Follow TV Tropes


Film / Mars Attacks!

Go To
"Ack ack ack ack! ACK ACK!"

"We Come in Peace."
The Martian Ambassador at First Contact in Pahrump, NV, May 13, 1996...Day 1 of the Martian Invasion.

Mars Attacks! was originally a trading card series from Topps published in the early sixties. Created by Wally Wood, the series depicted an Alien Invasion of evil Martians colonizing Earth and exterminating all life on the planet in the style of EC Comics horror and science fiction stories at the time. The 55 cards that made up the series were quickly discontinued due to Moral Guardians who were horrified by the series' violence. In the 80s, another series of cards with a similar premise was released, known as Dinosaurs Attack!. In the 90s the property would resurface in the form of new trading cards and a comic series. A movie soon followed.

The 1996 movie adaptation was directed by Tim Burton and depicted gleefully destructive Martians animated by Industrial Light & Magic as opposed to the more violent and terrifying versions seen in the trading cards or comics. 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, Rod Steiger, Michael J. Fox, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, note  Pam Grier, Danny DeVito, Tom Jones, Frank Welker and Jack Nicholson (again). Hilarity Ensues as most of them are jokingly killed off with bizarre weaponry as cheesily as possible. Despite underperforming at the box office and getting a tepid critical reception at the time, the film has developed a modest cult following since its release through frequent TV showings, and it's now widely considered one of Burton's best films.


The movie has gotten a lot of attention for its numerous striking similarities to Independence Day, that other throwback to classic alien invasion stories released in 1996—which chose to play the premise completely straight rather than mocking it. Beyond having almost exactly the same premise, the two films also feature the President of the United States as one of the main characters, and they feature several near-identical scenes, characters, and story beats. The creative team behind Mars Attacks has maintained that this was a coincidence, as they were mostly unaware of Independence Day while making the film.

Amusingly: much the same thing happened in 1964 with the films Fail Safe and Doctor Strangelove—which also have almost exactly the same premise, but play it completely differently (one is a drama, the other is a comedy). Doctor Strangelove also famously featured Peter Sellers playing multiple characters, much like Jack Nicholson does in this film.


The Martians later appeared in the Walmart ad "Famous Visitors" for Super Bowl LIV in 2020 that has them ordering pick-up.

In 2012, IDW Publishing launched a new ongoing Mars Attacks! comic series. This later led into a crossthrough event where, in one-shots, the Martians attacked such characters as the Transformers, KISS and even Popeye.

