The Thing is a 2011 science fiction horror film directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., and written by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore. It is a prequel to the 1982 film of the same name by John Carpenter, the plot taking place immediately prior to the events of that film. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton who are part of a team of Norwegian and American scientists who discover an alien buried deep in the ice of Antarctica, realizing too late that it is still alive, consuming then imitating the team members.
In 1982, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by scientists Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) to join a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship buried beneath the ice of Antarctica. They discover the frozen corpse of a creature that seems to have died in the crash 100,000 years ago.
After the creature is transported back to base in a block of ice, Dr. Sander orders them to retrieve a tissue sample, against Kate's protests. Later, while the others celebrate, co-pilot Derek (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) sees the Thing escape from the block of ice. The team splits up into groups to search for the alien. Olav (Jan Gunnar Røise) and Henrik (Jo Adrian Haavind) discover it hiding under one of the buildings. The Thing grabs Henrik and pulls him into its body. The others converge on the scene and set the creature on fire. In the chaotic aftermath, the lone dog of the team is found dead in a bloody heap in its kennel, a massive hole torn in the wire mesh.
During an autopsy, Kate and Adam discover that the cells of the Thing appear to be absorbing and imitating Henrik's cells. Meanwhile, Derek, pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton), Griggs (Paul Braunstein), and Olav prepare to leave the base in the only helicopter to bring back help. Just as they prepare to take off, Kate discovers bloody, discarded metal tooth fillings and large amounts of blood in the showers. She runs outside to flag down the departing helicopter, fearing the Thing may have imitated someone on board. When Carter decides to land, Griggs transforms and kills Olav, causing the helicopter to spin wildly out of control and crash in the mountains, presumably killing all onboard.
In the rec room, Kate tells the other scientists her theory on the nature of the creature: It is perfectly capable of imitating any life form and that it may have done so with members of their camp, but cannot imitate inorganic material such as metal, hence why it spit out the tooth fillings. Most of the team members either do not believe her or accuse her of turning them against each other out of paranoia. After everyone else leaves, Juliette (Kim Bubbs) tells Kate that she believes her and that she saw Colin (Jonathan Lloyd Walker) leave the shower holding a towel. Juliette tells Kate that she knows where they keep the vehicle keys, and that they can take them to prevent anyone else from leaving; however, when the two go to retrieve them, Juliette transforms and attempts to kill Kate. Kate escapes, running past Karl (Carsten Bjørnlund), who is killed by the Juliette-Thing. Lars (Jørgen Langhelle) arrives with a flamethrower and burns the Thing as it assimilates Karl.
As they burn the remains outside, Carter and Derek return, both half-frozen and barely alive. While some of the team believes they are Things and should be burned, Kate convinces them to simply lock them up until a test can be prepared. Adam and Sander are in the lab preparing a potential test, but when both leave for a short while, the lab is engulfed in flames in an apparent sabotage. Tensions rise as accusations by both the Norwegians and the Americans are made, but Kate proposes another, much simpler test to single out those who might be the Thing from those who aren't. She uses a flashlight to inspect the teeth of all the other team members to see who has fillings and who doesn't. This test singles out Adam, Dr. Sander, station commander Edvard (Trond Espen Seim), and Colin. Peder (Stig Henrik Hoff) sends Lars and Jonas (Kristofer Hivju) out to bring back Carter and Derek, but they have tunneled out the floor of the storage shed and into a neighboring building. While Lars leans in the doorway of the other building, they grab him and pull him inside. Jonas runs back and pleads with Peder to help him rescue Lars, but Kate orders him to guard the prisoners.
