Ghosts of Mars
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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. It was produced by Screen Gems and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing. The film stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, and Joanna Cassidy. The film received largely negative reviews and earned $14 million at the box office, against a $28 million production budget. The film would be John Carpenter s last feature until his return with The Ward in 2010.

The film has received a cult following since its release, with critics praising the action sequences, soundtrack and blending of genres. 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.


Set in the second half of the 22nd century, Mars has been 84% terraformed, giving the planet an Earth-like atmosphere. Martian society has become matriarchal, centring on the city of Chryse, with smaller, far-reaching outposts connected by an expansive network of trains. In the wake of a series of mysterious incidents , Mars Police Force officer Lt. 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 her mission to Shining Canyon. 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 town s 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 discover a number of disoriented miners and an escaped Desolation. The group are soon attacked by several of the miners, forcing Ballard and Desolation to band together and incapacitate them. Ballard is forced to shoot and kill one of them, causing their 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.

Desolation s associates soon 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 their number. Confronted by Ballard, Whitlock eventually explains that she fled from her post after discovering an ancient underground vault created by an extinct Martian civilisation. When the door to the vault was opened, it released hostile spirits or ghosts , which took possession of the workers, causing their violent behaviour. 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 Desolation 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, Desolation, Butler, Kincaid and Whitlock left alive. While they are able to make it to the train, Ballard realises 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 vaporise 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. Desolation 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 make his 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 Desolation, who hands her a weapon. The two agree to fight their way out of the city together.


  • Natasha Henstridge as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard
  • Ice Cube as James Desolation Williams
  • Jason Statham as Sergeant Jericho Butler
  • Clea DuVall as Officer Bashira Kincaid
  • Pam Grier as Commander Helena Braddock
  • Joanna Cassidy as Dr. Arlene Whitlock
  • Richard Cetrone as Big Daddy Mars
  • Eileen Weisinger as Woman Warrior
  • Liam Waite as Officer Michael Descanso
  • Duane Davis as Uno Williams
  • Lobo Sebastian as Dos
  • Rodney A. Grant as Tres
  • Peter Jason as McSimms
  • Wanda De Jesus as Akooshay
  • Robert Carradine as Rodale
  • Rosemary Forsyth as Inquisitor
  • Doug McGrath as Benchley
  • Rick Edelstein as Zimmerman
  • Rex Linn as Yared
  • Marjean Holden as Young Woman
  • Charlotte Cornwell as The Narrator (uncredited)


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

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 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 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.

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

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.


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. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of C− on an A+ to F scale.

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. 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 . James Berardinelli gave the film 1.5 stars out of four. 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 .

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. 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.

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.

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.

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, grossed $8,709,640 in the North American domestic box office, and $5,301,192 internationally, totaling $14,010,832 worldwide. On a budget of $28 million, Ghosts of Mars was a box office disappointment.


Ghosts of Mars
Soundtrack album by

John Carpenter
Released 2001
Studio Cherokee Studios, Hollywood
  • Heavy metal
  • film score
Length 42:59
Label Varèse Sarabande
Producer Bruce Robb
John Carpenter chronology
Ghosts of Mars
Assault on Precinct 13

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.

