Ghosts of Mars


Ghosts of Mars
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars.jpg
US 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 science fiction action horror film written, directed and scored by John Carpenter. The film stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, and Joanna Cassidy. The film received negative reviews and earned $14 million at the box office, against a $28 million production budget.[2]

The film received a cult following since its release especially for the action sequences and the soundtrack.[3][4]


Set in the second half of the 22nd century, Mars has been 84% terraformed, allowing humans to walk on the surface without pressure suits. Martian society has become matriarchal, with women in most positions of authority. The story concerns police officer Lt. Melanie Ballard, who is sent to a remote mining outpost to transport prisoner James 'Desolation' Williams. Arriving at the remote mining town, Ballard & her team find that all of the people are missing. She learns that they had discovered an underground doorway created by an ancient Martian civilization. When the door was opened, it released disembodied spirits or "ghosts", which took possession of the miners.

The possessed miners commit horrific acts of death and destruction, along with self-mutilation. When team leader Helena Braddock is murdered, Ballard must assume command, fight off the possessed miners, escape the town and hopefully destroy the ghosts. Unfortunately, killing a possessed human merely releases the Martian spirit to possess another human. The team eventually decides to blow up a nuclear reactor to vaporize all of the ghosts.

Ballard's crew, along with survivors who gathered in the jail, are eventually wiped out by the miners. At one point, Ballard is nearly possessed, but resists when she is given a drug and discovers that the spirits are attacking them as they believe that the humans are invaders and plan to exterminate the humans on Mars (it is presumed that the spirits are unaware of the fact that Martian life has died out). Only Ballard and Williams are left after Sergeant Jericho and the other officers, along with the two train operators, are killed when they try to finish the fight by causing the settlement's nuclear powerplant to go critical, turning it into a small atomic bomb. Not wanting to be blamed for the massacre, Williams handcuffs Ballard to her cot and escapes from the train. Returning home, Ballard delivers her report, which her superiors refuse to believe. While Ballard recuperates in the hospital, the released spirits, unharmed from the nuclear explosion, attack the city. Ballard and Williams are going to fight to stay alive.



In 1996, the script to Ghosts of Mars originally started off as a potential Snake Plissken sequel.[5][6] Entitled Escape from Mars, the story would have been largely much the same; however, after Escape from L.A. failed to make much money at the box office, the studio did not wish to make another Plissken movie.[7] Snake Plissken was then changed to "Desolation Williams," and the studio also insisted that Ice Cube be given the part.[8]

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 after her then-boyfriend's ex-wife ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the picture. Natasha Henstridge replaced her by the suggestion of her then-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 "Box[disambiguation needed]," 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.

Much of the film was shot in a New Mexican gypsum mine. The pure white gypsum had to be dyed with thousands of gallons of red food dye to recreate the red Martian landscape.[9]

John Carpenter revealed after the movie's failure that he had become inspired and driven after he had made Ghosts of Mars---and decided to leave Hollywood for good. It would not be until 2010 that he made another full feature film, The Ward.


Critical reception

Ghosts of Mars received mostly negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 22% based on 108 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."[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C-" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

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 3rd 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."[12] Bruce Fretts of Entertainment Weekly said about the film "'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".[13] James Berardinelli gave the film 1.5 stars out of four.[14] Rob Gonsalves of 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".[15]

Regarding positive reviews, Roger Ebert, film critic for 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."[16] 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."[17]

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."[18]

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[19] and grossed $8,709,640 at 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
Filmtracks1.0/5 stars[20]
SoundtrackNet2.5/5 stars[21]

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[22]
  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. ^ "411MANIA". The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Why John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars Is Awesome.
  4. ^ "Oeuvre: Carpenter: Ghosts of Mars". Spectrum Culture. May 24, 2019.
  5. ^ Thurman, Trace (August 24, 2016). "[15th Anniversary] 60 Thoughts I Had While Watching John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars'".
  6. ^ "27 Things We Learned from John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars' Commentary". Film School Rejects. April 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Marc, Christopher (January 7, 2017). "'Ghosts of Mars' A Repurposed 'Escape From' Sequel With 'Quatermass and The Pit' Story Beats?".
  8. ^ "'Ghosts of Mars' A Repurposed 'Escape From' Sequel With 'Quatermass and The Pit' Story Beats?". Omega Underground.
  9. ^ "Den of Geek – 10 remarkable things about John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars". August 27, 2013.
  10. ^ John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ "CinemaScore".
  12. ^ "Movie Review: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars". Austin Chronicle.
  13. ^ "Protected Blog › Log in".
  14. ^ "Ghost of Mars".
  15. ^ IHdb. "IHdb". Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ghosts of Mars Movie Review & Film Summary (2001) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  17. ^ "Sci-Fi fans will love it!". SBS Movies. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  18. ^ "Ice Cube Regrets Turning Down Menace + Taking Ghosts Of Mars". September 20, 2008.
  19. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 24–26, 2001 – Box Office Mojo".
  20. ^ "Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter)". Filmtracks. September 1, 2001. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  21. ^ Other reviews by Messrob Torikian (August 2, 2003). "Ghosts Of Mars (2001)". Soundtrack. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  22. ^ "John Carpenter: Ghosts of Mars". Archived from the original on December 22, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2013.

External links