Mars Attacks!

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Mars Attacks! Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Alien-invasion satire for older tweens and up.
  • PG-13
  • 1996
  • 106 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 25 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Not many good role models here.


A herd of cattle is set on fire (digitally). A Martian death ray turns people into gruesome green skeletons, while other hapless citizens are crushed or impaled. There is a severed finger and a disembodied hand; captured humans (and one alien-autopsied Martian) are taken apart and reassembled in gruesome ways. Much shooting at the Martians (though seldom very effectively). Lots of explosions. Many characters die.


The presidential press secretary is shown using the prestige of his office to pick up girls (two are prostitutes, one a nasty Martian in disguise). The Martian leader is shown perusing a magazine with a pin-up centerfold and getting some lascivious ideas. Non-graphic sex scene.


Some strong language. Incomplete "f--k"s.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Scientist smokes a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mars Attacks! was based on a notorious series of trading cards that were censored for gruesomeness, and director Tim Burton doesn't hold back: abundant cartoony violence includes people being turned into skeletons by a death ray, vivisection (and whimsical re-assembly) of living humans, Martians' brains swelling and bursting, and cruelty to (computer-generated) animals. In addition the filmmakers have added some prostitutes to the blend. There is a subtle anti-authoritarian tone that kids have the smarts to save the world after all the annoying adults are wiped out.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bygraveling April 30, 2014

nothing too bad

contains some strong launguage moderate violence and moderate sex references-12-
Adult Written bydavispittman April 3, 2020

Poorly written film

This film is simply poorly written and doesn’t understand how to do good spoof comedy. None of the A list gets a chance to shine due to the lack of the material... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLukeCon April 6, 2020

Very funny alien-invasion comedy is for older kids

Faultless in comedy, Mars Attacks! delivers frequent--and successful--laughs to the audience. While maybe a few attempts at humor are unsuccessful, many attempt... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byecto1010 August 22, 2012


great movie. i saw it when i was 4 and i loved it. a great comedy, action, scifi movie for everyone

What's the story?

MARS ATTACKS! begins with a fleet of Martian flying saucers encircling Earth. While a blustery general (Rod Steiger) warns the self-aggrandizing US president (Jack Nicholson) not to trust the grotesque little aliens, a scientist (Pierce Brosnan) assures that creatures so intelligent could not possibly mean us any harm. The Earth's nations try to give the creatures a friendly welcome, to no avail. The Martians actually are sadistic varmints who enjoy faking out the humans with peace overtures, then opening fire with grisly death weapons. Eventually the Martians overrun Washington D.C. and declare victory, but their triumph is short-lived. Young Richie (Lukas Haas is trying to save his beloved grandmother from the Martians when he accidentally discovers that the old lady's favorite record -- Slim Whitman yodeling "Indian Love Call" -- makes the Martians' brains explode. If Richie can spread the news quickly enough, humankind may be saved.

Is it any good?

Director Tim Burton's dark sense of humor makes Mars Attacks! a must for the sort of young viewer who would rather read Famous Monsters of Filmland than Sports Illustrated. Remember "Sid," the twisted neighbor boy from Toy Story who liked to torture his playthings? This is his sort of alien-invasion film. Adults can enjoy it too, if they don't mind the subversive tone. But with an all-star cast and too many subplots, the movie threatens to turn into a collection of sketch-bits rather than a coherent whole.


Though the Martians are doubtlessly the villains here, you do get a sneaky anti-establishment message -- that the extraterrestrial holocaust will have a positive side effect of exterminating corrupt and worthless authority figures while sparing the cool kids and the few adults who listen to them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences between this movie and Independence Day, and ask kids which one they enjoyed more, and why.

Movie details

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