It may seem that cinema and Mars aren’t in a particularly good relationship. First, we had some early 1910s-1920s productions that were more about pacifism and communism than space travel – let alone Mars. Then came the time of the cheesy and naive 1950s productions, and believe me, it won’t take them long to put a you smile on your face if you watch these oldies now. When – finally! – science fiction got some big budgets in the early 1980s, it didn’t help much either – the visuals got better, but the overall feeling often remained the same. However…
…we terrans don’t surrender easily, do we? We are quite stubborn creatures. Most Mars movies were box office flops, but it never prevent us from trying again and again.
99 years is a whole lot of time, and some beautiful films were shot, ranging from childish or gory production to some hyper-realistic and incredibly plausible stories.
Let’s go! Mars it waiting.
1. Total Recall (1990)
Logline: When a man goes for virtual vacation memories of the planet Mars, an unexpected and harrowing series of events forces him to go to the planet for real – or does he?
“Total Recall” is a film full of science fiction extravaganza – mostly fiction than the laughable science, but it’s exactly the case where we just don’t care. It’s a spy comedy with one of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger’s roles (released exactly 13 months prior to his iconic T2 role), it’s a gory action movie where each frame is full of some futuristic special effects, it’s a curious take on our future with rebelling Mars colonies and mutants (this feature was introduced by David Cronenberg who was supposed to direct the film), but, most importantly, “Total Recall” is a silly science fiction that created such iconic images as a three-breasted woman and eyes popping out when the characters are outside on Mars. And it made little kids dream. Dream about Mars.
The film is one of the finest adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s heritage and the second installment in a so-called Paul Verhoeven’s classic sci-fi trilogy – even if “Robocop“, “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” are distinctively different films, their overall dark satiric tone and particular attention to violence (all three were R-rated, and “Total Recall” was even initially X-rated) make the Dutch director’s style easily recognizable. The film was notably one of the most expensive productions of that time, and it’s a pity flicks like that are so rare today – I could make an endless list of things that make “Total Recall” a sci-fi classic for so many people, but on a personal level, I love the film exactly due to its deliberate attention to some seemingly secondary details that most other movies would dismiss, giving the film a very wry and unexpectedly weird geeky comic look.
Last but not least – I came to realise that “Total Recall” the a rare movie – it has real functioning settlements on a densely inhabited Red Planet (if we don’t count the silent oldies like “Aelita” & “Himmelskibet“, both mirroring the political changes of the 1910-s and 1920-s and Carpenter’s passable ”Ghosts of Mars”). Most Mars (and space in general, too) films are simply variations of crash survival stories with some occasional thriller elements… Seriously, is it as far as our imagination can go? There must be something wrong with the cinema industry then – (an imaginary) Mars colonization and Martian politics would provide an incredibly rich opportunities for filmmakers.
2. The Martian (2015)
Logline: An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars after his team assume him dead, and must rely on his ingenuity to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
For anyone who has been following the big budget cinema of last years it isn’t a big surprise to see Ridley Scott’s epic film ranked so high. Express Elevator to Hell, a movie blog I really admire, summarized it perfectly: “The film’s visuals are very strong, every bit as impressive as ‘Interstellar‘ (2014) or ‘Gravity‘ (2013) but without constantly throwing around millions of CGI shit, annoying Sandra Bullock screams, or overly loud Hans Zimmer organ music. ‘The Martian‘ is beautiful and elegant without feeling showy or over-the-top. It’s a very restrained, “down-to-earth” feeling, if you pardon the pun. Much of the elegance of the scenery stems from great location shooting, minimal green screen, and effective digital editing.“
NASA was heavily involved in the film’s production, seeing it as an opportunity to promote space exploration. The result paid off. The film stars Matt Damon in the main role (one of his best roles for sure), plus has an impressive supporting cast – Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Peña and Kate Mara. The script was written by Drew Goddard (the guy that directed brilliant “Cabin in the Woods“). “The Martian” is a good film. It may seem occasionally boring if you got used to watching too many Marvel movies (and who hasn’t?). It surely has some drawbacks, like being pretty slow-paced and a little bit too long plus the Earth episodes could have been “tighter”, but… it is still one of the best realistic science fiction movies ever made. It makes you believe that we can make it, out there…
3. Red Planet (2000)
Logline: Astronauts, and their robotic dog AMEE, search for solutions to save a dying Earth by searching on Mars, only to have the mission go terribly awry.
