I like science fiction films. I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite science fiction films that feature Mars and/or Martians. I was surprised at how many Mars movies have been made (at least 50), but constructing a personal top-10 list was relatively easy for me because there weren’t very many really good Mars-related films to choose from.
(update: The 2015 movie “The Martian” starring Matt Damon as an explorer who is stranded on Mars, is an excellent movie and now ranks tied-for-first place on my list.)
1. Invaders from Mars (1953). One of my all-time favorite movies of any genre. A boy thinks he sees a flying saucer land beyond the hills behind his house. Soon people in town start acting strangely. Even though this film was produced on a low budget with B-list actors, the direction (by William Cameron Menzies), cinematography, and eerie music are all fantastic. I had nightmares about the path to the sandpit for years.
2. John Carter (2012). I had waited for decades for this movie to be made because the books on which the film is based are among my all-time favorites. With better lead actors (Taylor Kitsch as J.C. – no star power, Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah Thoris – even less charisma than Kitsch), fewer special effects with no purpose, slightly better direction, better sound so you could actually understand what the actors were saying, and a snappier plot, this might have been a great movie instead of a good movie.
3. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). Astronauts played by Paul Mantee and a pre-Batman-TV Adam West are forced to abandon their Mars-orbiting spacecraft and try to land on the red planet. Only Mantee survives and then begins overcoming one obstacle after another. Intelligent and entertaining movie.
4. War of the Worlds (1953). Most people think of 2005 version of this movie starring Tom Cruise, but I much prefer the 1953 version with Gene Barry. I always remember the creepy introduction narration by Cedric Hardwicke – “Across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes.”
5. Total Recall (1990). I’ve seen this a million times on TV and although it doesn’t have the same punch as it first did, the movie is still really good. The plot had me guessing all the way with the question of whether Quaid/Hauser (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) was a good guy all the way or a bad guy who had turned good.
6. Red Planet (2000). One of two big-budget films about Mars released in 2000 (see #8 below). This movie was one of several Mars-movie-box-office-flops. Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss and some others go to Mars in the near future to see if plans for creating an Earth-like environment are under control. They aren’t. Lots of small exploding alien bugs.
7. Species II (1998). In the original 1995 film, Natasha Henstridge is a very beautiful but very nasty alien. In the sequel, three astronauts return to Earth from Mars carrying parasitic alien DNA. Henstridge is a now-good-alien clone who challenges the bad aliens. A surprisingly intelligent plot.
8. Mission to Mars (2000). Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, and others go to Mars as part of a recue mission. Overall this movie is too slow and too pseudo-philosophical for my tastes. But the sequence early in the movie, where the crew abandons their ship to try and get to the small orbiting resupply module (REMO), is brilliant and terrifyingly realistic.
9. It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). A spacecraft to Mars unknowingly picks up an unwelcome visitor. Very unwelcome. This movie is similar to, and in fact was the inspiration for, the 1979 film Alien.
10. Five Million Years to Earth (1967). The UK title of “Quatermass and the Pit” is a better title. Professor Quatermass investigates what turns out to be an ancient Martian spacecraft buried under London. At times interesting but mostly too slow to rank higher on my list.
Note: After I wrote this post, the movie “The Last Days on Mars” (2013) was released. I didn’t like it; basically a zombie movie and I don’t like zombie movies.
TV Shows with Mars: Two of my favorite old-time science fiction TV shows, The Twilight Zone, and the Outer Limits, each had two episodes featuring Mars. In The TZ episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” a group of people stranded at a small cafe suspect one of the group is a Martian. In “People are Alike All Over”, Roddy McDowall plays an astronaut who goes to Mars. In the OL episode “The Invisible Enemy”, Adam West is an astronaut on a very sandy Mars and something is killing the crew one by one. In “The Voyage Home”, an expedition to Mars returns with yet another unwanted guest.