Them! is a 1954 American black-and-white science fiction monster movie
Warner Bros. Pictures, produced by David Weisbart, directed by
Gordon Douglas, that stars James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon
and James Arness. The film is based on an original story treatment
by George Worthing Yates, which was then developed into a screenplay
by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes.
Them! is one of the first of the 1950s "nuclear monster" films, and
the first "big bug" feature.
A nest of gigantic irradiated ants is discovered in the New Mexico
desert; they quickly become a national threat when it is discovered
that two young queen ants and their consorts have escaped to establish
new nests. The national search that follows finally culminates in a
battle with Them in the concrete spillways and sewers of Los Angeles.
2.1 Cast notes
5 In popular culture
6 Attempted remake
8 External links
New Mexico State Police Sgt. Ben Peterson and Trooper Ed Blackburn
discover a little girl wandering the desert in a state of shock near
Alamogordo. They take her to a nearby recreational trailer, located by
a pilot in a spotter plane. They find evidence that the little girl
had been in the trailer when it was attacked and nearly destroyed by
someone or something. Later, it is discovered that the trailer was
owned by a FBI
Special Agent named Ellinson, who was on vacation with
his wife, son, and daughter; other members of the girl's family cannot
be found at the trailer site. After being placed in an ambulance to be
taken for hospital treatment of her catatonic state, the child briefly
reacts to a strange, pulsating high-pitched sound from the desert by
sitting up in the stretcher. No one else notices her reaction, and
when the noise stops, the girl lays back on the stretcher.
General store owner "Gramps" Johnson is found dead, a wall of his
store having been partially torn out. After a quick look-around, Sgt.
Peterson leaves trooper Blackburn behind to secure the crime scene.
Blackburn later goes outside to investigate a strange, pulsating
sound; gun shots are fired, the sound grows faster and louder, and
Blackburn's scream is heard.
New Mexico boss points out that Gramps had time to fire all
his ammunition, and Trooper Blackburn was a "crack shot", eliminating
the possibility of a homicidal maniac. More puzzling is the coroner's
report on Johnson's death: he died from a broken neck, back, skull
fracture, crushed abdomen, and "enough formic acid in his body to kill
The FBI assigns
Special Agent Robert Graham to
New Mexico to
investigate. After having analyzed a strange print found near the
Ellisons' trailer, the Department of Agriculture sends myrmecologists
Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter, Dr. Pat Medford,
to assist in the investigation. The elder Medford exposes the Ellinson
girl to formic acid fumes, which revives her from her catatonic state;
she screams, "
Them! Them!" His suspicions are validated by her
reaction, but he will not reveal his theory prematurely.
At the Ellinson campsite, Pat encounters a giant, eight-foot-long
foraging ant. Following instructions from the elder Medford, Peterson
and Graham shoot off the ant's antennae, blinding it; they then kill
it with their Thompson submachine gun. Medford reveals his theory: a
colony of giant ants, mutated by radiation from the first atomic bomb
test near Alamogordo, is responsible for the killings.
General O'Brien orders a helicopter search, and the skeletal remains
of past victims are discovered near the ants' nest.
Cyanide gas bombs
are tossed inside, and Graham, Peterson, and Pat descend into the nest
to check for survivors. Deep inside, Pat finds evidence that two queen
ants have hatched and escaped to establish new colonies.
