As the Antarctic winter sets in, 12 men at an American research station while away the time playing cards, verbally abusing the chess computer, and re-watching old game shows on video. Their tedium is interrupted when a helicopter from the nearby Norwegian base approaches with its crew hellbent on killing a sled dog. The pilot dies when the passenger accidentally blows the helicopter up with a grenade before rampaging into the American base with a rifle. He is shot dead in self-defense by Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander.
Helicopter pilot R.J. MacMurphy (Kurt Russell) heads out with Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) to see what’s up at the Norwegian camp and finds a scene of devastation. Everyone is dead and a strangely deformed body is smoldering in a fire outside. They take the remains back to camp for an autopsy, and biologist Blair (Wilford Brimley) finds nothing wrong with the corpse internally. But, as MacMurphy notes, the Norwegians sure wanted to burn it up in a hurry.
Things kick off when the dog, now kept in the kennels with the American sled team, turns into a horrible creature and tries to absorb the other dogs. The men are alerted but part of the creature escapes. Blair performs another autopsy on the mutated dog and surmises that it is an organism that can perfectly replicate other life forms. Evidence recovered from the Norwegian camp suggests the ill-fated team found a spacecraft buried for thousands of years under the ice.
This doesn’t bode well for the Americans as heavy weather sets in and the Thing targets the crew one by one, leading to accusations, paranoia, and power struggles. If the creature can replicate a living being perfectly then any one of them could be the Thing…