Appearing in cycles, depending on its location relative to our own planet, Mars is often one of the brightest objects in the night sky. As such, it has long fascinated astronomers, stargazers, and science fiction writers. In the 1950s, when alien invasion movies were big business, Mars was the default place to have your bug-eyed monsters come from, to such an extent that "Martian" became a catch-all term for just about any alien.
As one of the closest planets to Earth, Mars was bound to be the setting for any number of science fiction films. Indeed, movies about trips to the red planet are almost as old as the artform of cinema itself. One of the earliest cinematic depictions of Mars comes in a four-minute short subject from 1910 called A Trip to Mars, which depicts a man using "antigravity powder" to fly to the red planet, where he encounters unfriendly Martians. Years later, we've sent uncrewed flights to Mars and gotten a look at its surface thanks to rovers, but we're still making movies about what dangers might be waiting for us when we finally step onto the red planet for the first time...
- Photo: TriStar Pictures
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven followed up the success of his 1987 classic RoboCop with another science fiction film, the 1990 adaptation of Philip K. Dick's sci-fi story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." The result was Total Recall, an extremely weird flick in which a man (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers that he's maybe actually a secret agent who was previously working on the surface of a colonized Mars.
Through a series of red herrings, false memories, and misdirects, he eventually encounters plots and counter-plots revolving around a rebellion among the humans living on the red planet, many of them having been mutated due to inadequate radiation shielding, and machinations by the planet's nefarious chancellor, played by RoboCop's Ronny Cox. The film nabbed an Academy Award for best visual effects.Dangerously good?
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Set in 2035, Ridley Scott's 2015 survival drama about an astronaut stranded on the surface of Mars earned a whopping seven Academy Award nominations, including best picture - though it didn't actually win any of them.
Nevertheless, this harrowing story of survival follows an astronaut played by Matt Damon who is left for dead on the surface of Mars after his suit is damaged during a dust storm. With no way to let NASA know that he's alive, he has to survive on his own, growing potatoes inside the habitat that the mission had set up on the planet, and trying to find a way to signal to Earth, or else wait four years for the next Mars mission to arrive.Dangerously good?
Few writers have ever been as inextricably linked to Mars as Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. Yet, despite the vast number of times that Tarzan has reached screens over the years, Burroughs's Martian stories, starring John Carter, a former Confederate soldier turned hero of Mars - or Barsoom, as its natives know it - have been translated to film far less often. One of the only times the John Carter stories made it to the screen was in this 2012 feature, part of a planned trilogy. Considered one of the most expensive movies ever made, this swashbuckling tale of adventure on the surface of a strange world populated by four-armed giants and surprisingly human-looking Martians struggled to recoup its budget, and any plans for future sequels were scuttled, probably forever.
Who knows, though, perhaps in another few decades, we'll see a new John Carter adventuring across Barsoom once again...Dangerously good?
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by no less thriller royalty than Brian De Palma, Mission to Mars nevertheless received largely negative reviews when it was first released in 2000. Set in 2020, the film depicts the first crewed mission to Mars (remember that), which goes disastrously awry after the landing party discovers a giant statue of a humanoid face on the surface of the planet.
Months later, a rescue mission (crewed by a handful of big names like Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins) returns to the surface of the red planet to try to find out what happened to the previous mission, and bring back any survivors. What they find - in a phantasmagorical ending sequence of early-2000s CGI - is a dizzying, if not terribly original, idea of the origins of life on Earth, and an extraterrestrial link in humanity's evolution.Dangerously good?