I kinda like “Red Planet“. I know many hate this film, but it isn’t that bad at all. It feels very 90-s, and in a good way. The comparisons with “Mission to Mars” are inevitable – the films were released one after another, and their structure and approach were pretty similar. Both films are pretty cheesy from sci-fi point of view, but what makes “Red Planet” a superior movie is that the film never tries to be something it shouldn’t, namely a whiny melodrama. There some occasional moment (mostly useless) where you feel the sugar literally flowing off the screen, but they are nipped in the bud shortly, like some useless weed growing where it shouldn’t. And it’s nowhere near “Mission to Mars“, which cannot decide whether it wants to be a muscular science fiction, a ”Contact”-wannabe (yes, Zemeckis’ film with Jodie Foster…) or a bedtime story.
The cast is pretty good (although there’s too much of Val ”oh-I’m-so-cocky” Kilmer for my taste), a particular mention goes to Carrie-Anne Moss. The special effects and the visuals are quite impressive too – it is a beautiful movie to watch, even if it doesn’t reach the heights that space science fiction set in the early 2010-s. But I must admit I paused the film quite often to take a screenshot.
So let me sum up – “Red Planet” is a nice sci-fi flick, balancing well between being too cheesy and bombastic like “Armageddon” (which I love!) or overly melodramatic assome other movies on the list. Which doesn’t make it a masterpiece, but a cool Mars B-movie with an A-movie budget ($80 mln).
4. Doom (2005)
Logline: Space Marines are sent to investigate strange events at a research facility on Mars but find themselves at the mercy of genetically enhanced killing machines.
Oh this one is a badass movie. I was hesitating whether I should put it in the end or in the top of the list… Seriously, after “Totall Recall” it is probably the best silly sci-fi B-movie on the list! Just think of this…
- an impressive, weirdly funny and lengthy 1st-person-shooter-like sequence
- amazing Karl Urban who acts like it is the role of his life and even kicks Dwayne Johnson’s ass! Yahoo!
- The Rock, still fresh in the beginning of his film career (I often can’t stand the guy but he is good here)
- Mars! Dark laboratories with experiments! Teleportation! Monsters & mutants! Cool techno-rock-score! Scared to death scientists!
- It’s the 4th film of Andrzej Bartowiak as director (he is a veteran cinematographer – “Falling Down“, Sydney Lumet’s “Power” & “The Verdict“, “Species“, “Speed“, “The Devil’s Advocate“, “Lethal Weapon 4” and many others…)
- a kinky supporting cast, namely Richard Brake (“Game of Thrones”, supporting character in “Batman Begins“, 1994 “Death Machine“, “The Death of Stalin“), Rosamund Pike before she learned how to act (she really played horribly here, spending most of the time moaning, shouting and wearing tight T-shirts with no bra) and Dexter Fletcher (Soap in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“)
- and, obviously, a lot of Easter eggs and references to the original games!
…now you might wonder – is there anything wrong with this movie? Here’s the point – yes, there is, and a lot. It is a very B-movie, so prepare for the silly characters & tons of occasional stupidity. Literally. A lot of it. The whole story is half-baked. Except for Karl Urban and few other characters, everything feels to have even less dimensions than the original 3D-shooter (which, just to remind you, was a breakthrough game and one of the first hugely successful 3D shooters). The film isn’t creepy either, rather gory. But you know what? “Doom” is exactly the case when I don’t care. I really love it. What makes it a lot of kinky fun is that the film never tries to be a whiny philosophizing melodrama like “Alien: Covenant“. Just straightforward cheesy fun, take it or leave it. I enjoyed it now as much as before on the big screen when I was 16. ”Doom” is easy to watch too, thanks to its fact pace and lots of action.
For those who don’t feel like watching the whole film, here’s the 5-minute first person sequence, it’s really awesome. I’d easily call ”Doom” first-person scene one of the best so-bad-it-is-good movie action sequences.
5. The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Logline: A group of astronaut explorers succumb one by one to a mysterious and terrifying force while collecting specimens on Mars.
