20 Movies About Mars That You Should Watch Next – Looper

Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have been taking audiences to far-off worlds, with some of the earliest taking us to the Red Planet, a world that has always fascinated us as our closest stellar neighbor. The 1918 silent Dutch film “A Trip to Mars” was one of the first, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
A favorite setting for classic b-movies like “A Flight to Mars” and “It! The Terror From Beyond Space,” Mars has been the origin of some of Hollywood’s best movie monsters too, such as the 1953 classic “The War of the Worlds.” From then until today, Mars remains a world of endless mystery, and it has been used in movies from every genre, action, adventure, horror, drama, romance — even comedy. Maybe you’ve seen some of the classics, but there are plenty more, and we’ve gathered 20 of them that you should be watching. 
You’ve probably seen or at least heard of a few of them, but there’s no doubt some that will come as a surprise. So strap in and prepare to depart Earth, because it’s time to get your butt to Mars! 

For the 1996 special effects bonanza “Mars Attacks!,” director Tim Burton was brought onboard to adapt a series of pulp sci-fi trading cards from the 1960s published by Topps. The original trading cards showed a shockingly violent alien invasion of Earth by big-brained monsters from Mars, complete with giant robots, shrink rays, and burning flesh. The film may have eschewed the cards’ gritty tone, but kept their over-the-top spectacle, with a fleet of Martian saucers raining destruction from above.
When they’re first detected on their way to Earth though, biologist Donald Kessler (Pierce Brosnan) insists they must have peaceful intentions, and U.S. President Dale (Jack Nicholson) insists on welcoming their Martian neighbors as friends. But things go wrong right away when the Martian’s ambassador vaporizes the military envoy, sending Earth into a panic. This includes a brazen Las Vegas hotelier, an ex-boxer who is trying to reunite with his wife and kids, and a pair of news reporters covering the chaos.
A black comedy populated by offbeat characters, “Mars Attacks!” boasted an all-star cast that included Glenn Close, Natalie Portman, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, and Jack Nicholson in dual roles, as a Las Vegas casino magnate and as the President of the United States. Footballer Jim Brown and legendary crooner Tom Jones also made memorable appearances, but the movie is really all about its wild destruction and cynical look at humanity.

From a wacky sci-fi action comedy to a thoughtful drama, Brad Pitt starred in the 2019 film “Ad Astra,” a high-profile project for the Hollywood star that was met with stellar critical reviews, even if it didn’t earn the big box office bucks that he’s used to. Perhaps that’s owed to its understated nature, as the film is not even the flashy production of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” instead telling a more somber story of family and faith.
Set in a not-too-distant future where we learn that the Earth is facing endless war and global disaster thanks to its own hubris, the story sees Pitt in the role of Roy McBride, a commander with the interstellar SpaceCom agency. Deadly power surges have been ravaging the planet for years, but when its discovered that the problem can be traced back to an old space mission led by his father (Tommy Lee Jones), McBride is tasked with taking a mission to Mars to find him.
A film with a powerful message, it examines many of the very real problems we face today, right here on modern-day Earth, and shows us a personal story set in a bleak future to serve as wisdom and warning. Full of moving performances from its all-star cast, it hasn’t yet become a sci-fi classic, but may be one of the most underrated movies about Mars.

The story of how “The Martian” came to be is almost as compelling as the movie itself, as it was based on a book by former blogger and amateur writer Andy Weir, who self-published his story as a 99 cent digital download on Amazon (per Business Insider). But the story proved a sensation and quickly got the attention of Hollywood. After finding a director in Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) and a star in Matt Damon, it became a bonafide blockbuster hit. 
Centering on astronaut Mark Watney, the story chronicles an ill-fated trip to Mars that leaves him the last man on the surface, unable to escape after an approaching dust storm causes their mission to be aborted. Thankfully, Watney is a skilled biologist and botanist, and is able to use his training and expertise to stay alive while his team back on Earth plans a new mission to save him. Harder on the science than most sci-fi movies, it was a film that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson praised for its detail and accuracy (via IGN).
But don’t let its focus on authenticity fool you, “The Martian” is still a first-rate sci-fi thriller, full of high drama, suspense, and excitement on the Red Planet.

