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Ghosts of Mars

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Ghosts of Mars
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Carpenter
Written byJohn Carpenter
Larry Sulkis
Produced bySandy King
CinematographyGary B. Kibbe
Edited byPaul C. Warschilka
Music byJohn Carpenter
Screen Gems
Storm King Productions
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing[1]
Release date
  • August 24, 2001 (2001-08-24)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$28 million[2]
Box office$14 million[2]

Ghosts of Mars (titled onscreen as John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars) is a 2001 American space Western[3] action horror film written, directed and scored by John Carpenter. It was produced by Screen Gems and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing. It stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall and Joanna Cassidy. Set on a colonized Mars in the 22nd century, the film follows a squad of police officers and a convicted criminal who fight against the residents of a mining colony who have been possessed by the ghosts of the planet's original inhabitants.

Ghosts of Mars received mostly negative reviews and was a box office bomb, earning $14 million against a $28 million production budget.[2] The film would be John Carpenter's last until his return with The Ward in 2010.

Ghosts of Mars has received a cult following since its release, with critics praising the action sequences, soundtrack and blending of genres.[4][5][6] Given the film's debt to Western cinema, particularly the works of Howard Hawks, it has been considered by a number of critics as an example of the Weird Western subgenre.[citation needed]



Set in the year 2176, Mars has been 85% terraformed, giving the planet an Earth-like atmosphere. Martian society has become matriarchal, centering on the city of Chryse, with smaller outposts connected by an expansive network of trains. In the wake of a series of mysterious 'incidents', Police Officer Melanie Ballard is called before a tribunal to give testimony following a disastrous mission to the remote mining outpost Shining Canyon to retrieve convicted felon James 'Desolation' Williams, of which she is apparently the sole survivor.

Through a series of flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks as new perspectives are incorporated into the narrative), Ballard recounts details of the mission. Accompanied by commanding officer Helena Braddock, cocky sergeant Jericho Butler and rookie officers Bashira Kincaid and Michael Descanso, Ballard arrives at Shining Canyon to find the town seemingly deserted. Investigating the local jail, Braddock discovers a trio of individuals who appear to have sealed themselves into one of the cells; among them science officer Dr Arlene Whitlock.

Ballard and Butler find a number of disoriented miners and the convict Williams, who has escaped. The group are attacked by several of the miners, causing Ballard and Williams to band together and incapacitate them. Ballard is forced to shoot and kill one of them, causing the affliction to be passed on to one of the three survivors. Butler, venturing out to the edge of town in pursuit of one of the feral miners, discovers a row of severed heads mounted on spikes, including the head of Commander Braddock and a large assembly in the canyon below committing horrific acts of self-mutilation and ritualistic execution.

Friends of Williams arrive and force Ballard and Butler to release him. While they originally plan on leaving the officers and remaining miners to die, Ballard convinces them to work together to survive. Their initial effort to escape is halted when the army of feral miners converge on their position, killing, injuring and infecting several of them. Confronted by Ballard, Whitlock eventually explains that she fled from her post after discovering an ancient underground vault created by an extinct Martian civilization. When the door to the vault was opened, it released hostile spirits or "ghosts", which took possession of the workers, causing their violent behavior. Killing a possessed human merely releases the Martian spirit to possess another host. Ballard surmises that these Martian spirits believe humans to be an invading race. Ballard is briefly possessed until Butler feeds her a hallucinogenic drug, which forces the Martian spirit to leave her body.

The group are forced to flee as the possessed workers breach the jail, leaving only Ballard, Williams, Butler, Kincaid and Whitlock left alive. While they are able to make it to the train, Ballard realizes that they have a duty to exterminate the Martian threat and decide to return to Shining Canyon to overload the outpost's nuclear power plant, assuming that the ensuing atomic blast will vaporize the spirits. While they are able to initiate the meltdown, Whitlock is possessed, while Butler, Kincaid and the two train operators are killed. Boarding the train, the two watch as the army is engulfed in the explosion. Williams tends to Ballard's wounds. Unwilling to face the authorities, he handcuffs Ballard to her cot and leaves. She moves to shoot him, but realizes her respect for him and lets him escape.