“Last Days on Mars” is somewhat of a crossover between “28 Days Later” and “Alien“, but without the best parts these films had – namely a believable creepy alien threat and good, deep human characters that behave reasonably. It suffers occasionally from a typical horror movie disease called UCO syndrome (“Unexplainable Character Obtusity”), but…
…surprisingly the patient may be more alive than dead. There is a chance of it.
I somewhat enjoyed the film, mostly thanks to an detailed setting (the space ships and Mars settlements seemed very believable) and the acting. It’s not only Liev Schreiber (a good actor that starred in a bunch of mediocre movies – “Salt” or Sabretooth in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine“?) who gives a masterclass in how to
act well stay human in a not-so-scary horror movie, but the rest of the cast is very convincing too – Olivia Williams (Night M. Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense“, Wes Anderson’s best movie “Rushmore” – remember the young teacher?), Romola Garai (“Rory O’Shea Was Here”), Johny Harris (“This Is England ’86“, “London to Brighton“), Elias Koteas (“The Zodiac“) all give a convincing performance and make this movie something bigger than just a trashy horror. “Last Days on Mars” is a debut of the Irish director Ruairi Robinson and was shot on a $10 mln budget. So… if you love to death space horror, give it a try. Just remember it’s not really scary.
6. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Logline: Earth is invaded by Martians with unbeatable weapons and a cruel sense of humor.
While this film is the only on the list where the action does not take place on Mars (except for a very brief CGI sequence), it features a very important element most missed – the Martians!
It doesn’t make it automatically a good movie, but adds some bonus points. “Mars Attacks!” feels like a typical Tim Burton’s film… in a half-baked version. Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pam Grier, Danny DeVito, Glenn Close and Pierce Brosnan are all charming guys and boast the film’s charisma with some good energy, but the main problem is that “Mars Attacks!” isn’t really funny. I saw it first as a kid and (of course) loved it, but while rewatching it just recently I realized that it’s rather weird than funny – but still intended as funny. I adore weird dark parodies & a good satire, but the impression the movie leaves is just… not so different from cheesy 50s sci-fi B-movies it intended to mock?
Still, “Mars Attacks!” has its moments, especially in the epic second part. Thanks to an incredible cast and Burton’s weird humour and designs, it’s also a showcase of what kind of big budget eccentric stuff was made in the 90-s – the film’s budget was initially around $260 mln just to be downsized later to a far more reasonable $80 mln (plus $20 mln for the marketing campaign). Commercially the film was almost a flop. It’s kinda half-baked, but give it a try if you like odd comedies and appreciate Tim Burton’s art. You may like it.
P. S. Remember how the Martians speak? ”Ack, ack, ack”? It’s a record of how a duck quacks, just vice a versa. Childhood mystery solved.
7. Mission to Mars (2000)
Logline: When the first manned mission to Mars meets with a catastrophic and mysterious disaster after reporting an unidentified structure, a rescue mission is launched to investigate the tragedy and bring back any survivors.
I’ve already mentioned “Mission to Mars” when discussing “Red Planet“, and these comparisons are inevitable – just like in 1998 we had two disaster movies, “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact“, the year 2000 was marked by two Mars movies. On paper, it had everything that was needed – a talented and experienced director, Brian de Palma (the man behind wildly popular “Mission: Impossible“, “Scarface“, “Carlito’s Way“, just to cite some…). The cast was promising too – Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle and Gary Sinise. How did it work out? Well… with a variable degree of success. The first 30 minutes are fine – the plot develops quickly and the characters are kinda interesting to follow. There is an awesome creepy sci-fi sequence too.
But then… The biggest problem is that the film cannot decide what it wants to be. It starts as a drama, then converts itself into a sci-fi thriller (with more fiction than science) and ends up being a childish melodrama with a Disney-like ending. Not at the levels of “The Space Between Us“, of course (that one is hard to beat!), but still. Anyway, there is a lot to enjoy in this movie – the effects, the Mars atmosphere, the ending is absolutely beautiful although childish and of course Don Cheadle who seems to be unable to act badly. It’s like Don Cheadle’s superpower. Bad acting Don Cheadle? No way. No way!
So… it’s not among the worst space movies, and surely not one of the best. Somewhere in between. Maybe a bit closer to the bottom. Here you may read a fun and extremely detailed film analysis.
