The planet Mars captured our imaginations, long before we set our sights on the moon. A mere 34 million miles away, our red, rocky neighbor often features heavily in science fiction as a barren and forbidding habitat.
The latest story to center itself on the red planet is The First, an eight-part series starring Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone that starts streaming today (September 14) on Hulu. It tells the (fictional) story of the first human mission to Mars, and the five astronauts chosen to be helm colonization of the planet.
Below are 10 of the best imaginary Martian missions.
1. A Trip to Mars (1910)
This five-minute film can claim to be the first ever American science fiction movie, made eight years after French adventure movie A Trip to the Moon. It was produced by Thomas Edison for his home Kinetoscope, an early device for viewing motion pictures, and shows a scientist discovering reverse gravity and going to Mars in the process.
2. Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924)
It wasn’t just the Americans who were interested in Mars at the start of the 20th century; the Russians were at it too. This silent film by Soviet director Yakov Protazanov follows a young man called Los who travels to Mars in a rocket ship. There he leads a popular uprising against the ruling group of Elders, with the support of Queen Aelita, who has fallen in love with him through a telescope.
3. The Twilight Zone (1960)
An episode of this classic sci-fi anthology series called “People Are Alike All Over” showed two astronauts as they headed out on a mission to Mars. One is an idealist, convinced that whatever or whoever they find there will be just like humans, while the other is more cynical, and afraid of what is behind the rocket door after they crash land. It turns out they are both right. This is the twilight zone, after all.
4. Thunderbirds Are GO (1966)
The first marionette on Mars took his first steps in this feature-length spin-off from the cult British TV show. The Zero-X spacecraft makes a manned mission to Mars, where the astronauts encounter terrifying “rock snakes.” As they head back home, the puppet pioneers look set to crash land after re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Enter International Rescue, with the aid of their Thunderbird machines, to save the day.
5. Doctor Who
The Doctor is a frequent visitor to Mars, in episodes such as “Pyramids of Mars” (1975), “Water of Mars” (2009) and “Empress of Mars” (2017). According to TARDIS-lore, it has been colonized several times over its long history (and future), by Daleks, time lords, and ancient Egyptians alike. When the Tenth Doctor arrives in 2059, the base he finds there is called Bowie Base One, a nod to David Bowie and his 1973 song “Life on Mars?”
6. Total Recall (1990)
Loosely based upon a Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” this demented sci-fi classic stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker who gets embroiled in Martian espionage. Much of the movie is set on Mars, which is now under the control of a corrupt governor (Ronny Cox), who has a monopoly on air that forces the population to live and pay to breathe in regulated domes.
7. Futurama (1999)
According to this cult animated series, Matt Groening‘s first after the success of The Simpsons, Mars has been completely terraformed by the year 3000, making it habitable for humans like Philip J. Fry. It’s even the location of one of the galaxy’s most prestigious universities. Unlike, say, Utah. (Sorry, Utah.)
8. Doom (2005)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson leads this sci-fi adventure based (barely) on the third installment of the Doom computer game series. Set in 2046, the action takes place on a Martian research facility that’s only accessible via an ancient portal in the Nevada desert.
9. Mr Nobody (2009)
This odd little film explores the idea of parallel lives and alternate realities against a Pierre Van Dormael soundtrack, and has become a cult film in the process. In one of the timelines, the main character (Jared Leto) travels to a Mars colony to spread the ashes of his deceased wife, keeping a promise he made her when they were teens.
10. Red Dwarf (2009)
The crew of the “Red Dwarf” mining spaceship didn’t step foot on Mars, unless this promo is to be believed. In it, footage purportedly captured on the red planet shows Cat (Danny John-Jules) and debris that can only have once belonged to Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn).
11. John Carter (2012)
A Civil War veteran is mysteriously transported to Mars when he goes prospecting in Arizona. This is the premise of A Princess of Mars, the first in the Barsoom series of novels by writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, which was finally adapted into a Disney movie over 30 years in the making.
12. The Martian (2015)
Matt Damon gives Cast Away-era Tom Hanks a run for his money in this Ridley Scott film, playing an astronaut presumed dead and left behind on Mars. Okay, so he’s not a true “Martian,” but he spends the whole movie hunkering down for the long haul on the red planet, knowing that any rescue mission is years away.
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