Top 10 Most Terrifying Mars Movies!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

So, how many of you are looking to blast off into the cosmos with Matt Damon as THE MARTIAN this weekend? Well, by most accounts, the flick marks a return to form for the great Ridley Scott, who frankly needs it after a few misguided mega-spectacles (and THE COUNSELOR, lest we forget). Hopefully this bodes well for PROMETHEUS 2 and beyond!

Anyway, back to the topic of Mars. The red planetary neighbor of Earth has long been a rife setting for sci-fi flicks, dating all the way back to the 50s. A lot of good, a lot of bad, A-list directors, B-movie hacks…they’ve all tried their hand at bringing movie magic to the mysterious 4th planet. And so, with THE MARTIAN due this week, we thought why not take a look back and make a case for our favorite of the sort. You down with that? Groovy. Slam it up top to lift-off with our Top 10 Most Terrifying Mars Movies!

#1. TOTAL RECALL (1990)

Cohaggggeeennn! As if Paul Verhoeven’s warped mind wasn’t out of this world to begin with, his manic and maniacal cinematic trip to Mars has, 25 year later, become nothing short of a cult-classic. Now, the less said about the ho-hum redo of TOTAL RECALL from few a years ago the better, as we all know Arnie mixing it up with Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin utterly reigns supreme! The real reason though? The wildly imaginative costumes, makeup and production design of Mars itself, replete with mutant-infant deformities and three-titted sexpots. Can’t top it!


Granted, John Carpenter’s THE GHOSTS OF MARS isn’t likely the sharpest point in the horror legend’s cinematic quiver, but let’s be real, as far as movies set on Mars are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more kinetically entertaining and action-packed spectacle than this one. I mean come on, Ice Cube leading a ragtag cache of Martian police officers amid a lethal alien onslaught? With Natasha Henstridge, Pam Grier and Jason Statham at his back? Too tight! An interesting note: the flick was originally designed as a sequel to ESCAPE FROM L.A. called ESCAPE FROM MARS, but since the former failed so epically, the script was changed altogether and Kurt Russell left the project.

#3. MARS ATTACKS! (1996)

Okay, so this one isn’t so much terrifying as it a cheesy piece of B-movie kitsch, but come, Tim Burton’s having a blast with this obvious ode to trashy 50s sci-fi spectacles. With a star-studded cast of Burton regulars, including our man Jaaaaack catching a drill to the dome above, what’s interesting about MARS ATTACKS! is how it was Burton’s follow up to perhaps his best movie, ED WOOD. Call it inspiration, call it imitation of life, but MARS ATTACKS! feels much more like a real Ed Wood flick than a Burton one. Go figure! Zany, cartoonish, over-the-top and utterly bonkers…I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like MARS ATTACKS!


Perhaps the most akin to what Scott and Damon are laying down with THE MARTIAN, ROBINSON CRUSOE takes the Last Man on Earth motif and applies it to the big red planet, even appropriating the classic fictional character Robinson Crusoe for this oddly unparalleled sci-fi curio. Get this, the flick features a dude marooned on Mars with only his pet monkey to keep him warm at night. He and his primate pal must figure out a way to discover water, oxygen and sustenance on an otherwise lifeless planet. Cool props and set-pieces leftover from WAR OF THE WORLDS add a rich cinematic crossover.


We almost went with the original 1953 version of the film, but come on, Tobe Hooper’s nasty 1986 re-imagining of the same general story is too good and too gory to omit. Hell, just take a gander at that disgustingly bloated and scaly slime-ball there above. No joke! Leave it to Hooper to extend his trademark ickiness to the cosmos, fomenting even more fear about extraterrestrial life and the probability of malefic Martians. Between this one and LIFEFORCE, Hooper demonstrated in the mid-80s that he could inject the same kind of horror to the sci-fi realm as he did with the slasher subgenre.

#6. CAPRICORN ONE (1977)

Made during the rash of paranoid 70s conspiracy thrillers, Peter Hyams’ CAPRICORN ONE offers a pretty cool and unique spin on the Mars-movie motif. See, the plot concerns NASA’s first man made mission to Mars, yet at the last minute, they pull the astronaut crew and pretend they were sent anyway. Interestingly, this plot was inspired by the purported Apollo 11 hoax, which fellow filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (whose 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY NASA lent cameras to) has long been rumored to have been involved with. The connection strengthens when considering Hyams directed the follow up 2010. Oooh!

#7. MISSION TO MARS (2000)

Yeah yeah yeah, so MISSION TO MARS isn’t Brian De Palma’s best (far from it), but even low-grade De Palma is still better than like 75& of most high-grade studio drivel, right? Besides, no can shoot a movie like Brian De Palma! Mix that with the cast of Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and it’s virtually impossible to be ALL bad. In fact, there’s honorary homages to Kubrick’s 2001 here, which is always appreciated. But the most unnerving part of the flick? That crazy “Face on Mars” discovery is right out of Constantin Brâncusi collection. Creepy Goth-horror!


A bit of a newbie for sure, but when you have the acting chops of Liev Schrieber and Elias Koteas to elevate material that otherwise may seem a bit rote and played out, yup, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS ends up making the grade. The UK production from Irish director Ruairi Robinson – about a passel of cosmonauts who end up getting gorily maimed to death by a hellish presence on Mars (zombies!) – is done with a deft enough hand, style and substance to even attract the acting likes of Liev and Elias to begin with. Check it out if you haven’t!

#9. RED PLANET (2000)

Oh dear. Val Kilmer and his perfectly coiffed-locks are no match for an indestructible race of mega-bots roving the surface of Mars in RED PLANET. Or wait, isn’t it the other way around? Either way, for a just a so-so flick, the idea of those horrifying monster-machines of sentience are actually quite plausible today, only 15 years later. Throw in some tough talk by Terrence Stamp and Tom Sizemore and this script by intergalactic schlock hound Chuck Pfarrer (VIRUS, DARKMAN) tends to sing at times. As for the chemistry of Kilmer and Sizemore? Word is they hated each other to the point of being unable to film together.

#10. STRANDED (2001)

A bit under the radar, this low-budget ($4 million) Spanish indie starring Vincent Gallo and Maria de Medeiros actually takes a more realistic, documentary approach to being STRANDED on Mars. A seven-man international crew from all corners of the globe and of various scientific backgrounds are dispatched to Mars to explore the planet. After a sudden crash, the flick essentially becomes a ticking clock scenario where every last drop of food, water and other supplies must be carefully conserved until reinforcements are brought in.

Tags: Hollywood

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