Welcome back to “Figures Wanted”, my look at movies, video games, TV shows, cartoons and everything else that I believe in need of new (or first time) toys or collectibles. I want to thank everyone for the great response to the first entry, where I covered the classic video game; Double Dragon. Today, I am talking about another property that is near and dear to my heart. This classic sci-fi horror film was a box office bust when it debuted, and was lambasted by critics upon its debut in 1982. However, the film quickly found an audience with the rise of VHS rentals. The film saw new life in the early 2000’s with spectacular releases on DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray, and has become a horror staple. I’m talking about none other than John Carpenter’s The Thing.
After the jump, I’ll go over the film itself, previous toy releases, and recent failed attempts to release collectibles for this iconic film. I’ll also talk about what I would love to see from a line of collectibles, which companies may best handle the license, and what’s been holding this license up. In the comments, I’d love to hear what companies you’d like to see tackle the license, and the types of collectibles you’d like to see for the film.
In the Summer of 1982, John Carpenter’s The Thing made its theatrical debut courtesy of Universal Studios. The film follows a group of scientists at Outpost 31, an American research station in Antarctica. Twelve men, including R.J. MacReady, Childs, Blair, Windows, Fuchs, Palmer, Copper and more get more than they bargained for at the start of a potentially long and dangerous winter. The group comes in contact with a pair of Norwegians chasing a dog via a helicopter, which winds up in their camp. After a violent confrontation, MacReady and Copper head out to the Norwegian camp to find answers. When they arrive, they find a research station, not unlike their own, completely destroyed and riddled with blood and corpses. They also find a mangled corpse that they cannot identify, and bring it back to their camp. When the pair returns, the scientists come to the discover that they are in danger from a strange, and violent, alien creature. One that not only kills their prey, but also shape shifts into a perfect imitation.
Realizing this long dormant creature could wipe out humanity if it were to ever make its way to civilization, the crew scrambles to determine who is human, and who is The Thing. Tensions rise and suspicions mount as The Thing methodically tears its way through the researchers. With few options left, and fewer humans remaining, the survivors band together to contain the threat, and prevent it from ever reaching populated areas.
At the time, the film was the latest entry in the horror genre for Universal Studios, known for their memorable Universal Monsters films in the 1930’s through the 1960’s. However, E.T. was released just a few weeks prior to the opening of the Thing. The movie warmed audience hearts with an adorable alien, and a story that left you feeling hope and wonder. John Carpenter’s film was the exact opposite. Audiences and critics, still buzzing with from Spielberg’s latest masterpiece, were simply unprepared for the visceral and grotesque film. Audiences instead flocked to not only E.T., but also to Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, which opened on the same day as The Thing.
While often called a remake of The Thing From Another World (1951), it’s actually a re-adaptation of the short novella that inspired both; “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell Jr. Carpenter’s film stayed closer to the themes of mistrust that the novella touches on. The film combined a well-paced script, stellar direction, strong casting, and groundbreaking visual effects from Rob Bottin. Though The Thing failed to find a theatrical audience, it has gained a large following in the horror community in the years since. The Thing is now considered not only one of John Carpenter’s best films, but one of the best modern horror films of all-time.
Almost any new license for The Thing will likely start with it’s most recognizable human; R.J. Macready. The helicopter pilot of Outpost 31, portrayed by Kurt Russel, becomes the default leader of the group. His look also lends itself most to a toyetic design. With a heavy leather jacket, a wide brim hat, and aflame thrower, Mac would no doubt make great addition to a horror shelf. The drop off after that is a bit steep. Few of the other characters in the film have looks that would lend themselves to a worthwhile action figure. Keith David’s Childs would undoubtedly be a fan favorite, as would Wilford Brimley’s Blair.
Any figure line like this, if it was to go beyond one or two human characters, would likely need to be of the fabric/clothed figure variety. The fabric outfits, combined with standardized body types, are much more cost friendly for toy companies, compared to fully sculpted individual figures. In cases like this, the tooling costs can go into quality head sculpts and accessories. Also, if there was a way to combine some of the humans, with their Thing counterparts, then you start to get into a more marketable situation. But, the most likely outcome would simply see a MacReady released, and potentially one of the Things.
You can’t have a line of collectibles from John Carpenter’s The Thing without actually producing a few, well, Things. Unlike most traditional creature films, The Thing is a shapeless alien that can imitate any living being. However, it’s the assimilation process that produces the iconic creature designs we see in the film. The most likely addition to the line would be the Norris Spider Head. It’s the most memorable effect in the film, and one previous toy companies have focused on. Also, in the running would be the Dog-Thing from the kennel assimilation scene, which we’ve seen from SOTA, and the Blair-Thing, which saw a release from McFarlane.
As I mentioned above, if a company was going the figure route, they could look to combine the human and Thing forms of a few characters into single releases. An example would be a character like Palmer, who has a transformation that mainly focuses on his head and hands. Adding the creature head as a swap out piece, along with the hands, and you have two figures in one. Something similar could be done with Norris. If it’s a cloth outfit, the shirt can open up to reveal the gaping hole with teeth, and you can swap out his portrait for a mangled torn neck, then include the Spider Head.
