Iconic Mars Movies In Cinematic History (Besides “The Martian”)

26th Mar 2024
Iconic Mars Movies In Cinematic History (Besides “The Martian”)

Mars has been beckoning mankind for many years. And not only because it is the only planet in the Solar System that can become our second home, but also because it is shrouded in a veil of mystery that we may soon be able to uncover. And while we wait for the first manned expedition to the Red Planet, let’s take a cinematic journey there with Best Mars Movies, according to Orbital Today.

How Many Martian Movies Are There?

There are so many movies about Mars that it could be difficult to discern between the good ones and the bad ones. We have compiled a list of Mars films in different genres so you can experience the ultimate immersion in the incredible atmosphere of the red planet. Here they are, listed in chronological order:

  1. A trip to Mars (1910)
  2. Aelita (1924)
  3. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
  4. Capricorn One (1977)
  5. The Martian Chronicles (1980)
  6. Total Recall (1990, 2012)
  7. Mars attacks (1996)
  8. Mission to Mars (2000)
  9. Red Planet (2000)
  10. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
  11. War of the Worlds (2005)
  12. Last days on Mars (2013)
  13. The Martian (2015)
  14. Life (2107)

Old Mars Movies

The first movies about Mars date back to the time when cinema was still black and white, and humanity knew very little about the red planet.

A Trip to Mars (1910)

A trip to Mars film
Credit: Movies Silently

IMDB: 6.0

The very first Mars movie was produced by Thomas Edison’s film company in 1910. This rather extravagant five-minute short picture tells the episodic story of the scientist who created the anti-gravity formula. Using it, he travels to Mars… but much of that journey is strangely missing. Once there, he finds himself in a place inhabited by giants who torture him. Eventually, he returns to Earth.

A Trip to Mars was inspired by the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, directed by Georges Méliès. Despite its later date, the movie is overly primitive and sloppy.

Despite its shortcomings, this picture opens our TOP as the first Mars movie in the history of cinema.

Aelita (1924)

Aelita Quin of Mars

IMDB 6.4

In 1924, the USSR released the first full-length movie about Martians, “Aelita (Queen of Mars),” based on the novel of the same name by Alexei Tolstoy.

The plot unfolds in two planes: on Earth and Mars. On Earth, engineer Los (Russian for Moose) and his wife Natasha live in post-war Russia, reigned by devastation, hunger, and disorder. Los receives a mysterious radio signal from Mars and decides to build a spaceship, to get there. The planet is ruled by a despotic tyrant Tuskub, who suppresses the freedom and happiness of his subjects. His wife, Aelita, seeing Los through her surveillance craft, falls in love with him and dreams of meeting him. When Los arrives at his destination along with other earthlings, Aelita helps them revolt against Tuskub. The uprising ends successfully, but suddenly Aelita, instead of liberating the working class, orders the troops to shoot at the workers celebrating their victory. Trying to stop Aelita, Moose kills her… and wakes up. It turns out that his flight to another planet was only a dream.

The film became such a hit that many young parents named their daughters Aelita. Despite the public success, the Soviet press criticized Aelita for its “NEPmen” (Soviet term for bourgeois entrepreneurial class) aesthetics and lack of ideological orientation. The film was banned from foreign export and received worldwide recognition only many years later.

Aelita rightfully remains one of the most significant early works of cinematic science fiction that influenced many subsequent directors and artists. A television remake was made in 1980, but it was not as successful.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars film

IMDB 6.4

As you might have guessed from the title, this American science fiction movie about Mars is a space adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe.

The story begins as two astronauts, Commander Chris Draper and Colonel Dan MacReady, are forced to make an emergency landing due to a meteorite collision. Colonel MacReady dies, and Commander Draper is left alone. Draper starts looking for ways to survive on the hostile planet, using his knowledge, ingenuity, and the resources he finds around him. He discovers that the planet has water, oxygen, plants, and even traces of an ancient civilisation. However, he also faces dangers such as dust storms, cold, loneliness, and aliens who come to the planet to mine ore using slave labour. Draper rescues one of the slaves, whom he calls Friday, and together he tries to find a way to return to Earth.