”But I guess the child inside me has died and my heart is now a tiny, pockmarked hunk of coal. Because of all this, I can’t really divine what might have interested De Palma in doing this. Was it the chance to learn how to work with large-scale special effects? Was it the larger themes? Was it space? I don’t get it. The trailer actually manages to make the film look worse than it is.”
DID YOU NOTICE THAT THE LOGLINES ARE GETTING LONGER AND LONGER?
THIS IS A CRITICAL POINT OF THE ARTICLE.
ONCE YOU SURPASS IT, THE MOVIE QUALITY IS NOT GUARANTEED.
7. John Carter (2012)
Logline: Transported to Barsoom, a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Woola and a princess in desperate need of a savior.
Surprise! It’s not easy to write about “John Carter” without a very bitter sense of sarcasm…
- It’s a Disney production – one of those that is considered… ehm, ghm, a failure. More than one film was planned at first, but as ”John Carter” was released, it was obvious that making more sequels was clearly not a good idea.
- It’s the 5th most expensive movie of all time and an proof that $263 mln can be wasted so uneffieciently. Just think of it – with a budget so huge that you could direct
- It’s a kids movie, but is it a family movie? I guess anyone older than 12 (or 14, depending on how early you start to watch sci-fi and horror, you know, these modern kids…) will find it hard to really enjoy “John Carter“.
- It has a horrible miscast named Taylor Kitch. Wiki summarized it perfectly, “Kitsch, also called cheesiness or tackiness, is art or other objects that appeal to popular rather than high art tastes.” I don’t have anything against this 1981-born Canadian actor – for example, his performance in ”True Detective 2” was impressive and matched well that dark role, but he is the least suitable candidate for a Disney epic tale’s main hero I can imagine.
- The film’s tone is somewhat similar to “The Curse of the Black Pearl“, except that all the amazing chemistry we witnessed in Gore Verbinski’s film is not present here, although the film tries hard to reproduce it. And it’s so long dammit.
- ”John Carter” is based on wildly popular Barsoom book series by E. R. Burroughs, the first one was published in 1912, the eleventh book in 1964.
- The film was directed by Andrew Stanton, and I’ll be honest. He is a fucking brilliant director. Stanton is the main man behind “Wall-E“, “Finding Nemo“, he is also a talented writer (“A Bug’s Life“, “Monsters, Inc“, all parts of “Toy Story“) – any of these are easily found in various Top-10 Best Animation Movies ever. “John Carter” is his live-action directing debut, and one could easily say that doing an animation vs a real movie proved to be different and that’s why the film failed, but in my mind that’s not the case. The real problem of “John Carter” is the writing (and the casting), not the visuals… which are beautiful.
…all that leads us to the main question – is this science fantasy worth watching? Not really. At least, if you’re older than 12 (mentally, physically, spiritually, put whatever matches you better), I would rather rewatch some Disney or Pixar classics… or something by my beloved Laika if you like it darker (“Coraline“, “Kubo and the Two Strings“, ”ParaNorman”). “John Carter” is a childish CGI-filled world with little chemistry between its characters. Of course, Disney made much worse films (namely, “Rocketman“, which you’ll find later on this list, yikes), but… I warned you.
8. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Logline: In 2176, a Martian police unit is sent to pick up a highly dangerous criminal at a remote mining post. Upon arrival, the cops find that the post has become a charnel house.
I wish I could say that ”Ghosts of Mars” is just another typical “so bad it’s just bad” movie. But things aren’t so easy. So what makes this sci-fi western particularly remarkable?
- It’s a rare movie where Jason Statham has pretty long hair (by his standards). His character essentially consists of telling Natasha Henstrisge’s (“Species“, “Maximum Risk“) character of how huge is his male weapon and describing 100 ways how he could unlock various rooms (he’s such a weirdo here).
- It’s the lowest-rated movie of John Carpenter as a director among 34 titles he directed – 4.9 on IMDb. That’s a rightful end to his mostly horrible 90-s movies. I’ve never been a big fan of his, but the man did some prominent movies (“Halloween“, “Dark Star“).