The elder Medford gives a briefing on ant aggressiveness to a
government task force; they covertly begin to investigate all reports
of any unusual activity. One shows that a civilian pilot (Fess Parker)
has been committed to a mental hospital after claiming that he was
forced down by UFOs, shaped like giant ants. Next, the Coast Guard
receives a report of a giant queen hatching her brood in the hold of a
freighter at sea in the Pacific; giant ants attack the ship's crew,
and there are few survivors. The freighter is later sunk by U.S. Navy
A third report leads Peterson, Graham, and Major Kibby to a large
sugar theft at a rail yard in Los Angeles. An alcoholic in a hospital
"drunk tank" claims he has seen giant ants outside his window. The
mutilated body of a father is recovered, but his two young sons are
missing. Peterson, Graham and Kibby find evidence that they were
flying a model airplane in the
Los Angeles River drainage channel near
Martial law is declared in Los Angeles, and troops are
assigned to find the ant nest in the vast storm drain network under
Peterson finds the two missing boys alive, trapped by the ants. He
calls for reinforcements and lifts both boys to safety, just before
being attacked. Graham arrives with reinforcements and kills the ant,
but Peterson dies from his injuries as others swarm to protect the
nearby nest. Graham and the soldiers fight off the ants, but a tunnel
collapse traps Graham. Several ants charge, but he is able to hold
them off with his submachine gun just long enough for troops to break
through the collapse. The queen and her hatchlings are discovered and
quickly destroyed with flamethrowers. Dr. Medford offers a philosophic
observation: "When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a
new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can
James Whitmore as Sgt. Ben Peterson
Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon as Dr. Pat Medford
James Arness as FBI Agent Robert Graham
Onslow Stevens as General O'Brien
Sean McClory as Major Kibbee
Chris Drake as Trooper Ed Blackburn
Sandy Descher as Ellinson girl
Mary Ann Hokanson as Mrs. Lodge
Don Shelton as Captain Fred Edwards
Fess Parker as Alan Crotty
Olin Howlin as Jensen, the alcoholic
Dorothy Green as police matron (uncredited)
Leonard Nimoy has a small, uncredited part as a U.S. Army Staff
Sergeant in the communications room.
Other actors who appear in small parts include John Beradino, Willis
Bouchey, Booth Colman, Richard Deacon, Lawrence Dobkin, Ann Doran,
William Schallert, Douglas Spencer, Dub Taylor, Dorothy Green and
When casting his planned Davy Crockett episode of the Disneyland
Walt Disney viewed the film to see James Arness,
who had been recommended for the role. However, Disney was more
impressed by a scene with
Fess Parker as an inmate in a mental ward of
the Texas hospital. Watching Parker's performance, Disney realized he
had found his Davy Crockett.
John Wayne saw the film and, impressed
with Arness' performance, recommended him for the role of Marshal Matt
Dillon in the new
Gunsmoke TV series, a role that Arness went on to
play from 1955 to 1975.
Opening title card with the background in black-and-white and
Them! began production in the fall of 1953, it was originally
conceived to be in 3D and Warner Color. During pre-production, tests
were to be shot in color and 3D. A few color tests were shot of the
large-scale ant models, but when it was time to shoot the 3D test,
Warner Bros.' "All Media" 3D camera rig malfunctioned and no footage
could be filmed. The next day a memo was sent out that the color and
3D aspects of the production were to be scrapped; widescreen
black-and-white would now be the film's presentation format. Warner
Bros. hoped to emulate the "effective shock treatment" effect of its
previous science fiction thriller The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms;
ultimately, however, the film was never shot in widescreen. Because of
the preparation of certain scenes, many of the camera set-ups for 3D
still remain in the film, like the opening titles and the
flamethrowers shots aimed directly at the camera.
Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with the color results, the
film's titles were printed in a vivid red-and-blue against a
black-and-white background in order to give the film's opening a
dramatic "punch". This effect was achieved by an
Eastman Color section
spliced into each release print. The 1985
VHS tape release, the
LaserDisc and later
DVD release have retained this
black-and-white-with-two-color title effect.
The entrance to the ants' final nest was shot along the concrete
spillways of the
Los Angeles River, between the First and Seventh
Street Bridges, east of downtown. The depiction of the Chihuahuan
Desert of southern
New Mexico is actually the
Mojave Desert near
Palmdale, California. Mercy Hospital was a real institution and is now
Brownsville Medical Center.
James Whitmore wore "lifts" in his shoes to compensate for the height
difference between himself and James Arness. It has also been noted
that Whitmore employed bits of "business" (hand gestures and motions)
during scenes in which he appeared in order to draw more attention to
his character when not speaking.
The Wilhelm scream, created three years earlier for the film Distant
Drums, is used during the action sequences: when a sailor aboard the
freighter is grabbed by an ant, when James Whitmore's character is
caught in an ant's mandibles, and when an overhead wooden beam falls
on a soldier in the
Los Angeles storm-drain sequence.
