John Carpenter's 1982 classic, The Thing, is burned into my brain. I remember renting the VHS from the Exton Library and watching the film when I was probably way too young.

And I needed the ending explained to me then.

But that's how you know a movie will make an impact. It's one of the greatest science fiction horror films ever made. Plus, that spider-legged monster was so terrifying. Aside from being a genre-breaking romp, it also has a pretty complex ending that has pleased fans for decades.

Today, I'm going to explain The Thing ending. We'll go over fan theories, the plot of the movie, and the spaceship, and even give an analysis. Sound fun?

Put on your snowshoes and winter coat. It's going to be a cold one.

'The Thing' Ending Explained'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

What Happened in The Thing?

The movie was based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There?The 1982 Universal Pictures film stars Kurt Russell as the team's helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady, and features A. Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, and Thomas G. Waites in supporting roles.

The movie was released to negative reviews and grossed a little over $19 million at the box office. But The Thing caught on with home video and was passed around by people who were in awe of the effects and the tight, harrowing story. The ending of The Thing became very famous. Everyone seemed to have an "ending of The Thing" theory and wanted to discuss The Thing monster.

Let's go through the movie's plot and make sense of it all ourselves.

'The Thing Plot 'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

The Thing Plot

We open on an Antarctic research facility as a helicopter follows a running sled dog to a research station deep in the outskirts. The American researchers inside watch as the passenger accidentally blows up the helicopter and himself. The pilot then shoots at the dog and shouts at the Americans in Norwegian, but no one can understand him. He is then shot dead by station commander Garry when he tries to attack them.

The American helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady, and researcher Dr. Copper leave to investigate the Norwegian base to see what happens. They find it burnt, with a lot of frozen corpses.

Amongst the wreckage, they find the burned remains of a disfigured body. They bring it back with them. Their biologist, Blair, performs an autopsy and finds regular human organs inside the malformed body. But no one is sure how something like that could exist and be up here.

As they try to figure everything out, Clark kennels the dog. But while no one is looking, it transforms and absorbs most of the station dogs—it's clear this is not a normal dog, but something otherworldly.

The Thing Spaceship'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

The Thing Spaceship

When they come back and realize what's happening, Childs uses a flamethrower to incinerate the animal. Blair autopsies the dog and surmises that it can perfectly imitate other organisms. Data recovered from the Norwegian base leads the Americans to an excavation site where they found an alien spacecraft. Norris thinks it must have been buried for over a hundred thousand years. And that the Norwegians dug it up.

Blair runs a computer simulation that indicates that the creature could assimilate all life on Earth in a matter of years—which completely freaks him out. The station implements control to reduce the risk of assimilation. But now they suspect each other of being infected.

While they are gone, Bennings is assimilated and made into The Thing, a malformed humanoid. When they get back and see what's happening, MacReady burns the Bennings-Thing. The team also imprisons Blair in a tool shed after he sabotages all the vehicles, kills the remaining sled dogs, and destroys the radio to prevent escape. Everyone is losing their minds.

Copper suggests doing a blood test and then comparing the crew's blood against uncontaminated blood held in storage, but after learning the blood stores have been destroyed. This leads to more dire thinking, and the men lose faith in Garry's leadership. MacReady takes command. He, Windows, and Nauls find Fuchs' burnt corpse and think he committed suicide to avoid assimilation.

Windows returns to base while MacReady and Nauls investigate MacReady's shack. During their return, Nauls abandons MacReady in a snowstorm, believing he has been assimilated after finding his torn-up clothes in the shack.

'The Thing' Ending'The Thing' spaceshipCredit: Universal Pictures

The Ending of The Thing

The team debates whether to allow MacReady back inside, but he breaks in and holds the group hostage with some dynamite. Norris appears to suffer a heart attack, but as Cooper tries to revive Norris, his chest transforms into a large mouth and bites off Copper's arms, killing him.

MacReady incinerates the Norris-Thing, but its head detaches and attempts to escape. They can burn it as well.

The gang realizes that every part of the Thing is an individual life form with its own survival instinct. MacReady proposes testing blood samples from each survivor with a heated piece of wire and has each man restrained but is forced to kill Clark after he lunges at MacReady with a scalpel. Everyone passes the test except Palmer, whose blood recoils from the heat. The Palmer-Thing transforms, breaks free of its bonds, and infects Windows, forcing MacReady to incinerate them both.

Childs is left on guard while the others go to test Blair, but they find that he has escaped, and has been using their vehicle components to assemble a flying saucer. When they get back, Childs is missing and the generator is destroyed, leaving the men without heat.

MacReady assumes the Thing intends to return to hibernation until a rescue team arrives. MacReady, Garry, and Nauls agree that the Thing cannot be allowed to escape. So they set explosives to destroy the station, but the Blair-Thing kills Garry, and Nauls disappears. Blair-Thing transforms into an enormous creature and breaks the detonator, but MacReady triggers the explosives with a stick of dynamite, destroying the station and the monster.

In the final scene, Childs returns as MacReady sits by the burning remnants, saying he became lost in the storm while pursuing Blair. Exhausted and slowly freezing to death, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust for one another. Nothing really matters anymore.

So they share a bottle of Scotch, and we leave MacReady and Childs as the cold descends on them.

The Thing Ending Explained

The ending of The Thing is a hotly debated subject amongst nerds and fans everywhere. Most people want to know if MacReady is the Thing or if the Thing monster has Childs at the end. Or if any of that actually matters.

The Three Possible The Thing Endings, Explained

When the movie comes to a close, there are three possible endings. The first is that both Childs and MacReady are human beings who sacrificed everything to save the planet from a disgusting morphing alien. As they die, sharing the Scotch, it's a sad but honorable death.

The next possibility is that Childs is really the monster, and MacReady knows this and knows his struggle will be futile. So he has a last drink and offers one up before he goes.

Then, the reverse can be true. When Childs settles up next to MacReady, he knows that MacReady is the monster, and it's only a matter of time before he dies, so he takes a drink, cheering to the end.

To his credit, John Carpenter has never explained the ending or given a concrete answer, instead leaving the audience to decide what they believe for themselves.

This has led to much thematic analysis.

The Thing (1982) Film Analysis'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

The Thing (1982) Film Analysis

There are many people who write and talk about this movie and its ending. In 1982, America and Russia were still involved in the Cold War. This story about people losing trust for one another as a parasite duplicates them in the isolated part of Antarctica fits as an allegory for that. The themes of erosion and distrust in a small community are prevalent.

The Thing monster is an homage to Lovecraftian cosmic horror that fuels the paranoia at the center of this narrative. It's that fear of something coming from outside of your world and taking over the familiar, distorting the things and institutions you used to trust.

Many film scholars have also pointed out this movie is a good breakdown of masculinity. Everyone jawing at one another, forming factions, and ultimately fighting as they are picked off one by one, unable to agree and unite against a common goal thanks to ego.

One theory I had never heard before comes from The Atlantic's Noah Berlatsky. He said that the core of the original film could be identified as a fear of not being a man, or being gay. I think this is a very deep reading of the story and it does attach nicely to the idea of masculinity on display here.

Whatever you buy into or however you choose to dissect a movie like this, there's a lot of room for interpretation and film theory.

'The Thing' Ending Explained'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

Summing Up"The Thing Ending Explained"

One of the things I love about this movie is how many of the endings you can explain just by looking at different ways to understand the story. This is just another John Carpenter masterpiece that challenges audiences and makes them think. The ending of The Thing has to be one of the most hotly debated ones, and I want to know your fan theories in the comments.

Let's hear who you think made it or didn't make it out alive.