John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing is considered a classic today, but back when it was released, box office and reviews told a different story. While it's been almost a decade since he directed a feature film, John Carpenter boasts one of the best resumes of anyone working within the horror genre. Depending on who one asks, 1995's Lovecraftian apocalypse story In the Mouth of Madness was his last great directorial work, although 2006's similarly themed Masters of Horror installment Cigarette Burns also has its share of proponents.
Even if Carpenter never directs again - and at age 71, it seems likely he won't - his legacy as a filmmaker is secure. When it comes to the question of Carpenter's best overall movie, it usually comes down to two contenders: 1978 slasher godfather Halloween and 1982 sci-fi/horror opus The Thing. While ostensibly a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's version bests its predecessor in every conceivable way, from acting, to score, to special effects, to scare factor.
At present, John Carpenter's The Thing is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time, and its groundbreaking practical monster effects still carry the power to amaze and terrify viewers. The Thing has been a classic for as long as most reading this are likely to remember, but as it turns out, that wasn't always the case.
John Carpenter's The Thing Was a Critical & Commercial Failure
Despite its celebrated status today, The Thing was seen as a total failure upon its initial release in 1982. Made on a budget of $15 million, The Thing grossed only $19.6 million in theaters, not nearly enough to come out in the black after marketing costs. One factor in that was The Thing opening in June, right in the middle of summer blockbuster season, and directly opposite Steven Spielberg's beloved E.T. Spielberg's film presented a wondrous journey with a lovable alien, while Carpenter's Thing had aliens biting people's arms off. Audiences made their preference known. Additionally, contemporary critics savaged The Thing, and it even received a Razzie nomination for Worst Musical Score, an unthinkable prospect to the many fans of composer Ennio Morricone's work on the film.
John Carpenter's The Thing Found Its Audience on Home Video
Thankfully, The Thing would find a devoted audience on home video and via television airings, and eventually work its way up to full-fledged classic status. It's not the first horror film to accomplish this feat, and it probably won't be the last. It's not even the only John Carpenter movie to do so, as films like They Live and Big Trouble in Little China took years to gain their current high levels of fan appreciation. Unfortunately for Carpenter, The Thing's reversal of fortune came too late for his wallet, as he was fired from directing the 1984 movie adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter following The Thing bombing at the box office.