A Brief History Of Martians In The Movies

From little green men to... much bigger green men

Mars Needs Moms

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Mars Needs Moms has arrived in the cinemas, the latest in a long and varied line of Mars-centric movies. Looking back through Hollywood’s Red Planet back catalogue, it’s interesting to note that over the years, Earth’s been invaded, Mars has been invaded, minds have been invaded, and pretty much every single iconic building across the globe has been blown up numerous times. So in tribute to these angry extra-terrestrials, we’ve decided to take a look at the mysterious fauna of our nearest planetary neighbour, and examine just what Martians really look like...

Originally known as Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, this sci-fi classic had its title changed to Flash Gordon: Mars Attacks The World to exploit the fear surrounding Orson Welles' (in)famous radio broadcast. You know, just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, the movie itself boasts natural disasters, ray beams, and comic relief in the form of the ludicrously-named reporter Happy Hapgood. Oh, and Martians who have been magically transformed into “Clay Men” by the ever-so-evil Azura, Queen of Mars, who’s working with Ming the Merciless to destroy the earth. As you do.

Generally, normal Martians in Flash Gordon’s world are regular human look-alikes, but after they’ve been magicked by Azura, they turn into grumpy, underground-dwelling clay people who – funnily enough – look like bit-part players who have been covered in clay and forced to hobble around in someone’s badly lit basement. Prototypical Martians they are not, but at least they’re not that big-head-big-eyes Roswell variety of alien.

When someone mentions War Of The Worlds, you probably remember the long-legged war machines that allowed H.G. Wells’ Martians to wreak havoc around sunny California (transplanting the action of the novel, inevitably, from England to the West Coast). The 1953 science fiction classic doesn’t leave it at their vehicles though; let’s not forget their actual appearance here.

Here, the Martians are long-armed treestrumps that somehow look like discarded prototype to 1982’s ET. Same skin tone, same desire to destroy everything…no, wait, just the same skin tone. Although who knows? Maybe all this lot wanted were Reece’s Pieces, a free phone call and – given the ending – some antibiotics.

Looking more closely at the Martians here, we’re not even sure how they move. Are those legs? Do they float? Is there some futuristic hovercraft technology going on here? No wonder they needed those ludicrous walkers – they’re just Martian zimmerframes. That fire lasers. And kill everyone. So pretty nifty zimmer frames, then.

For those of you who haven’t watched this movie – and if so, lucky you – this is a film so shockingly shit that it almost transcends its shitness and enters the ethereal plane of so-shit-it’s-really-really-good. Alas, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is so good at being shit that it falls out the back end of the so-shit-it’s-really-really-good category and becomes really, really shit again.

So now we’ve reaffirmed that this movie really is very, very bad, let’s get to the anatomical analysis of these so-called Martians. Apart from the planet’s elder, Chochem, everyone sports natty green skin tight lycra suits, as well as rid-onk-ulous green helmets, complete with pointless tubing and extraneous radio receivers jutting out the top.

Other than that, their main difference to humanity is their greeny/brown skin tone, their scientific advances – they do fly down in a spaceship to abduct Santa, after all – and their ludicrous names, such as Momar, Kimar, Voldar, Stobo, Shim, Stropo and Dropo. Oh, and their robots look like your little cousin walking around with a bin on his head. In other words: What. A. Movie.

The fourth in the somewhat forgotten series of “Beach Party” movies that infested 1960s’ cinemas, Pajama Party is unique that it contains a Martian called Gogo in it. But when you’re part of a film series that boasts titles like Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), the fact that there’s a Martian involved in this one shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

Gogo himself, as is often the case in these situations, is sent to Earth in an usher's uniform to prepare for an impending invasion from Mars. There he meets an eccentric old lady, gets dressed up in silly clothes, and takes part in a big fight at the end. That’s pretty much the whole movie, to be honest.

But you’re not looking at Gogo (later called George), even if he is a Martian. Instead you’re staring at Donna Loren while she sings "Among The Young" and wiggles her hips in a little red dress, or ogling Annette Funicello while she dances incredibly

In the original novel this film is adapted from, Martians are much more along the lines of the Roswell grey, but for the film version they decided to replace them all with ‘80s and ‘90s stand-up comedians, who were then painted green, put in green clothes, and told to act like complete prats.

Finding humanity ever-so-very amusing, these extra-terrestrials make wisecracks whenever they can, call people “Mack” or “Toots”, are immune to guns, can teleport, and keep telling humans that they’re idiots.

We’d like to call Martians Go Home an admirable attempt to bring comedy to the whole Invaders-from-Mars thing, but it really is a load of old spaceballs. We’ve all got a soft spot for Randy Quaid – that’s right, the lead human character is a singer songwriter played by Randy Quaid – but watching this movie is like receiving a comedy lobotomy. Sorry Randy, that’s just the way it is.

For the purposes of a light-hearted feature on movie Martians, the problem with Total Recall is that there aren’t any actual Martians in it.


