They Live

1988

They Live

Critics Consensus

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

85%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 62

79%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 38,943
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They Live Photos

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 American cinema.

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Cast

Peter Jason
as Gilbert
John Lawrence
as Bearded Man
Susan Barnes
as Brown-Haired Woman
Sy Richardson
as Black Revolutionary
Wendy Brainard
as Family Man's Daughter
Lucille Meredith
as Female Interviewer
Norman Alden
as Foreman
Dana Bratton
as Black Junkie
Thelma Lee
as Rich Lady
John F. Goff
as Well-dressed Customer
Stratton Leopold
as Depressed Human
Rezza Shan
as Arab Clerk
Norman Howell Jr.
as Blond-Haired Cop
Larry Franco
as Neighbor
Robert Grasmere
as Scruffy Blond Man
Vince Inneo
as Passageway Guard
Bob Hudson
as Passageway Guard
Dennis Michael
as Male News Anchor
Nancy Gee
as Female News Anchor
Claudia Stanlee
as Young Female Executive
Christine Baur
as Woman on Phone
Eileen Wesson
as Pregnant Secretary
Kerry Rossall
as 2nd Unit Guard
Cibby Danyla
as Naked Lady
Gregory J. Barnett
as Security Guard
Jim Nickerson
as Security Guard
Jeff Imada
as Male Ghoul
Michelle Costello
as Female Ghoul
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News & Interviews for They Live

Critic Reviews for They Live

All Critics (62) | Top Critics (10)

  • 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.

    Oct 25, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Phil Hoad

    Guardian
    Top Critic
  • As a movie, They Live is lethargic. As election propaganda, it's terrific.

    Aug 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.

    Aug 6, 2013

    Jay Carr

    Boston Globe
    Top Critic
  • They Live is the looniest movie of the season and also one of the most engaging.

    Oct 10, 2012 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Oct 10, 2012 | Full Review…
  • A fantastically subversive film, a nifty little confection pitting us vs them, the haves vs the have-nots.

    Jun 4, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for They Live

  • 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
  • Jan 07, 2017
    Let's be honest, professional wrestlers who have tried to be actors haven't had the best of track records when it comes to actually being talented at it or appearing in quality movies. Just look at any of Hulk Hogan's films for proof of this. Steve Austin, John Cena, Randy Orton, among many other wrestles have tried their hand at acting and none of them have really been great or even that successful at it. I will admit that John Cena, in smaller roles has done surprisingly well, he's just not leading man material. There's one, very obvious, exception to the rule that wrestlers make shitty actors or appear in shitty movies. And that one man is The Rock. Rock is the the exception to the rule. He's both talented and he has appeared in quality movies. Almost all of them being in the action genre, but still. The Rock is a special kind of talent. He's super charismatic, likable and he has an imposing presence. Which brings us to Roddy Piper, may he rest in peace, whose biggest success as a wrestler came in the mid-to-late 80s thanks to the WWF, as it was known at the time. Piper "retired" in 1987 to embark in a career in films. That same year his first movie in a legit lead role came out, Hell Comes to Frogtown, a movie I haven't seen but I'm intrigued by. The year after that, however, came the movie that he would be most associated with and that is the movie I am reviewing right now. We'll get into how I felt about the movie later, but if you were curious as to how Roddy Piper fared as an actor, particularly when compared to the very low standard of wrestler-turned-actor. He's actually surprisingly good in this movie. He's obviously not a thespian nor does he attempt to be. And with a film like this, where it's so reliant of B-movie thrills, he's actually pretty much perfect in this type of cult movie. Piper, who was known as one of the best on the mic in the wrestling world in the 80s, does bring some of that energy from his wrestling work to the movie. Which is surprising because back in the 80s, wrestling interviews were unscripted. To go from an environment where he's given the freedom to say what he wants to one where he, in some cases, has to rigidly stick to the script and to do a good job at it was certainly impressive on his part. Again I point you to Hulk Hogan's terrible acting as proof of this. It also helps that the script is surprisingly strong, in spite of all the sci-fi silliness that's going on. And, honestly, I thought this movie, by and large, was really fucking good. I will admit, however, that the third act of the film lost me. Not that I found it hard to follow what was going on, it's almost impossible to be confused in a film such as this. The plot is fairly basic. Piper's character finds this sunglasses that lets him see the world as it really is. Subliminal messages are in everything, from billboards, to magazines, to television, in order to keep the masses complacent and submissive. This is a conspiracy theorist's wet dream. Not to mention the fact that the elite of the elite in this world are creatures from another planet who are slowly taking over earth before moving on to the next planet. Again, this is a conspiracy theorist's favorite movie. If you've ever heard of the lizard people, then the creatures in this movie are similar to that. Anyway, the movie deals with John, Piper's character, journey to show everybody the reality of the world that they're living in and how they're being manipulated by the powers that be. Simple story. He struggles to find people who believe him and after an epic fight, he is able to ensure the help of Keith David's character as they form a two-man army to go and kill as many of these creatures as they can. But let's go back to this fight scene between Keith and Piper. It might literally be the most absurd fight in the history of time. That's a bit of hyperbole, of course, but it's so fucking silly. And it is absolutely tremendous. John and Frank's disagreement boils down to, essentially, Frank refusing to put on the glasses at John's behest. And then they have one of the best and most entertaining fight scenes I have ever seen. And I don't mean best as in they even come close to matching the level of complexity and intensity, not to mention super editing, of the films like the Raid or Fury Road. It's just a good ol' fight between two badass men. And it's not a quick fistfight, it goes for a fairly long time, like maybe 5+ minutes. It's a fight that goes through several steps of 'finality' before either John or Frank throws another punch or another kick, and then they go back at it again. They reach a point where you think it's over and, once again, someone throws a punch and the fight starts up again. It's the fucking best and the highlight of the film. There's plenty of quotable lines here as well. Like I said, the third act sort of lost some of the luster, but it's still a really damn good and a movie from a bygone era that, surprisingly, held up reasonably well as some of the themes can be applied in modern times, even almost 30 years after its release. I can't complain much, I had a blast watching this movie and I would easily recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer

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