John Carter marks the centennial of the first appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs's character in the 11-volume Barsoom series, but the film is certainly not the first that imagines life on Mars. Taylor Kitsch plays the eponymous character who is a former Confederate captain that is transported to the Red Planet and becomes part of the conflict between the warring Martian nations. It's sometimes difficult to discern who's who in the movie with all the different Martians running amok, but it's easy to see that Disney has positioned John Carter to be the first big blockbuster of 2012.
John Carter isn't the first cinematic visitor to Mars nor will he be the last. Half a century ago, there seemed to be a collective fear that Martians were going to come to Earth and do us in as evidenced by movies like The War of the Worlds, Devil Girl From Mars, The Day Mars Invaded Earth and many more.
The Mars movies we want to milk for this story were released over the last two decades or so and imagine what life is like on Earth's red neighbor. One of our favorites is 1990's Total Recall in which Arnold Schwarzenegger joins up with the underground movement of disfigured mutants on Mars and fights for their freedom while he struggles to reclaim his memories. The remake is set to open in theaters on August 3 with Colin Farrell taking over the Schwarzenegger role.
Tim Burton imagined Martians as big-brained, bug-eyed little monsters that enjoy blowing up buildings and people in 1996's Mars Attacks! starring Jack Nicholson, Lukas Haas, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Pam Grier, Michael J. Fox and enough stars to colonize the Red Planet.
In the goofy 1997 comedy RocketMan, Harland Williams plays a computer programmer chosen to hop aboard NASA's first manned mission to Mars where he ends up using his patriotic boxers as an American flag in lieu of a real one—until a Martian steals the undies.
There is nothing (intentional) to laugh at in Species II, in which an astronaut gets infected with alien DNA during the first mission to Mars and scientists reengineer Sil (Natasha Henstridge) to track the monster down only to discover that the two have an uncontrollably desire to mate.
The world didn't come to an end at the turn of the century, but the world did experience an uptick of Mars-related movies. The 2000 Brian De Palma film Mission to Mars details a disastrous manned Mars exploration mission in 2020 and stars Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins. The film competed the same year with Red Planet, which stars Val Kilmer, Carrie Anne-Moss and others as part of a manned expedition sent to Mars for colonization due to a dying Earth.
In John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars, the police officer played by Natasha Henstridge and her team (including Jason Statham, Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy) arrive on a terraformed Mars to transport a dangerous criminal (Ice Cube) only to find that the denizens of a Martian town have become infected with Martian "ghosts" that transform them into self-mutilating murderous monsters.
A special ops team led by Dwayne Johnson answers a distress call from a research station on Mars only to find it overrun with hellish creatures from another dimension in 2005's Doom, which is based on the popular video game. Mars is gentler place in 2009's Watchmen in which the glowing blue Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) finds a Zen zone on the Red Planet when the people of Earth begin to believe that proximity to him causes cancer.
Before John Carter, the most recent movie to visit the Red Planet is the animated film Mars Needs Moms, in which a brat that torments his sister and refuses to eat his veggies hops aboard an alien craft as his mom is being abducted by Martians. After being whisked away to Mars, the tot discovers why the planet is in desperate need of moms. After you see John Carter, you decide if our world is in need of any more Mars movies.