First announced with a terrifying and ominously enigmatic trailer, the 2017 sci-fi horror movie “Life” was nothing like what audiences expected. A hair-raising affair from its first tease, the film featured yet another award-worthy cast, led by Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Spider-Man: Far From Home”), Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”), and Hiroyuki Sanada (“Avengers: Endgame”). 
Aboard the International Space Station, we meet a team of astronauts and researchers who have taken custody of new samples taken from a recent trip to Mars. As they study the samples, they soon realize they have found the first proof of organic extraterrestrial life. But their excitement over this extraordinary discovery quickly gives way to terror when the organism they hold begins to grow too fast for them to contain, and becomes a vicious, flesh-eating creature that threatens all of their lives. 
But as the station begins to slowly lose its orbit and heads toward Earth, it’s up to the team aboard the ISS to save mankind from the same organism that may have wiped out all life on Mars. If you’re looking for a genuinely terrifying movie about what could happen if we ever really found true alien life on Mars, this is the movie for you.

Considered one of the greatest action films of the 1990s, the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster was based on the sci-fi short story, “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” (via Lit Reactor). A break from his more ordinary over-the-top action flicks, Schwarzenegger went for a full-throated science fiction adventure in a story set in a dystopian future where Mars has been colonized and is ruled by a brutal tyrant named Cohaagen. A rebellion made up of mutants and laborers has coalesced into a full-fledged underground resistance to stop him.
The film centers on Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger), a disillusioned construction worker on Earth who is bored with his hum-drum existence and looking for some excitement. Against his wife’s wishes, Quaid gets a virtual vacation in the form of implanted memories of life as a secret agent on Mars. But during the procedure, something goes wrong, and Quaid begins to think that he may actually be an undercover operative working for Cohaagen, and his life on Earth has been a lie. To discover the truth, Quaid travels to the Red Planet where he meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), a seductive rebel who helps him find the resistance’s leader Kuato, a telepathic mutant who can help get him answers.
Full of gut-bursting action, graphic violence, and plenty of director Paul Verhoeven’s patented political satire, “Total Recall” is an all-time Mars classic.

The second big screen adaptation of one of the most famous alien invasion stories ever written, the 2005 blockbuster “The War of the Worlds” came more than half of a century after the 1953 Hollywood retelling of the H.G. Wells classic, and nearly 70 years after an infamous radio adaptation. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, there was no doubting the talent involved, and with a big budget and impressive effects, it lived up to the audience’s sky-high hopes.
Though the story shows alien annihilation on a global scale as monsters from Mars attack planet Earth, the story focuses on a single family, with Cruise playing divorced dad Ray Ferrier, who struggles to maintain a relationship with his two children. With custody of teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) while his ex-wife is away, Ray’s plans for a fun weekend are turned upside down by an alien invasion. Now he must stay alive and keep his kids safe while praying Earth’s governments can find a way to defeat the Martian menace.
Though nobody in the audience was ever convinced that what was happening on screen was real — unlike the first Orson Welles radio broadcast of the story — the film nevertheless thrilled audiences to the tune of over $600 million, becoming one of the biggest movies of the year.

After the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, everyone was looking for the next big sci-fi/action cinematic universe, and Walt Disney turned to a series of adventure novels from the turn of the century that helped inspire the likes of “Star Wars”: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars.” With high hopes of becoming the next big franchise, Disney put a mammoth budget behind it, and Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E”) in the director’s chair. 
The story begins during the American Civil War, where Confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is running from the Union Cavalry and encounters an alien being who transports him back to his home planet of Barsoom, which we know as Mars. But the world he finds across the cosmos is a little different than the one he left, and also deeply engulfed in conflict and turmoil. There, the evil warlord Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) is engaged in a great war with Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and her armies, and the outsider human John Carter may be their only hope.
A rollercoaster action adventure set on Mars, “John Carter” may never have sparked the franchise Disney had hoped, but it’s still a heck of a good time. And in a weird way, it all ended well for Disney, as the film’s production woes and box office troubles helped convince the brand to stop trying to build its own blockbuster sci-fi franchise and just buy up “Star Wars.”

A year before “John Carter,” Walt Disney released another film about the Red Planet, this time a CGI animated kid’s movie based on a book by Berkeley Breathed, creator of the wildly popular cult hit comic strip, “Bloom County.” Written and directed by Simon Wells — grandson of “War of the Worlds” author H.G. Wells — it was produced by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) and featured the voices of Seth Green, John Cusack, Mindy Sterling, and Dan Fogler. 
In the film, aliens from Mars come to Earth and kidnap a woman in order to extract her “momness” to help program their newest nanny-bots to help raise their children. But the woman’s son Milo inadvertently goes along for the ride, and now it’s up to the pint-sized 10 year old to rescue his mom and somehow find a way back to Earth. Along the way, Milo befriends another human named Gribble, a man who’s been stranded on Mars for more than 20 years. Milo also discovers that Martian society has gone astray and all they really need is someone to help raise the next generation because the adults have no idea how.
A visually luscious, sentimental children’s adventure, it’s the perfect movie about Mars that the little ones will enjoy.

