The Best (and Worst) Martians in Movie History

    December 6, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Mars, our nearest galactic neighbor, has fascinated mankind for thousands of years.  Something about the tangibility, yet distance of the red planet makes it an enduring mystery in our culture.  It is no surprise then that Martians have been a major part of science fiction movies since the turn of the last century.  Sometimes bad, sometimes good, Martians are the go-to alien for hundreds of sci-fi films.  Here are some of the best (and worst) Martians in film history:

    A Trip To Mars


    a trip to marsIt didn’t take long for filmmakers to tackle the subject of Mars after the dawn of motion pictures.  Thomas Edison produced the first short film portraying the red planet and its inhabitants in 1910. A Trip to Mars is a five minute-long silent flick that tells the tale of a scientist traveling back and forth from Mars.  How does he do it?  By mixing together newfangled science powders that reverse gravity, that’s how. All he has to do is sprinkle this levitation dust on himself and leap into the air, out of the atmosphere, into space, and onto Mars. Curiously, he doesn’t have to worry about fluctuating temperatures, crushing atmospheric pressure, lack of oxygen, or solar radiation.  Once he lands on Mars, he encounters the very first Martians depicted on film. They appear to be giant stationary tree-goblin things that lethargically swat at him.  Terrifying!  Then, the scientist is transported into the palm of a super-giant martian goblin. The goblin proceeds to blow freezing smoke onto our hero until he is a snowball.  What happens next is kind of hard to explain: The goblin puts the snowball onto a spoon-looking contraption, and lights a fire underneath [and yes,  it looks just like dissolving heroin] which causes the snowball to explode, thus hurtling the scientist back down to Earth.  Though it is short, A Trip to Mars is a fascinating bit of early cinema, and is arguably the first American film to explore the science fiction genre.

    The War of the Worlds


    war of the worldsThis early 50’s sci-fi classic is still considered one of the best invasion-themed movies ever made.  Based, of course, on H.G. Wells’ seminal 1898 novel of the same name, The War of the Worlds chronicles the ultimate showdown between Man and Martian.  It also sets up a prevalent theme in almost every other mars-related film for the next half century: martians are assholes.  This is pretty much the reason they invade in War of the Worlds.  Basically, the martians are tired of living in their crap caves, and would rather colonize sunny Southern California (which is where most of the film takes place.)  In the film, the invaders cruise around in hovering saucers that devastate entire cities with rays of heat.  Not even atomic bombs can stop them.  So humanity is pretty much F’d…until the martians catch the common cold and start dying off.  Apparently, in addition to being assholes, they don’t plan global invasions very well.  So the human race is pretty much saved by a careless oversight.  Hurray!  When the martians themselves are actually revealed, they kind of look like disembodied appendixes with gross skeleton arms.  Interesting fact: the lead actor in the ‘53 film, Gene Barry, has a brief cameo in the 2005 Steven Spielberg adaptation.  He’s at the very end of the film and plays the part of the dapper older gentleman who somehow looks like he came out of a planet-wide holocaust unscathed. Movie magic!

    Aelita: The Queen of Mars!


    aelita queen of marsReligion is the opiate of the masses, and Martians are capitalist swine…at least according to Aelita: The Queen of Mars!.  If you love Bolshevik propaganda, early 20th century expressionism, or interstellar romance, you will probably LOVE Aelita.  After the Russian Revolution of 1921, the new Soviet government really latched onto film to spread its message (I’m sure you all remember The Battleship Potemkin from that one gen ed class you dropped out of sophomore year.) Basically, Aelita is about an engineer named Los living in Lenin’s Russia.  He is bored with married life, so he decides to murder his wife Natasha and build a rocket ship so he can be with the Martian girl of his dreams, Aelita.  Aelita, is the daughter of the Martian despot Tuskub who fulfills the role of the abusive Tsarist antagonist.  Essentially, Los and Aelita fall in love and lead a Martian worker revolt against the oppressive Tuskub.  Yay!  Mars is a workers’ paradise now, right?  WRONG!  Once Tuskub is overthrown, Aelita greedily tries to take power for herself (even in space, you can’t trust the 1%).  Crushed, Los goes into a rage and kills Aelita.  What follows is an Inception-esque sequence where Los wakes up from a trance, realizing that everything that happened was an illusion, and that he never actually killed his wife in the first place.  Relieved, he decides to devote his life to serving the Soviet state.  In 1920’s Russia, this was considered a happy ending.

    Spaced Invaders


    spaced invadersThink the Ninja Turtles were the coolest group of non-human heroes in the early 90’s?  Then you haven’t seen the 1990 lost classic Spaced Invaders.  Here’s the gist: A crew of five idiot Martians land in a small mid-western town aiming to take over Earth.  Unfortunately, no one takes them seriously because they happen to land on Halloween, and they all look like tiny kids in crappy costumes.  Man, it’s funny.  Much like the Ninja Turtles, each of these martians has a different and edgy personality trait.  There’s the know-it-all scientist, the Hot-headed badass, the cavalier leader, and the too-cool-for-school pilot.  And then there’s the leftover fifth guy who’s like a whiny little brother.  That guy sucks.  Plus they all have sweet jackets, sunglasses, and other accessories that scream “PREPARE TO DIE, EARTH SCUM!”  Pretty radical.  And they spend a lot of the movie busting each others balls and hassling the square small-town folk.  Even though they initially wanted to conquer Earth, they predictably become friends with the humans and stop the planet from being destroyed.  Indeed, the cast of Spaced Invaders followed the essential rule of 90’s non-human protagonists: the ruder the ‘tude, the cooler the dude.

