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A bizarre 1996 Science Fiction film (based off an old trading card series by Topps) by Tim Burton that depicted an invasion on the planet Earth by gleefully destructive Martians. Notable for its all-star ensemble cast, including Jack Nicholson, Lukas Haas, Annette Bening, Jim Brown, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Jack Black, Natalie Portman [1] Pam Grier, Danny DeVito, Tom Jones and Jack Nicholson (again). Hilarity Ensues as most of them are jokingly killed off with bizarre weaponry as cheesily as possible.

Was not very popular with critics or audiences at the time of its release, probably because they didn't get the joke. Has now become a cult favorite of the movie viewers community.


This film contains examples of:

  • Achilles Heel: See Brown Note below.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Fortunately, the Malignant Plot Tumor giant bugs didn't make the jump.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film was based on a series of rather gruesome trading cards from the 1960s.
  • Affably Evil: See "Blatant Lies".
  • Affectionate Parody: 1950's science fiction B movies.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Funny bastards, too. Why they're being such bastards is never explained, which is probably for the best.
  • Alien Hair: "Tenctonese."
  • Alien Invasion
  • Aliens Speaking English: Massive aversion.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle: Parodied in the opening scene.
  • All-Star Cast
  • Anyone Can Die: And does!
    • Though awesomely subverted with Byron.
  • Armies Are Evil: See General Ripper below.
    • The Martians' army is no doubt this.
  • As Himself: Tom Jones.
  • Asshole Victim: Billy-Glen, Jason and Lann.
  • Berserk Button: The Martians really don't like birds.
  • Big "Shut Up!": The President, when General Decker tries to get him to order a nuclear strike on the Martians.
  • Black Dude Dies First: General Casey is the first human to die when the aliens attack. Later in the film, Byron Williams makes a Heroic Sacrifice and fights the aliens off so Barbara, Tom Jones and a co-worker can escape in Barbara's plane. When they fly over, it looks like the aliens have beaten him to death. It turns out he was Only Mostly Dead and makes a triumphant return to Washington D.C. to reunite with his family.
  • Blatant Lies: The Martians yelling "Don't run! We are your friends!" as they are chasing humans with a big freaking disintegrator ray.
    • Although what they were actually saying may have been entirely different; the alien translator machine never working right was sort of a Running Gag. It's also possible that the Martians realized this and chose to cart it around because they thought it was funny.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Martians, period.
  • Brain In a Jar: See Losing Your Head below.
  • Brown Note: The aliens are defeated by the playing of the Slim Whitman song "Indian Love Call."
  • Celebrity Survivor: Fashion Talk Show host Natalie Lake, singer Tom Jones (As Himself), and last but not least, Byron Williams, HEAVYWEIGHT! CHAMPION! OF THE WORLD!
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: An example so completely over the top, it could only possibly be a parody.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The kids are seen early in the movie shooting the aliens in a video game. Guess what happens later on? During their field trip in the White House they are attacked and they save the day by taking some Martian guns and saving the president. Whether this is good or bad thing is your decision.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Florence Norris (possibly due to senility and/or dementia), and Barbara.
    • The Cuckoolander Was Right: After witnessing the massacre in Pahrump, Barbara tries to convince her husband that what the Martians did was no misunderstanding, but he won't listen. She then plans on packing up and heading to a remote location in Tahoe.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Subverted; it's only a disguise. Also she looks really really creepy, check out the picture at the top of the page.
    • She also moves in a completely unhuman way: She walks like she's rolling on wheels, and has a very disturbing left-right arm motion while doing so.
  • Danny Elfman: Wrote the score.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The President of the United States apparently crosses this line by the time he finally gives in to his General's request to fight back against the Martians using nuclear weapons. This is probably because his daughter has gone missing and his wife has been killed.
  • Deus Ex Nukina: Parodied.
  • Did Not Do the Research:
    • The Medal of Honor used in the film is a military decoration, not a civilian one. Then again, they did save the planet Earth.
      • It's also awarded by Congress, not the daughter of the former President of the United States. But since the government was pretty much nonexistent by that point, it's not like there was anyone around to stop them.
      • They could have sworn him into the Air Force just to award him that medal.