The old Martian movie is distinguished by realistic landscapes and high scientific accuracy given the time. The filmmakers consulted with NASA scientists to ensure the depictions of the planet and space travel looked as accurate as possible. The barren landscapes and rocky terrain of Death Valley provided the perfect backdrop for the Martian setting, earning the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects.

Along with its excellent visuals, this movie also explores themes of adaptation in hostile environments, friendship, and humanity, which makes it an iconic space survival picture that paved the way for other movies in the genre.

Capricorn One (1977)

Credit: facts.net

IMDB 6.8

This sci-fi thriller is inspired by the conspiracy theory that the American government faked the first flight to the Moon. In the story, three astronauts who were supposed to fly to Mars are forced to participate in a fake flight under the threat of death. They make videos as if they have reached their destination, but in reality, they are at a secret base in the desert. However, one journalist begins to suspect that something is wrong and tries to uncover the truth. The astronauts decide to escape to prove that they are alive, but they are being pursued.

Filming took place in the USA and Great Britain. The deserts of Arizona and Utah were used as scenery for the Martian surface. To film the spacecraft, a model based on the real Apollo spacecraft was created, and real NASA equipment was used for filming communication sessions with the Earth.

Capricorn One became a cult Mars movie thanks to its relevance, tension, acting, and unexpected ending. It was nominated for the Saturn Award in four categories: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Hal Holbrook).

Movies About Mars Colonization

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Mariner and Viking missions revealed new scientific details about our red neighbour that showed little prospect for life’s existence on the planet. The Guardian reported: “These disappointing discoveries changed the place of Mars on humanity’s mental map.” This shift was reflected in the movies, which started to focus on the human colonisation of the planet.

The Martian Chronicles (1980)

The Martian Chronicles film

IMDB 6.5

The Martian Chronicles is a three-episode TV miniseries based on Ray Bradbury’s 1950 trilogy of the same name. The movie tells about human exploration of Mars in the 21st century.

The Mars movie consists of three parts corresponding to three of Bradbury’s books: The Expeditions, The Settlers, and The Martians. Each part shows different stages of interaction between earthlings and Martians, ranging from attempts to conquer the planet to its colonisation and depletion. The movie attempts to convey Bradbury’s philosophical and social ideas about humanity, technology, war and culture.

The Martian Chronicles received mixed reviews from critics and the public, who praised the acting, music, and atmosphere but criticised the script, special effects, and deviations from the book. The film was nominated for two Emmy Awards for Best Sound and Best Music.

Total Recall (1990, 2012)

Total Recall film
Credit: i.ytimg.com

IMDB 7.5

Total Recall is one of the best movies about Mars, directed by Paul Verhoeven in 1990 and based on the story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. The main role was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, by that time, had already gained mega popularity after his Terminator and Commando movies.

The plot takes us to 2084 when the planet has long been colonised. Schwarzenegger’s character, builder Douglas Quaid, constantly dreams about being on Mars, accompanied by a cute brunette. After seeing an advertisement for a company called Recall, which promises a wonderful vacation by recording artificial memories, Douglas decides to take a similar ‘trip.’ However, the procedure affects a previously erased area of his memory, and Quaid suddenly learns that the life he is living is fake; his entire memory is false and implanted by the Agency. Quaid watches a video of his real self explaining how to remove the tracking device from his head and goes to Mars to do this, where a very dangerous adventure awaits him.

Total Recall became one of the most expensive and successful movies of 1990. It received positive reviews from critics and audiences, as well as numerous awards and nominations, particularly for its special effects, set design, and makeup. A remake with Colin Farrell was filmed in 2012, but it failed to replicate the success of the first film.

