The Martian has earned glowing praise from film critics (you can read our review here) and is doing well at the box office. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, The Gladiator), the film’s story about an astronaut (actor Matt Damon) stranded on the Red Planet is just the latest in a long line of films about Mars. In fact, Mars has always been a focal point for science fiction and there are arguably more books and movies about the planet than any other in our solar system (there certainly aren’t many movies about Pluto). Mars is such a fundamental part of what we associate with space , it’s no surprise that the term we use for extraterrestrial beings is “Martian.” So with the all that in mind, here are 10 other good movies about Mars that illustrate our cultural fascination with our neighboring planet.
10. John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Ghost of Mars is actually an underrated movie by sci-fi horror master John Carpenter. Set 200 years in the future, the movie is about a Martian police force that has to transport a dangerous prisoner from a mining outpost on the Red Planet back to civilization to face justice. But when the Martian police team arrives at the mine site, they encounter a deserted town whose inhabitants have become possessed and turned into vampire-like ghost creatures. With a cast that features Ice Cube, Pam Grier, Natasha Henstridge and Jason Statham, Ghosts of Mars is a decent sci-fi horror mash-up that has plenty of action to keep viewers entertained. Sure, it’s not Escape from New York, but at least it’s better than Escape from L.A.
9. John Carter (2012)
It may have been savaged by critics, but 2012’s John Carter is not the disaster it was made out to be. The film actually earned a modest profit – grossing nearly $300 million at the global box office on a production budget of $250 million. And if you give it a chance, John Carter is actually a pretty good film. Based on the book John Carter of Mars by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the movie stars Taylor Kitsch in the title role as a man who is transported to Mars, where he helps a princess in need and battles 12-foot tall barbarians. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Bryan Cranston, and Thomas Hayden Church, John Carter is also bolstered by modern special effects and great CGI. While the critics may not have liked it, John Carter still managed to find an audience who appreciate it.
8. Invaders from Mars (1953)
At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, there was a lot of paranoia about invasions and invaders, but none more so than invaders from outer space. This was dubbed “astro-paranoia” and gave us movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Blob. Among the many memorable genre films from this time is director William Cameron Menzies’s Invaders from Mars, which starred B-actors Helena Carter and Jimmy Hunt and is notable for having helped usher in the first 3D movie craze. Marketed to audiences as, “a nightmarish answer to The Wizard of Oz,” the movie is about a young boy who discovers that Martians have infiltrated Earth and are taking over people’s minds. Of course, it is up to the boy and his friends to save the adults in his small town – even the teachers they don’t like. Interestingly, this movie was remade in 1986 with cult actors Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces), Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), although the remake is generally considered to be inferior to the original.
7. Doom (2005)
Based on the classic first-person shooter video game of the same name and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 2005’s Doom is about space marines who are sent to investigate strange events at a research facility on Mars but find themselves at the mercy of genetically-enhanced killing machines. In typical action movie fashioin, the space marines have no choice but to blast their way off the Red Planet and to safety. While it’s no Citizen Kane, Doom is actually one of the better movies based on a video game. The Rock is also joined in his shootout with Martians by Karl Urban and Dexter Fletcher, who turn in decent performances despite not being given the best material. Doom is Worth seeing for people who love both the video game and all things Mars-related. Plus, it’s interesting to see The Rock in one of his first movies as he transitioned away from the wrestling ring.
6. Mars Needs Moms (2011)
Believe it or not, this kid-friendly Disney-produced movie is credited with being one of the biggest box office flop of all time. It grossed just over $20 million on a production budget of $150 million, which is astonishing for an animated film. Nevertheless, Mars Needs Moms is a good family film that children and parents can enjoy. It’s about a boy named Milo who learns to appreciate his mother after she is abducted by Martians and transported to Mars (where, it turns out, they need moms too). Milo heads to Mars to rescue his mom, and adventure and hilarity ensue. The animation in this movie is great and it has a heartwarming message. The film might have fared better at the box office if it had more recognizable actors doing the voices instead of Seth Green, Dan Fogler and Joan Cusack, but at least the cast did a good job despite their star appeal.