The giant ants, painted a purplish-green color, were constructed and
operated by unseen technicians supervised by Ralph Ayers. During the
climactic battle sequence in the
Los Angeles sewers, there is a brief
shot of one ant moving in the foreground with its side removed,
revealing its mechanical interior. This blunder has been obscured
DVD releases of the film.
The sounds the giant ants emit in the film were the calls of
Bird-voiced tree frogs mixed in with the calls of a wood thrush,
hooded warbler and red-bellied woodpecker. It was recorded at Indian
Island, Georgia, on April 11, 1947 by the Cornell Lab of
Them! was released in June 1954 and by the end of that year had
accrued $2 million (US) in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada)
rentals, making it the year's 51st biggest earner.[Note 1]
According to an article in The Slate, this was Warner Bros.
highest-grossing film that year. However, 1954 In Film lists two
other films from
Warner Bros. that earned more in gross.[citation
From contemporary reviews, the
Monthly Film Bulletin stated that
despite the science fiction film genre being new it had developed
several sub-divisions including "the other-worldly, the
primaeval-monstrous, the neo-monstrous, the planet-ary-visitant, etc."
and that "
Them! is a "well-built example of the neo-monstrous", "less
absurdly sensational than most" Discussing the ant monsters in the
film, the review referred to them as "reasonably horrible--they do not
entirely avoid the impression of mock-up that is almost inevitable
when over-lifesize creatures have to be constructed and moved", while
noting that they were "considerably more conceivable than those
prehistoric remnants that have recently been emerging from bog and
iceberg". The review commented on the cast as "like most
science-fiction, [the film] is on the whole serviceably rather than
excitingly cast" and the crew was noted, stating the direction was
"smoothly machined" and the film has "decent writing" though "more
short cuts might have been [taken]", finding that the start of the
film was too slow.
The New York Times
The New York Times review noted "... from
the moment James Whitmore, playing a
New Mexico state trooper,
discovers a six-year-old moppet wandering around the desert in a state
of shock, to the time when the cause of that mental trauma is traced
Them! is taut science fiction". The reviewer in
Variety opined it was a "top-notch science fiction shocker. It has a
well-plotted story, expertly directed and acted in a matter-of-fact
style to rate a chiller payoff and thoroughly satisfy the fans of
Since its original release,
Them! has become generally regarded as one
of the best science fiction films of the 1950s. Bill Warren described
it as " ... tight, fast-paced and
credible ... [T]he picture is suspenseful". Phil Hardy's
The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction noted, "Directed by
[Gordon] Douglas in semi-documentary fashion,
Them! is one of the best
American science fiction films of the fifties". Danny Peary
believed the film "Ranks with The Thing and Invasion of the Body
Snatchers as the best of the countless '50s science fiction
films". In the Time Out Film Guide,
David Pirie wrote, "By far the
best of the 50s cycle of 'creature features' ... retains a
good part of its power today". The review aggregator website
Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating with an average rating
of 7.6/10, based on 26 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "One of
the best creature features of the early atomic age,
effectively menacing special effects and avoids the self-parody that
would taint later monster movies".
Them! was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects and won a
Golden Reel Award for best sound editing. The film has been
nominated for two
American Film Institute
American Film Institute lists, AFI's 100 Years ...
100 Thrills  and
AFI's 10 Top 10 (science fiction genre).
In popular culture
Van Morrison's band Them was named after this film.
Joey and Chandler watch the film on TV in the 1995 Friends episode
"The One Where Rachel and Ross...You Know"
New Jersey punk band the Misfits has a song titled "Them!", with
lyrics directly inspired by the film, on their release Famous Monsters
The video game series
It Came from the Desert was inspired by
Eight Legged Freaks
Eight Legged Freaks features a scene in which sequences from the film
are included.
