We see that, in John Carpenter's The Thing (and the later prequel movie), that the titular creature is able to assimilate animals such as humans and dogs, and behave exactly like the victim of the assimilation process. But this behaviour-mimicry of human victims is unmistakable from the behaviour of the victims themselves.

John Carpenter's The Thing

The Thing not only looks like people (it is in the foreground of the image above) but is clearly able to pass the turing test - where characters can get into conversations with the creature and be unaware they are not talking to a human.

While the audience is as unaware as the characters about what people have been assimilated until they transform into monstrous entities, a notable exception to this is the "death" of Carter in the 2011 prequel, where we see the creature attempting to allay Kate's suspicions before pleading with her not to destroy it.

This begs the question, are we supposed to interpret all this as the Thing having intelligence and emotions at a human level (perhaps taken directly from its victims)? How does the avaricious entity that is the Thing (which is interested solely in survival and propagation) square with it having... feelings?

  • 7
    The Thing is ultimately derived from a famous novella called "Who Goes There?" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Goes_There%3F In the novella, the entity successfully built a nuclear-powered antigravity device from things it found at the base; this makes clear that the entity was intelligent on its own, remembered its time from before it arrived on Earth, and that its people had technology more advanced than Earth technology. Unless John Carpenter intended a change to the story, the Thing was intelligent. (John Carpenter did change the ending but otherwise was pretty true to the novella.)
    – steveha
    May 9, 2017 at 0:50
  • 3
    Anyone else think "you bet he does, and if you say not, it's clobbering time!"
    – Yakk
    May 9, 2017 at 14:32
  • @steveha Well, maybe. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room
    – ceejayoz
    May 9, 2017 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


The Thing clearly has intelligence since in the 1982 [modern] original... it tries to build an escape craft.

And in the 2011 prequel it can activate one.

1982 - Wikipedia

Leaving Childs on guard, the others head out to test Blair, only to find that he has tunneled out of the tool shed. They realize that Blair is assimilated and has been scavenging equipment to build a small escape craft.

2011 - Wikipedia

They arrive at the spacecraft, where it suddenly activates and its engines begin to melt the ice over it.

Indeed, the actions of the Thing in both movies scream intelligence more than mere self-preservation instinct. It's trying to escape and get home.

As for emotions it's unclear as to whether the creature feels actual human emotions/feelings but it can certainly mimic them and this it presumably gets from it's infected hosts.

  • Building a spacecraft? Well, didn't it also come to earth in one? Obviously it was smart enough to travel billions of miles through space.
    – user43097
    May 8, 2017 at 18:37
  • @theguest It may have been dropped there either by comet or another form of singular travel. It may have also been disturbed from millions of years of sleep in the ice and was already there prior. May 8, 2017 at 18:42
  • @howdy_mcgee the film shows a spacecraft buried in the ice where they find it, so I don't think a comet or other form of singular travel was involved. May 8, 2017 at 19:15
  • 1
    @theguest : there are theories that the Thing was not the species which built or operated the spacecraft shown in the pre-credits scene, they might have picked it up somewhere and got assimilated on the journey.
    – vsz
    May 10, 2017 at 6:11
  • 2
    Regardless, how it got there doesn't discount it's actual intelligence. Mascots/pets generally can't operate sophisticated high technology.
    – Paulie_D
    May 10, 2017 at 15:49

Peter Watts has written a short story from the point of view of The Thing itself - you can read it on Clarksworld.

I do not know if it is accepted as canon in the Thing-verse, but it portrays the intelligence of The Thing as being at least as high as human, possibly even more intelligent.

To quote the story itself:

I was so much more, before the crash. I was an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary. I spread across the cosmos, met countless worlds, took communion: the fit reshaped the unfit and the whole universe bootstrapped upwards in joyful, infinitesimal increments. I was a soldier, at war with entropy itself. I was the very hand by which Creation perfects itself.

So much wisdom I had. So much experience. Now I cannot remember all the things I knew. I can only remember that I once knew them.

It's well worth reading if you're a fan of the film.


Despite good points made by the other answers, you can also look at the source novel, by John Campbell, for proof of the Thing's intelligence.

This is an intelligent creature as high in its evolution as we are in ours. Perhaps higher.

This can be deduced by

  • the fact that the Thing built and flew a spacecraft to Earth and

  • the fact it can control its cells to understand and imitate other creatures.

“Only in this creature, the cell-nuclei can control those cells at will. [...] In time, not even a microscope would have shown the difference.”

“Suppose,” asked Norris bitterly, “it had had lots of time?”

“Then it would have been a dog. The other dogs would have accepted it. We would have accepted it. I don’t think anything would have distinguished it, not microscope, nor X-ray, nor any other means. This is a member of a supremely intelligent race, a race that has learned the deepest secrets of biology, and turned them to its use.”

It actually copies the feelings of its host and imitates them perfectly.

“The thing is selfish. You didn’t think it looked as though it were possessed of a store of the higher justices, did you?” Dr. Copper pointed out. “Every part of it is all of it, every part of it is all for itself, I imagine. If Connant were changed, to save his skin, he’d have to – but Connant’s feelings aren’t changed; they’re imitated perfectly, or they’re his own. Naturally, the imitation, imitating perfectly Connant’s feelings, would do exactly what Connant would do.”


"I don't know how. 'Cause it's different than us, see? 'Cause it's from outer space." - MacReady

In short yes. It has the intelligence of any creature it has imitated. For me it squares all this with its feelings in the way a hunter squares his feelings when he hunts for food.

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