Perhaps thanks to mankind’s first actual missions to Mars in the ’90s – including the Pathfinder and Sojourner landers – Hollywood pumped out a series of movies about the Red Planet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Just after the turn of the millennium, in fact, two dueling Mars movies landed, the first of which was Disney’s “Mission to Mars,” one in a string of attempts at turning theme park rides into big-budget adventure movies (via The Orange County Register). 
In the year 2020, a mission to the Red Planet finds a team of astronauts looking for possible sites for colonization. But investigating a strange reading detected on the surface, the team of astronauts is killed by an unknown phenomenon, leaving only one man alive, commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle). Stranded with no hope of returning home, a second mission is scrambled, but when they arrive, Graham reveals disturbing evidence that they may not be alone on the planet.
The movie may have lacked big action, but what it was missing in over-the-top spectacle it more than made up for with loads of suspense, impressive special effects sequences, and an eerie score from spaghetti Western legend Ennio Morricone. And if you’re looking for an impressive cast, you can do much worse than Gary Sinise (“Apollo 13”), Don Cheadle (“Avengers: Endgame”), Jerry O’Connell (“Sliders”) and Tim Robbins (“The Shawshank Redemption”).

If you’re looking for good old sci-fi fun on Mars, look no further than the 1964 movie “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” This lost relic starred Paul Mantee and a pre-“Batman” Adam West, and is quite literally a science fiction adaptation of the classic adventure novel “Robinson Crusoe.” In the original book, a young man sets out on an adventure at sea, only to become a castaway on a deserted island after his ship wrecks in a storm. Forced to survive all alone, he comes into conflict with a number of hostile adversaries before finally being rescued.
In this version, the story follows space Commander “Kit” Draper, who leads Earth’s first manned mission to Mars. On approach, however, disaster strikes and Draper becomes separated from his co-pilot, only to later discover that he is the only one who survived the landing. But after learning how to survive, Draper learns that he’s not alone, and uncovers a mining operation where a tyrannical alien race has enslaved a lesser species into hunting for a precious ore.
While “Robinson Crusoe” may not be “The Martian,” it’s a fascinating time capsule of retro sci-fi with a genuinely compelling story that’s both imaginative and fun.

What might be the weirdest movie on this list, “Ghosts of Mars” comes from the mind of legendary filmmaker John Carpenter, who by 2001 had already produced nearly a half dozen all-time classics. From “Halloween” to “The Thing” and “Escape From New York,” Carpenter had proven himself a master of multiple genres. For this one, he found a way to blend them all together into a campy, chaotic soup, with elements of science fiction, horror, action, and even a touch of classic Westerns. 
Essentially a zombie movie set in outer space, the movie takes place long into a future where Mars has become an Earth colony. Home to a strange society that runs a massive mining operation, a series of odd occurrences begin to pile up, and a startling revelation is made that will change life on Mars forever. Suddenly, an ancient Martian civilization is re-awakened, but they’re not about to play nice with their human neighbors, and the ghost-like beings take control of people’s bodies and turn ordinary men and women into mindless killing machines.
With a bizarre story structure and an eclectic cast that included Ice Cube, Pam Grier, and Jason Statham, no one’s going to nominate “Ghost of Mars” as one of Carpenter’s best. But there’s something so undeniably fun about it that it’s hard to resist as a Sunday afternoon romp. If you want a light, raucous action movie on Mars, don’t miss it.

An under-the-radar release from 2017, “The Space Between Us” uses Mars to help tell a tender, star-crossed love story. Seemingly inspired by “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein (author of “Starship Troopers”), its impressive cast includes Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, Britt Robinson, B.D. Wong, and “Ender’s Game” standout Asa Butterfield. But more than just a love story, it’s also an interstellar mystery that touches on themes of a more spiritual nature.  
At some point in the future, a woman on the first manned trip to Mars gives birth to a young boy, Gardner Elliot (Butterfield) who is kept a secret from the world at large. Years later, Gardner is a teenager who has grown up in isolation and he develops a virtual romance with a girl on Earth named Tulsa (Janet Montgomery). After Gardner finally convinces his caretakers to bring him to his ancestral homeworld to meet her, he learns that growing up on Mars has left him unable to ever live in Earth’s atmosphere. Determined to find a way to be with Tulsa, the young lovebirds escape in the hopes of finding a way to be together.
A poignant coming-of-age tale that uses Mars as the backdrop, “The Space Between Us” is a heartfelt drama for the whole family.

