Popcorn Hour: John Carpenter’s They Live.

Cover Photo:
They Live (1988),
Universal Pictures.

John Carpenter’s They Live is an American science-fiction horror film, released in 1988. Its classic one-liners have become so entrenched into the popular culture that they aren’t associated with the film anymore.

The imagery of the film is immediately recognisable for anyone who is aware of OBEY Clothing. Their founder Shepard Fairey was inspired by the imagery from They Live, which led to the brand’s name and many of their designs.


The film’s leading man is Roddy Piper, one of the first of many wrestlers to turn to acting. His character Nada, alongside Keith David as Frank, discovers glasses that let him see the subliminal messages behind advertising.

Those messages are created by aliens among us—they’re trying to control the human race. This paints a brilliant image of the world where people are blinded by subliminal messaging; when the glasses are on, the world is littered with terms like obey, marry and reproduce.

They Live has a serious message about the danger of capitalism spiralling out of control, yet it firmly sits in the fun B-movie territory. One scene that stands out, in particular, is a fight between Nada and Frank; it feels like it goes on forever and gets more absurd with every moment by raising the stakes of the fight. 

With classics like “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. . . and I’m all out of bubblegum,” Roddy Piper’s charming one-liners are in the league of their own.

John Carpenter creates a poignant message of how the upper class try to control the middle and working classes. The film also shows some of the harsh realities of homelessness and poverty.

They Live takes a direct aim at the American dream as Piper’s character Nada’s perception undergoes a change—from believing his hard work will eventually pay off to being able to see the corruption of the world around him.

This is an incredibly fun film that has a tongue in cheek attitude to many issues it addresses. John Carpenter’s They Live is a fun cult classic with a message that is still relevant today.

Jamie Kitcheman is a Leeds-based freelance journalist with a finger on the pulse of the current music scene and film.
Follow him on Twitter here and Instagram here.

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