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A politically subversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underrated genre film from John Carpenter. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

Nada (Roddy Piper), a wanderer without meaning in his life, discovers a pair of sunglasses capable of showing the world the way it truly is. As he walks the streets of Los Angeles, Nada notices that both the media and the government are comprised of subliminal messages meant to keep the population subdued, and that most of the social elite are skull-faced aliens bent on world domination. With this shocking discovery, Nada fights to free humanity from the mind-controlling aliens.

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Critic Reviews for They Live

All Critics (64) | Top Critics (13) | Fresh (55) | Rotten (9)

  • The film was was responding to the start of the US rust belt and Reagan-era consumerism, but its themes of working-class subjugation and omnipresent media control have only become more pressing.

    October 25, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Carpenter's primary objective was to make a tough action flick, which he does; it fits snugly into his filmography's subset of urban mayhem movies (alongside 'Escape from New York,' 'Assault on Precinct 13,' and parts of 'Big Trouble in Little China').

    February 17, 2017 | Full Review…
  • 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."

    December 1, 2013 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • As a movie, They Live is lethargic. As election propaganda, it's terrific.

    August 6, 2013 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • 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
  • They Live is the looniest movie of the season and also one of the most engaging.

    October 10, 2012 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for They Live

  • Feb 05, 2021
    I enjoyed the snot out of John Carpenter's "F**k You" to Reagan-era mass media. 'They Live' seriously owns its absurdity head-on without batting an eye and the kick-in-the-face simplicity of its allegory is brilliant without getting too deep. Despite the smaller budget, there's nothing "cheap" feeling about this production; it's technically as tight as a drum - the direction, lighting, blocking, camera movement, practical effects, pacing - and Carpenter and his team efficiently whip up a clean-looking film. Roddy Piper nails the one-liners and steady machismo without ever mugging for the camera or making you cringe. And as a rule of thumb, Keith David simply makes everything better. Nowadays, we're so fixated on declaring our enlightenment and how we're no longer sheep - yet we absolutely still are in many ways. Remake this film tomorrow, swap in the behemoth of social media, and nothing would change. And it's more than okay to laugh at that.
    Marisol M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 13, 2018
    For a movie with such an intriguing idea, it is a real pity to see how superficial and silly this whole execution is, marred by lame acting, cheesy dialogue, too much action and even inconsistent ideology (like with Roddy Piper's character judging the aliens by their appearance).
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 02, 2018
    This is a B-movie with scenes and dialogue that will have you rolling your eyes, or laughing at just how bad they are. Roddy Piper has comically poor acting ability, in one sequence brawls with his friend (Keith David) for an insanely long time, and spews out lines like "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum." The concept of the film is interesting, but it's so low-budget as to almost resemble a home movie project. On the other hand, all of that has camp value, and director John Carpenter also gives us quite a few moral messages that are still highly relevant 30 years later: beware of the mass media controlling you via its messaging ('Conform', 'Submit', 'Don't Read', etc). Beware of people being made wealthy by selling out their morals, and joining an untouchable elite. Beware of unbridled capitalism. Heck, even beware of those changing the planet's climate. Wake up people, says Carpenter. All of this is at the hands of aliens who can only be seen by wearing sunglasses somehow developed by an underground resistance, but the social commentary is clear. We could use some of these sunglasses today. :)
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 22, 2017
    John Carpenter goes campy with They Live. Backed with a catchy tune for 90 minutes, They Live hilariously amuses with its sci-fi thriller style plot. The buildup is a little lengthy, but serves as a great contrast for when the sunglasses are on. Plot details are thin and under explained at times; however, the subject matter and characters make up for these shortfalls. The action is over the top and a brawl in an alleyway is excessively long, yet somehow it feels right at home in this picture. The visuals through the sunglasses is a delight when compared with the so-called real world view. Roddy Piper is a hoot and Keith David steps in as a successful partner in crime. Those two alone are enough to make this film work.< They Live steps out of the norm and unveils reality. Worth a check out.
    JY S Super Reviewer

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