- Pam Grier, veteran actress (“Coffy“, “Jackie Brown“) is almost unwatchable here. Imagine Trinity from ”The Matrix”, but 2 decades older,
fatchubby and almost incapable of holding her weapon straight. Playing the role of the team leader. Clearly she wasn’t really into this production, because in 1997 Tarantino’s film she was fucking gorgeous.
- Technically, this film is really bad. I mean it. The basics of cinema are so rotten here, even fundamental things like editing suck at times.
- But all in all, it is still almost close to being almost bearable, mostly thanks to Natasha’s Henstridge charisma (I know Wolfman would’ve described it with a different word but heck, that’s why he is The Wolfman…)
Bad flick? Yep, totally, but I prefer to see good people in a cheesy bad film than some vomitable teen romance like “Space Between Us” or arthouse-wannabe “Christmas on Mars“. At least, it has some gore. John Carpenter’s dark synth score is not as horrible as the rest…
…anyway, if you want Mars & creepy stuff, just watch “Doom“.
9. Christmas On Mars (2008)
Logline: Major Syrtis goes insane as he tries to improve morale in an abandoned colony on Mars through a Christmas pageant, where the first colonist baby will be born.
“Christmas on Mars” was directed by The Flaming Lips, one of the main pillars of independent American rock since 1983 (I prefer Yo La Tengo, but Wayne Coyne & co did many awesome things too). The bands members and their friends did the main roles too. This fact already may justify the film’s existence – I doubt many people except for the band’s fans saw it. Is it any good? The concept is worthy, there are some curious moments (mostly in the first 10 minutes), but overall it’s a half-baked and amateurish arthouse-wannabe production. The score? Nothing special either, for the most part (yes, I did listen several Flaming Lips albums and that’s a different story). If you want to see an awesome space sci-fi with western, musical and arthouse elements, just watch “American Astronaut” by Cory McAbee. That one is a gorgeous experience.
9. Space Between Us (2017)
Logline: The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.
Damn, this one was just horrible. I remember that there were some expectations before the film’s release and the trailers looked curious… it’s not a total crap, but I really felt ashamed how pitiful it is to promote the movie as a science fiction story (the plot may remind you of Heinlein’s “A Stranger in a Strange Land“) and end up like a fucking teen romance movie. I cannot believe I am writing it, dammit, but it’s a fucking. teen. romance. movie and I had zero intentions to see annoying teens escaping from the adults.
Don’t get me wrong, teen romance is not a bad thing – I love “Scott Pilgrim vs The World“, to say, but “Space Between Us” has nothing to do with Edgar Wright’s creativity. It’s cheesy, cheap, sentimental and two-dimensional film with uninspired performances of Asa Butterfield and Brit Robertson (one of the most annoying characters I’ve seen in a very long time). Seriously, I couldn’t believe it, but Gary Oldman is just bad here, portraying Richard Branson-like guy. Carla Cugino was the only lovely character here, but she’s just always charming like that (Silk Spectre in “Watchmen“).
That’s it. Peeling an onion will make your eyes less watery that this film will cheaply try to. I have no idea how it got 6.4 on IMDb. Seems like too many teens and bored housewives have Netflix now.
And here we go once again…
10. Rocketman (1997)
Logline: Fred Z. Randall is a geeky and obnoxious spacecraft designer, who gets the chance to make his dream come true and travel to Mars as a member of the first manned flight there.
I was ragging on “John Carter” earlier in this article, but this (also Disney) production will make that movie look like a masterpiece. It is a boring, uninspiring and just totally not funny film with Harland Williams in the main role. Just… avoid it, you know?
11. Stranded (2001 Spanish movie)
Logline: A team of astronauts on the first mission to Mars crashes onto the surface, losing contact with Earth. With no other recourse, and help millions of miles away, the crew is forced to make desperate choices in order to stay alive. Will they be able to survive as the minutes slip away?
Did you think ”Prometheus” was stupid? Did you swear aloud when watching ”Alien: Covenant” like I did? Well, you just haven’t seen ”Stranded” yet. I’ve seriously re-evaluated Ridley Scott’s last xenofilms now…
This Spanish film is as bad as it a low budget sci-fi can get. “Stranded” is a ultra low-budget “Martian” wanna-be about a space trip to Mars that goes wrong and now the team has find a way to survive. Add the worst elements from ”Mission to Mars” and ”Red Planet” and a lot of boring dialogues, pathos and really bad acting. I recently lamented over “400 Days” which I reviewed some time ago, but it seems I was wrong – things can get much worse. I’ve even found out that some people advocated the film by saying that the actors are not bad, they just behave like normal people in a situation like that. What the fuck is wrong with you guys? This is normal?