During the argument, Carter and Derek force their way inside, armed with Lars's flamethrower. Edvard pushes Peder to burn both of them, assuming that they have killed Lars. When Peder takes aim, Derek shoots him, puncturing his flamethrower's tank and causing an explosion that kills Peder and knocks Edvard unconscious. While Edvard is being carried back to the rec room, he transforms into the Thing, killing Jonas and Derek and assimilating Adam while Sander and Colin flee. Carter and Kate head off to hunt it down. The Thing, which is now in the form of a creature with the faces of both Edvard and Adam, finds and kills Dr. Sander. The monster manages to separate Carter from Kate and traps him in the kitchen. Just as it is about to kill him, Kate arrives and torches the monster.
Kate and Carter see the Sander-Thing driving off in one of the Snowcats and give chase in the remaining vehicle. They follow it out to the wreck of its ship, which has been opened up and restarted, slowly preparing to take off. Kate and Carter are separated once again and Kate encounters the Thing. She barely manages to stay out of its reach, and when it finally catches her, she destroys it with a grenade. She and Carter escape and make it back to the Snowcat. As they are preparing to leave, Kate notices that Carter is missing his left ear piercing and determines that he is one of the Things. Despite his protests, she burns him and destroys the Snowcat. Kate slowly climbs into the remaining Snowcat and stares blankly into the night.
The next morning, a Norwegian helicopter pilot, Matias (Ole Martin Aune Nilsen), arrives at the Norwegian camp and finds the facility burned and deserted, as well as the charred remains of the two-faced Thing. It is revealed that Colin went into the radio room and committed suicide by slitting his wrists and throat. Lars, who has survived hiding in the building where Derek and Carter attacked him, shoots at Matias but recognizes that he is human after checking his fillings. At that moment, the Thing in the form of Lars' dog bolts out of a ruined building and runs away. Lars fires at it, then orders Matias to take off in pursuit. Lars begins shooting at the animal from the helicopter, directly leading into the beginning of John Carpenter's The Thing. (A conflict has developed between the two films, as Lars is intended to be Jans Bolen, who is shot by Garry. However, Lars is actually the Norwegian who fumbles the grenade and blows himself up at the start of the film, and the helicopter pilot, Matias, is the one who should be Jans Bolen and who is actually shot by Garry.)
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Dr. Kate Lloyd, an American paleonthologist graduate from Columbia University: In order to not try to compete with Kurt Russell's portrayal of the 1982 film's protagonist, R.J. MacReady, the character of Kate Lloyd was designed to have traits in common with the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien film series.
- Joel Edgerton as Sam Carter: An American helicopter pilot and Vietnam War veteran running a supply operation to the bases. He and his two co-pilots are left in the dark as to why they are there and what is the mysterious thing the scientists have found.
- Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Sander Halversen, the Norwegian "Thule" station medical officer and leader of the alien research team. He orders the team to obtain a sample of the recently discovered alien creature despite Kate's warnings.
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Derek Jameson, an American helicopter co-pilot and also a Vietnam veteran who is Carter's best friend.
- Eric Christian Olsen as Adam Goodman, an American scientist working as Dr. Sander's research assistant who invites Kate to the Norwegian base.
- Trond Espen Seim as Edvard Wolner, a notable Norwegian geologist who is the station commander.
- Kristofer Hivju as Jonas, a nervous Norwegian polar ice researcher.
- Stig Henrik Hoff as Peder, a Norwegian rifle-toting camp member who is Edvard's right hand man.
- Jørgen Langhelle as Lars, an ex-soldier who works as the dog keeper of the Norwegian base.
- Paul Braunsteinas Griggs, a co-pilot member of the American helicopter transport team.
- Kim Bubbs as Juliette, a French geologist.
- Jonathan Lloyd Walker as Colin, an English radio operator.
- Jo Adrian Haavind as Henrik, another Norwegian base member who assists the alien research team.
- Jan Gunnar Røise as Olav, a Norwegian Snowcat vehicle driver and guide.
- Carsten Bjørnlund as Karl, a geologist.
- Ole Martin Aune Nilsen as Matias, the helicopter pilot of the Norwegian station.
