If you’re a fan of Jack Nicholson and you’ve never seen him in the cheesy but lovable Mars Attacks!, you’re running out of time to stream it. The movie is set to leave Netflix on March 1st, meaning February 28th is your last day to watch it on the streaming service. If you have seen Mars Attacks! and didn’t like it the first time around, you should give it another chance. Audiences have warmed up to it over time.
Mars Attacks! came out in 1996, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was released much earlier. However, that’s very much on purpose because the movie is a send-up and love letter to those extremely campy 50’s sci-fi movies. The movie comes complete with awkward and stilted performances, cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top action and special effects. When audiences first saw it, they may have taken the effort from director Tim Burton a little too seriously, when they should have just been enjoying the fun instead. Mars Attacks! has quite the cast list as well. In addition to Jack Nicholson as President James Dale, you get Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas, Pam Grier, Jack Black, and much more. You even get a score from Danny Elfman, Burton’s frequent and brilliant collaborator.
Is Mars Attacks! the best effort from any of these actors involved? Nope. Is it Tim Burton’s best movie? Nope. But it’s a ton of fun and it is certainly underrated. One of Tim Burton’s actual best movies, Ed Wood clearly provides some inspiration here. Ed Wood himself was one of the worst directors of all time in the best way possible. His strange and eccentric films were somehow supremely watchable just because of how bad they were. Burton is certainly taking some cues here. Even the Martians themselves are a neat visual trick. Though they’re CGI, their animation is very stop-motion inspired, evoking a different era despite the slightly more modern sheen on the film. The film is very aware of what it’s doing. Jack Nicholson and the rest of the esteemed cast bring unneeded gravitas to roles that didn’t need gravitas. Making the movie that much better.
Now, at a glance, you’d be forgiven for skipping Mars Attacks! Just looking at the Rotten Tomatoes score, you’ll see that critics give it a 55% overall and audiences give it a 53% overall. However, the satirical elements and the all-star cast have brought it to cult classic status over the years. And although it was a box office flop initially, it did end up eventually recouping its budget and even going a little over what it spent. While this wouldn’t necessarily make it a runaway success, it still proves that audiences were interested to an extent. Funnily enough, Independence Day came out right around the same time. The two movies both feature aliens who decidedly didn’t come in peace, but they vary wildly in tone. Independence Day took itself much more seriously than Mars Attacks! And while Jack Nicholson’s role isn’t quite as classic as the Bill Pullman, Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum combo, it’s still well worth checking out.
The sci-fi community at the time certainly recognized Mars Attacks! for the underrated gem that it is. The film received a variety of nominations at the Saturn Awards as well as the Hugo Awards. However, the Saturn Award for the Best Science Fiction Film that year did go to, you guessed it, Independence Day. While Jack Nicholson didn’t score any Saturn noms, actor Lukas Haas did. Danny Elfman ended up winning Best Music, which is the only win they walked away with seven nominations total. All in all, if you’re someone who really appreciates sci-fi, this might be a comedy worth your time.
Again, while this is by no means the best Jack Nicholson movie out there, it’s one that gives you a performance you wouldn’t always get from him. The comedy is a breezy watch, clocking in at just under two hours. Remember, it’s going to leave Netflix at the end of February and February is a short month, so you have less time than you think. Find some time to check this one out if you’re interested in a sci-fi effort that doesn’t take itself too seriously.