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Mars in the movies: Interesting facts about the Red Planet's depictions on the silver screen
Taylor Kitsch is shown in a scene from "John Carter." - photo by Jeff Peterson
The Red Planet has been in the news a lot this week, with the one-two punch of a groundbreaking scientific discovery of water and a big-budget Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon.

Of course, peoples fascination with Earths next-door neighbor dates back millennia, and both the planet and the little men who may or may not inhabit it have been a major part of sci-fi movies in particular from, well, the very beginning of sci-fi movies.

Whether it's Martian invasions of Earth or human invasions of Mars, Hollywood just cant get over stories about the angry Red Planet.

So for the trivia lovers out there, here are some interesting facts about the not-always-scientifically-accurate Mars of the movies and pop culture:

  • The first movie ever made about Mars was Thomas Edisons 1910 A Trip to Mars. Borrowing heavily from another silent movie about space travel, George Mliss more famous 1902 A Trip to the Moon, Edisons film is also frequently credited as the very first American sci-fi movie.
  • On a related note, Edison himself had already conquered the Red Planet a full 12 years earlier in literature. The legendary inventor was the hero of an unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds, written by Garrett P. Serviss (titled, not too subtly, Edisons Conquest of Mars) in which Earth launched a counterstrike on the Martians, armed with some of Edisons newest technology. Though largely forgotten today, Serviss' book introduced several key sci-fi elements, including ray guns, space suits and the idea that the pyramids were built by ancient aliens, as mentioned in a 2012 list on
  • Mars also served as the focus of Russias first-ever sci-fi movie, the still-well-regarded 1924 silent Aelita: Queen of Mars, which appeared on The Guardian's recent list of "Seven Soviet sci-fi films everyone should see." According to Open Culture, the films distinctive costuming and set design were a big influence on everything from Fritz Langs Metropolis to the early Flash Gordon serials in other words, on pretty much every sci-fi property that came after.
  • Wells seminal tale of Martians invading Earth, The War of the Worlds, published in 1897, has been adapted for film at least seven times and inspired everything from a TV series to comic books to video games. While younger audiences are probably more familiar with Steven Spielbergs 2005 War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise, nothing is ever likely to top Orson Welles 1938 radio dramatization, which, famously, caused widespread panic among listeners who mistook it for a news report about a real alien invasion.
  • In 2014, Twitter user Henry Legg put a 21st century spin on the same stunt, live-tweeting a supposed alien invasion based on The War of the Worlds with the hashtag #WotW. While the reaction wasnt all-out pandemonium, it did leave some followers a little confused.
  • In addition to dropping the initial the from its title, Spielbergs version of The War of the Worlds also drops all reference to Martians as it was felt that the concept was no longer believable to audiences, according to IMDB.
  • The first novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series, A Princess of Mars, had possibly the longest period of development hell of any movie in history. Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett, who created famous characters like Porky Pig and Tweety for Warner Bros., originally began working on an animated version of Burroughs' sci-fi series back in the early 1930s. It wasnt until 2012, however, that an adaptation, Disneys John Carter, finally hit theaters exactly 100 years after the publication of the source material.
  • In 2012, Vulture published an article asking, Are Mars movies doomed? The track record for movies set on Mars over the last two-and-a-half decades has been pretty abysmal, with duds such as "Rocketman," "Red Planet," "Mission to Mars," "Doom" and "The Last Days on Mars" all lending credence to the idea of a Mars curse in Hollywood.
  • In 2011, Disneys Mars Needs Moms wound up being a massive flop. Its disastrous box-office performance was allegedly one of the reasons John Carter of Mars became just John Carter Disney didnt want the Andrew Stanton-directed sci-fi adventure associated with the earlier flop. In hindsight, that might have been a bad idea. John Carter also bombed, costing the studio an estimated $200 million, according to CNN Money. The reason, according to some, may have been at least partially that audiences didnt know what it was about since Mars was never mentioned in the marketing.
  • Fictional depictions of Mars changed dramatically beginning in 1965 after the Mariner 4 spacecraft completed its first successful flyby of the planet and, in the process, debunked several long-held theories, including that the color of the planet derived from red vegetation and that the apparent linear features on Mars surface were canals.
  • Before Damon, other famous names to visit the Red Planet include Rock Hudson ("The Martian Chronicles"), Adam West (Robinson Crusoe on Mars), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall), Dwayne The Rock Johnson (Doom) and Santa Claus (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). Despite starring in a movie called Abbot and Costello Go to Mars, the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello never actually did even in the film. Instead, their spaceship landed in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, which they mistook for Mars.
  • In the mid-90s, George Lucas commissioned a script for a fourth Indiana Jones movie called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars. More straight-up B-movie, it featured instectoid aliens that spoke Sanskrit and was, according to Lucas, even wackier than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A 1995 scriptment can still be found online.
  • Martians come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most memorable, Warner Bros. Marvin the Martian, takes his design inspiration from the Roman god of war, after whom the planet is named. His reason for wanting Earth destroyed? Because it blocks his view of Venus.
  • Southern Utah frequently doubles for alien planets, including Mars. John Carter, for instance, shot in several Southern Utah locations, including in and around places such as Lake Powell, Hanksville, Moab and Mt. Carmell. Other go-to filming locations for Martian landscapes include Death Valley in California, the Australian outback and, in the case of The Martian, Wadi Rum in Jordan.
  • NASA consulted heavily on The Martian in order to make the most scientifically accurate film possible. According to Collider, about 50 pages of the final script is NASA stuff. Even the mission portrayed in the film is based on actual NASA plans for future Mars missions.
  • The Martian director Ridley Scott was told as much as two months ago about the recent discovery of liquid water on Mars, he revealed to Yahoo! Movies, but it was already too late to make changes to the movie.
  • According to Entertainment Weekly, the first page of the script for The Martian was blasted into space as part of the payload for NASAs Orion shuttle, which, someday, will hopefully transport astronauts to the surface of Mars.
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