

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