5. Red Planet (2000)
One of two big budget and star studded movies about Mars released in 2000, Red Planet stars Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss as astronauts who head to Mars to colonize the planet as Earth is dying. As often happens on the Red Planet, the astronauts’ plans go horribly wrong. About as good as Mission to Mars — the other film about the famed planet released at the turn of the Millennium — Red Planet is a decent popcorn movie and sci-fi film to boot. While it didn’t set the world on fire, it is effective as a straight ahead movie about astronauts and their efforts to colonize another world. It’s also one of the better movies starring Val Kilmer and showcases Carrie-Anne Moss at the Matrix-zenith of her career. A movie that’s worth a look, to be sure.
4. The Last Days On Mars (2013)
This recent movie about Mars is available on Netflix and worth a watch. It stars respected actors Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Olivia Williams as astronauts on Mars who are confronted with a mysterious and deadly virus hidden in fossils on the Red Planet. Another entry in the sci-fi horror genre, this movie is given some narrative heft by the strong acting talents of the cast. And while the special effects aren’t the greatest, the story and pacing are brisk and exciting. More suspense than horror, this film is entertaining from start to finish and gets bonus points for taking the science displayed in the movie seriously. A strong entry in the Mars movie canon.
3. Mars Attacks! (1996)
For pure goofy fun, you can’t do much better than the 1996 movie Mars Attacks!. Directed by Tim Burton and starring an A-list cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, and Annette Bening, Mars Attacks! is a spoof of the outer space invasion movies of the 1950s, and is played for campy laughs from start-to-finish. Featuring retro hairdos and ridiculous looking Martians, this movie has Tim Burton’s trademarks all over it. The movie is one of Burton’s best and it’s fun to see the cast having as much fun as they do in this genre send-up. People who like other signature Tim Burton movies such as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands will love Mars Attacks! It’s also the only good comedy that Jack Nicholson ever appeared in, which has its own kind of appeal.
2. Total Recall (1990)
The original Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone is a solid sci-fi movie in its own right and one of the best-ever featuring Mars. The movie stars Schwarzenegger as a man with a recurring dream about traveling to Mars. Hoping to learn more about his dream, Schwarzenegger’s Douglas Quaid buys a holiday at “Rekall Inc.,” where they sell implanted memories. Unfortunately, something goes wrong with the memory implantation and Schwarzenegger suddenly remembers being a secret agent and fighting against the evil Mars administrator Cohaagen (played by actor Ronny Cox). The fight on the Red Planet then resumes in earnest and, as expected, Schwarzenegger takes no prisoners. Great action, a strong script, and classic Arnold one liners (“Consider that a divorce!”) make Total Recall a lot of fun. And while the special effects in the movie haven’t aged well since the movie’s original release, this version of Total Recall is still far superior to the gloomy 2012 remake starring Colin Farrell.
1. War of the Worlds (1953)
Just as with Total Recall, we’re going with the original version of War of the Worlds here rather than the 2005 remake starring Tom Cruise. The 1953 film is based on H.G. Well’s classic novel about Martians who invade Earth. The definitive Martian invasion movie of the 1950s, War of the Worlds focuses on residents of a small town in California who are initially excited when a flaming meteor lands in the distant hills. Their joy is tempered when they discover that the meteor is actually a Martian spaceship and that its Martian occupants are not friendly. An allegory for the Cold War, War of the Worlds was meant as a parable for what could happen if the Russians invaded America. Politics aside, the movie still works as a classic alien invasion yarn. And the special effects, while old and outdated today, were state-of-the-art back in 1953 and left audiences sufficiently terrified. This movie is considered a touchstone in the sci-fi movie genre and a major influence on subsequent movies about aliens, Martians and of course, Mars.