Year 2001
ReleaseDate 2001-08-24
RuntimeMins 98
RuntimeStr 1h 38min
Plot In 2176, a Martian police unit is sent to pick up a highly dangerous criminal at a remote mining post. Upon arrival, the cops find that the post has become a charnel house.
Awards Awards, 2 nominations
Directors John Carpenter
Writers Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter
Stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
Produced by Sandy King
Music by Anthrax,John Carpenter
Cinematography by Gary B. Kibbe
Film Editing by Paul C. Warschilka
Casting By Reuben Cannon
Production Design by William A. Elliott
Art Direction by William Hiney,Mark W. Mansbridge
Set Decoration by Ronald R. Reiss
Costume Design by Robin Michel Bush
Makeup Department Enid Arias,Howard Berger,Fred C. Blau Jr.,Judith A. Cory,Jake Garber,Jim Kail,Robert Kurtzman,Greg Nicotero,Beverly Jo Pryor,Ken Wensevic,Robert Hall,Margie Kaklamanos,Sandi Rowden
Production Management Kim Kurumada
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director K.C. Colwell,Chemen Ochoa,Darin Rivetti
Art Department Matt Alexander,Mike Blaze,Brom,Robert J. Carlyle,Vincent Chavez,Stan Cockerell,Mick Cukurs,John Eaves,Benjamin Edelberg,Tyler Elliott,Bob Espinoza,Steve Fegley,William Forbert,Guy Fuller,Karen Higgins,Jim Husbands,Bruton Jones,Wendell J. Joyce,Lelan Keffer,Steven Kissick,Chris Kurumada,James Lewis Lager,John Leimanis,W. Scott Mason,William S. Maxwell III,Keith McGee,Gabrielle McKenna-Elliott,Jose Mendoza,Joseph Musso,Kirk Newren,James F. Orendorff,Jesus Ornelas,Anthony Paronelli,Enrico Paronelli,Gary Petersen,Joe Pfaltzgraf,Eugenio Quintero,Bill Ray,Ernest M. Sanchez,Hugo Santiago,Gary Stel,Peter Tosti Stephenson,Benton E. Tedlie,Bruce West,Larry Wise,Ryan Cowles,Dan Crawley,Robert House,Gregory Lynch Jr.,Billy W. Ray,Skip Whitson
Sound Department Tiago Becker,Bill W. Benton,Joseph Bishara,Tracy Bolt,Willie D. Burton,Bayard Carey,Mike Chock,Theo Chou,Joe Dorn,John Dunn,Donald Flick,Jeffrey J. Haboush,Robert W. Harris,Donald Hauger,Paul Holzborn,Marvin E. Lewis,Carey Milbradt,David E. Stone,Charles B. Unger,Zeke Richardson,Philip Rogers
Special Effects by Chad Atkinson,Kamar Bitar,Brom,Chris Cera,Jason Collins,Eric Coon,Gino Crognale,Alex Diaz,Ante Dugandzic,Jason Gustafson,Steve Hartman,Chiz Hasegawa,Beth Hathaway,Joel Hobbie,Dave Holoubek,Garrett Immel,Steven D. Jensen,Steve King,Don Lanning,Preston Malott,Bruce D. Mitchell,Greg Nelson,Jan Nelson,David Perteet,James ‘JR’ Pollard,Randy Pope,Casey Pritchett,Corey Pritchett,Darrell Pritchett,Brian Rae,Craig Reardon,James Reedy,Jill Rockow,Shannon Shea,Robyn Simms,Shaun Smith,Jeff Stampfer,Mario Torres Jr.,Mario Torres,Anthony Cook,Edward Gettis,Scott Hastings,Ian O’Connor,Alan Tuskes,Keith O. Wilson
Visual Effects by Gary Anderton,Tim Angulo,Don Baker,Scott Beverly,R. Christopher Biggs,Steven Blakey,Catherine Burns,Matt Chapman,Seth Curlin,Joshua Cushner,Forest P. Fischer,Derry Frost,Shannon Blake Gans,Scott Gordon,Matthew Gratzner,Patrick Hinkle,Bones Howe,Ian Hunter,Leigh-Alexandra Jacob,Gary Kangrga,Richard Kriegler,Ken Locsmandi,Ren Messer,Rob Meyers,Bob Monaghan,Michelle Morgan,Michael Morreale,Jeffrey Morse,Jeremy Oddo,Michael Pecchia,Gary Rhodaback,Jacqueline Rosado,David Sanger,Tom Shaughnessy,Michael Shea,Robert Shepherd,Dave Sherman,Carlos Torres,Mike Uguccioni,James Waterhouse,Lance Wilhoite,Shyam V. Yadav,Jim Young,Enrico Altmann,Greg M. Boettcher,Jordan Byrne,Dennis Fitzsimmons,Bruce Gionet,Derek Ledbetter,Eric Pender
