They Live (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

They Live1988

They Live (1988)



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

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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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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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Critic Reviews for They Live

All Critics (65) | Top Critics (13)

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…
Top Critic

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

Audience Reviews for They Live


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 Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


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 Skacto
JY Skacto

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. That skeletal skull look with those quite scary eyes! 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 you're 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
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

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