Mars Attacks! provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

  • The Ace:
    • Billy-Glenn is made out to be this at first. In reality, he's just as much of a dim-witted redneck as his parents are.
    • Tom Jones is a Lounge Lizard, sure, but he knows how to fly a plane and can have a wild hawk act like it's domesticated merely by stretching out his arm.
  • Achilles' Heel: Corny folk country music. The Martians also can't survive on Earth without their helmets.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The trading card series explained that the Martians were invading Earth because they discovered that Mars was on the verge of being destroyed by an explosion, and they needed a new home planet. The film cuts this explanation out; as far as anyone can tell, they're just wreaking havoc on Earth for the hell of it.
  • Adapted Out: Several of the Martians weapons, namely their giant bugs, freeze rays, tidal wave rays, and giant shovels on their ships.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Minor case. In the cards, the Martians' reason for attacking Earth was that Mars was going to explode from air pressure and they needed a new planet, whereas here they are doing it For the Evulz. Also, not all Martians were evil in the cards. The warlike Martians were called Gnards and the peaceful, intellectual ones were called Paecs.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The Plot Tumor giant bugs aren't included in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film was based on a series of rather gruesome trading cards from the 1960s.
  • Advertised Extra: Danny DeVito has top billing on the poster and gets a grand total of five minutes of screentime. Even more egregiously, out of everyone in the cast, he's one of the few who gets name-dropped in the movie's trailer (alongside Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, and Annette Bening). On top of that, his character isn't even given a name; he's listed as just "Rude Gambler".
  • Aesop Amnesia: All of the human characters seem to have a massive case of this. Namely, despite the aliens pretending they want to make peace, then massacring all the humans who show up to the "meeting", the humans keep falling for this, even when literally just a couple days have passed since the last such event. It gets to such Too Dumb to Live levels at points that the Martians are practically mocking them over it.
    Martian Translator: *while mass firing and attacking civilians* Do not run. We are your friends.
  • Affectionate Parody: 1950s-1980s Science Fiction Alien Invasion B-Movies, as well as War of the Worlds.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Funny bastards, too. Why they're being such bastards is never explained, which is probably for the bestinvoked.
  • Alien Autopsy: Professor Kessler performs one on a dead Martian.
  • Alien Blood: The Martians bleed green.
  • Alien Hair: "Tenctonese." None of the Martians have hair.
  • Alien Invasion: Type 3, played multiple times.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Played for Laughs: it's an Alien Invasion film that's largely seen from the perspective of people in rural Nevada and the Las Vegas strip.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Massive aversion. They don't speak English and the humans' translating machine never works well, either. Interestingly, the Martians do appear to understand human language going by some of their reactions to things the humans say. In particular, the Martian leader pretends to agree to the president's truce following his speech.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: Amidst the chaos going on down on Earth, we cut to the Martian leader channel surfing in his flagship.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle: Averted in the opening scene, where the Martians set an entire herd of cows on fire.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Martians are an inherently evil race. They attack Earth completely unprovoked and start killing everyone for fun. The novelization elaborates that their entire civilization and way of life is based on attacking and depopulating other worlds For the Evulz, though in their case they seem to be always Laughably Evil.
    • The humans themselves are just barely disqualified thanks to a handful of decent people amongst a sea of horrible assholes.
  • Always Know a Pilot: Byron Williams rescues Tom Jones from Martians. He needs a pilot to fly him to Washington D.C., and it turns out that Tom Jones knows how to fly a plane!
  • Ambiguous Gender: Played straight in one scene, with the person at the press conference who asks if the Martians have two genders, like humans, to no answer.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's never fully explained why the Martian Ambassador goes berserk as soon as he sees the dove in Nevada: he could have misinterpreted it as a threat, he could have killed it as a declaration of war, or he could be just that evil. Relatedly: we never learn whether the humans' translation machines weren't working, or whether they accurately translated the Martians falsely claiming to be peaceful.
  • America Saves the Day: Two affable yokels from Flyover Country find the aliens' fatal Weaksauce Weakness and every character who appears on-screen that is meant to be a hero is either blue-collar by profession or by mentality. As well, America is the only country that is seen trying to actually fight the aliens, let alone win. What else can be expected from a film that homages Fifties sci-fi?
  • Anyone Can Die: And does! All those people in the cast list at the top of the page? Most of them die.
    • Though awesomely subverted with Byron.
  • Apocalypse How: By the end, the Martians have caused a Class 1, which is clearly shown, but it is implied that it ended up being a Class 2 due to most world leaders, including nearly the entire United States Government, having been killed. The lack of any functional governments around the world means even if the Martians failed in their goal of bringing a Class 3a (or perhaps a Class 4 because they're shown to despise birds as well) about, they succeeded in reducing humanity to an anarchic state which they may never recover from.
  • Armies Are Evil: The Martians' army is no doubt this.
    • The US Army isn't much better. Prominent characters representing it are a cowardly bully of a private and two generals, one being a shameless ass-kiss and the other an obnoxious warmonger.
  • Artistic License – Awards: Taffy awards Richie and his grandmother the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is only for military personnel (and is correctly called the Medal of Honor, as it was created by act of Congress, but awarded by the President). The highest civilian decoration in America is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Then again, she seems to be the only surviving member of the U.S. government in any capacity in the epilogue.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The Martian Girl appears in front of the Washington Monument. When she looks at the White House, she sees the north side (triangular facade with columns). When Jerry pulls up, the south side is correctly visible.
  • Artistic License – Military: General Casey is a three-star general, but when he arrives in Nevada, his jeep has four-star flags on it.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Can a chihuahua's body really support the weight of a full-grown human head, never mind being able to physiologically function with it?
  • Artistic License – Space:
    • The opening credits show the distance between Earth and Mars as roughly that of Earth and the Moon in real life. Might also be an issue of Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.
    • Mars is shown to be bright red when, in reality, the Martian surface is more a desaturated orange-brown.
  • As Himself: Tom Jones, who becomes a Celebrity Survivor at the climax.
  • Ascended Fanboy: In-Universe example. The Williams boys are so fond of an alien-killing light gun arcade game that they skip school to play it (even though they have a copy at home). This ends up being a fitting enough training to help them survive the invasion and even rescue the president.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Many of the characters are portrayed as stupid or sleazy, particularly Billy-Glen, his parents, Jerry, and Art Land. This helps make their deaths part of the jokes.
    • This is also enforced pretty strongly with Danny DeVito's character who is a Bit Character that only gets about five minutes of screen-time. Within those five minutes, he reveals he is a lawyer and offers his services to a Martian who quickly zaps him. They really wanted to make sure the audience didn't sympathize too much just before bumping him off.
    • Any Martian that's killed might count as well.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Martians and the overly hawkish General Decker.
  • Badass Family: Byron Williams single-handedly kills the Martian ambassador in a boxing match and survives the beatdown that apparently left him for dead and his sons who take ray guns from a fallen Martian and start attacking the invaders so the president can be led to safety.
  • Bad Boss: The Martian leader smacks one of the other Martians after the female Martian assassin is killed, despite it in no way being their fault.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The Martians kill birds and dogs and use one dog to perform an experiment on a human, grafting their head to the dog's body. Their Establishing Character Moment is setting cattle on fire.
  • Bad Vibrations: Art's prospective hotel investors feel them on their tables as he finishes his pitch, completely oblivious to them caused by the saucers approaching the room until they're right in front of it.