Stunts Tsuyoshi Abe,Robin Lynn Bonaccorsi,Troy Brown,Danielle Burgio,Jennifer Caputo,Damon Caro,Paul Crawford,Cheryl Wheeler Duncan,Jared S. Eddo,Ousaun Elam,Tom Elliott,Donna Evans,Clay Donahue Fontenot,Anita Hart,Dana Hee,Brian Imada,Jeff Imada,Steven Ito,Kevin L. Jackson,Chona Jason,Josh Kemble,Henry Kingi Jr.,Henry Kingi,Hiro Koda,Kim Robert Koscki,David Leitch,Al Leong,Diana R. Lupo,Steve Martinez,Matt McBride,Dustin Meier,John Meier,Mike Mukatis,Chuck Norman,Gloria O’Brien,Jimmy Ortega,Patricia M. Peters,Steve Picerni,Ming Qiu,Chad Randall,Jalon Raney,Tim Rigby,Bridgett Riley,Troy Robinson,Erik Rondell,Tomas Sanchez,Chad Stahelski,Gary Toy,Tim Trella,Dain Turner,David Wald,Keith Woulard,Marcus Young,Cinda-Lin James,Josh Kemble,Hiro Koda,Gloria O’Brien
Camera and Electrical Department Guy Norman Bee,Mindy Bee,Kenneth Bender,Brian Bibbe,Dustin Blauvelt,Tom Cantrell,Rick Drapkin,Jerry Eubanks,Craig Garfield,Lonnie S. Gatlin,Bob Gorelick,Jan Gould,Neil Jacobs,Brian Kibbie,Bob E. Krattiger,James E. Krattiger,Tim Marshall,Brett Peters,Charlie Saldana III,T. Daniel Scaringi,Kenny Schneider,Gregory W. Smith,Steven H. Smith,George Stephenson,Doug Wall,Charles W. Wayt,James D. Wickman,Peter J. Yauri,Jeff Bettis,Brian Dzyak,Myke Groves,Hank Herrera,Glen Magers,Jeff Neumann
Casting Department Chris Bustard,Ayo Davis,Terri Douglas,Teresa Neptune,Karen A. Harris
Costume and Wardrobe Department James ‘Mike’ Balker,Birgitta Bjerke,Robert Lewis Bush,Alice Daniels,Carol Demarti,Erica Freeman,Amanda Gore,Lorenzo Hearns Jr.,Melissa E. Hollingsworth,Juan Lopez,Sara Pfeiffer,Bill Traetta,Keith M. Wegner,Llandys Williams,Dominick De Rasmo,Bridgitte Ferry,Rosi Gabl
Editorial Department Craig Brown,Kristin Eaton,Darrin Martin,Mato,Sharon McGeeney,Danny Rafic,Scott Shadden,Bronwyn Shields
Location Management Jennifer Dunne,Lisa W. Strout
Music Department E. ‘Bucket’ Baker,Frank Bello,Charlie Benante,Buckethead,John Bush,Cody Carpenter,John Carpenter,Paul Crook,Robin Finck,Scott Ian,Bruce Robb,John Van Houten,Bruce Robb,Steve Vai
Script and Continuity Department Kim Berner
Transportation Department Chris Basso,Scott Bourke,Shawn Coulter,Bo Ehrig,Mike Helgeson,Jack Hess,Dennis Lally,Mel Langford,Neil Marshall,Jeremy Morgan,Jim Murray,George Nadian,Domingo Nazara,Heriberto Osario,Steve Polon,Paul Ray,Jerry Smith,Dana Schisler,Jay Wylie
Additional Crew Kerry Andrews,Angela Athayde,Michael Battaglia,Eva Brickner,Robert D. Brugger,Ken Clarke,Walt Clayton,David Cummings,Eileen M. Dennis,Rocco Diamond,Terri Douglas,Ava DuVernay,Laura J. Fox,Dulcy Freeman,Jake Garber,Gina Gilberto,Luis Gomez,John Grower,Luke Khanlian,Louis Kiss,Caroline Kramer,Stephanie Lovell,Kevin McGuire,Caitlin McKenna,Mateo Medina,Cheryl Miller,Dan Mirvish,Shelly Monges,Joe Murphy,Greg Nicotero,Michael Papac,Scott Patton,Roderick Peyketewa,Roberta Riordan,Joel Rivas,Nigel Sampson,Teafilo ‘Chito’ Sanchez,Sean Sobczak,Jaime Trujillo,Gerald A. Vitatoe Jr.,David Wogh,Mark D. Wray,Paul Giorgi,Anne Lockhart,Dave Mallow,Nathan Stein
Genres Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Companies Screen Gems, Storm King Productions, Animationwerks
Countries USA
Languages English
ContentRating R
ImDbRating 4.9
ImDbRatingVotes 54932
MetacriticRating 35
Keywords martian,mars the planet,jail,outer space,music score composed by director