In Ridley Scott’s new movie The Martian, Matt Damon’s marooned astronaut cobbles together a contraption to make the water he needs to survive on the barren Red Planet. Turns out he could have just trotted down to the nearest creek and filled his space canteen.
OK, that’s not true. Even if Damon’s character had been close to a spot on the Martian surface that was oozing water – a startling phenomenon unveiled by NASA earlier this week – there’s no telling if there’d have be enough liquid to sustain life, or if he could have treated it to make it drinkable. Plus, it wouldn’t have been exciting as watching him “science the s—” out of his dehydration predicament.
The new discovery side, The Martian, in theatres Friday, is heavy on the real-world science found in the Andy Weir’s novel from which the film is adapted, something we rarely see in movies about the fourth rock from the sun. But while science is good – very good! – most of my favourite Mars-based flicks have been memorable because they’re so wildly out of this world.
According to NASA’s tentative timeline, we might have humans on Mars by the late 2030s. A lot could happen to change that – crazy new advances in space travel technology could speed things up, while a Skynet-like A.I. going rogue and exterminating humankind would definitely put a crimp in the plan – but it’s exciting to dream about. Depressing to think how old I’ll be when it happens, but exciting.
In the meantime, here are my six favourite movies set on Mars. Liquid water is cool and all, but it can’t compare to monsters, miners and three-breasted mutants.
John Carter (2012)
Disney’s massively expensive space opera starring Canada’s own Taylor Kitsch was a catastrophic box office flop, but as a piece of entertainment it’s actually not bad at all. Based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it’s kind of like Tarzan meets Star Wars, with some spectacular digital effects.
Mars is: An alien-inhabited world full of intricate cities and fanciful beasts.
Mission to Mars (2000)
Of the two Mars movies that came out in 2000 – the other being the Val Kilmer-starring Red Planet – Brian de Palma’s Mission to Mars is the better of the pair, and has some interesting plot parallels to The Martian (in addition to actual Martians.) Fun fact: the movie was inspired by a ride at Walt Disney World, now simply called Mission Space.
Mars is: The home of mankind’s distant ancestors.
John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Bag on this goofy sci-fi horror all you want, but the mere fact it stars the bizarre mix of Ice Cube, Pam Grier, Natasha Henstridge and Jason Statham (before he went on to much bigger and better things) makes it more than worthy.
Mars is: A terraformed world run by women and terrorized by miners possessed by Martian ghosts.
Although Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the biggest name in this flick based on the popular video game franchise, Karl Urban (Star Trek, Dredd) played the main character: a space marine on a Martian science base overrun by monsters. It’s notable for trying to replicate the first-person shooter game experience in one memorably silly action sequence.
Mars is: Not a gateway to hell, unfortunately. That would have been way cooler.
Capricorn One (1978)
Though it has not aged well – and not only because it stars a pre-infamy O. J. Simpson – this is a cool little conspiracy thriller with an interesting premise: the astronauts of the world’s first manned Mars mission are forced to fake the entire thing on earthbound sets. There was talk of a remake a few years ago, but it never achieved liftoff.
Mars is: A desert somewhere in the southwestern U.S.
Total Recall (1990)
Like director Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (which was also given a lacklustre modern reboot), Total Recall is a true pop culture gem, and one the best movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action star heyday. Exciting and campy, with cool special effects that didn’t give a crap about real-world science.
Mars is: A mutant-populated wild west in outer space, complete with triple-boobed hookers. Don’t go outside, though, or your body will explosively decompress and shoot those breast-ogling eyeballs out right out of your head.