There are certain films that hold a unique place in history… and
Hollywood had better keep their grubby, remaking mitts off of them!
While the trend to “re-imagine” or “re-envision” everything around them
has been going on for some time, these films have so far managed to
escape the fate of some of their less fortunate compatriots. I speak of
course of…

The 25 Movies They’d Better Never Remake.

THEY LIVE (1988)

DIRECTED BY: John Carpenter
WRITTEN BY: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
STARRING:  Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, Peter Jason


Few filmmakers have established themselves as successfully as one of the great modern B-Movie directors like John Carpenter did, and that may explain why (as of this moment) three of his films have been remade, one has been in play to be remade for a while now (Escape from New York), and there’s a prequel/requel/whatever to The Thing coming out next year. John Carpenter’s run of great movies is pretty much continuous from 1976 with Assault on Precinct 13 through to 1988’s They Live. Sure, The Fog isn’t perfect, and there were some troubles with Christine, but you’re talking about nine of the best genre films of their period from someone who knew what the hell he was doing.

They Live
marks the end of the golden age of Carpenter, and also marks itself as his last film made in the 1980’s. It’s also targeted for a remake that’s been floating around for a while. Uh oh.


Whether John Carpenter’s film is a funky masterpiece, or a somewhat leaden critique of Reagan’s America (I lean toward the former), the film is very much of its time.

Roddy Piper stars as a Nada, a homeless man who works construction to get by, but finds a mysterious box of sunglasses at a recently abandoned and ransacked church. When he puts the glasses on, he sees the world as it really is: aliens have come to earth and now are our oppressors, who live among us and send out coded messages of obedience and consumerism. From there he teams up with Frank (Keith David) after an extended fight, and gets his friend to see the truth. Nada ends up with Holly Thompson (Meg Foster) and you don’t have to look at her creepy eyes to know that though she might be human, she’s definitely untrustworthy. The boys are told the only way to stop the aliens is to disrupt the source of the (mass hypnosis/projection/etc.), which leads to one of the great rim-shot endings in cinema history.

For John Carpenter, a pot smoking liberal (with some libertarian instincts), the Reagan 80’s was an offense, and so he wrote what amounts to a feature-length Twilight Zone episode meant to show how he felt about what was going on with the changes to the class system, and the – what he saw as – bullshit being sold to America. On one level, it is very much a snapshot of the period, and also a kick out the door. But like a lot of just vague enough paranoid tales, They Live can feel as topical now as when it did marginal business in 1988. But They Live has never left the public’s subconscious, partly because of the work of Shephard Fairey, who after having to forgo his “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker campaign modified to it to use one of the clearest images from the film: the “Obey” line (tagged with Andre the Giant looking all big brother, which he was). Though Fairey is now inarguably a part of the establishment, Obey still has traction, even if its message is lost (but then that adds another layer of commentary as what is being denoted comes to pass).

  • ” I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum. “
  • ” Put the glasses on! Put ‘em on!.”
  • ” The feeling is definitely there. It’s a new morning in America… fresh, vital. The old cynicism is gone. We have faith in our leaders. We’re optimistic as to what becomes of it all. It really boils down to our ability to accept. We don’t need pessimism. There are no limits. “
  • “They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.”

The reason why a They Live remake would piss me off is the same reason why you can’t remake Network. Whatever was being predicted has partly come to pass. Though politicians have lied since time immemorial, the contrast between rhetoric and action has never seemed more obvious. To get into that also becomes – as so much of our discourse has become – a “gotcha” situation. Both sides do it, I tend to think one does it in worse ways than the other, but mileage varies.

But even more so than that, we live in such partisan times – such hyper-partisan times – that what amounts to a proletariat critique of the ruling class cannot exist in the mainstream without drawing attention to itself, and unless this is a DTV film this will play theaters and be released by a major studio. And all major studios have their hands in other pots. If – say – Fox picked it up, they have their own news station, just as Universal is part of the NBC family, and Disney ABC. Time/Warner. Paramount/Viacom. If They Live has a central conceit, it is that old (mis)quote of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald that “The rich are different than you and me” made literal. The problem with a remake is that it would have to address Fox News and MSNBC, even if only to dismiss them, but by picking actual targets it would automatically lose the point. Though the argument might be that both are working for the same puppet master, and their rivalry or differences are essentially similar shit with different locations, even a situation where both sides get shit on kinda misses the point, but would become a focus for the media. When Carpenter made They Live, he was able to sneak it out as a monster movie, and though the film wasn’t successful, it didn’t become a talking point, or perhaps was seen as a send off for the Reagan era. But also it was able to say all the media was corrupt. 

On some level both Fox News and MSNBC and their viewers would agree that television sends out coded messages for the faithful, and that “the other side” is lying to incite up the masses/their base, what they wouldn’t agree on is that they both do it. There’s really no way to make this film without political journalists making a point of seeing it/talking about it/ missing the point. Would Bill O’Reilly condemn the film or make a cameo, would Keith Olbermann joke about how he appeared (or didn’t appear) in it, or issue a special report about how the filmmakers are using a sledgehammer where a scalpel should be used? The problem is that they wouldn’t take their lumps quietly, and whatever purpose the film would have – even if it watered down the content of the original to 10% of the subversion. The hot potato nature of the film would mean that there would be no smuggling, and journalists would be quick to suggest that they “get it.” It reminds me of an old joke:
Q: How do you distract a journalist?
A: Get them to talk about themselves.


Michael Bay’s been producing remakes all over town, using his Platinum
Dunes company as a front. So naturally he’d be the logical choice to
spearhead any attempt at remaking this classic. How would it pan out,
you ask?
    • Synchronicity, thy name is spelled Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
    • Shephard Fairey would be a consultant. Noticeable placement of either the Obey stickers, or Andre the Giant has a posse.
    • Obama and George W. Bush would be revealed to aliens (there would be some weird race politics in this version, as there would have to be).
    • OMG, Justin Bieber is an Alien!

    REBUTTAL: No way.

    Week One:
    The Man Who Would Be KingRaiders of the Lost Ark

    The Third ManSerpicoBlazing Saddles

    Week Two:
    The ConversationAuditionGone with the Wind
    JawsBlade Runner

    Week Three:
    RockyNorth by NorthwestThe Outlaw Josey Wales
    GreaseApocalypse Now

    Week Four:
    PhantasmChinatownThe Princess Bride
    2001: A Space odysseyIt’s A Wonderful Life

    Week Five:
    It Happened One NightThe African Queen
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestThe Godfather – They Live