  • Bait the Dog: The president gives an impassioned speech to the Martian leader and two other Martians, offering them peace. The leader sheds a tear and appears to extend his hand. It's than revealed to be a robotic hand that kills the president.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: When we first see Donald's severed head, the camera trucks back to reveal his various dismembered body parts suspended around him including his still-beating heart.
  • Berserk Button: The Martians really don't like birds. While they are violent and sadistic, note how the Martian that had the President hostage and was using him as a Human Shield immediately took its focus off its hostage and the men who had it at gunpoint as soon as it saw the bird. Also, the Martians drop their "We come in peace" act just so they can kill a dove. Not that it necessarily mattered as the Martians were there to exterminate humankind regardless of the birds.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Byron Williams, while he is a boxer, he's pretty much a Nice Guy who just wants to go home and see if his wife and kids are okay, especially when there are Martians attacking. He prefers to leave his fighting in the ring, but has often broken this rule to defend his friends in Las Vegas. The first time, he just knocks a Martian headfirst into a slot machine. The second time, he challenges the Martian ambassador to a one-on-one fist fight, to distract them from his friends escaping via plane defeating the Ambassador at the cost of his life when dozens of the Ambassador's guards swarm him and beat him down. However, we later see him arriving home to see his family, implying he managed to defeat the group.
  • Big Bad: The Martian leader. He calls all the shots, was implied to be the one that ordered the experiments on Natalie and Donald and personally kills Decker and then Dale.
  • The Big Board: The floor of the President's war room is this, with many models showing the Martian invasion.
  • Big Good: President Dale. The leader of the US army and one of the humans who gets the most focus in the film.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The President, when General Decker tries to get him to order a nuclear strike on the Martians.
    Gen. Decker: We have to strike now, sir! Annihilate! Kill! Kill! Kill—
    President Dale: SHUT UP! Shut-up-shut-up!
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most of the main cast is dead, including the entire American government (sans Taffy Dale), and the destruction has taken a massive toll on the world, but at least Richie and his grandmother were able to stop the Martians and Byron reunites with his family and those still alive are already starting to rebuild.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Martians have green blood, their heads explode hearing certain music, and, according to the novelization, they vomit by shedding tears.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The Martians are some of the meanest and most evil aliens you will ever find in fiction, but many of the humans are assholes as well. There are a few good characters who you can root for.
  • Black Comedy: There are several moments of this throughout the film but Jack Black being killed horribly, the scene being caught on every camera and the film cutting to his parents frantically flipping through channels to try and escape the image but being unable to do so because it's on EVERY channel probably takes the cake.
  • 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 colleague 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.
    • In the novelization, Byron is Killed Off for Real.
  • 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. Note that after the first attack, when the Martians receive the President's message seeking reconciliation, the ambassador takes it to the emperor who reads it out loud... then both promptly burst into laughter.
  • Blood Knight: General Decker. He orders martial law and going to high alert the very second the Martians arrive and spends the rest of the film insisting that they must be nuked with all the energy of a rabid dog. The Martians themselves are also this, as they are shown to love violence and killing.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Martians, period.
  • Board to Death: The entire United States Congress and then the French officials are all slaughtered in one sitting by the Martians.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The only way to kill the Martians prior to their Achilles' Heel being discovered. Their spacesuits are bulletproof, meaning the only chance is to shatter their bubble helmets via a direct shot to the head. Unfortunately the helmets are reinforced too, meaning it takes sustained fire to put them down.
  • Brain in a Jar: A container aboard one of the Martian's saucers has a huge human-like brain inside it.
  • Brain Monster: The invading Martians are the acranial type. Their brains visibly pulsate and explode inside their clear helmets when exposed to their Weaksauce Weakness: really bad singing.
  • Brandishment Bluff: When the Martian ambassador addresses congress he yanks out his speech as if he's about to pull out a gun. The second time, when congress is lulled into a more relaxed state...
  • Brick Joke: One (possibly androgynous) reporter asks the President "if the Martians have two sexes, like we do." Later, Kessler performs an autopsy on a Martian and finds that they lack genitalia.
  • Brown Note: The Martians are defeated by the playing of the Slim Whitman song "Indian Love Call", which makes their brains explode when heard. Probably a homage to The War of the Worlds, in which the rampaging aliens are defeated by a similarly minor effect (germs), and possibly to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, in which the tomatoes are slain by a suspiciously similar song.
  • The Casanova: Press Secretary Jerry. At least he considers himself one. This eventually gets him killed by the Martian "Girl".
  • Celeb Crush: The only reason Donald Kessler, a world-renowned scientist, went on Today in Fashion is because he has the hots for Nathalie.
  • Celebrity Survivor: Singer Tom Jones (As Himself), and last but not least, Byron Williams.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The US fell for the same trick three times.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Slim Whitman's 1952 rendition of "Indian Love Call".
    • Jason's severed hand is repurposed into a weapon to kill the President.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Jerry the press secretary is seen early on trolling for hookers in his limo; this habit comes back to bite him (and the planet Earth) in the ass when the next babe he picks up turns out to be a Martian assassin.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Byron's kids are seen early in the movie shooting 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 a good or bad thing is your decision.
    • Subverted with Billy-Glen assembling a rifle blindfolded. It's implied that the same rifle he assembled was the one that wouldn't fire when he tried to shoot a Martian during their first attack.
  • Civilization Destroyer: The aliens deliberately attack and vandalize monument and historical sites.
  • Claiming Via Flag: After a tense standoff, the President proposes a truce, and extends his hand for a handshake. The Martian commander seems to concur, until his "hand" (really a small robot) detaches, skitters along the President's arm, and stops in the middle of his back. There, it embeds the Martian flag, with the pole skewering the President's heart. He topples over prone, of course.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Florence Norris (possibly due to senility and/or dementia), and Barbara.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • When Byron refuses his offer to intimidate someone who owes him money, saying that he found Allah and gave up pork and is a new man, the only thing Art takes away from the conversation is "You gave up pork?"
    • As the Martians are attacking Vegas, Byron asks Barbara if her plane can get to Washington. She asks why, since she wants to hide in Tahoe.
  • Computer Voice: The translation device takes whatever is said to it and repeats it in either English or Martian language using a male voice.
  • 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.
    • General Decker, an over-the-top violent and aggressive General Ripper type, immediately assumes that the Martians are hostile at the very start of the film, and keeps shouting at the President to treat them as a threat. Everyone else ignores him, while talking about historical moments for humanity and exciting scientific opportunities. Decker turns out to be right.
  • Crapsack World: A side effect of making just about everyone an Asshole Victim. Earth is depicted as pretty sleazy, and a lot of the people populating it are clueless idiots or greedy jerks.
  • 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 inhuman way: She walks like she's rolling on wheels, and has a very disturbing left-right arm motion while doing so.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Jason's death, quite literally.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Taffy.
    • When her father says it’s profoundly moving. To know there is intelligent life out there, her response is “Glad they got it somewhere.”
    • Her response to the Martians shooting Congress is an extremely dry "Guess it wasn't the dove".
  • Dead Star Walking: Michael J. Fox dies astonishingly early in the film without much fanfare, probably to let you know that the gloves are off. Danny DeVito also gets little screentime and meets his end pretty quickly.
  • Death by Irony:
    • Art Land is crushed beneath his hotel's giant globe.
    • Martha Dale is crushed by a White House decoration after obsessing over decor and furniture earlier in the movie.
    • The President shakes the Martian Emperor's hand only to be killed by it.
