They Live (1988)

they live poster 1988 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 7/10

Great premise, fun aliens

Loses steam in the second half, bad acting

Movie Info

Movie Name:  They Live

Studio:  Alive Films

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Horror/Action/Adventure/B-Movie

Release Date(s):  November 4, 1988

MPAA Rating:  R


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A former banker (Roddy Piper) down on his luck comes to L.A. to try to find direction for his life in the competitive world where the rich seem to get richer. When he begins to see signs of an underground movement, he uncovers a pair of sunglasses that let him see the world for what it is. An alien invasion is on the rise and it is taking over the world through business…causing people to even sell out the human race. Now Nada (the nickname of the character) and his friend Frank Armitage (Keith David) are out to expose them and bring their empire down.  Nada’s there to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and he’s all out of bubblegum!


Even an alien must look her best!

Directed by John Carpenter, They Live is a sci-fi/horror blend written by John Carpenter (under the name of Frank Armitage…also Keith David’s character’s name) that came from a short story by Ray Nelson called “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” which was published in the fantasy magazine The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction combined with a comic book story called “Nada” from Alien Encounters. The film was initially met with so-so reviews (Carpenter mocked Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel within the movie), but They Live now has become a cult classic.


I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…and I’m all out of bubblegum…so put on the glasses!

They Live is a great idea. Instead of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the aliens take over the people by replacing them, they blend with them and cater to the rampant commercialism that was especially high in the ’80s. The segment where Nada discovers that the glasses lets him see the “truth” is fun…all the billboards, magazines, and signs are just means to hypnotize the average man…the only problem with They Live is that it continues for a long time after this fun scene.

The movie really hits a bump after Nada’s rampage at the bank. Carpenter didn’t seem to know where to go with the story. There is a quite amusing (and long) fight between Nada and Frank that was unscripted and was actually matched in the South Park fifth season episode “Cripple Fight” (watch They Live then watch Timmy and Jimmy…fun). Then because they don’t know how to get Nada and Frank to the alien base they randomly have them teleport there for a really rushed ending which loses any style by being in a boring office building with generic halls. At least the basic creature design is interesting and fun…and especially well utilized for the ending.


All anchors look alike

The acting in They Live is also pretty awful. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was huge in the WWF at the time, and Carpenter met him during Wrestlemania III. Keith David was used in Carpenter’s The Thing and Carpenter allegedly wrote the role with him in mind. I’ve always thought Meg Foster wasn’t a very good actress and she continues her trend as the cold Holly Thompson.

They Live is a movie that has a lot of good and a lot of bad to it. I had forgotten how smart the script starts out, then forgets how much it falls apart near the end. I could actually see a modernization of They Live with a better cast and more concise script. It could be an interesting remake (instead of some of the duller remakes that have come out of Hollywood).

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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