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How John Carpenter’s 1982 ‘The Thing’ Became a Surprise Entry in This Weekend’s Top Ten

Box office reporting numbers are always in flux, but not usually in favor of a film that didn't play on Friday or Saturday (and which also happens to be decades old).

THE THING, Kurt Russell, 1982, ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

“The Thing”

Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Forget the box office top ten estimated weekend charts published yesterday. They all left out one film: John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic “The Thing.” The film, which played in around 730 theaters for a single showtime on Sunday only as a Fathom Events presentation, ended up in the #9 position for the three days with about $500,000 total, per industry sources.

Appearances by vintage titles on the top ten was common when theaters reopened after COVID-issued lockdowns and into early 2021, but that an older re-release — much less one with a single showing — could find a place among the biggest grossing films of a June 2022 weekend is a circumstance related to the dearth of films in theatrical release. Though the combined result of the weekend’s top titles — “Jurassic World: Dominion” (Universal), “Lightyear” (Disney), and “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount) — ended up with very healthy grosses, there was a steep drop among other 2022 releases. That opening provided the perfect change for Carpenter’s classic to break through.

Based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. novella “Who Goes There?,” the story had previously been adapted for the screen by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby with 1951’s “The Thing from Another World.” By the early ’70s, Hollywood brass were eager for a more “faithful adaptation” of the story, which eventually landed with Carpenter after cycling through a number of directors.

Universal released the film initially two weeks after “E.T.,” on June 25, 1982. It landed at #2 behind “E.T.” with $6,150,000 (less than half of the take of Steven Spielberg’s box office juggernaut). Adjusted it would be $20,000,000 at current ticket prices. The science fiction thriller starring Kurt Russell followed scientists who discover an alien being in Antarctica that takes over other life forms had been positioned to replicate results of the smash hit “Alien.” It joined several other genre titles at the 1982 box office, (including “Tron” and “Blade Runner,” which came just after) that were all projected to do as well or better than “E.T.,” which was thought of before release as only for children.

The film was maligned by critics at the time, but has gone on to become a favorite of Carpenter fans and horror hounds alike. In 2011, Universal released a prequel starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton that was a critical and commercial flop.

With these updated returns, Carpenter’s “The Thing” replaces “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (Paramount) in this week’s #9 slot. Still up for grabs: the #10 slot, which will either go to “Sonic” or “Brian and Charles” (Focus).

And it may add more cash yet: Fathom will have a second showing of the film at the same theaters this Wednesday.

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