Mission to Mars (2000)

Mission to Mars film

IMDB 5.7

The movie depicts a mission that discovers a strange geological formation on the red planet resembling the Pyramid of the Sphinx. Suddenly, a mysterious meteor storm kills all but one of the crew, forcing Earth to send a rescue mission. Arriving, the second team finds the only survivor of the first mission, who reports that this was no ordinary storm. It was intended to protect something inside the Sphinx. But what?

Despite the excellent direction of the legendary Brian De Palma and a magnificent acting ensemble (Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Connie Nielsen), the film met a rather cool reception from the critics and the public and barely broke even at the box office. However, fans of Mars scifi movies will appreciate the idea, visuals, special effects, and acting behind this picture and will want to have this film in their collection.

Red Planet (2000)

Red Planet film

IMDB 5.7

At the beginning of this Mars movie, we learn that due to the environmental crisis on Earth, humanity decided to move to Mars and sent oxygen-producing algae to its surface to start the terraforming process. At first, everything went well. However, the oxygen levels suddenly began to drop, and a manned expedition was sent to determine the reasons. As you understand, it was not an easy ride, and even as the characters approached their destination, the crew began a desperate struggle for survival.

Despite the tense and nonlinear plot, the realistic scenes, and the excellent performances of actors (Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Carrie-Anne Moss), the picture did not receive any awards and, in our opinion, was unfairly received by critics and viewers. But if you love stuck on Mars movies, Red Planet is your choice.

Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Ghosts of Mars film

IMDB 4.9

This movie is a solid work by the famous John Carpenter (The Thing, Christine, Halloween), even if not his best. This sci-fi thriller takes us to Mars in the year 2176. A police squad is sent on a special train to one of the distant mining outposts to pick up and deliver a dangerous criminal, Williams, suspected of murder and robbery. However, the squad members do not yet realise the danger that the mission has in store for them. Courageous police officers will have to face not only aggressive and armed savages but also mysterious, sinister forces living in the bowels of the planet itself.

Much of the film was shot in a gypsum mine in New Mexico. Pure white plaster had to be repainted with thousands of litres of red paint to recreate the Martian landscape. The film turned out to be quite atmospheric, in the spirit of 2000s action movies. Still, neither the scenery, the music, a lot of action, nor the Jason Statham – Natasha Henstridge – Ice Cube starring trio could save it from failure at the box office. Another underrated Mars film that will surely appeal to fans of 2000s sci-fi action movies.

Last days on Mars (2013)

Last days on Mars film
Credit: plex.tv

IMDB 5.5

This is a 2013 science fiction thriller directed by Rory Robinson and based on the short story The Animators by science fiction writer Sydney J. Bounds. The picture follows a group of astronauts who discover a life form on the planet but soon realise that this life form is very aggressive and life-threatening.

The movie begins when the Tantalus base team is about to leave their outpost. However, one of the members believes that he has made a historical discovery: he found fossilised traces of bacteria. Not wanting to miss out on the glory, he disobeys orders to pack up and goes on an unauthorised expedition to collect more specimens. But a routine excavation turns into a disaster when the porous soil collapses, he falls into a deep crevice and perishes. His body is taken over and reanimated by an unknown life form, which turns him into a zombie. He returns to the station and begins killing other crew members.

The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who praised it for the visuals, acting, and atmosphere but criticised the picture for its loose ending, lack of originality, and logical inconsistencies.

However, we consider this film to be one of the best horror movies set on Mars and recommend it for viewing to all fans of the genre.

The Martian (2015)

The Martian film
Credit: 20th Century Fox

IMDB 8.0

The Martian is a 2015 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott based on the novel by Andy Weir. The plot revolves around astronaut-biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon). The space expedition is heading home to Earth when a sudden sandstorm starts, and Watney gets lost in it. The team believes him dead and hurries to fly away. However, Watney manages to survive, and now, his task is to contact the ship so that it comes back and picks him up. Waiting for rescue, Watney spends many days making incredible attempts to survive on an abandoned Martian station.