The second Mars-themed movie to release in 2000 after “Mission to Mars” was the Val Kilmer led science fiction action film “Red Planet.” Like that other film, the movie involves the exploration of Mars with the hopes of finding it suitable for colonization, but things take a wildly different turn once the action gets going. Instead of a fateful encounter with an ancient civilization and a subsequent rescue mission, “Red Planet” follows a series of violent incidents that befall the crew of an exploratory ship.
As the film begins we learn that Earth by the year 2050 is quickly becoming uninhabitable and options for colonizing the solar system are being investigated. With overpopulation and ecological crises piling up, unmanned missions to the Red Planet turn terrestrial algae into oxygen producers. But when the output of the project unexpectedly drops, a team of scientists and astronauts — and a dangerous military robot of course — is sent to find out why. When they get there, though, it’s one disaster after another as their journey to save the human race turns into a deadly fight for survival.
With a good cast that also includes Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, and Benjamin Bratt, “Red Planet” is a simple but effective sci-fi action movie.

The most recent film to send a group of intrepid explorers to Mars, the 2022 HBO Max original science fiction romantic comedy “Moonshot” stars Cole Sprouse, Lana Condor, Mason Gooding, and Emily Rudd. A light-hearted love story, it follows a young man named Walt who works as a barista in the year 2049. Leading a boring life, he’s dreamed of taking a trip to Mars through a special college program, but has been repeatedly denied.
But when Walt meets Sophie, a jilted lover headed to the Red Planet to see the boyfriend whose stay on Mars has been extended, he sneaks aboard the flight by posing as her wayward lover. While on the trip off-planet, the two begin to form a budding quasi-romance, while Walt is forced into the unexpected role of a terraforming expert in an effort to avoid getting caught. Eventually though, Sophie has to decide with which man her future lies, and Walt has to figure out which planet he really belongs on.
Lively performances and good chemistry between the two interstellar sweethearts make “Moonshot” an earnest and endearing space-based comedy. 

A streaming original that flew under everyone’s radar with unfortunately little attention paid to it — as so many do these days — the sci-fi drama “Stowaway” is about a team of astronauts on a trip to Mars that goes horribly wrong. Released in 2021 on Netflix, the film’s sterling cast includes Toni Collette (“Knives Out”), Daniel Dae-Kim (“Lost”), and Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”). Together, on a carefully planned mission to the fourth planet, they are forced into a dire situation by one man’s mistake.
Readying for an extended mission that will see them call the spacecraft MTS-2 home for two years, the crew has carefully planned every last detail of their journey to Mars. Their plans are turned upside down though when after takeoff they discover one of the launch engineers has inadvertently stowed away on the starship, knocked unconscious while prepping the module. To make matters worse, his presence has damaged the ship’s CO2 scrubbers, meaning they won’t have any new oxygen once they breathe the vessel’s supply of air. 
As their situation gets more and more critical, the voyagers realize they cannot survive with an extra passenger, and they must make a terrible choice: one of them must die for any of them to live. Brilliantly suspenseful, “Stowaway” proved a hidden gem about a nightmarish trip to the Red Planet.

Not all movies about Mars come from the United States. One brilliant drama involving the planet comes to us by way of Sweden (via Roger Ebert). Released to streaming in 2018, “Aniara” is dystopian science fiction of the highest caliber, directed by the team of Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja. Together, they tell a story of a future where Earth has been so ravaged by disaster it is uninhabitable thanks to climate change, and neighboring Mars has long since been turned into a refuge for humanity.
With ocean levels rising to devastating levels, and ongoing weather events pummeling nations across the globe, mankind has begun a migration across the stars to find a safe haven. Large space ferries have begun moving mass amounts of Earth’s survivors off-world to Mars, which use an elaborate A.I. technology called a Mima to keep passengers entertained during their voyage. This virtual reality simulation is critical to keeping passengers calm aboard the city-sized starships, but when one of them, the Aniara, experiences a critical failure, the ship’s journey becomes years longer, which causes their Mima to malfunction. 
With no way to keep the colonists occupied from their worsening space madness, the fragile state of peace on the ship breaks down. Now the only hope now may be a ship’s engineer who is responsible for the Mima’s function.

