Flash Gordon: Trip to Mars (1938)
Flash Gordon: Trip to Mars (1938)

One hundred years ago the first movie about Mars awed audiences. Produced in 1910 by Thomas Edison, A Trip To Mars was a 4 minute sojourn to the red planet. It involved a scientist, magic powders and a giant. Hey, it was 1910.

One hundred years later our fascination with Mars remains, although interest in films about the planet waxes and wanes. Much like the moon. But not so frequently.

Over on io9 Charlie Jane Anders asked a couple of years ago, What Killed the Mars Movie Fad? She notes:

“A spate of movies about Mars, some of which aimed to show the first human exploration of the planet, started around 1999 and stopped in 2002… just before NASA started launching a ton of Mars probes and President Bush talked about sending humans to Mars.”

The big screen movies of the period:

  • Red Planet (2000)
  • Mission to Mars (2000)
  • Ghosts of Mars (2001)
  • Lost on Mars (2002)

Anders concludes that, “The fact that NASA was prepping a much-publicized push to send orbiters and rovers to Mars may have helped inspire film-makers” [to make Mars films in the first place] and one of the main reasons the latest fad ended was “the fact that more real data, and realistic images, were going to start coming back from Mars.”

I tend to agree. The reality of the images from Spirit and Opportunity caught our attention and held us entranced. Even now, with Spirit asleep for the time being, it’s amazing that the little rovers that could, still are. Once in a while we wake up as a society and think about Mars as a pioneer frontier — one that can be reached in our lifetimes — and our collective imagination about what the planet is really like makes it onto the big screen.

This of course just explains the last round of movies. We’ve always loved outer space, and Mars particularly, as a movie subject. If you want to explore the movies in depth there are two fantastic definitive guides on the web.

The San Diego chapter of The Mars Society (oh yes, it’s real), maintains the Mars Movie Guide which goes all the way back to Mr. Edison’s little gem and stays updated. The list includes television movies and foreign films. Of special note (and fun) are the foreign movies:

  • Mr. Nobody (Canada/Belgium/France/Germany, 2009)
  • Monster X Strikes Back (Japan, 2008)
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Japan, 2003)
  • Ultracop 2000 (Hong Kong/Philippines, 1992)
  • Contamination (Italy/West Germany, 1980)
  • The Christmas Martian (Canada, 1971)

Then there’s the list of Mars at the Movies on the SciFi Dimensions website — complete with fabulous pictures of old movie posters. The 1950’s and 1960’s were a bonanza for pulp movies about Mars:

  • Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
  • Invaders from Mars (1953)
  • Angry Red Planet (1959)
  • The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)
  • Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
  • Mars Needs Women (1966)

Check out the websites for full lists of Mars movies. We just don’t have the room here and special mention must be made of some classic, campy, fun Martian movies:

  • Martians Go Home (1990)
  • Mars Attacks! (1996)
  • My Favorite Martian (1999)

and a not so classic, or campy, but somewhat fun Martian movie:

  • Total Recall (1990)

Word is out that a movie is in the works that will bring the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novels to life. A Princess of Mars should be released in 2012, but unless you’re a huge sci-fi lit fan (I am) this might not mean much to you.

It would be nice to see a good Mars movie released this year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Martian film debut, but alas… not likely. At the moment we’re too worried about the present and indulging in nostalgia for the past to look to a future among the stars.

Culture Movies About Mars and Why We Love Them