Resting after her tribunal, Ballard is woken by an alert that the city is under attack. Realizing their attempt to destroy the spirits failed, she readies herself to face the onslaught alone until she is greeted by Williams, who hands her a weapon. The two agree to fight their way out of the city together.





It has been widely reported that the script to Ghosts of Mars originally started off as a potential Snake Plissken sequel.[7][8] However, this rumor has been publicly dispelled by the film's producer, Sandy King Carpenter.[9]

Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente and Famke Janssen were the first choices for the role of Melanie Ballard, but they turned it down. Courtney Love was originally cast, but she left the project. Natasha Henstridge replaced her by the suggestion of her boyfriend Liam Waite. Jason Statham was originally going to play Desolation Williams, but he was replaced by Ice Cube because the producers needed some star power for the part, and Statham instead played the character of Jericho Butler.

Although Mars has a day/night cycle almost identical in length to Earth's, most of the film is set at night. Mars is shown only once in the daytime, in a flashback when a scientist describes how she found and opened a tunnel, unleashing the alien spirits.

Filming began on August 8, 2000, and ended on October 31, 2000. Production had to be shut down for a week when Henstridge fell ill due to extreme exhaustion, as she had just done two other films back-to-back before joining production at the last moment.[citation needed]

Much of the film was shot in a New Mexico gypsum mine. The pure white gypsum had to be dyed with gallons of food coloring to recreate the red Martian landscape.[10]



Critical reception


Ghosts of Mars received mostly negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 23% based on 111 reviews with the consensus stating "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is not one of Carpenter's better movies, filled as it is with bad dialogue, bad acting, confusing flashbacks, and scenes that are more campy than scary."[11] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 35 out of 100 based on 26 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C−" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the film "a schlocky, sluggish shoot-em-up", giving the film one star out of five, and later listing the film as the third worst film of the year. Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle gave the film one star out of five, saying: "Ghosts of Mars is a muddled, derivative, and embarrassing disaster straight on through."[13] Bruce Fretts of Entertainment Weekly said about the film "...it's distressingly amateurish and hackneyed to the point of absurdity," further adding "it's dishearting to see the 'master of horror' bring himself to both write and direct a film with such a prepubescent understanding of horror".[14] James Berardinelli gave the film 1.5 stars out of four.[15] Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic.com suggested that the film was symbolic of "Carpenter at rock bottom". According to press reviews, factors contributing to the box office failure of the film included "poor set designs, hammy acting and a poorly developed script".[16]

Conversely, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film three stars out of four, writing: "Ghosts of Mars delivers on its chosen level and I enjoyed it, but I wonder why so many science-fiction films turn into extended exercises in Blast the Aliens...this is an instance where it works."[17] Richard Roeper also awarded the film three stars out of four, saying: "is it stupid? Certainly. I think that's the point. Carpenter is a smart man and he knows exactly what he's doing. I miss seeing campy action flicks like this at the drive-in." David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, film critics for The Movie Show, both awarded the film three stars out of five. In his review, Stratton made the following observation: "John Carpenter doesn't seem to have moved forward from the 70s and early 80s, when he made his best films. Though it's not terribly exciting, Ghosts Of Mars does have a marvelously skewed vision and can deliver genuine morbid laughs when it wants to."[18]

Ice Cube was very critical about the movie: "I don't like that movie. I'm a big fan of John Carpenter and the only reason I did it was because John Carpenter directed it but they really didn't have the money to pull the special effects off."[19] Natasha Henstridge is more fond of the movie: “I loved the experience of making the film. It was just brilliant“, she said. “I really loved making the film because I’d just had a young kid and now I get to train all the time and do all this kickboxing and martial arts and all of that, and being a chick action star is pretty cool; it’s pretty kick-ass. That part of it, I loved it! That part was pretty awesome.“ She also enjoyed working with John Carpenter: “I loved John! John’s a hoot and I just love him; a great sense of humor, a great guy. Really loved working with him.“[20]

Responding to the criticism towards the film, Carpenter stated he was intentionally trying to make Ghosts of Mars as over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek as possible. He claimed he was trying to make a mindless and silly, yet highly entertaining and thrilling, action flick where "the universe allows its characters and plot points to be silly without becoming full-fledged comedies", akin to 80s movies like Commando, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Predator. Looking back on the film and its criticism, he stated he was frustrated that most people thought the film was meant to be a serious horror movie, and feels that he should've made the film more openly comedic and "in on the joke", saying "I have no power over what critics say, but when people complained about the movie being campy and not scary...the name of the movie is Ghosts Of Mars, I figured the campiness would be self-explanatory."[citation needed]

Box office


The film opened at No. 9 in the North American box office in its opening weekend (8/24-26) with $3,804,452,[21] grossed $8,709,640 in the North American domestic box office, and $5,301,192 internationally, totaling $14,010,832 worldwide.[2] On a budget of $28 million, Ghosts of Mars was a box office disappointment.