“It’s a really fascinating way to construct a story because we're doing it by autopsy, by examining very, very closely everything we know about the Norwegian camp and about the events that happened there from photos and video footage that’s recovered, from a visit to the base, the director, producer and I have gone through it countless times marking, you know, there’s a fire axe in the door, we have to account for that…we're having to reverse engineer it, so those details all matter to us ‘cause it all has to make sense.” — Eric Heisserer describing the process of creating a script that is consistent with the first film.
After creating the Dawn of the Dead remake, producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman began to look through the Universal Studios library to find new properties to work on. Upon finding John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing, the two convinced Universal to create a prequel instead of a remake, as they felt that remaking Carpenter's film would be like "paint(ing) eyebrows on the Mona Lisa" Eric Newman explained; "I'd be the first to say no one should ever try to do Jaws again and I certainly wouldn't want to see anyone remake The Exorcist... And we really felt the same way about The Thing. It's a great film. But once we realized there was a new story to tell, with the same characters and the same world, but from a very different point of view, we took it as a challenge. It's the story about the guys who are just ghosts in Carpenter's movie - they're already dead. But having Universal give us a chance to tell their story was irresistible."
In early 2009, Variety reported the launch of a project to film a prequel—possibly following MacReady's brother during the events leading up to the opening moments of the 1982 film—with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. as director and Ronald D. Moore as writer. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. became involved in the project when his first planned feature film, a zombie film taking place in Las Vegas written and produced by Zack Snyder called Army of the Dead, was cancelled by the studio three months before production began. Needing to start all over again, he asked his agent to see if there was a The Thing project in development, since Alien and The Thing are his favorite films. As a fan of Carpenter's film, he was interested in the project because, being European himself, he had always wondered what happened at the Norwegian camp. In March 2009, Moore described his script as a "companion piece" to Carpenter's film and "not a remake." "We're telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did," he said.Eric Heisserer was later hired to do a complete rewrite of Moore's script. Heisserer explained that in writing the script, it was necessary for him to research all the information that was revealed about the Norwegian camp from the first film, down to the smallest details, so that it could be incorporated into the prequel in order to create a consistent backstory. The decision was made to name the film the same title as the first film, because the producers felt adding a "colon title" such as Exorcist II: The Heretic had felt less reverential.
Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. explained that he created the film not to simply be a horror film, but to also focus largely on the human drama with the interaction between characters, as the first film had. The director felt that horror films worked better when time was spent to explore the characters' emotional journeys, allowing the audience to care about them. Mary Elizabeth Winstead insisted that the film would not feature any romantic or sexual elements with her character, as it would be inappropriate considering the tone of the film. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje said that the film would try to recreate the feeling of paranoia and distrust that the first film had, where the characters can't tell who has been infected by the alien. The filmmakers drew additional inspiration for the film from the original novel Who Goes There?, in making the characters in the film educated scientists as opposed to "blue collar" workers. However, the filmmakers drew no influence from the events of the The Thing video game. The director also drew additional inspiration from the film Alien in creating the film, particularly in regard to casting a female lead, and in the way the alien creatures are filmed by not showing too much of them. Matthijs van Heijningen also cited the films of director Roman Polanski as influence, such as his work on Rosemary's Baby. Actual Norwegian actors were cast in the film to play the Norwegian characters, and the director allowed the actors to improvise elements different to what was scripted when they felt it was appropriate, such as a scene where the characters sing a Norwegian folk song called Sámiid Ædnan ("Lapland"). Many scenes involving characters speaking Norwegian were subtitled, and the language barrier between them and the English speaking characters is exploited to add to the film's feeling of paranoia. Director Matthijs van Heijningen said that the film would show the alien creature in its “pure form”, as it was discovered in its ship by the Norwegians; however, it is not revealed whether this is the creature's original form or the form of another creature it had assimilated. John Carpenter wished to have a cameo appearance in the film, but scheduling conflicts prevented this.
Filming and post-production