  • Defiant to the End: General Decker continues ranting that America will win even as he's shrunk by the Martian leader and stepped on.
  • Denser and Wackier: While the original card series had moments of dark humor, the movie was entirely comedic with a lot less gore. That being said, the movie is not without its scary moments.
  • Depraved Dwarf: The Martians are all very short. Dale even calls them "little people".
  • 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. And he gets killed by the Martians after trying and failing to reason with them.
    • Barbara, after the Martians first attack. Early in the movie, she was convinced the Martians came to help the Earth. But later, in her sorrow she's gone back to drinking and believes humanity is being eradicated as punishment for destroying themselves.
  • Deus ex Nukina: Satirized and averted. After a long time setting it up, all it does is allow the Martians to do a Helium Speech gag and showcase their technology to be too superior for them to be taken out that way.
  • 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, by taking everything that is normal about it (like a large ensemble cast) and then applying Black Comedy (Characters Dropping Like Flies).
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Martians' ray guns, that only leave behind someone's skeleton. The skeleton is rendered either red or green depending on which color ray was fired.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Martian response to ONE assassin being killed while trying to kidnap the President? An immediate worldwide assault on Earth by thousands of raygun-toting Martian soldiers, warships and Giant Mecha.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Prof. Donald Kessler is constantly shown smoking one.
  • Disturbed Doves: Subverted. The doves are calm... but the Martians go kill-crazy when they see them.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Literally, when Natalie's chihuahua having had her head sewn to Natalie's body starts strangling one of the Martians towards the end.
  • Domestic Abuse: It's hinted in the film that Byron had anger issues and that's why he separated from his wife. The script mentions that he was arrested for spousal abuse.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Several cops were seen running out of a doughnut shop before it was destroyed and they get blown up in it.
  • Doves Mean Peace: A Martian ship lands on Earth in Nevada so the Martians can meet with the U.S. government. When the Martian Ambassador says that they come in peace, one person watching the event releases a dove as a symbol of the hope of peace between the Martians and Earth. Unfortunately, the Martian Ambassador kills the dove and the Martians start using their Disintegrator Rays on the humans.
  • 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: Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call" (and its high amounts of yodeling) is the Martians' Weaksauce Weakness.
  • Dual Wielding:
    • During the siege of the White House, a Martian is seen with two rifles just before being shot by a secret service agent. This allows the boys to grab his weapons and start shooting. A few moments later, a second Martian is briefly seen doing the same (see Stock Footage).
    • General Decker wields two pistols when he attempts to shoot the Martian leader. They do nothing.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-Universe, the Martians do their invasion For the Evulz, but when one of their own gets killed and autopsied, they break out the giant Mech simply for that reason.
  • Dueling Movies: With Independence Day, which was released six months earlier, and maybe even The Arrival.
  • 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.
  • Eagle Land: Played straight in that America Saves the Day (hey, it's a homage to Fifties sci-fi) and invoked by General Decker ranting that America will win and fight to the last man as he's shrunken and stepped on.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: For Taffy, Richie, his grandmother, Barbara, Byron and his family, Cindy the waitress, Tom Jones and the other characters who survive the invasion.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: All that it takes to annihilate the advanced killer aliens? Yodeling.
  • Eenie, Meenie, Miny Moai: They make for good bowling pins.
  • Emerald Power: The Martians wear green spacesuits, have green blood, and one of the two variants of their rayguns are green.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: This is satirized 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".
  • Energy Ring Attack: After General Decker starts shooting at the Martian leader, the leader whips out a Shrink Ray gun and fires back. The Shrink Ray takes the form of concentric blue rings that strike the general, reducing him down to an inch in height.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The Martians were always going to attack humanity, but accidentally hitting their Berserk Button (birds) before the first attack made everyone think it was just Poor Communication Kills.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: When a Martian steps into a giant mech suit, another one throws him a lunch box and waves him off like he's going to work.
  • 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.
  • Evil Genius: The Martians are incredibly advanced, with technology including rayguns, shrink rays, giant robots, and robotic hands that can detach and kill people. They are also incredibly skilled in medical technology, able to swap human and dog heads.
  • Evil Plan: The Martians seek to Take Over the World and Kill All Humans.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mars attacks Earth!...HARD.
  • Event Title/Excited Show Title!: Mars Attacks! is the title of this movie and a Justified Title at that.
  • Exploited Immunity: When the Martians hear recordings of Slim Whitman singing "Indian Love Call" their heads explode. The humans take advantage of this to destroy them.
  • Expy:
    • General Casey is one of Colin Powell (back in his roles prior to that for which he is most recently and well known).
    • The Martians themselves are basically alien versions of the Gremlins.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The White House tour guide fails to notice the trilling sound of the flying saucers as the building is invaded.
    Tour Guide: The Blue Room is often considered the most beautiful room in the White House. In fact, it is often used by the president to receive guests. It is furnished to represent the period of James Monroe.
    Cedric Williams: (hearing the saucer sound) Hey, what's that?
    Tour Guide: (looks at a painting behind her) a portrait of James Monroe.
    (The tour guide gets zapped by a Martian)
  • Fainting: Natalie, upon Jason's death.
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Martians continue to claim that they want to make peace with Earth, but they are really just there to kill everyone For the Evulz. They can put on an act of being friendly, but they are pure evil.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: The Martians send out a spy in a woman suit to infiltrate the White House and try to assassinate the President.
  • Fingore: Jerry's finger gets bitten off by the Martian girl. To add insult to injury, it lands in the fish tank and the fish nibble at it.
  • First Contact: Of the worst possible kind. While the Martian ambassador initially claims they come in peace, they whip out their rayguns and starts shooting when they see a bird.
  • Flipping the Bird: General Decker does this right before the Martian leader crushes him.
  • Flying Saucer: The Martians' spaceships. Even gets name-dropped.
  • For the Evulz: The Martians are not out to invade Earth, but destroy it because they seem to find it funny.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Unusually enough, Tom Jones.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • Right after the Pahrump massacre, as the president and his advisers argue over what to do next, the First Daughter, for some reason, is grinning like an idiot, clearly loving the carnage.
    • Onboard the Martian mothership, you can see a clown captured in a storage tank in the background in one shot.
  • Futile Hand Reach: Natalie and Jason reaching for each other in the massacre.
  • Gallows Humor: When General Decker presents him with an order to sign, President Dale asks if it's his last will and testament.
  • General Ripper: General Decker, who wants to enact martial law the moment the Martians arrive and keeps on trying to get nukes approved for use, as well as several moments of belligerent ranting. Unusually for this kind of film, he turns out to be absolutely right about the Martians being a threat.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Professor Donald Kessler spends several scenes with a pipe in his mouth showcasing he's a classy old-school sci-fi Omnidisciplinary Scientist while Art Land puffs cigarettes like a chimney and is a complete asshole. His wife Barbara also starts to puff a lot after the Pahrump massacre, but it's pretty obvious she's doing it to try to keep her nerves calm.
  • Goth: Taffy Dale seems to conform to this, as her Establishing Character Moment is her accepting a meal from the White House butler while lying on her bed under a long black mesh canopy, shown wearing black clothes, and being a Deadpan Snarker (see above) when the aliens blew up Congress. She seems to push away from that personality, or at least is putting on a politician's demeanor, when awarding the Medal of Honor to the two civilian heros of the war; as she seems to be the only surviving member of what's left of the US Government.
  • Granola Girl: Barbara Land (Annette Bening). She's seen doing meditation with crystals at several points of the film, especially during the first contact in Pahrump, and her despair rant is about how the Martian invasion is karmic retribution for humanity mistreating Earth.
