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More Than An '80s B-Movie, 'They Live' Is A Surprisingly Savvy Prediction Of Modern Life

Updated 12 Aug 2020 3.4k views13 items

Picture it: A famous director makes a movie based on a comic book. He creates a sci-fi action flick that’s a veiled middle finger at the current Republican celebrity president. The film sets a homeless tent city against an elaborate propaganda machine, vicious police officers, and a secret community of aliens using wealth, greed, and the media to keep humans compliant.

Sounds like the latest Jordan Peele horror flick. But They Live was made in 1988.

Before "woke" culture, Black Lives Matter, and “fake news,” John Carpenter’s classic B-movie touched on issues still pervading our culture. “They Live is more significant now than it was then,” says star Keith David. On the surface, this cult classic captures a specific moment of the 1980s. A typical '80s action hero, wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's drifter protagonist (tellingly named Nada, or "nothing") confronts aliens with unlimited ammo and copious one-liners. The movie fits smoothly into Carpenter's '80s oeuvre - Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China.

But there’s a ton of cultural commentary hidden within. Carpenter has said, “You have to understand something: It’s a documentary. It’s not science fiction.”

PopularFilmJohn CarpenterEntertainmentSci-Fi1980s80s MoviesGraveyard ShiftTotal Nerd