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The best Mars movies of all time

The red planet has never felt closer, as filmmakers continue to hammer down on what a future would look like on Mars. The planet is millions of miles away, but it seems to inch towards Earth with each blockbuster and independent film dedicated to Mars, mostly focused on how humans could learn to live on the desolate planet. There are so many movies centered around Mars that it could be difficult to discern between the good ones and the bad ones. We’re here to help, picking out the best Mars movies to envelop your spaced senses. For the titles on a streaming service, we’ve included a link, while others may warrant a search the size of an interstellar mission.

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The Martian (2015)

The Martian
80 %
pg-13 141m
Genre Drama, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Directed by Ridley Scott
One of the more popular Mars-based films of all-time, The Martian leans heavily into the science part of the science-fiction genre. Matt Damon plays a scientist cast away on Mars, trying to survive his time on the red planet. Stranded after his co-astronauts unintentionally leave him for dead, Mark is tasked with surviving on guile and science alone, while others work on trying to rescue him. Mark is the main character in the movie, but so is science, which feels hyper-realistic in this world. At a time when science is under attack more often than in recent memory, the spirit of The Martian remains relevant to a troubling degree.

Life (2017)

54 %
r 104m
Genre Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
In a lot of ways, Life plays like a typical Mars horror film. What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up for in strong acting and pacing. Three astronauts (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds) are on the cusp of discovering the first sign of extraterrestrial life on Mars. While conducting experiments on the alien being on the ISS, however, the being begins to evolve in terrifying and unexpected ways. The familiar plot does little to diminish the tension roiling through every scene.

Moonshot (2022)

59 %
pg-13 104m
Genre Comedy, Romance, Science Fiction
Stars Cole Sprouse, Lana Condor, Mason Gooding
Directed by Christopher Winterbauer
In the ironically named Moonshot, Mars is less a destination than a mindset, a picture of a different future. Cole Sprouse stars as Walt, a college student seemingly trapped on Earth, repeatedly rejected from his goal of going to Mars. When Sophie (Lana Condor) goes chasing after her lover on Mars, Walt finds a way to sneakily tag along. From there, the film takes the standard rom-com approach, although with the added element of the two likely lovers being trapped on a space shuttle. The movie takes a different approach to Mars and the science fiction genre in general, focusing more on the romantic comedy elements and allowing space and Mars to be more of a background player, to the benefit of the film.

Stranded (2001)

Genre Science Fiction
Stars Vincent Gallo, Maria de Medeiros, Joaquim de Almeida
Directed by María Lidón
This 2001 film from Spain (but in English) is set in the future of 2020, which is now the past, of course. Vincent Gallo stars as a specialist in the first crewed mission to Mars. It’s an exciting time as the crew is set to land on Mars, only for disaster to result in the death of a crew member and the titular stranding of the others inside the decimated landing craft. The five remaining crew members struggle to survive, as they only have the supplies to survive for a year, and it will take longer for a rescue crew to come. The underrated film, available on Amazon Prime, won several awards in Europe.

Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Mars Needs Moms
49 %
pg 88m
Genre Adventure, Animation, Family
Stars Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler
Directed by Simon Wells
It’s not the most critically acclaimed movie of all-time, but Mars Needs Moms does the important work of bringing the Mars narrative to children. The Disney movie follows the adventures of 9-year-old Milo (played by Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky) as he comes to terms with how important family is when he goes to save his mother from her abductors: Martians. The film does a great job of painting a stunning scene of Mars and the intergalactic world, even when the plot and characterization fall short. The movie is available on Disney+, where it may have more views than it did in theaters a decade ago, as the film was considered a bomb at the box office.

Doom (2005)

34 %
r 105m
Genre Action, Horror, Science Fiction
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Ignore the questionable reviews and just feast your eyes on the surprisingly fun cast in 200, led by Rosamund Pike and an actor who was still being credited as “The Rock.” Marines are sent to the Red Planet on a rescue mission, where they are forced to battle with creatures who have been genetically engineered. The film is based around the video game series of the same name and has the same cinematic quality that video games had before they became … more cinematic? To put it into context, Dwayne Johnson was nominated for a Razzie for his performance, and now he’s arguably the biggest star in Hollywood. Watch the transformation begin on Mars.