The Martian is, without exaggeration, one of the best Mars movies of all time. There are no hostile Martians trying to kill you or other unrealistic plot twists. This is a realism-bordering story of one man trying to survive in the extreme conditions of an alien environment. And he succeeds at the cost of incredible effort, knowledge, ingenuity, perseverance, and courage. That’s why The Martian became so popular — people love heroes, and that’s exactly what Mark Watney is. He is the epicentre of the plot, and an alien scenery is just a successful complementary decoration.

The Martian was produced in collaboration with SpaceX, which provided its real-life spaceships and rockets for filming. This is one of the reasons why NASA praised the movie for its scientific accuracy and realistic depiction of the planet and space technology.

If you haven’t seen The Martian, do it as soon as possible. Seen already? Then watch again. It’s worth it.

Mars invasion movies

In the filmmakers’ imagination, not only the Earthlings strive to colonise our red neighbour, but also the alien planet inhabitants readily drop in to visit the people of Earth. Although mostly with hostile intentions.

Mars Attacks (1996)

Mars attacks film

IMDB 6.4

This is a sci-fi satirical comedy directed by Tim Burton and starring a cast of celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Pierce Brosnan, Danny De Vito, Martin Short, Tom Jones, and Glenn Close.

In the story, the Earth is attacked by Martians — small green creatures with big eyes and an evil spirit. They use their high-tech weapons to destroy people and cities. American President James Dale (Nicholson) is trying to establish peaceful contact with the aliens, but they are not interested in dialogue and continue to destroy earthly civilisation.

The film intricately twines several storylines involving different characters who try to survive in the chaos. Among them are television journalists Jason Stone and Nathalie Lake, former boxer Byron Williams, the Norris family, and others. At the end of the movie, people find an unexpected way to defeat the Martians — it turns out that they cannot stand the sound of the Indian Love Call song performed by country singer Slim Whitman. For the aliens, this song leads to death convulsions and causes Martian heads to explode.

This picture received high ratings from critics and audiences, as well as six nominations and two Saturn and Hugo awards for best music and production. Even if you don’t like Tim Burton’s work, this film is worth watching only because there are no Mars Attacks similar movies.

War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds film
Credit: TV insider

IMDB 6.5

This novel by H.G. Wells has been filmed many times, but Steven Spielberg’s version is considered the most successful screen adaptation. The movie tells about the Martian attack on the Earth, but unlike the original, this screen version takes us to the present time. But even in the new adaptation, the tanks, guns, and other modern weapons are powerless against high-tech Martian tripod robots, burning everything in their path with a heat ray. The plot centres on the Ferrier family, trying to escape destruction and machines that catch people and suck the blood out of them. The ending is well-known: the evil and invincible Martians die from ordinary terrestrial bacteria, having failed to develop immunity to them.

The movie has everything an exemplary sci-fi thriller needs — excellent special effects, suspense, horror, survival, the difficulty of human choice, despair, and hope.

War of the Worlds is, without a doubt, the best choice in the Mars alien movie genre, a timeless classic that can be watched dozens of times without getting fed up.

Life (2017)

Life film

IMDB 6.6

Imagine that a harmless-looking single-celled life form from Mars lands on your spaceship. But instead of making friends with it, you begin to carry out painful experiments on it. The Martian turns out to be far from timid and starts fighting back. He quickly grows in size and begins to kill crew members one by one, demonstrating remarkable survival abilities. Who will emerge victorious in this fight?

Until the end of the movie, viewers may ponder the question: how would the Martian behave if people treated him friendly? Did they stand a chance in the first place? 

Life was filmed in the best traditions of space horror in a confined space. Of course, it doesn’t live up to Alien, but it will definitely tickle your nerves.

The Cinema Colonization of Mars Goes On

This was the last film in our selection, but not the final one in the Mars movies long list. In the coming decades, the Red Planet should remain the number one object in the space researchers’ plans, which means filmmakers will get fresh ideas for inspiration and spoil us with new exciting movies featuring Mars. We are looking forward to it, and how about you?

References & Additional Information:

Leave a Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Related Articles

Explore Orbital Today