In the critically acclaimed horror film, The Thing, Blair determines that if the Thing was to reach civilization, it would take over all life on Earth in only 27 000 hours or a bit over three years. Is this number accurate?

First, for who haven't seen the film, a brief summary of The Thing's abilities;

  1. The Thing has the ability to absorb and copy the DNA of any life-form it consumes, allowing it to take on its appearance, memories, and mannerisms.
  2. Each individual cell of the Thing is both part of a singular multi-cellular lifeform and a distinct, independent entity at the same time. Therefore to kill it, one much kill every cell of the Thing on the planet.
  3. It is implied in the first movie [and outright confirmed in the prequel] that the Thing is unable to replicate dead cells; including metal and cloth.

There are of course more rules that can be read here, but those are the most basic of rules. Using these as a base, would the Thing be able to take over humanity (that is, make it so that there are no more humans alive of Earth), and if so, would it take the 27 000 hours mentioned in the Film?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You should link to e.g. the IMDB page for the movie, as there is more than one "The Thing" movie. I think you mean Carpenter's remake/updating of the original ("and still best") 1951 movie. Remember also that movies often have different titles in different countries. $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2018 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ The Earth is really big. Please define "take over humanity". $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 27, 2018 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder what the Things would do next after they had copied and replaced every single organism. Maybe stuff would stay more or less the same. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 27, 2018 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ The movie(s) are based on John W Campbell Jr's novelette "Who Goes There?". There is a similar calculation for the time for the alien creature to duplicate, assimilate and take-over the world. This could include every living organism on our planet in the novelette. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Apr 28, 2018 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk Presumably stop pretending to be copies of local lifeforms and recreate their alien civilization on our planet. Perhaps, even build spaceships and go home. The creature in the original story was building a nuclear-powered, antigravity vehicle to escape the Antarctica & invade the rest of the world. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Apr 28, 2018 at 4:16

1 Answer 1


A really important ability that wasn't mentioned in the question is that The Thing replicates as it absorbs. Thus, after absorbing a human, what you have left over are two Things.

So... about 7.6 billion people on earth, all other things being at least temporarily equal, how many eat-the-human cycles must there be to get all of us?

2n-1 = P

Where "P" is the population and "n" is the number of cycles to get there. Since 7.6 billion >>>>>> 1, I'm going to ignore the 1 and say 2n = 7.6 billion or n = 32.83

So, what's a cycle?

If everybody is standing in a convenient pyramid shape such that The Thing can go person-to-person in a single second and conversion is instantaneous, then the job's done in 33 seconds. Boom! Instant alien planet.

But, the conversion process isn't instantaneous. I don't have a copy of any of the movies to work with, but let's assume this task takes 3 minutes on average.

Next, how long does it take to move person-to-person? One would assume that in a city this is much simpler than out in the country. But, let's face it, once people see the absorbtion process begin, they're going to run like Macey's having a 90%-off sale. So...

  • Assume that in cities a solid 15 minutes is required to get to the next victim.

  • Assume in the country that an hour is required to get to the next victim.

In 2014 the UN reported that approximately 54% of humanity lived in urban settings. Let's take that at face value.

  • 54% of the time we only need 15 minutes. 54% of 32.83 cycles is 17.73.
  • 46% of the time we need an hour. 46% of 32.83 cycles is 15.10.

17.73 * (0.25 hours + 0.05 hours) + 15.10 * (1 + 0.05) = 21.174 hours.

Dang! That's fast!

This suggests it takes a LOT longer to either absorb a human, move to the next human, or both. Let's say it takes 0.5 hours to absorb, then what is the average get-to-the-next-human time?

32.83 * (X + 0.5) = 27,000

X = 821.92 hours or, basically, two weeks.

The Thing must really like instilling fear in humanity because taking two weeks to get to the next course in the meal is a long honking time.

Answer: The Thing can take over Earth and most of Alpha Centauri in 27,000 hours


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