Of course it wasn’t as much of a flop as often thought (budget circa $15 million, US box office circa $20 million) but director John Carpenter was under no illusions as to how the studio (Universal) perceived his ‘Thing’ in the immediate aftermath of its 25 June 1982 release, not helped by the appearance of ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’ two weeks before.
Come to think of it, has there ever been a less suitable ‘summer movie’ than ‘The Thing’? Carpenter agreed – he reportedly virtually begged Universal to delay the release date to Halloween 1982, avoiding comparisons with ‘E.T.’, and change the title to ‘Who Goes There’. They refused.
Then there was the changing nature of horror-film audiences to contend with. After a market-research screening, one teenager apparently approached Carpenter pleading complete ignorance regarding the ending. When the director responded that it was up to their imagination, the co-ed mumbled, ‘Oh, God, I hate that…’
With hindsight, maybe we can also point a finger at the marketing. The standard Hollywood thinking – as per Art Linon’s book ‘What Just Happened’ – was that the marketing people would always blame a film’s poor box office on anything but the marketing, and generally keep their jobs in the event of a bomb. That would definitely not be the case now…
Above is the original poster – hardly a classic of its era, with very little if nothing to do with the film. The below VHS rental cover is surely what they should have gone with, complete with classic tagline and surreal main image.
Still, the movie is as fresh and troubling today as it was 40 years ago, and anyone who hasn’t seen it should check it out ASAP, on as big a screen as possible. Happy birthday, Der Thing!