Trips to Mars are a frequent subject matter for sci-fi, and in 1997 “RocketMan” took a comical look at what a sojourn to the Red Planet might look like. Starring Harland Williams not long after his film debut in “Dumb and Dumber,” it put the wild-eyed funny man into the role of a computer programmer unwittingly turned into a space explorer, a geeky scientist thrust into the high stakes world of the astronauts.
Williams plays oddball Fred Z. Randall, a programming engineer who has no desire to see outer space, far from the star-seeking dreamers in other movies. But when NASA is prepping for their first manned mission to Mars and encounters a fatal programming error in their computer system, Randall is called in to correct it. And when mission specialist — and Randall’s old programming partner — Bill Overbeck (William Sadler) is injured during flight training, Randall is forced into his place on the trip to the Red Planet.
Randall eventually makes it to Mars, where he becomes a surprising hero, and even comes face to face with aliens. A mix of “Apollo 13” and “Ace Ventura,” the film was hated by critics, but loved by audiences. If you like wacky comic misadventures on Mars though, you should give this one a whirl.

The 2001 sci-fi film “Stranded” is an English language Spanish film starring Vincent Gallo (“Brown Bunny”), Maria de Medeiros (“Pulp Fiction”), and Joaquim de Almeida (“Fast Five”). Another film that tells the tale of Earth’s first manned mission to Mars, this one is darker and scarier than most, with plenty of twists and turns that make it a stunning sci-fi chiller as much as a daring survivalist drama, as the story moves beyond the kind of gritty realism of “The Martian.”
The year is 2020, and the Ares mission has finally made it all the way to Mars after a multi-year journey from Earth. A diverse, seven-person crew comprised of astronauts from around the world has arrived to explore the dusty dunes of the Red Planet, but problems on the ship’s descent quickly turn to disaster. With the landing module unable to take off, the crew becomes trapped on the planet with no hope of escape, and rescue years away. To survive, they’ll need to find ways of making their dwindling supplies last, and turn their damaged craft into a long-term livable habitat.
But just as they prepare to make this planet their new home, they make the shocking discovery that they may not be the first ones to have set foot on Mars.

While “Aniara” and “Stowaway” were smaller streaming releases, the 2013 sci-fi horror action thriller “The Last Days on Mars” was a little-known, little-seen movie starring Liev Schreiber (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) and Elias Koteas (“Chicago P.D.”) that only ever received a limited theatrical release. As its title suggests, it focuses on a team of researchers who’ve been stationed on Mars for an extended mission, and follows the catastrophic events that occur in their final days before they are due to depart for planet Earth.
As their mission is winding down, most of the eight-person crew is getting ready for the arrival of a craft from Earth that will take them home after six months on the Red Planet. But when scientist Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostić) believes he’s found evidence of organic life he becomes obsessed with proving his theories before they leave. But his quest for a scientific milestone turns into a nightmare when the organism he finds turns him into an undead, flesh-eating monster. As the threat spreads, the rest of his crew must find a way to stay alive long enough for their evacuation craft to save them.
A movie whose low budget shows at times, it’s still a scary, spine-tingling adventure that should satisfy.

While many films on this list have involved monsters from Mars attacking Earth or the struggles faced aboard spacecraft headed to the Red Planet, the 2021 British science fiction drama “Settlers” is one of a few to be firmly set on Martian soil. A low-budget indie movie starring Sofia Boutella (“Star Trek: Beyond”) and Johnny Lee Miller (“Elementary”), the film is essentially a dark, dreary character-driven Western that moves the setting from the American frontier to the final frontier. 
It all takes place in a future where Mars has become home to a number of desolate Earth outposts where we meet Ilsa and Reza (Boutella and Miller), parents to a young girl named Remmy (Brooklynn Prince). Not the idyllic, utopian future colony worlds envisioned by many science fiction stories, the outposts here are drab, dank, and inhospitable. But they are also terribly unsafe, a place where roving bandits make life miserable for those like Ilsa and Reza, and now one of them wants to join their family.
A grounded look at the darker side of what colonizing other planets could be like, “Settlers” is no space adventure, but a bleak story of survival on the borderlands.

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