Sure, there are some Mars-born human mutants, men with babies on their bellies, and some triple-breasted prostitutes, but as for real, living, honest-to-goodness Martians from the planet Mars? Not so much.

But there’s just no way we couldn’t include Total Recall on this list, it being the most Martian movie anyone could possibly think of, despite its lack of actual Martians. To that end, we’re going to just show you a picture of Marshall Bell as George / Kuato, and challenge you not to vomit. Oh, and not say any of the following three quotes: “See you at the party, Richter!”; “Get your ass to Mars” or “Relax. You'll live longer.” Go on, we dare you.

Now here are some Martians we can really get behind. Following in the footsteps of the Invaders from Mars-style extra-terrestrial troublemakers, Burton’s Martians might say they come in peace, but in reality they’re dove-shooting mayhem-bringers who think with their ray guns rather than their excessively large brains.

Speaking of which, let’s have a look at those heads of theirs. Kept safe – for the most part – by their see-through noggin-domes, their skin boasts a transient hue that can only be described as “pretty bloody weird.”

There’s a patch on their foreheads, for example, that looks like someone’s spilled some crude oil on their faces, and aside from their brains, the rest of them looks so wizened it’s a wonder how there weren’t more kids crying their eyes out watching it. Which there were, believe us. At least one, at least. Ahem.

With the success of The Flintstones and the like, back in the ‘90s Hollywood decided to resurrect more and more old-school TV shows and turn them into big-budgeted family blockbusters. This is one of them, taking the early ‘60s sitcom of the same name and adding Elizabeth Hurley, Jeff Daniels, Wayne Knight, and, of course, Christopher Lloyd as the eponymous Martian.

Calling himself “Uncle Martin” – clever, eh? – Lloyd spends most of the film larking around, making things fly about, embarrassing people, shrinking things, embiggening things, and generally behaving like he’s in his own real-life cartoon, but, you know, not in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit way.

Surprisingly funny and definitely very silly, Uncle Martin is one of those aliens who can do pretty much anything, be it make people’s hands turn to tentacles or drive a miniature car into a toilet bowl. And if you’re a 10-year-old on a sugar rush, it really doesn’t get better than that.

Panned by pretty much everyone – apart from the French, bizarrely – Brian De Palma’s Mission To Mars was an absolute bomb, signalling a death knell for pretty much all Mars-based movies for a good decade.

Discussing the Martians in Mission To Mars is a spoiler in of itself, but as this movie is loathed so very much by so very many people, we think we should be fine here. Essentially, it’s that now-clichéd idea that humans are descendants (of sorts) of another race – namely, in this case, the Martians – whose forefathers had to leave their planet and spread life elsewhere.

The one Martian we see is in the form of a hologram. There, she looks humanoid in appearance, but much taller and, well, covered in orange lights. Handily, she has the power to explain the genesis of man through the means of evolution back on earth. Less handily, she’s also pretty dull. Should have been Christopher Lloyd, we reckon.

While the humans in Robert Zemeckis’s performance capture kiddy sci-fi Mars Needs Moms live slap-bang in the middle of the uncanny valley, the Martians are much more visually appealing. Kind of. Maybe.

They’ve got wide, almost bug-like heads, incredibly thin waists, super-slim arms and eyes so wide apart they look a touch A Bug’s Life at times. They’ve also got human-like hair, which seems extra-odd with the insectoid thing they’ve got going on.

This might all work in a cartoon, but with real-life people behind the characters – all brought to life thanks to performance capture – it makes for a truly disconcerting viewing experience. You know they’re humans, they feel like humans, and yet… they’re bug-things. It’s a tough sensation to shake. That, and knowing that Seth Green played the lead role, and yet a younger actor’s voice was used to replace his for the final release.

Still, Martians! Space! Rocketships! Bright colours! Um… very impressive performance capture work! Er… Moms!

Despite the film version of John Carter of Mars coming out in a year’s time, we already know exactly who we’re going to meet, alien-wise, thanks to the classic sci-fi novels they’re based on.

You see, author Edgar Rice Burroughs decided not to go for just the one species of Martian, instead choosing a whole bunch of them, from the civilised and human-like Red Martians, to the 15-foot tall, four-armed, bastardly Green Martians, who love nothing more than a good ray gun battle.

White Martians, however, are near extinct, self-indulgent and “overcivilised”, and largely won’t be seen in the first movie. Then there are the evil slaver Martians, the Yellow Martians, and the piratical Black Martians, who believe they are “the true Martians.” And that’s not forgetting the Kaldanes, the Rykors, the Hormads and the Kangaroo Men – you’ll never guess what they look like…

It’s all very complicated up in Mars, it seems, but we’re sure Pixar’s Andrew Stanton will sort it all out. He wrote Toy Story 3 – and he’s writing John Carter of Mars’ screenplay, as well as directing it (with an assist, at least on one draft, from Pulitzer-Prize winner Michael Chabon). Phew. Thank the Kangaroo Men for that.

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