The Counterstrike expansion for Westwood Studios' Command &
Conquer: Red Alert had a secret four-part mini-campaign called It Came
From Red Alert!; the primary antagonists are giant ants.[citation
Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch features it on a TV that
Lilo, Stitch, Nani and David watch along with Jumba and
Fallout 3, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic irradiated
wasteland, has a side-quest involving giant mutated fire ants titled
"Those!" in homage to the film.
In Tim Burton's film Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) explains to
Ed (Johnny Depp), "Nobody wants vampires anymore. Now all they want is
giant bugs". The scene takes place in 1952, but the actual movie came
out two years later.
In the 1950s
E.C. Comics parody comic, Panic, a companion to the
highly successful Mad, there is a parody on this film titled "Them!
There! Those!" featuring art by Wally Wood. [ Issue # 7 ][citation
The 1960s Remco toy line titled "Hamilton's Invaders" featured giant
bugs versus military defenders. One of the larger mechanical bugs was
designed after the giant ants in Them, "The Spooky Spider", even
though the creature sports only six legs. Another creature in this
line also featured a giant bug designed after the giant wasps from the
1950s sci-fi feature Monster from Green Hell, called "Horrible
Strong similarities can be drawn with James Cameron’s “Aliens”
movie (1986), particularly with regard to the underground scenes in
the ants nest, references to the queen ant, and the use of soldiers
fighting the ants with flame throwers.
Screenwriter Neil Ruttenberg and producer
Richard Donner pitched a
remake in which the ants would be intelligent and terrifying. Warner
Bros. decided instead upon on Bob Gale's pitch, which included
^ "Rentals" refers to the distributor/studio's share of the box office
gross, which, according to Gebert, is roughly half of the money
generated by ticket sales.
^ "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954." Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955.
^ "Them!". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
^ a b c d e f g h i Warren 1982, pp. 188–195.
^ Smith 2012, p. 167.
^ Herzberg 2007, p. 176.
^ a b Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (listing of
"Box Office (Domestic Rentals)" for 1954, taken from Variety
magazine). New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996.
^ Waldman, Katy (31 January 2013). "The Nuclear Monsters That
Terrorized the 1950s". slate.com. Retrieved 2015-10-22. Them!, a
cautionary tale about giant irradiated ants, was Warner Bros.’
highest-grossing film in 1954.
^ a b c "
Them! U.S.A., 1954". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 21
no. 240. British Film Institute. 1954. p. 131.
^ White, Armond (A.W.). "Them (1954); Warner Brothers chiller at
Paramount." The New York Times, June 17, 1954.
^ "Brog". Review from Variety dated April 14, 1954, taken from
Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews, edited by Don Willis,
Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, ISBN 0-8240-6263-9.
Them! (1954)." Variety, April 14, 1954.
^ Hardy, Phil, ed. The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction.
London: Aurum Press, 1984. Reprinted as The Overlook Film
Encyclopedia: Science Fiction. London: Overlook Press, 1995.
^ Peary, Danny. Guide for the Film Fanatic. London: Fireside, 1986.
^ Pirie, David, ed. "Them!" The Time Out Film Guide, 2nd Edition.
London: Penguin Books, 1991. ISBN 0-14-014592-3.
Them! (1954)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
^ "The 27th Academy Awards, 1955." Oscars.org, Retrieved: January 9,
^ "Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA (1955)". IMDB. Retrieved
^ "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Thrills Nominees". afi.com. Retrieved:
January 9, 2015.
AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot". afi.com. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
^ Mills 2010, p. 205.
^ Greenberg, Allen. "It Came from Out of the Disk Drive." Computer
Gaming World, Issue 70, April 1990.
Herzberg, Bob. The FBI and the Movies. Jefferson, North Carolina:
McFarland & Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-78642-755-0.
Mills, Peter. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van
Morrison. London: A&C Black, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8264-2976-6.
Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction
Pictures. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1977.
Smith, Dave. Disney Trivia from the Vault: Secrets Revealed and
Questions Answered. New York: Disney Press, 2012.
Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. London: Octopus Books Limited.
1976. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X.
Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies, American Science Fiction Movies
of the 50s, Vol. I: 1950 - 1957. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland
& Company, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Them!
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