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Classic 1954 horror/sci-fi movie. A little girl is found wandering in the New Mexican desert, the only survivor of an unknown calamity that befell her vacationing family. When roused from her catatonia, she can only scream "Theeeeem!" Official investigation finally leads to the discovery that the culprits are Cadillac-sized ants, mutated by atomic radiation. The race is then on to locate and destroy the ants' nest before new queens hatch out and fly across the world.
Made a ton of money for Warner Brothers, and so helped establish many of the giant-monster-running-amok cliches for American cinema. Sadly, the vast majority of its imitators lacked the budget and the writing and acting talent on display here.
Not to be confused with the 2006 French horror film Them.
Referenced in the video game Fallout 3, which has a quest called 'Those!' featuring giant fire-breathing ants. Cinemaware's 1989 game It Came From The Desert is an open homage to this film. It also appears in Zombies Ate My Neighbors as a Demonic Spider. Also, the climax of the movie, including the rescue of the two children, is referenced in a Mark Hunt in Final Fantasy XII.
Features examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor - Edmund Gwenn's character.
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer - The Los Angeles storm drains are the setting for the climax.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us - Well, ship out in the middle of the ocean with the ants, but the humans get to pull it off too with their nests.
- Anyone Can Die: Peterson, the first important character we meet, dies near the end. Very rare in 1950s cinema.
- Made worse by how he's arguably one of the most likable characters, firmly established as a Friend to All Children (he even saves two boys from the ants before getting killed) and feels incredibly guilty when his police partner dies. The fact that the arguably most moral and warm hearted character could be brutally killed off in this universe was the first sign the movie was not going to have a hopeful, optimistic ending...
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever
- Big Creepy-Crawlies
- Bug War
- Friend to All Children -Peterson. It's pretty obvious from his actions and body language that children in any kind of distress really upsets him.
- Genre Shift - Starts out as a low-key podunk police investigation, ends with flamethrower assaults in the Los Angeles sewer.
- Good Name for A Rock Band - Van Morrison and company named their band after the film.
- Heroic BSOD: - That little girl.
- Heroic Sacrifice - Peterson.
- Hollywood Apocrypha - Dr. Medford sr. quotes some as the scope of the problem appears...
"And there shall be destruction and darkness come over creation
"And the Beasts shall reign over the earth."
- Hot Scientist - Joan Weldon as Pat Medford.
- I Love Nuclear Power
- Immune to Bullets - Unless you aim at the antennae, effectively blinding the ants.
- Actually, it's subverted; the ants are tough but can be taken down with enough machine-gun bullets. The trouble is there are so many of them...
- Infant Immortality -Though this is still a pretty grim dark movie, mostly played straight, but averted for one subtle instance offscreen before the start of the film; see Fridge tab...
- Kill It with Fire - This film had flamethrower-toting heroes stalking monsters through dark tunnels decades before Alien.
- Noisy Nature - The ants display good lung-power.
- One-Scene Wonder - Fess Parker as the pilot-witness; landed him his role as Davey Crockett.
- Reasonable Authority Figure - Every layer of government behaves as rationally as it can, under the circumstances.
- Screaming Woman - Used effectively (e.g. with restraint) for once. Pat Metford screams the first time she (and the audience) catch sight of a giant killer ant at close quarters, but is calm and professional the rest of the movie. And of course there's the catatonic girl who suddenly breaks into a Title Drop when she smells a vial of formic acid.
- Splash of Color: The entire movie is gray scale with the exception of the title at the start.
- Square-Cube Law - Obviously ignored, but let's face it - you couldn't have the movie if you didn't.
- Stay in the Kitchen - Impressively averted, considering the era it was made. The military gasses the nest of giant killer ants, and the next stage is for someone to go down into the nest and confirm they're all dead. This is universally recognized as a very bad idea, yet Hot Scientist Dr. Pat Medford argues firmly and convincingly that she has to go down into the nest as her father is too old and she can't give the two male leads "a crash course in entomology".
- Stock Scream - Several uses of the Wilhelm Scream. (Although this was long before it became an example of this trope.)
- The End - or Is It? - The ants are all wiped out, but Dr. Medford Sr. issues a grim warning; the atomic genie is out the bottle...
- Title Drop
- Too Dumb to Live - No one noticed a bunch of giant ants nesting on a ship? This is at least lampshaded when a character asks the same question.
- You Fail Biology Forever - Well, could be Rule of Scary, but for the record ants, at least ones in America, don't make noise. The sound is very chilling.