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The Red Planet Trumps Green Cheese


Sci-fi horror-thriller Life is the latest example of Mars eclipsing Earth’s moon on the big screen...

Why is it that there are relatively few moon movies, and tons of Mars films? Is it a case of been there, done that?

The moon once was the go-to celestial body, inspiring centuries of cheesy love poetry and songs. It also ushered in the movies themselves, with the very first sci-fi flick: George Méliès’ 1902 silent film A Trip to the Moon.

And then Mars came along.

As the movies evolved, the Red Planet left Earth’s only large natural satellite in the space dust — in a straight line from H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds to this year’s Life (in which Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal battle a run-amok Martian life form on the International Space Station).

So why is it that there are relatively few moon movies, and tons of Mars films? Is it a case of been there, done that? Humans have walked, driven, and played golf on the moon. In the process, they’ve confirmed that it is pretty lifeless.

Mars is no resort either, but possibilities for life still exist. And in summer at the Martian equator, it’s no colder than Winnipeg.

Here’s a roundup of some notable Mars movies, with a few moon shots thrown in.


The Space Between Us

(2017) — He’s a teen who was raised on Mars. She wasraised in Colorado. They have a lot in common, but Earth’s environment is such a buzzkill.

The Martian

(2015) — Can Matt Damon live on nothing but potatoes grown in his own poop on Martian soil? You bet he can!

John Carter

(2012) — Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books. One of the biggest money-losers of all time, and the first movie to fail to make Taylor Kitsch into a big star. Short-statured Willem Dafoe did get to play a nine-foot alien, though.

Mars Needs Moms

(2011) — The last time Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol) would try to make one of those creepy, dead-eyed CGI mo-cap kid films. Yay!

War of the Worlds

(2005) — I much prefer the 1953 version. But the Martians in this Steven Spielberg remake are no match for Tom Cruise running really hard.

Ghosts of Mars

(2001) — In the 22nd century, humans on Mars are possessed by evil spirits. Only police officer Natasha Henstridge and jailbird Ice Cube can stop the ghosts.

Red Planet

(2000) — Geneticist Tom Sizemore and engineer Val Kilmer lead a crew to terraform Mars, a mission that, courtesy of carnivorous insects, turns into total disaster. Like the film.

Mission to Mars

(2000) — Commander Tim Robbins leads a disastrous Mars mission to rescue a disastrous Mars mission led by Don Cheadle. I’m beginning to see a theme.

Mars Attacks!

(1996) — Tim Burton’s hilarious sci-fi turn, in which we discover that yodelling makes Martians’ heads explode. Hey, they’re just like us!

Total Recall

(1990) — The original with Schwarzenegger. Worth seeing Arnie’s eyes pop out when he’s out in the thin Martian air without a suit.

Capricorn One

(1977) — A movie about a faked Mars mission (like the moon landing, according to the conspiracy theorists). It co-starred O.J. Simpson. Sidenote: the moon landing was said to have been faked by Stanley Kubrick. This movie was by Peter Hyams, who directed the sequel to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Mars Needs Women

(1967) — When isn’t cutting it, just use alien stun guns.

The Moon

Apollo 18

(2011) — The real Apollo missions ended at 17. This is a found-footage film about the “secret” NASA mission that followed. Good thing, too, because this one encountered carnivorous moon bugs that hated found-footage films as much as we do.


(2009) — One of my favourite odd little films. Sam Rockwell stars as the sole operator of a robot mining operation on the moon. Or he may be a clone. Not that his vaguely sinister computer valet (voiced by Kevin Spacey) will tell him.

Apollo 13

(1995) — Go figure. The only really good moon movie is about a botched mission that didn’t even get there. But, as he’d do again later in Sully, Captain Tom Hanks got his people back to Earth safe and sound.

2001: A Space Odyssey

(1968) — A great movie that used the moon as a stopover (it’s where they discovered the alien monolith that would lead them to the moons of Jupiter). What I’ve never been able to figure out is how everything on these extraterrestrial stations is so gleaming white when everyone in the future smokes.

The Mouse on the Moon

(1963) — The inferior sequel to the Peter Sellers movie The Mouse that Roared (in which the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick waged war against the U.S. with a small contingent of knights with longbows and won). No Peter Sellers in this one, though. So not as much fun.

Jim Slotek is a Toronto movie critic and freelance entertainment journalist.