They Live is a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter, who also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Frank Armitage.” The movie is based on Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning.”

Part science fiction thriller and part dark comedy, the film echoed contemporary fears of a declining economy, within a culture of greed and conspicuous consumption common among Americans in the 1980s. In They Live, the ruling class within the monied elite are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the tv broadcast that is concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in Mass media.



  • The line “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper. According to director John Carpenter, Piper had taken the line from a list of ideas he had for his pro wrestling interviews.
  • The credited writer, “Frank Armitage,” is a pseudonym for the director, John Carpenter. “Frank Armitage” is a reference to a character in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” Carpenter stated in an interview that he agreed with many of Lovecraft’s world views, which helped shape the film’s direction.
  • The fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) was only supposed to last 20 seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the 5 minute and 20 second scene intact.
  • The communicators that the guards use are the P.K.E. meters from Ghost Busters (1984).
  • There is a thinly veiled jab at “Siskel & Ebert & the Movies” (1986), with both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as aliens. “Siskel” is denouncing George A. Romero and John Carpenter as too violent. (In fact, Siskel had written a scathing review of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).)
  • The only character given a first and last name is Holly Thompson (Meg Foster).
  • John Carpenter wanted a truly rugged individual to play Nada. He cast wrestler Roddy Piper in the lead role after seeing him in WrestleMania III (1987) (V). Carpenter remembered Keith David’s performance in The Thing (1982) and wrote the role of Frank specifically for the actor.
  • Roddy Piper’s character never gives his name nor is he referred to by name throughout the entire movie. He is simply referred to as “Nada” in the credits, which means “nothing” in Spanish. The name is most likely a reference to George Nada, the main character of Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” which was the basis for ‘They Live’.
  • Graffiti artist Shepard Fairey got his “obey” name from this film.
  • SQ1’s video for “Can You Feel” references the scene of revelation in “They Live”.
  • The Cripple fight in episode 67 of South Park that aired on June 27, 2001. was taken blow by blow from the fight between Frank and Nada in the alley. If you watch it its a match scene for scene of the alley fight

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