They Live is a 1988 American science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson. Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster, the film follows an unnamed drifter who discovers through special sunglasses that the ruling class are aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to consume, breed, and conform to the status quo via subliminal messages in mass media.
For the crucial role of Nada, the filmmaker cast professional wrestler Roddy Piper, whom he had met at WrestleMania III earlier in 1987. Carpenter was also impressed with Keith David’s performance in The Thing and wrote the role of Frank specifically for Keith David.
The film was a minor success at the time of its release, debuting #1 at the North American box office. It initially received negative reviews from critics, who lambasted its social commentary, writing and acting; however, like Carpenter’s other films, it later gained a cult following and experienced a significantly more favorable critical reception. It is now regarded by many as a largely underrated work. The film has also entered popular culture.
They Live was ranked #18 on Entertainment Weekly magazine’s “The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since ’83” list. The film is noted also for a popularly quoted line spoken by Nada: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”