    • The White House is a national landmark; the President (or in this case his wife) can't actually redecorate it to the extent Glenn Close's character is trying to. Her daughter Taffy does actually point out that this isn't their house and they should leave things be, but she's pretty apathetic about it and mummy dearest announces that she's going to ignore her.
      • This didn't surprise her, since she always feels ignored anyway.
    • Martian Girl chews nitrogen-based gum to survive in Earth's atmopshere... which is almost 80% nitrogen.
      • Then again, this is a spoof of the 50s SF films that frequently made this kind of mistake, and may have been done deliberately -- especially as the compound she's "breathing" is described as "NO2" -- which is actually nitrogen dioxide.
  • Dirty Coward: Billy-Glen, during the first Martian attack, quite stupidly charges at one with intent to kill it. He hit the magazine release by mistake. He then picks up an American flag and shouts "I surrender!" He dies anyway, but since no one heard what he actually said, he's honored as an American hero. This fuels his trailer trash parents' blatant favoritism of him over his less aggressive, smarter brother.
  • Disaster Movie: Played for Laughs.
  • Disintegrator Ray
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Prof. Donald Kessler.
  • Disturbed Doves: Subverted.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Several cops were seen running out of a doughnut shop before it was destroyed.
  • The Dragon: The Martian Ambassador, wearing a red cloak. He leads the attack at the desert, blows up Congress, and even enters into fisticuffs with Byron at the end of the movie. He takes orders from the Martian Leader, wearing a purple cloak (and pictured above).
  • Dreadful Musician: See Brown Note above.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Jason Stone can't comprehend his vapid girlfriend somehow managing to outdo him: her show was contacted before his with the news that the President was cutting into everyone's airtime, and later, Donald Kessler appears on her show to discuss the Martians. She's on a fashion show. Even Natalie's dog won't listen to him.
  • Dueling Movies: Came out the same year as Independence Day. It lost. In fact, their initial plan was to do Dinosaurs Attack[2], but they thought it would wind up being associated with Jurassic Park. Oops.
  • Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion: Yodeling. Making this the most absurd example ever. Crowning Moment of Funny and of Awesome. It's both great and hilarious.
  • Eenie Meenie Miny Moai: They make for good bowling pins.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: This is parodied in the President's address to the U.S. after the Martians destroy Congress, in which he assures the public that a "very real response" will be coming "soon."
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The president's dog started barking as soon as he saw the Martians, before anyone besides the General realized that they were dangerous.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mars attacks!
  • Executive Meddling: Averted. Burton was told he absolutely could not kill off Jack Nicholson's character, the President. So what does he do? He casts Nicholson in TWO roles and kills off both of them!
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: How First Lady Marsha (Glenn Close) dies. It was her much-cherished Nancy Reagan chandelier, too.
  • Fat Idiot: Richie's brother and parents.
  • First Contact
  • For the Evulz: Did the Martians really even have a reason for disintegrating the humans? According to the Novelization... nope. They simply like to kill things.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Tom Jones, apparently. Either that, or he's secretly a Disney Princess.
  • General Ripper: General Decker, who turns out to be absolutely right.
  • Granola Girl: Annette Bening's character.
  • Handsome Lech: Jerry Ross. Unfortunately, his lust for women ultimately leads to his downfall. Letting the Martian Girl into the White House was a BIG mistake.
  • Hand Signals: When the Martians invade the senior citizen center where Richie's grandmother is staying, one of them silently beckons a large Disintegrator Ray device forward so it can destroy her.
  • Helium Speech: The Martian leader. With an absorbed nuclear blast.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: A side effect of the All-Star Cast.
  • Homage: To Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and Dr. Strangelove.
    • The final scene on the Capitol steps to the final scene in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope. Becomes incredibly Hilarious in Hindsight because Natalie Portman went on to play Queen Amidala in the prequel trilogy, where she plays the same role in paying homage to the same scene.
  • Hot Scientist: Parodied by Pierce Brosnan's Donald.
  • Hot Scoop: Natalie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.
  • Hugh Mann: The Martian Girl.
  • Humans Are Diplomats: Humans try to make peace every chance they get, for all the good that does.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Kids practicing rail shooter games give them a leg up when they happen upon some real ray guns from a fallen Martian warrior.
