In one of two blockbuster adaptations to showcase his shining star this year (the other being the inexplicable feature-length translation of a little game called Battleship), Taylor Kitsch leads the weekend as the title character in John Carter, leaping miles in a single bound and surely climbing the box-office charts too. John Carter’s action, of course, unfolds on Mars, Earth’s ever-cinematic neighbor. What other films have seen their heroes roam the red landscape or tussle with its residents? From buddy comedies to creature features to—wait for it—holiday fare, turns out there are quite a few.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
A veritable masterpiece alongside ugly CG ducklings like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton’s gonzo rendering of a 1960s trading card series is the blackest of sci-fi satires, its goodies ranging from the prescient merger of Sarah Jessica Parker’s head with the body of a lapdog to the unabashedly abrupt vaporization of Jack Black. Sylvia Sydney, rest her dear soul, put the cherry on the cake with her immortal line of demented glee: “They blew up Congress! Hahaha!”
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
A well-regarded film that holds a spot in the Criterion Collection, Byron Haskins’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars saw the sci-fi maestro follow his War of the Worlds and The Outer Limits with a picturesque Techniscope adventure, wherein a U.S. astronaut (Paul Mantee) crash lands on the red planet with a monkey as his ally. Bonus points galore for the presence of Adam West.
Red Planet (2000)
Part of the rush of Mars films that accompanied Y2K, the seemingly slick but instantly forgettable Red Planet featured Val Kilmer and red-hot Matrix maven Carrie Anne-Moss as Earthlings of a not-too-distant future, where the destruction of our world sets humanity’s eyes on Mars. The astronauts don their spacesuits to investigate the terraforming colonization project underway on the neighboring planet, and though things, inevitably, go terribly wrong, at least the effects look polished.
Predating, by one year, his popularity peak in There’s Something about Mary and Half-Baked, RocketMan gave comedian Harland Williams an out-of-this-world Disney vehicle, which shot his character, a nerdy NASA designer, off to Mars for the first manned mission. The film was a disastrous flop, so much so that even the home video was out of print for a long stretch. Ironically enough, direct-to-video is about the only work Williams is getting these days.
Invaders from Mars (1953)
The 1950s marked the heyday of astro-paranoia, and among the many memorable genre films to be born out of the era was William Cameron Menzies’s Invaders from Mars, which starred Helena Carter and Jimmy Hunt and bowed just before the initial explosion of 3-D. Billing itself as “A nightmarish answer to The Wizard of Oz,” the movie includes ambiguous dream elements and centers around a boy who finds out Martians are getting up in people’s heads, y’all.