The 1980s Sci-Fi Horror Classic Critics Hated And Audiences Ignored

By Brian Myers | Published

In the more than 40 years since its theatrical release in 1982, it’s hard to believe that The Thing was a film that almost didn’t get its due. The critical reception of the John Carpenter-directed science fiction classic was dismal at best, and audiences only bought enough tickets for the film to barely exceed its $16 million production budget. After time, however, The Thing went from having a cult following in the early 1980s to being considered one of the greatest film entries in the science fiction genre today.

John Carpenter’s The Thing

The Thing combines the ideas present in the 1951 film The Thing from Another World and the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. The film centers around a team of scientists in the Antarctic who are plagued by an alien organism that has the ability to take on the physical appearance and personality of any organism it attaches itself to.

The Cast

The Thing had all of the elements to be a smashing success at the box office. It stars Kurt Russell (fresh off the success of the John Carpenter film Escape from New York), Wilfred Brimley, and Keith David. A chilling score by Oscar winner Ennio Morricone helps shape an eerie atmosphere that can only be matched by Rob Bottin’s special effects.

Having Halloween director John Carpenter in charge should have been the icing on the cake to lure in science fiction and horror fans like flies, but it took years for much of the public to give this film its due.

Panned By Critics Upon Release

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The critical reception included a low blow by science fiction magazine Starlog, whose Alan Spencer called the film “cold and sterile,” while also erroneously accusing it of trying to cash in on the successes of the 1982 smash hit E.T. The Thing didn’t win any fans among the critics at the major newspapers, either, who chimed in with remarks that the film was slow-paced, confusing, and offered nothing more than special effects.

But over time, The Thing has earned an audience that has redeemed it from its near fast fade into obscurity. The film boasts an impressive 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes among critics, with more than 80 registering their opinions. Among fans, The Thing‘s popularity is even higher on the site, as the audience score has a whopping 92 percent favorability rating.

The Thing Helped Kurt Russell’s Career

The Thing proved to be a great vehicle for Kurt Russell to continue his rise to Hollywood stardom, who despite the film’s tepid reception was able to earn a Jupiter Award nomination in 1983 for his efforts. Russell went on to star in two more John Carpenter films over the years, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A., while also cementing himself as a star in multiple action films and comedies.

Didn’t Hurt John Carpenter’s Reputation

The Thing‘s poor reception wasn’t much of a roadblock to director John Carpenter’s endeavors, either. Carpenter went on to direct They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, and Ghosts of Mars, and also has had phenomenal successes as both a screenwriter and composer.