SPOILER ALERT: They Live came out in 1988, but if you really think I can spoil it for you, you’ve been warned.
It’s not like I needed anything more than Risky Business to begin my love affair with black sunglasses, but after Rowdy Roddy Piper donned an alien-outing pair in John Carpenter’s late-‘80s classic, They Live, I was forever smitten.
While Tom Cruise’s Ray-Bans certainly upped his cool factor, Hot Rod’s shades were used for much more than just accessorizing his drifter-chic getup; they were also integral to exposing the alien horde that had taken over the Reaganomics-shaped world. Without such polarizing optics, one of the WWF’s greatest villains ever couldn’t have matured into the action hero he was born to be, for he never would have figured out that many of the Earth’s one-percenters were actually skull-faced aliens, subliminally suppressing the masses to “obey,” “consume,” “marry and reproduce,” and many other sheep-driving Shepard Fairey catchphrases.
The sunglasses are also the reason we get one of the most Vince McMahon-inspired fights in all of filmdom, when Roddy and Keith David take turns suplexing and arm-barring each other while demonstratively debating the merits of wearing said spectacles. But before Piper has to resort to his signature sleeper hold, he forcibly places the shades on Keith’s face and wakes the man to the true, black-and-white nature of this alien-controlled society. Only then does Roddy enlist just the man to help him bring it down, or at least bring down the aliens’ brainwashing communications signal. And bonus: They also secured the homage treatment on South Park.
Of course, back in 1988, some may have been surprised by Rowdy Roddy’s dynamite acting chops, but as any WWF fan could have easily foreseen, the Canadian who made us all believe he was Scottish had no trouble pulling off the role of Nada. Obviously, Carpenter saw such talent upon their first meeting at Wrestlemania III, when Piper came from behind to defeat “Adorable” Adrian Adonis (with a little help from friend Brutus Beefcake).
But even after having witnessed such high-quality entertainment close up, even Carpenter must have been surprised by just how much Piper contributed to They Live, beyond just being a finely coiffed sunglasses model. In fact, Piper even contributed the seminal line from the film: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum." If you think that line gets delivered nearly as well without sunglasses on, you may as well go back to sleeping and obeying.