Ghosts of Mars
Soundtrack album by
StudioCherokee Studios, Hollywood
LabelVarèse Sarabande
ProducerBruce Robb
John Carpenter chronology
Ghosts of Mars
Assault on Precinct 13
Professional ratings
Review scores

For the film's soundtrack, John Carpenter recorded a number of synthesizer pieces and assembled an all-star cast of guitarists (including thrash metal band Anthrax, virtuoso Steve Vai, genre spanning Buckethead, and former Guns N' Roses/current Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck) to record an energetic and technically proficient heavy metal score. Reaction to the soundtrack was mixed; many critics praised the high standard of musicianship and the strong pairing of heavy metal riffs with the film's action sequences, but complained about the overlong guitar solos, the drastic differences between the cues used in the film and the full tracks and the absence of any of the film's ambient synth score from the soundtrack CD.

Track listing[24]
  1. "Ghosts of Mars" (3:42) – Steve Vai, Bucket Baker & John Carpenter
  2. "Love Seige [sic]" (4:37) – Buckethead, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax (Scott Ian, Paul Crook, Frank Bello & Charlie Benante)
  3. "Fight Train" (3:16) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  4. "Visions of Earth" (4:08) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  5. "Slashing Gash" (2:46) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  6. "Kick Ass" (6:06) – Buckethead, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  7. "Power Station" (4:37) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  8. "Can't Let You Go" (2:18) – Stone (J.J. Garcia, Brian James & Brad Wilson), John Carpenter, Bruce Robb & Joe Robb
  9. "Dismemberment Blues" (2:53) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Stone
  10. "Fighting Mad" (2:41) – Buckethead & John Carpenter
  11. "Pam Grier's Head" (2:35) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  12. "Ghost Popping" (3:20) – Steve Vai, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax

See also



  1. ^ "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Escape From Outer Space: An exploration of John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars'". PopOptiq. October 21, 2015. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  4. ^ "411MANIA". The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Why John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars Is Awesome. Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  5. ^ "Oeuvre: Carpenter: Ghosts of Mars". Spectrum Culture. May 24, 2019.
  6. ^ "Hear me out: why John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars isn't a bad movie". The Guardian. June 4, 2021.
  7. ^ Thurman, Trace (August 24, 2016). "[15th Anniversary] 60 Thoughts I Had While Watching John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars'".
  8. ^ "27 Things We Learned from John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars' Commentary". Film School Rejects. April 30, 2019.
  9. ^ Carpenter, Sandy (May 7, 2020). "Tweet".
  10. ^ "Den of Geek – 10 remarkable things about John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars". denofgeek.com. August 27, 2013.
  11. ^ John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars at Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  13. ^ "Movie Review: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars". Austin Chronicle.
  14. ^ "Protected Blog › Log in". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  15. ^ "Ghost of Mars". reelviews.net.
  16. ^ IHdb. "IHdb". Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ghosts of Mars Movie Review & Film Summary (2001) | Roger Ebert". rogerebert.com. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  18. ^ "Sci-Fi fans will love it!". SBS Movies. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  19. ^ "Ice Cube Regrets Turning Down Menace + Taking Ghosts Of Mars". September 20, 2008.
  20. ^ "McEric Chats with Natasha Henstridge about NIGHT OF THE SICARIO".
  21. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 24–26, 2001 – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo.
  22. ^ "Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter)". Filmtracks. September 1, 2001. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  23. ^ Other reviews by Messrob Torikian (August 2, 2003). "Ghosts Of Mars (2001)". Soundtrack. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  24. ^ "John Carpenter: Ghosts of Mars". Theofficialjohncarpenter.com. Archived from the original on December 22, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2013.