Being an independent 2001 Spanish production, it is an excellent example of lazy film-making – my high expectations were smashed into smithereens when somewhere as far as on film’s 3rd minute the space team biologist-scientist-whatever proudly announces that, according to his calculations, the team can survive only for an x amount of time.
Another crew member asks him how did he calculate that…
The biologist says that (among other nonsense like 2 kg of food per person per day) the water consumption was 2 litres per day per person…
2 litres? In an emergency survival situation?
Fuck, I have been consuming less for 28 years and seem to be still alive. What are they smoking there? Anyway, the crew agrees and the captain says that since only 2 people can survive on this plan, 3 remaining crew members have to commit a voluntary suicide. The crew agrees again… It is just an example, but the film is full of this bullshit motivations and explanations.
If it was a Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay crossover blockbuster, I wouldn’t lament. Most sci-fi movies get the science part wrong. But “Stranded” is a minimal movie (think “Moon“) and doesn’t have a big badaboom to entertain you (except for few minutes in the end of the film). It’s not a documentary either. Filled mostly with dialogues and shot without any sense of grace, the film just made me cringe in horror.
4 out of 4 angry Gary Oldman’s for one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen.
The Expanse (2015 – ?)
What is it about? ”In the 23rd century, humans have colonized the Solar system. The U.N. controls Earth. Mars is an independent military power. The inner planets depend on the resources of the asteroid belt. Belters live and work in space. In the belt, air and water are more precious than gold. For decades, tensions have been rising. Earth, Mars and the Belt are on the brink of war…”
“The Expanse” is a SyFy TV show, and if after reading that line you thought it’d be better to scroll down the page… you were wrong! It’s a worthy futuristic exploration of what may happen to human race in the next 200-300 years in a fully colonized Solar System (that’s why technically “The Expanse” is still a Mars-related movie, even though it is not the only point there). The overal tone is cynical and realistic. No lollipops.
I will be honest though. My relationship with TV series in general is not an easy one – I hate fillers. So… I have watched the whole first season (third season is currently in production) and quite enjoyed it, but for my taste it has too much of TV series-like flavour – you know, when in each episode half of the time is filled with really cool and important stuff, and the rest is just a filler. Here this proportion is about 70/30 (important stuff/fillers). Or maybe 80/20. It depends on the mood. But that’s my opinion, and yours will certainly depend on your relationship with TV series in general. So have a look at it.
One thing is sure though – while “The Expanse” may not be at the height of the 80-s sci-fi homage “Stranger Things“, the drama of “The Night Of” or the self-devouring nihilism of “True Detective” (the first season!), it is a very valid, realistic (it was praised as a rare TV show that got the gravity and other stuff right) and entertaining insight into the future of earthlings. So it comes as recommended.
The current IMDb rating is 8.3 – impressive. The second season received particularly high praise. Almost forgot. “The Expanse” features Thomas Janes as one of the main characters, and a very sarcastic and cynical Thomas Jane.
Somehow it happened that I’m not a huge Star Trek connoisseur as some other bloggers. Still, I know that even though Mars was present in some episodes, it has never played a central role in Star Trek universe. Here’s what MeTV says on this complex matter:
”Babylon 5” was originally not on this list, but thanks to Raistin0903‘s advice it is here now. It was a cult American TV sci-fi show, running from 1993 till 1998, and I will be honest – I have watched just some episodes long, long time ago, so I won’t pretend like I’m a big conossieur of this universe. Here’s an excerpt from Wiki: ”Generally viewed as having ‘launched the new era of television CGI visual effects’, it received multiple awards during its initial run, including two consecutive Hugo Awards for best dramatic presentation, and continues to regularly feature prominently in various polls and listings highlighting top-rated science fiction series.” Mars played a crucial role in ”Babylon 5” as well.