  • Intended Audience Reaction
  • Ivy League for Everyone
  • Improvised Weapon: Marsha Dale throws the skull of their recently killed dog at the alien assassin who infiltrated the White House, moments after said dog was killed.
  • Jerkass: Every single fucking Martian. And many humans, especially Danny DeVito's character, the President, and Barbara's husband (the last two played by Jack Nicholson). The president is perhaps simply clueless.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: General Decker was quite right to not trust the Martians, but this gets subverted when he pleads to use nuclear warheads that turn out to be useless. Fridge Logic comes into play when you realize, had the President listened to Decker and used the warheads much earlier, the Martians would've probably invaded much faster.
  • Juggling Loaded Guns: When a soldier runs screaming towards a rifle, points it at a Martian - and hits the magazine release. Possibly justified because said soldier is played by Jack Black.
  • Kill'Em All: Nearly all of the all-star cast is killed off throughout the movie; only a few of the lesser-known ones at the time survive. Burton, told that he couldn't kill Nicholson's character, gave him two characters (Art Land and the President)... and killed both of them.
  • Large Ham: Danny DeVito's character. "Rooollexx!"
  • Last Kiss: Donald and Natalie.
  • Lighter and Softer: While the film is an obvious parody of B-Movies, the original cards took a silly premise and played it in a very disturbing and grave light.
  • Little Green Men
  • London England Syndrome: In one scene Tom Jones comments that he saw another character box "...in Cardiff, Wales once." Jones, being a native Welshman, would probably just say "Cardiff" in real life. Surprising he didn't pick up on this one, really.
  • Losing Your Head: Donald and Natalie's heads are severed. Donald's survives in a jar on hanging wires. Natalie's is attached to the body of her chihuahua.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Natalie's head is later put on her chihuahua's body (and vice versa).
  • Monumental Battle
  • Monumental Damage: Bowling with Moai, carving their heads in Mount Rushmore, blowing up Congress, attempting to crush Boy Scouts with the Washington Monument...
    • A Real Life example behind the scenes: The Landmark Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas was being scheduled for implosion while the movie was being filmed. Burton, who was quite fond of the place, wanted to film its implosion and immortalize it by using it during the aliens' attack on Vegas. Special pyrotechnics were added to the implosion where special effects would be added in post. So when you see it being destroyed in the movie, it actually got destroyed.
  • Mood Motif: Parodied.
  • My Brain Is Big
  • Nuke'Em: Attempted against the Martians, but fails massively. The Martians actually capture the explosive force of the nuke, and smoke it! They actually get high on radioactive explosives. This can either be considered funny or badass is both funny and badass. It gives them helium voices. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you remember that nuclear fusion produces helium.
  • Opposites Attract: Pierce Brosnan's brainy (if ridiculously utopian) scientist and Sarah Jessica Parker's airhead fashion show host.
  • Pistol-Whipping: During the annihilation of Congress, Donald Kessler is knocked out by a blow on the back of the head from the butt of a skeleton beam rifle wielded by a Martian soldier.
  • Poor Communication Kills
  • The Power of Rock: See Brown Note above.
  • Prop Recycling: Jeff Dunham fans, Achmed the Dead Terrorist's eyes are an old, spare pair of martian eyes from this movie.
  • Punctuated for Emphasis: "It's ME! Byron WILLIAMS! HEAVYWEIGHT! CHAMPION! OF THE WORLD!"
  • Raygun Gothic: The Martians' ships and equipment, including the rayguns.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The last shot of the film, in which Tom Jones apparently summons a bunch of woodland creatures like he was Snow White.
  • Roofless Renovation
  • Rule of Perception
  • Rushmore Refacement
  • Schizo-Tech: 80's cell phones, 50-60's military hardware, etc, cars from the 70's-80's.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A heroic example. Richie deciding to go save his grandmother Florence from the nursing home during the alien invasion. His parents tell him to forget about her and call her a nut and then criticize him again for not being like his dead brother, at which point Richie decides enough is enough and goes anyway, avoiding certain death.
  • Sedgwick Speech
  • Selective Obliviousness: Art Land selling the investors on building his casino while the Martians blow up real estate all around them.

 Art Land: Just five more minutes.

  Dale: "I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad."

Tropes of the original cards:

Notes

  1. Do not confuse the below examples of Natalie the character with her
  2. the much more graphic card series Topps put out in the 80's as a Spiritual Successor to "Mars"
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