  • The Greys: The Martians don't exactly resemble Greys, but their UFO's and one autopsy of them mirrors the rumors spread about the Roswell incident.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Zigzagged in that human guns can kill Martians, but their guns are much deadlier.
    • Guns did work in the White House invasion, but when the Martian Leader and his men corner President Dale and the American nuclear weapons command, General Decker fires away rapidly Guns Akimbo to no avail implying Decker's bullets were not thick enough or the Martian Leader wore better armor.
    • Played straight in aerial warfare scenes when the US Army fire tanks and firearms at the saucers, where the armor of the Martian ships are so tough the bullets just bounce right off.
  • Gun Stripping: The Establishing Character Moment of Billy-Glen and the rest of his family includes Billy-Glen putting together an M-14 while blindfolded. Although the rest of his family treats him as The Ace because he's currently serving in the military, the scene provides a very big clue about how much of a dim-witted idiot he is: even after some untold (but probably hefty) amount of time practicing, he's only gone down three seconds of the two minutes he used to take to fully make the assembling, and this is still greatly celebrated by him and his dad.
  • Gun Twirling: After disintegrating a rude gambler, a martian twirls his ray gun and puts it back in his holster only to be killed by Barbara Land.
  • 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.
  • Handshake of Doom: President Dale finds himself cornered by the Martian Leader, and manages to stammer out a rather clumsy Patrick Stewart Speech that actually seems to get through to the Leader - enough to get him to offer his hand in friendship. Thinking he's ended the war, the President shakes the Leader's outstretched hand... only for it to abruptly detach and crawl across Dale like a scorpion, before impaling him with its "stinger". As if to add insult to injury, the arm then transforms into a flagpole and raises the Martian flag over Dale's corpse.
  • Hate Sink:
    • The Martians are Laughably Evil so they can't be really hated, but the Norris family (except for Richie and Grandma) are idiotic trailer-trash rednecks who follow almost every bad stereotype in the book and get awful deaths.
    • Art Land is a complete asshole of a husband and sleazebag of a casino manager, and definitely deserves to die when his new casino gets demolished with him in it.
    • Danny [DeVito]'s "Rude Gambler" is an exaggeration Playedfor Laughs: every single thing he says or does in the five minutes he's on-screen is a rapid-fire pile-up of reasons why nobody in the audience is going to miss him after he gets vaporized, from being a lecher to being a coward to revealing to a Martian that he's a lawyer and he can be of use in a desperate attempt to talk the Martian out of shooting him.
  • The Heavy: The Martian ambassador gets more screentime and contributes more than his leader.
  • Helium Speech: The Martian leader. With an absorbed nuclear blast.
  • Homage:
  • Hope Spot:
    • The First Contact scene. The Martians say they've come in peace, everything seems to have worked out... and then they see one bird flying overhead, at which point shit immediately hits the fan. Although, it was really a ruse as they were there to invade and conquer regardless.
    • The Congress scene. It appears that the first attack was due to a cultural misunderstanding and the ambassador has come to apologize. Everything seems fine, until he whips out his raygun and kills a ton of people for no reason at all.
    • The president gives a big speech to the Martian leader to try to get them to form a truce. The Martians seem to be considering his offer and the leader even sheds a tear. The leader than shakes hands with the president. It is than revealed he was using a robotic hand, which proceeds to kill the president.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Almost all of the humans except General Decker when it comes to the Martians. They even fall for the Martian "apologies". Multiple times!
  • Hot Scientist: Played straight by Pierce Brosnan's Donald Kessler, who draws the eye of Natalie (even if she already has a boyfriend... of course, once he gets killed...).
  • Hugh Mann: The Martian Girl acts very strangely and Jerry doesn't notice until it bites his finger off.
  • Humans Are Diplomats: Humans try to make peace every chance they get, for all the good that does.
  • Humans Are Morons: When the Martians land their UFO's all over the earth, the humans don't react by taking cover and trying to hide and stay quiet but being so self-absorbed they go about their daily lives as usual as though nothing’s wrong such as blasting music and having loud sex at home, attending concerts, the White House allows a field trip of children right after the Martians vaporize Congress, the French accept a "negotiation" proposal with full knowledge of the two massacres in America, and the list goes on.
  • 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.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Martians love this trope. They have a habit of calling truces, only to attack moments later. It happens four times during the film, and every time it results in a massacre.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: President Dale attended Princeton.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: How the Martians kill the President of the United States. With a robotic "fake arm" gag.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: The Martian "girl" has a towering flipped beehive with a central part far above the forehead and a spiral curl nested inside the part.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Marsha Dale throws the skull of their dog at the alien assassin who infiltrated the White House, moments after the dog was killed protecting them.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The Martian emperor uses a shrink-ray on General Decker and squashes him.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Kessler believed that the Martians must have been peaceful because of their intelligence, ignoring the fact that intelligence really does not dictate what people are like.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: The Martians spy upon a trailer park couple (the girl is played by Christina Applegate) and are quite amused by what they're seeing. Not that it dissuades them from annihilating the two.
  • Jerkass: Every single Martian is a jerk and causes havoc on Earth. And many humans, especially Danny DeVito's character, most of Ritchie's family, 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: After the president's big speech, the Martian Leader sheds a tear. He still kills the president anyway.
  • 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 (Billy-Glen) is played by Jack Black and demonstrated to be a dim-witted redneck.
  • Kick the Dog: The very first thing that the Martians perform on-screen, before the opening credits even appear, is set ablaze hundreds of heads of cattle and have them stampede down a back road to try to escape their suffering. The second hostile thing they do is shoot a poor dove. And they just keep at it for the rest of the film.
  • Kill All Humans: This is the goal of the Martians.
  • Language Barrier: Averted with a translator machine that both sides possess, not that the Martians care for anything the humans have to say about peace treaties and pleas for life whatnot. The Martians don't even need the machine to understand the humans anyway.
  • Large Ham:
    • Danny DeVito's character. "Rooollexx!"
    • Glenn Close as First Lady Marsha Dale. "The Nancy Reagan chandelier!"
    • Jack Nicholson as Art Land too. "There's no waaaaayyy... we can lose!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Martians, in all their hubris, conquering the Earth and decimating humanity just for shits and giggles are easily taken out by the vocals of a 50's country musician.
  • Last Kiss: Donald and Nathalie, as the Martian mothership goes down into the sea.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: When the Martians open fire in Nevada, Billy-Glenn blindly charges across half the field, grabs a gun from a dead soldier, and prepares to unleash hell on the alien invaders - but accidentally hits the magazine release instead.
  • Lighter and Softer: Only marginally. The movie is a Black Comedy, but a comedy nonetheless. While the trading cards and comics had its moments, they were much darker, bloodier, and all around more serious.
  • Little Green Men: Who else but the Martians?
  • Little "No": The President after watching miniaturized General Decker being squashed under a Martian's foot.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: After the Martian Girl is killed, the Martian Leader gets angry and decides its time to kick things into high gear. There's then a short montage of the Martians getting ready for war.
  • "London, England" Syndrome:
    • In one scene Tom Jones comments that he saw another character box " 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.
    • He was talking to Americans. Most people outside the UK don't even know if Wales is even its own country, let alone the name of its cities.
  • Losing Your Head: Donald and Natalie's heads are severed. Donald's survives in a jar on hanging wires. Natalie's is swapped with that of her chihuahua, before eventually falling off, still alive like Donald's.
  • Lounge Lizard: Tom Jones sings "It's Not Unusual" in Las Vegas. Part of the way through the song, his backup singers are replaced by Martians, and everything goes to hell.
  • Lovable Coward: President Dale is a very nice man, but he's an absolute coward.