As I mentioned, this article series will delve into brands that may have had prior merchandise, and The Thing fall into that category. The most well-known collectibles releases were from McFarlane Toys. In 2000, they released two figures from The Thing as part of their Movie Maniacs line. That included the Blair-Thing from the end of the film, and the Norris-Thing. In 2005 SOTA released a box set of MacReady attacking the Dog-Thing in the kennel, as well as a Norris-Thing Spider Head Bust in 2006. There have been a few other releases of items here and there, such as the Loot Crate Exclusive Norwegian Thing Bust by Chronicle Collectibles.
While these items were great for the times they were released, they don’t hold up to modern collectible standards. The McFarlane figures captured great scenes, but the sculpting and paint haven’t aged all too well. The SOTA items were fantastic display pieces for their time, but the value has shot up on the aftermarket, making it difficult to track down versions that are still in good shape and worth the high price points.
In recent years, we’ve seen a few collectibles companies acquire The thing license, only to never produce a single item. The most widely known were a few versions of Kurt Russel’s R.J. MacReady from Pop Culture Shock Collectibles. In February of 2015, they began sharing previews for a MacReady 1/6 Scale Figure. They followed that up with previews for a 7” scale version of MacReady in April 2016, which would also include a Norris-Thing Spider Head. Citing poor reception to their 1/6 scale lines, PCS officially cancelled the 1/6 scale MacReady in March of 2017. While PCS would show off their 7” MacReady later that year, the figure would quietly be cancelled with no further official updates provided.
In 2016, I interviewed NECA’s Director of Product Development; Randy Falk, which you can check out by Clicking Here. There he talked about how he was working on a package deal with Universal for a number of their classic films. One of those films was The Thing. However, an agreement was never reached between NECA and Universal.
The latest attempt to bring The Thing collectibles to the market was made by Chronicle Collectibles, who actually obtained a license in 2016. This led to a Loot Crate Exclusive concept statue. In February 2018, they announced a new series of statues based on the film. The statues were to be 1/9 scale collectibles, and would feature a number of characters from the movie. Sadly, that is as far as that line got. An unknown licensing issue cropped up, and the statues were never produced.
The Licensing Issues
It’s hard to pinpoint what is the exact cause of the licensing issues with The Thing. I haven’t seen or been able to get a straight answer on the problems from those I’ve asked. I can only speculate based on popular licensing issues that crop up. The issue isn’t affecting all merchandise. We’ve seen a number of companies tackle new Blu-Ray releases. There have also been t-shirts, vinyl soundtracks, posters, art books, board games and more. The current issues seem to solely affect collectible merchandise, such as action figures, statues, and prop replicas.
The most common issue with a film this old is likeness rights. Chances are, when the film was made, Universal never considered merchandise, and therefore didn’t secure the likeness rights for actors appearing in the film. This is quite common for films made in the 70’s and 80’s. For any company creating action figures, statues, or busts to secure the likeness rights of each actor individually. That can get complicated quickly, as some actors (or more likely their agents) want too much, or simply aren’t willing to negotiate.
The other problem could simply be that the studio is no longer granting collectible licenses for The Thing. This could be for any number of reasons. For instance, they could be in current negotiations with a company to get master rights to collectibles. Those types of negotiations can take time, especially for a property that isn’t new or current. Universal could be looking to retain their licenses ahead of a relaunch, either for a new film or a major anniversary celebration (the 40th is just over 2 years away). With no official word on the issue, fans are simply left speculating.
Who Could Handle The License?
NECA immediately comes to mind when talking about horror collectibles. They’ve tackled major franchises like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday The 13th, as well as more cult offerings like Nightbreed, The Fog, and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Their 8” scale retro clothed figure line would be a good fit for not only MacReady, but also the best chance of seeing additional characters. However, the Things themselves don’t really fit in that line. For that, you would have to hope that they would tackle them in 7” scale, with fully sculpted figures.
Another company who has been giving fans some solid horror releases recently has been Mezco. Again, a figure like MacReady would make a perfect addition to Mezco’s popular One:12 Collective line up. Mezco also isn’t afraid to pack a few figures or larger items together for a Deluxe release in the One:12 line. So something like MacReady vs the Blair-Thing wouldn’t be a stretch.
Super7’s ReAction Figure line is an obvious choice as well. If likeness rights could be secured (they would need that for the custom card backs they do), then that’s a great way to get a line of multiple figures. The 3.75” line tends to get some deep cuts, and isn’t shy with the variants. Since some of the cast has multiple outfits, as well as “imitation” versions, Super7 could easily push this line to over a dozen figures.
Finally, I would say Chronicle Collectibles. They had a solid idea of how to approach the license, with multiple characters from and inspired by the events of the movie. I was extremely excited to see what they had in store. While the roughly $80 price may seem like a lot for people used to collecting figures, it’s an absolutely perfect price for small scale statues, especially those cast in polystone.
There is a lot that can be pulled from The Thing. The creatures themselves would make for great statues, busts, or life size replicas (that blood test scene). The right company could also mine the franchise for a short run of figures. The Thing is one of the franchises that always comes up when horror collectors talk about new figures. I absolutely have no doubt that we’ll eventually get at least a single figure release at some point. It simply comes down to Universal Studios and whatever the “issue” is with the license itself. Whatever eventually comes to pass, fans of horror collectibles will be ready to support almost any release.
In the gallery below, you can see various images I have curated from The Thing.