The Big Picture
R.J. MacReady’s cowboy hat in The Thing is a stylistic statement that adds a sense of shock and awe to his character. The hat symbolizes MacReady’s reliability and ability to handle tough situations, distinguishing him from his peers. The hat’s audacity and unique style make it the most badass hat in movie history, contributing to the film’s success.
When you think of the sickest, most badass hats that have ever graced the silver screen, your mind is likely to go toward Indiana Jones’ fedora or Oddjob’s killer bowling cap. But none of those can touch R.J. MacReady’s (Kurt Russell) supermassive cowboy hat from The Thing. This hat is great for an infinite amount of reasons, all of which dawn on you the minute that it appears on-screen. While The Thing was always destined to be a great film, it’s questionable whether John Carpenter’s 1982 effort would have been a masterpiece had it not been for this expert pick in costume design. Everything in the film rides on MacReady’s dastardly piece of headwear, ranging from his need to stylistically stand out from his peers, intimidate others with the size of his cap, and the hat’s multifaceted range of capabilities. MacReady isn’t the hero of The Thing, nor is Childs (Keith David); it’s this glorious hat.
The Thing (1982)
Release Date June 25, 1982
Main Genre Horror
Writers John W. Campbell Jr. , Bill Lancaster
Tagline Man is The Warmest Place to Hide.
The Hat in ‘The Thing’ Is Wonderfully Impractical
Image via Universal Pictures
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a monster movie that had been cooking in the oven for decades. The original film is a staple of the monster movie subgenre, was thrown around to be remade beginning in the ’70s, and eventually made an appearance in Carpenter’s quintessential 1978 classic, Halloween. That movie was a humongous hit, not just by independent movie standards, but by movie standards in general. With newfound success landing in Carpenter’s lap, it seemed as though the choice was obvious for who should helm the remake. From there, all the perfect pieces fell into place. Kurt Russell would star as the film’s lead, an all-star lineup for a supporting cast joined the ranks (including Keith David and Wilford Brimley), Rob Bottin would create the film’s game-changing practical effects, Ennio Morricone would score it, and the costume department found the best hat on Earth for the film’s protagonist to wear.
The first time you see MacReady’s hat in The Thing, a sensation of shock and awe is sure to wash over you. Right off the bat, it’s a tremendous stylistic statement, but questions of practicality immediately boil to the surface. This sucker is so huge that even John Carpenter’s ultra-wide lenses can barely make it fit. The hat’s brim snaps in on the front and back sides, giving MacReady the room he needs to be able to see his surroundings, as well as bringing marvelous and unique curvature to the look of his headpiece. That said, being that it is held together in this way, it makes you wonder just how big this hat might be at its greatest possible circumference. Had MacReady ever unfastened the brim of his hat and let the front and back flow however far they needed, you might chuckle to yourself at the idea of our bearded friend being swamped to his feet by the flaps. Of course, they wouldn’t ever go that far. In reality, it would probably take on a sombrero-like shape and would have turned MacReady into a total goof in front of his shape-shifting foes.
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The Hat Says Plenty About Kurt Russell’s MacReady
Image via Universal Pictures
Apart from its size, the hat always ends up being MacReady’s go-to head hugger of choice when venturing outdoors, the calling card of any genuinely reliable and trustworthy cap. This dome piece is also regularly paired with a thick leather flight jacket, gray hoodie, olive green ripstop pants, army boots, and a killer pair of black goggles. It’s a truly admirable fit that many hard-edged hipsters might aspire to on their coldest night, all without the guts or flame-throwing abilities of our friend R.J. The hat in John Carpenter’s The Thing promises an individual who you know can whip up a tasty drink, appreciate a leisurely game of chess, and hold their intellectual ground as a helicopter pilot in a room full of scientists, but also kick the asses of murderous intergalactic shapeshifting alien beasts like it’s yesterday’s business. No one else at MacReady’s base wore one of these hats, and look what happened to them. You could make the point that Childs, the only other character to survive the events of the film, didn’t wear one either, but when you’re played by someone as rad as Keith David, you’re sure to survive anything.
There is the case to be made that maybe all of MacReady’s peers laughed at him for wearing this massive cowboy hat, but like the unseen true form of the aliens, these jokes remain unheard. After all, there is a bit of a clown-like look to this beast of an accessory, but every stylistic innovation in history starts out looking a touch silly. That being said, there’s something so incredibly audacious about the fact that, of all the hats he could have worn, he chose to wear this hat. It’s as if MacReady walked into the room wearing an entirely normal outfit for the environmental circumstances that he’s facing, but he chose to hold it all together with one of Flavor Flav’s bodacious clock necklaces. That or if he was rocking a pair of bedazzled, neon-green Crocs. There’s looking like a badass, and then there’s topping off your carefully constructed macho-man outfit with a touch of insanity to show everyone around you that you’re reliable, but a little unhinged. A loose cannon. It’s a stylistic pivot that no one else at his base attempted, and they all suffered the consequences for being a bunch of squares.
The Potential for MacReady’s Hat Beyond ‘The Thing’
Image via Universal Pictures
Sadly, no one in the rest of film history would even attempt to pull this hat off ever again. It’s almost as if the hat, as well as anyone’s desire to pull it off, burned with the rest of the North American base at the end of the film. Even Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, another John Carpenter character played by Kurt Russell, only goes so far as to wear a simple trucker hat. A hat worthy of that character, to be sure, but a clothing accessory that is likely the biggest reason that Big Trouble in Little China’s reputation is lesser than The Thing, of course. Plenty of trucker hats remain on Earth’s surface, but how many of those MacReady cowboy hats are there lying around? You got me! Replicas go for a pretty penny online and are few and far between.
We have let a potential pillar of our society fall by the wayside by not making these football field-sized cowboy hats not become a staple of modern style. They wouldn’t even need to stop at being a cold weather exclusive. How about we wear these hats in business casual settings, to show you’re a serious individual but also know how to have a good time? Or you can wear one by the pool! You’ll get tons of shade, and look dynamite if you pair it with a dirt-brown bathing suit! You might even wear one at the altar to show your spouse that, like the brim itself, you’re willing to go to the ends of the Earth for your marriage. Come on, this hat is a must.
Costume design is a must in every film, but no costume department has ever made a better choice than giving MacReady his enormous cowboy hat. In doing so, he not only intimidated his peers into listening to him, he likely sent fear and respect into the hearts of his alien enemies, helping him achieve victory in the end and ultimately saving the human race. This is also without mentioning the fact that the hat fits his personality so well that it basically feels like a natural extension of his head, a perfect pairing of character and clothing. MacReady was already a cool-as-a-cucumber, dynamite helicopter pilot who knew how to put an outfit together like bacon and eggs, but no touch was better than this helmet of victory: the most badass hat in movie history.
The Thing is available to stream on Shudder.
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