  • Mama Bear: How Byron's wife is introduced. While out on her usual route, she sees her sons have skipped school. She immediately pulls over, and goes to yell at them and drags them onto her bus, where she receives applause from the passengers.
  • Manly Tears: The Martian Leader sheds one before killing the president.
  • Mars Needs Women: The Martians are not really interested in mating with Earth women, but they do enjoy porn magazines and spying on couples having sex.
  • Meaningful Name: Mars is the mythological Roman god of war.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Completely, even taking into account the technology gap. In the "first contact" scene, there are multiple riflemen in the background who clearly have a clear shot at the Martians, but are not shooting.
  • The Millstone: The hippie that releases the dove, which sets off the Martians' Berserk Button and leads to the initial massacre in Nevada. Of course, they most likely were planning all along to vaporize everyone there, regardless.
  • Mister Muffykins: Natalie's chihuahua, Poppy. At no point she stops barking, not even when its head is put on a human body.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Natalie's head is later put on her chihuahua's body (and vice versa).
  • Monumental Damage:
    • Destroying Big Ben, melting the Eiffel Tower, 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: Satirized.
  • Ms. Fanservice: A Las Vegas showgirl follows the main characters while still wearing her stage outfit. She doesn't get many lines and seems to be there just to bounce around in a revealing outfit. She was the waitress Art Land was flirting with at the beginning of the film.
    • Also Sarah Jessica Parker in the aluminum bikini. Would have been nicer without the chihuahua head, though....
  • My Brain Is Big: The Martians. When the yodeling of Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Song" makes said brains explode, the resulting green gore floods the Martians' helmets..
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer gives one of the Martian Emperor's gibberish lines the subtitle "Nice planet. We'll take it!" (which is also the film's tagline). In the actual movie, world conquest is never indicated as the goal of the Martians, who seem to be content with simply raising hell and blowing stuff up.
  • Nice Guy: The president is incredibly nice, repeatedly trying to make peace with the Martians.
    • Ritchie is also a genuinely nice fellow.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Byron Williams shares a lot of similarities with Muhammad Ali, a black heavyweight boxer who converted to Islam.
  • Not His Sled: In the trading card series, the war with the Martians ended with a group of human soldiers launching a counterattack on Mars and destroying the planet with nuclear missiles. In the film, the humans defeat the Martians after they discover that country music causes their brains to explode.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Art Land's investors try to point out that the Martians are getting closer, but he keeps brushing them off.
  • Novelization: Written by the film's screenwriter, Jonathan Gems. It elaborates on the Martians and their civilization, making it clear how utterly evil they are and removing any ambiguity.
  • 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 is both funny and badass. It gives them helium voices.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Jack Black's character Billy-Glenn about to go Leeroy Jenkins on the Martians when the magazine falls out of his gun.
    • The President when he hears that the French are about to negotiate a peace treaty with the Martians... or so they think.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Richie in a family of rednecks. Another reason why they don't like him, except his grandma.
    • Also, General Decker, despite his warmonger attitude, is the only member of the President's staff who seems to understand that the Martians are not interested in peace like President Dale assumes, frantically working to convince the latter that war is their last option because of how desperate they are. Unfortunately, he gets ignored until it's practically too late.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Satirized, as with everything else. The lone Martian soldier that Danny DeVito's lawyer comes across doesn't spare so much as a snicker when killing him.
  • Opposites Attract: Pierce Brosnan's brainy (if ridiculously utopian) scientist and Sarah Jessica Parker's airhead fashion show host.
  • Out of Focus: The President's daughter, after the White House attack. But came back to award Richie and his grandma.
  • Pacifism Backfire: The U.S. tries twice to make peaceful contact with the Martians. The first time, the Martian ambassador and his soldiers wipe out the U.S. Army forces at the meeting site. The second time the Martian ambassador asks to address Congress. While he's doing so he and his soldiers destroy everyone there. Later on the French government tries the diplomatic approach: not surprisingly it ends in a bloodbath.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: The President tries it with the Martian leader. It doesn't work.
    "Why are you doing this? Why? Isn't the universe big enough, for both of us? What is wrong with you people? We could work together. Why be enemies? Because we're different? Is that why? Think of the things that we could do. Think how strong we would be. Earth, and Mars, together. There is nothing that we could not accomplish. Think about it. Think about it. Why destroy when you can create? We can have it all, or we can smash it all. Why can't we work out our differences? Why can't we work things out? Little people, why can't we all just get along?"
  • 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.
  • Police Are Useless: A Martian invasion is sure to have the police overwhelmed with emergency calls. But three cops still find this an appropriate time to hit a donut shop.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Played six ways to Sunday. The Martians are the very definition of "Aliens Are Bastards", but at least at first a misunderstanding seems to make sense... until it doesn't. And even then, the aliens are amused enough by the translation machine that one scene showcases a Martian kill-team running around yelling who-knows-what while shooting anything that moves that the machine translates as "we are your friends!".
  • The Power of Rock: Well, folk country music, but yes.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The aliens only start attacking Earth about halfway through the movie.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Every Martian is one. They are all extremely intelligent and evil, but also act like bratty kids playing a real life shoot'em up video game. Ties in with their Laughably Evil nature.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "It's ME! Byron WILLIAMS! HEAVYWEIGHT! CHAMPION! OF THE WORLD!"
  • Purple Is Powerful: The Martian leader has a purple cape.
  • Rapid-Fire "Shut Up!": When General Decker tries to convince the U.S. President to launch nuclear weapons against the Martians, the President tells him to stop. When the general continues, the President repeatedly tells him to shut up.
General Decker: We have to strike now, sir. Annihilate. Kill! Kill! Kill!
The President: Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
  • Raygun Gothic: The Martians' ships and equipment, including the rayguns.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Richia and Florence receive the Medal of Honor at the end of the film.
  • Reality Has no Subtitles: The scenes aboard the Martian spaceships are done without any subtitles.
  • Redemption Rejection: The Martians refuse the president's offer of peace and kill him.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Martians all have red irises.
  • Red Is Violent: The Martian ambassador wears a red cape and is very violent. Than again, so are the other Martians.
  • 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.
  • Revenge Myopia: The Martians get enraged when one of them is killed, even though they had attacked Earth unprovoked to kill everyone for fun.
  • Roofless Renovation: The apartment building that the Williams family lives in is showcased to miss the entire front wall in the aftermath of the Martian attack.
  • Rousing Speech: The president delivers a great one to try to get the Martians to see why they should form a truce. It fails.
  • Rule of Perception: Art Land really misses this one during his final scene.
  • Rule of Three: The Martian leader makes three attempts on the President's life. He finally succeeds the third time.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The Martians use their ship lasers to change Mt. Rushmore so it shows the faces of various Martians (probably some famous ones to them).
  • Sadist: All of the Martians are this. They take much joy in tormenting and killing people.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Richie's grandmother calls both of her grandsons (Richie and Billy Glen) "Thomas".
  • Schadenfreude: Horrible people being blown away by killer alien death-rays. Really not much more to say.
    Florence Norris: They blew up Congress! (cackles).
  • Schizo Tech: '80s cell phones, '50-'60s military hardware, etc., cars from the '70s-'80s.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: "Now, even in times of so-called 'intergalactic emergency,' people still wanna roll them bones!"
  • 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: General Decker's Defiant to the End Eagle Land speech (which apes Winston Churchill's "We will fight on the beaches, we will fight in the fields" speech). The head Martian shuts him up by stepping on him.
  • 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.