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

The Angry Red Planet
Genre Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Gerald Mohr, Naura Hayden, Les Tremayne
Directed by Ib Melchior
In some ways, this 1959 film feels like a spiritual predecessor to Doom. The movie follows the first crewed mission to Mars, which goes awry almost as soon as they reach the planet. One crew member is attacked by a carnivorous plant, another by a creature that looks like a mix of a rat, bat, and crab, and another by a creature with a freakish eye. Many scary creatures are trawling across Mars, apparently! Not everyone will survive the mission and make it back to Earth, but a message to earthlings from the Mars aliens will: Don’t come back!

Mars: One Day on the Red Planet (2020)

Mars: One Day on the Red Planet
g 88m
Genre Documentary
Stars Nigel Barber
Directed by Martin Johnson
For those interested in a more realistic depiction of Mars, may we present Mars: One Day on the Red Planet. The National Geographic documentary utilizes rover data and satellite images to paint a picture of what life could be like on the red planet, from massive volcanoes to ancient lakes. This documentary, narrated by Nigel Barber, doesn’t try to pull any punches in terms of aliens or creatures attacking adventuring scientists or anything of the type. Instead, it’s a chance to get real information about a future on Mars.

Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall
57 %
r 113m
Genre Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Sure, there was a remake in 2012, and the special effects may seem ancient compared to today’s CGI wonderland, but there’s no beating the original Total Recall. Directed by Paul Verhoeven — who also gave us great kill-happy sci-fi flicks like 1987’s RoboCop and 1997’s Starship Troopers — Total Recall is an Arnold Schwarzenegger action extravaganza filled with Verhoeven’s apt social commentary and dark humor. Schwarzenegger’s lead, Douglas Quaid, believes he’s a construction worker in a happy marriage with the seductive Lori (Sharon Stone). But after growing curious enough to make a trip to a company called Rekall, which promises to install memories of exotic vacations in his brain, he learns he’s really secret agent Carl Hauser — or he’s gone bonkers, depending on which fan theory you believe. An adventure unfolds, revolving around a Martian rebellion, a star-crossed romance, and crazy mutants with body parts where body parts shouldn’t be.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Mars Attacks!
52 %
pg-13 106m
Genre Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Stars Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening
Directed by Tim Burton
What do you do when you assemble a huge ensemble cast including big names like Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, and on and on? Well, you make an alien invasion movie based on a ’60s trading card game. Duh. At least that’s what director Tim Burton did for 1996’s Mars Attacks! This violent sci-fi comedy doesn’t dig into any deep philosophical issues or explore the possible social impact of humanity discovering extraterrestrial life. No, it’s just a big, fun movie featuring an army of diminutive skull-faced, big-brained aliens going wild all over Earth with death rays and having boxing matches with Jim Brown. It’s a darkly silly flick that you should treat yourself to at least once.

John Carter (2012)

John Carter
51 %
pg-13 132m
Genre Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Based on the creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs — the same author who brought us the first stories of Tarzan — John Carter is a gorgeous and pulpy adventure based on the writer’s Barsoom novels. Daryl Sabara plays Burroughs himself, discovering his uncle’s adventures through his journals. Through his eyes, we see how John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported from the Arizona territory to the distant Mars. Just as Superman’s Kryptonian body makes him super on Earth, Carter’s body is super on Mars — he can’t fly or shoot heat beams out of his eyes, but he’s super strong and can jump like a Jedi. With beautifully rendered creatures and wonderful action sequences, John Carter is a fun and engrossing serving of escapism.
John Carter Trailer

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Michileen Martin
Michileen Martin has written about pop culture in general and comics in particular for two decades. His work has appeared in…
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