Aelita (1924, USSR) & Himmelskibet (1918, Denmark, also known as ”A Trip To Mars”)
Both movies are different from any other entry on this list, because they are…
- …almost as old as Kirk Douglas himself (who turned 101 on 9.12.17)
- …European productions
- …and not really about Mars, rather a reflection of people’s fears and dreams early in the XX century.
I’ve written about “Aelita” before as it was mentioned in my “Top 10 Soviet Sci-Fi Movies“, for which I did a special musical trailer. If you don’t feel like watching the whole film, have a look at this short clip, it’s beautiful and entertaining:
…plus I did a short post on “Himmelskibet” which had a beautiful Soviet poster:
By the way, while ”Himmelskibet” has the honour to be the first full-lentgh feature film about Mars, while the short film ”A Trip To Mars” (1910) produced by Thomas Edison was the first Mars-related film ever.
Flight to Mars (1951) & Conquest of Space (1955)
This colourful couple comes straight from the 50-s and both are rated 5-and-something on IMDb, which would be enough to prevent me from watching as my relationship with the 50-s sci-fi isn’t really good… However, as a sci-fi cinephile I must admit that “Conquest of Space” features a very lush Technicolor, the space scenes are picturesque in a very cartoonish way.
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
Logline: One of only two survivors from a Martian expedition is so traumatized she doesn’t remember the circumstances of the trip.
James M. Prine described ”The Angry Red Planet”, a 1959 trash movie perfectly: “Take every hackneyed gimmick you’ve ever seen in bad science fiction movies, add in bad acting, cornball dialogue, extraordinarily amateurish special effects, silly ‘Martians’, and add a garish crimson filter for your ‘Martian landscape’ shots, and you have a monster of a movie like this one turned out to be.” But if you like trash, there’s actually a lot to enjoy, especially the weird special effects. 5.4 IMDb rating.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
Logline: The first manned expedition to Mars is decimated by an unknown life form which stows away on the rescue ship.
Finally, the real hidden gem of this article…
Uff. That was long. But (a) this movie did really influence Dan O’Bannon, and (b) ”Alien” did heavily borrow from the plot of ”It! The Terror…”. A small hint. if you had watched this film first, then it would have been easy to guess how to get rid off the monster in both movies. In both cases, a space crew is somewhere in the deep space and a hostile alien invades their space ship, killing them one by one… So what’s the problem, you’d ask?
The difference lies in the special effects and cinematography. ”Alien” is a spectacular, dense, almost noir science fiction film with incredible designs (not only the monster, but all the ship is a masterpiece). It got everything right and revolutionized cinema thanks to a masterful blend of these elements, and even now it isn’t dated at all. The same cannot be said about ‘‘It! The Terror…”. The film may provide some creeps before we see the monster (it actually takes time), it is atmospheric, but the threat itself… is basically a guy in a rubber suit. That’s it. Add wooden ”I-LOVE-THE-50S!” acting, dated effects and simple cinematography… Still, of all old Mars-related sci-fi movies this one is my favourite.
Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964)
Logline: Stranded on Mars with only a monkey as a companion, an astronaut must figure out how to find oxygen, water, and food on the lifeless planet.
Another Technicolour oldie which surprisingly holds up incredibly well, and IMDb rating of 6.4 easily confirms that. Paul Mantee & Victor Lundin are both great as main characters, and luckily the film is devoid of cheap sentimentality so typical for some productions of that time, being a faithful sci-fi adaptation of he classic novel. 6.4 IMDb rating. Still, it’s hard to believe that just 4 years separate this film from ”2001: A Space Odyssey”…
Thanks for reading! Which movie is your favourite? Do you love some other Mars-related movies that weren’t on this list? I deliberatly didn’t mention ”Species II” (1997), because it’s a sequel, so that won’t be fair. Plus there are some other Mars-related oldies, most notably ”Invaders From Mars” (1953/1986) & ”Quatermass And The Pit” (cult classic TV series and the film). Anime had its Mars themes explored in ”Cowboy Bepop: The Movie” (2001). There are dozens of documentaries of all kind, most notably six-part TV miniseries ”Mars” (2016) by National Geographic and ”Roving Mars” (2006), an IMAX documentary film. Also have a look at my ”Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies” – there are many hidden gems to be discovered.
And be ready. Mars explorers will be wanted soon!
P. S. Couldn’t resist.