    Mars Attacks!


    mars attacksThe Martians in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! are based on the popular 60’s trading cards, which featured the corral-headed invaders and their conquest of Earth.  The film is a perfect homage to campy science-fiction, and the Martians are cartoonishly evil.  They have fish bowl helmets for their huge heads, ray guns that reduce people to brightly colored skeletons, and their “ACK ACK” language is funny throughout the entire film.  Mars Attacks! spoofs numerous science fiction tropes.  Namely, the Martians’ deadly reaction to a Slim Whitman song is a reference to the ending of The War of the Worlds.  This is also one of Tim Burton’s better movies, mostly because it doesn’t have any obligatory elongated architecture, or sad men in eye-liner (we get it, Tim. You’re weird).  Plus, Mars Attacks! features every semi-notable actor/athlete/politician/lounge singer ever.  If you have a spare half hour or so, just look at the cast list.  Everyone is in this film.  Everybody.  Pam Grier?  Yes.  Jack Black?  Yes.  Martin Short?  Yes.  Pierce Brosnan?  Yes.  Annette Benning?  Yes.  Jack Nicholson?  Twice.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.  In fact, it’s easier to list who isn’t in Mars Attacks.  Jimmie Walker from Good Times?  No.  Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger?  No.  Those are the only two people who aren’t in Mars Attacks!.

    Total Recall


    total recallIn Total Recall, the Martians are humans.  In the year 2084, Mars has been colonized and is a popular tourist destination.  Here’s a brief synopsis of the film for people who haven’t seen it: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an Earthling who thinks he’s himself, but it turns out he’s really someone else, and then it turns out his original self made himself think he was someone else in order to crush a rebellion by a bunch of freaks on Mars.  Most of the population of Mars consists of mutated humans who have been grotesquely morphed due to radiation.  Who could forget memorable characters like three-boobed lady, machine gun-toting dwarf stripper, and of course Vagina Face?  Then there’s Kuato.  Kuato is a small man-baby looking mutant that can read people’s thoughts.  He also happens to be attached to the abdomen of another human.  Then he helps Schwarzenegger remember that there is a buried Alien reactor that can terraform the atmosphere of Mars, thus making it breathable for humans.  So remember, humans can be Martians too…as long as they are deformed freaks living on the fringes of society.  So GET YUAH ASS TO MAHZ!

    Mission to Mars


    mission to marsI live life by one rule: watch every movie featuring Don Cheadle.  So far I’m caught up, except for Hotel for Dogs (I’ll get to it eventually).  But Don Cheadle is in Mission to Mars, so I had to watch.  This film is one of the few movies about Mars that references the mysterious rock formation known as “The Face on Mars”.  Located in Mars’s Cydonia region, the “face” is a geological formation that appeared to have human facial features when it was photographed in 1976.  Don Cheadle, and Gary Sinise explore the anomaly as astronauts in Mission to Mars. In the film, It turns out that the face is an ancient Martian spaceship where a hologram of a Martian pops up and communicates with the astronauts via nifty 3 dimensional graphics. Basically, the shiny alien explains that there was a Martian diaspora millions of years ago, and that life on Earth began due to DNA from Mars.  In the end, Gary Sinise decides to stay in the giant face/spaceship and blast off to the Martians’ new planet (classic Sinise).  Mission to Mars is fascinating in that it utilizes actual scientific mysteries to propel its storyline.  However, it is super lame because it takes forever to reveal an actual Martian.  When said Martian is actually revealed, it is underwhelming and fake.  Could it have benefited from cool sunglasses and a rude ‘tude?  Absolutely.

    Santa Claus Conquers the Martians


    santa-claus-conquers-the-martiansKids on the red planet are bored and disconnected, so the Martians go to Earth and capture Santa.  I could go into more detail, but there’s really no use.  Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is so bad there’s no reason to try and figure it out.  An odd piece of Americana from the early 60’s, this godawful opus hits most every campy sci-fi cliche.  The Martians are green, they all wear the same clothing, and they have silly names like Voldar and Hargo.  They also carry a terrifying ray gun that can freeze people in their tracks (although when I say ‘Freeze’ I mean that the actors on the receiving end of the freeze ray try to physically stay in place while the camera lingers on them for way too long.)  How did Santa conquer the Martians?  I really don’t know.  I tried to watch the whole thing but gave up about half way through.  It probably had something to do with Christmas cheer, or some BS.  This awful film also contains the most obnoxious theme song ever.  Just try and sit through the opening credits while the maddening melody of “Hooray For Santy Claus” makes you want to walk into oncoming traffic.  There’s also a point at the very beginning where a news reporter is interviewing Santa, and asks him if he thinks Martians exist.  Really?  This may have been a lame attempt at irony, but it just made me want to wretch.  This isn’t even the type of so-bad-it’s-good movie that you’d want to screen at a Holiday party.  This is more of the so-bad-it-makes-me-hate-myself type movie. Merry Christmas.

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