  • She's Got Legs: The first shot we see of Natalie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is her in a very short skirt and platform heels, casually leaning back in a chair with her leg on the table.
  • Shoot the Dog: The female Martian assassin does so on the President's dog. This is based on a card that had a Martian vaporizing a dog.
  • Shout-Out: Multiple examples, particularly to old alien invasion movies. Burton also adds a self-reference by including the fat clown killed by the Penguin in Batman Returns inside a UFO.
  • Shrink Ray: Used to kill the general.
  • Single Tear: The Martian Leader sheds one before killing the president.
  • Spit Take: the First Lady spits out her tea in shock when the Martians start killing everybody in Congress.
  • Skewed Priorities: When evacuating the White House, the Secret Service diverts the First Family away from one room because there's a tour group in it.
  • Stock Footage:
    • Possibly in keeping with the traditions of B-movies, Burton reused footage here. The first example involves identical Martians dual wielding lasers before dying in the White House and the second involves the first invasion fleet which involves footage from the opening credits.
    • There is also stock footage of people praying at Mecca, implying it's about to be destroyed by Martians.
    • Stock footage of Rapa-Nui is played before the Martians destroy the moais of Easter Island (the scene originally showed the Rapa Nui looking up to an iceberg in amazement; in Mars Attacks!, it looks like they are looking at an UFO).
    • The stock footage montage that showcases the Martians' world-wide rampage ends with what seems to be the destruction of a city... and then it turns out that the Martians were watching Godzilla vs. Biollante. The Martian Leader asks to change the channel and they start watching The Dukes of Hazzard instead.
  • Stab the Salad
  • Starfish Language: Downplayed in that they are making vocalizations, it's just that they sound to human ears like an endless stream of "Ack ack, ack ACK ACK!" Possible Fridge-Brilliance seeing as how the Martians have no lips or cheeks with which to help them form more complex sounds. Their own evolution may have led to their language becoming a series of simple syllables.
  • Stripped to the Bone: The effect of the Martian Disintegrator Ray. Colorized, too.
  • Stupid Scientist: Kessler figures the Martians are peaceful because of their advanced intelligence. He was wrong.
  • Suckiness Is Painful: Exaggerated. Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call" is not what you would call the epitome of romantic songs. The yodeling is not just "painful" to the Martians, though — it's flat-out lethal.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: The underground Presidential hiding place is breached by the Martians at the climax and we don't find out how they managed to discover it or if they had to slaughter more guards than the ones that were in the war room.
  • Tagline: "Nice planet... we'll take it!"
  • Tap on the Head: Jerry Ross is knocked unconscious by a female Martian assassin when she hits him on the back of the head with a statuette. It seems as though this blow kills him, as we never see or hear from him again afterwards. Confirmed by the Novelization.
  • Take That!: "They blew up Congress! Hahahahaha!"
  • Talking the Monster to Death: The President's secure bunker has been overrun and his only offense is to give a speech to the Martian attackers. Just like similar attempts seen on screen, it doesn't quite work.
  • Technicolor Science: The rayguns have two variants; one that fires red lasers and reduces the victim to a red tinted skeleton, and one that fires green lasers and reduces the victim to a green tinted skeleton.
  • Tempting Fate: "Gentlemen, there is no way that we can lose!" Art, just before the Martians blow up his hotel with him in it.
  • Theremin: Used extensively on the soundtrack, mostly as a Leit Motif for the Martians.
  • The Dog Bites Back: As the Martian mother ship starts to go down, Natalie's dog, whose head was surgically implanted on her body, grabs one of the Martians, and strangles him while yapping in his face.
  • They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste: It's clear the unlikable characters and overall over-the-top nature were intentional.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: Grandma Norris, who calls both of her grandsons "Thomas".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Virtually all humans, who continue trusting the Martians after they've consistently vaporized their most important dignitaries. Most of the humans even try going on with their daily lives or playing loud music both at home and in public venues (i.e. hosting Las Vegas concerts) instead of hiding and staying quiet.
  • Translation Train Wreck: "All green of skin... 800 centuries ago, their bodily fluids include the birth of half-breeds. For the fundamental truth self-determination of the cosmos, for dark is the suede that mows like a harvest."
  • Troll: The Martians' general attitude.
  • Two out of Three Ain't Bad: Capitol Hill is vaporized early on, but at least the White House and the Supreme Court are okay... for the moment.
    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."
  • Uncanny Valley: Clearly invoked with the Martian Girl alien disguise. She has a bizarre 1950s sci-fi fashion sense, she is very pale, never speaks, for obvious reasons, and doesn't move like any normal human when she walks. It's hard to feel sorry for Jerry given that he falls for the disguise hook, line, and sinker.
  • Unexpected Successor: The President's daughter, played by Natalie Portman.
  • Universal Translator: The humans build one before formally meeting the Martians. Subverted in that it doesn't really work (or the Martians are intentionally spouting gibberish half the time just for the fun of it).
  • The Unfavorite: Richie to the rest of his family, who dote on his older brother, Billy-Glen. The only exception to this is his grandmother. Both survive the end of the movie.
  • Useless Protagonist: President Dale himself. Given just how powerful, numerous and unstoppable the Martian invaders are, he has no idea on how to stop them since military firepower is ineffective and he hesitates to use nuclear weapons against them as soon as possiblenote . In addition, he's a highly sought after target of the Martians so he has to concentrate more on his own protection than of others.
  • Untouchable Until Tagged: Byron, fending off Martians until they mobbed him.
  • Villain Ball: The Martian's weakness would likely never have been discovered, had one not halted to set up an enormous death machine to deal with Grandma and opted to shoot her instantly.
  • Violence is the Only Option: The Martians aren't here to be friends, and there is no "cultural misunderstanding". They are the epitome of Aliens Are Bastards and they will kill all of mankind and wreck everything for shits and giggles. Fighting back is the only option, and it is a sign of the Only Sane Man in this film that they figure it out early... and it's also a sign of the War Hawk General Ripper, who happens to be absolutely right for a change.
  • Villains Out Shopping: In addition to killing all humans, the Martians are also shown enjoying Playboy, martinis, Godzilla, and taking tourist pictures.
  • Viva Las Vegas!: A washed-up boxer, a compulsive gambling lawyer, a huckster casino developer, copious showgirls, and Tom Jones.
  • The War Room: Located on the President's last-resort bunker, including such things as a tactical map spread on the floor and concealed monitors to view the nuclear missile launch.
  • War Hawk: General Decker. His Establishing Character Moment is to demand for Martial Law to be enabled once the Martians arrive and pushes for an immediate preventive strike when the Martians still appear peaceful, and wishes to escalate to full-blown nuclear warfare after the First Contact attempt goes pear-shaped. Unusually enough, even if appearing to be a jingoistic Blood Knight of epic proportions from first appearance to unceremonious death, he was pretty much right about the aliens.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Martians are defeated by country music of all things!
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: The Martians' attitude in a nutshell. Best exemplified towards the end of the movie when they start using the translator machine to broadcast messages saying "Don't run! We are your friends!" while shooting everyone in sight.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Natalie Portman's character, Taffy Dale.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Richie's parents make it blatantly clear that are very ashamed of him for not being like Billy-Glen.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things
  • Wiper Start: While trying to start the plane, Tom Jones accidentally turns on the radio... and is dumbfounded when he hears Slim Whitman being played.
    "Who put that on?"
  • Word-Salad Humor: The Martians' first message to Earth?
    "All green of skin, 800 centuries ago, their bodily fluids include the birth of half-breeds.… For the fundamental truth self-determination of the cosmos, for dark is the suede that mows like a harvest."
  • The Worf Barrage: Up until "Indian Love Call" starts broadcasting, the efforts of the U.S. military to stop the Martians at best only kills individual Martians. Even using nuclear weapons is completely useless (and only makes the Martians mock them).
  • Would Harm a Senior: The Martians attack a retirement home at one point.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Martians kill men and women alike.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A saucer uses a laser to cut down the Washington Monument to attack a troop of boy scouts, and even tips the falling monument in the opposite direction so that it can crush them all.
  • Your Head A-Splode: The Martians when they hear the Brown Note.

    Original Cards 

  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Gnards are violent creatures who want to wipe the Earthlings out.
  • Anti-Villain: The Martians actually have a valid reason to be invading Earth; Mars is about to explode and they need a new planet. That said, the fact that they decide to depopulate the planet Earth by wiping out all the humans instead of trying to ask them for help and trying to share Earth with them is needlessly harsh. It's later revealed that there are two tribes of Martians, and one tribe is composed of savage warriors while the other is composed of peaceful intellectuals. The former are bad while the latter are good.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Martians capture Earth bugs and spiders, enlarge them to 500 times their normal size, then release them back upon humanity, this time under their control.
  • Bowdlerized: The card series was planned to be repainted and reissued in order to meet moral standards at the time, but the project was cancelled after only 13 cards were redone.
  • Brains Evil, Brawn Good: The Martians use their superior technology for evil, attempting to wipe out humanity and relishing in the carnage and destruction. While humans are not as smart, they are physically much bigger and stronger, and eventually manage to overwhelm the Martians through sheer tenacity and strength.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Martian Spy Girl from the Tim Burton film is this as of the 2013 Invasion set- an Early Missions card depicts a version of the character.
  • Child Soldiers: The required age to join the army in defeating the Martians is 13 and up.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Earth's weaponry is completely ineffective against the superior Martian technology. The flying saucers No-Sell every type of ammunition on Earth, while the Martians unleash several flavors of Death Ray upon mankind, any of which can instantly annihilate almost anyone or anything. And that's before the Martians get the idea to unleash a swarm of flesh-eating Big Creepy-Crawlies upon humanity.
    • Later on, this gets flipped on its head: while Martians are technologically superior, they are also physically much smaller and weaker than humans. When humanity launches a rocket to Mars, the soldiers wipe out whole Martian cities almost as easily as the Martians did to them.
  • Glass Cannon: The Martians as a whole seem to be this if not in a vehicle or on a war beast. They have incredibly powerful death rays...but any time a human gets into melee combat to them, the Martian gets their butt handed to them.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Martians' whole impetus for invading Earth is that "atomic pressure" within Mars will destroy it very soon and Earth is the nearest planet they can escape to. Unfortunately, it seems as if they don’t try to come in peace and instead decide to attack humanity, which backfires on them when the humans travel to Mars and wipe the Martians out just before the planet explodes.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: Even though the Martians kick the humans' asses in nearly every battle on Earth, the humans are somehow able to fly to Mars and destroy several Martian cities before pressure in the planet's core blows it up.
  • Enemy Mine: Even the mafias and street gangs join in the battle against the Martians.
  • Fanservice: A few cards pictured Martians carrying away scantly clad women.
  • Freeze Ray: A one off weapon used by the Martians.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The Martians shoot a special ray at the ocean to cause a huge tidal wave.
  • Gorn: The cards' major selling point was the brutal scenes of violence they depicted.
  • Humans Are Warriors: Even when they're hopelessly outmatched, humanity never gives up the fight against the invading Martians. They also turn out to be physically superior, and when they finally take the fight directly to Mars, the puny Martians are unable to resist the bigger, stronger human soldiers.
  • Humongous Mecha: Card #52 has the Martians summon a 50-foot robot in a last-ditch attempt at stopping the human counterattack. A barrage of grenades and RPG fire manages to knock it down.
  • Kill It with Fire: Card #35 features soldiers who figure out that even Big Creepy-Crawlies are vulnerable to fire, and use flamethrowers to fight back.
  • Innocent Aliens: The Paecs are peaceful beings who oppose the invasion.
  • Make My Monster Grow: The Martians would use growth rays to make giant insects.
  • Mars Needs Women: It doesn't seem as though they need Earth women but they obviously take great interest in them anyway.
  • No Name Given: Averted. The warlike Martians are called Gnards and the peaceful, intellectual ones are called Paecs.
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather, shoot the dog. One of the most iconic images of the series was a martian soldier randomly shooting a farm dog in front of its helpless owner. The image can be seen on the Aliens Are Bastards trope page.
  • Plot Tumor: The Martians mostly vanish from the cards in favor of the giant insects around #27, only coming back towards the end when humanity finally decides to take the fight directly to Mars.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Earth is burning, a majority of the human race is dead, and the survivors are still dealing with giant insect attacks. What is mankind's response? Why, take every available soldier, tank, and nuke on Earth, go to Mars on MASSIVE rocket ships, and tear every living thing on the planet limb from limb, before abandoning the planet right before the Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • Shrink Ray: Another one off weapon used by the Martians.
  • Tank-Tread Mecha: Card #32 shows a Humongous Mecha moving around on spiked treads, using three claws and three laser cannons to slaughter terrified civilians.
  • Touch of the Monster: A few of the fanservicy cards displayed Martians carrying off scantly-clad women.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In one training card, a little girl is implied to be murdered by a Martian after she asks if he will be her friend.

    Comic Series 

  • Adaptation Expansion: The series had multiple storylines which expanded the universe beyond the original comic series.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Played stright, unlike the film.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Martians win in the "Dinosaurs Attack!" crossover by having mind-controlled the dinosaurs that the humans unleashed through time portals in hopes of attacking the Martians.
  • Blatant Lies: In Mars Attacks Judge Dredd, the Martians inject a mob boss with ninites claiming they would allow him to understand their language. In addition the Martian adds this disclaimer:
    Martian: It's DEFINITELY not also a bomb.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Martians vivisect some of their victims.
  • Crossover: They had one with Image Comics. As far as Savage Dragon continuity goes, this crossover actually had major repercussions which is unusual in a crossover.
  • Cross Through: In January 2013 IDW had the Martians individually attack the Transformers, Popeye, The Real Ghostbusters,note  Zombies vs. Robots, and... KISS.
  • Enemy Mine: You can thank the Martians for this one in "Mars Attacks the Transformers," where their actions cause the Autobots and Decepticons to team up against the little green aliens.
  • Exact Words: In Mars Attacks Judge Dread, Dread makes an deal with a crime lord to have his record wiped clean in exchange for transport in his antique, gasoline-powered car after the Martians set off an EMP which renders all other forms of transportation inert. Once the Martians are taken care of, Dread arrests the crime lord anyway since, despite wiping his past crimes from the record as agreed, driving a gas powered vehicle violates Mega City's anti-pollution laws and counts as a new crime unaffected by the bargain. While this usually results in an extremely minor fine, judges are allowed to issue any sentence they see fit and Dread gives him a life sentence.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Boy, does it backfire. In "Dinosaurs Attack! vs. Mars Attacks!", a human scientist opens a series of time portals to release dinosaurs from the past to take down the Martians. It initially works because the dinosaurs were a surprise attack and there's just too many prehistoric beasts for even superb Martian technology to suppress - until the Martians score a sudden scientific victory that allows them to install microchips into dinosaurs brains thus enslaving the dinosaurs as their beastly servants to extinguish humanity.
  • Lighter and Softer: Mars Attacks Popeye.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Many of the images from the original cards were remade in the comics, including the aforementioned crossover with Image. The "Destroying A Dog" card was redrawn with Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the background instead of the farm boy (the turtles were being published by Image at the time).
    • Also in this crossover, the Martians were defeated when the Savage Dragon invaded their planet, used a growth ray to become a giant, and destroyed Mars in a similar fashion to the original trading card ending. Keep in mind that the "Image Comics version" were from an Alternate Universe. The "real" Martians made a brief appearance to observe their counterparts, realized they were not able to fight super heroes, and left the universe.
    • The cover for IDW's Mars Attacks Classics Vol. 3 collection features what appears to be a human version of Applejack from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, whose tie-in comic is also published by IDW.
  • Villain Team-Up: You can thank the Sea Hag for this one in "Mars Attacks Popeye," where she immediately intercepts the Martians upon their landing and hypnotizes them into attacking Popeye for her instead of invading Earth. Then the spinach-powered beatdown breaks their hypnosis, and they betray her through Defeat by Modesty (It Makes Sense in Context) before leaving Earth out of a new found fear of Popeye.
    • The Martians trick the Decepticons into thinking that they're interested in one in "Mars Attacks the Transformers", only to betray them and seal them inside the same forcefield as the Autobots. This leads to the Autobots and Decepticons teaming up to deal with the Martians.

    Outside Media 
  • Villains Out Shopping: The 2020 Walmart Super Bowl commercial featured the Martians... shopping for items at Walmart and even thanking the Walmart associates for this before leaving peacefully.


Video Example(s):


Mars Attacks - Shut up!

President Dale explodes at his General for egging him onto war.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / BigShutUp

Media sources: