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The Surprising Source Material For Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!

One of the biggest B-movies ever made, "Mars Attacks!" is director Tim Burton's own take on the cheap fifties sci-fi pictures he loved as a kid. For this project, however, Burton ended up armed with a budget of $80 million and an all-star cast, including Jack Nicholson in dual roles, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, and Tom Jones, of all people, as himself. The result is a ridiculous, riotous comedy blockbuster where numerous celebrities are killed and anything can happen, including Brosnan and Parker's severed heads kissing.

The film opens with bug-eyed, bulbous-headed Martian aliens landing their ships on Earth as the President (Jack Nicholson) initiates first contact. Unlike the peaceful creatures seen in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Contact," however, the aliens are chaotic, violent invaders who wreak havoc wherever they go. It's up to the good-natured teen Richie (Lukas Haas) to stop them, with the help of country yodeler Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call."

While "Mars Attacks!" is Burton's tribute to Ed Wood and "Invaders From Mars," there is an actual source for the story credited in the film. This is the wild material that inspired "Mars Attacks!"

Mars Attacks! is based on a Topps trading card game

"Mars Attacks!" is in fact an adaptation of a 1962 Topps trading card series of the same name. Co-created by Len Brown and Woody Gelman and worked on by other artists, including Norman Saunders and Wally Wood, the 55-card set was extremely violent (Dangerous Minds). The Martians were depicted setting innocent civilians on fire, attacking skyscrapers, and even laughing at the mayhem on television. The movie was actually pretty faithful to the source material, even if, alas, it didn't include giant spiders.

Neither the "Mars Attacks!" cards or film were especially well-received when they were first released. Concerned parents circa 1962 caused the game to cease production, while the 1996 film didn't do as well as expected (The Numbers).

Both however have been better regarded with time — Topps made a 50th anniversary "Mars Attacks!" card set in 2012, while Burton's film has become a cult classic. Indicative of how opinion has changed, Julian Connell of Vice wrote that "Few movies nail the pleasures and perils of their own genre as deftly as 'Mars Attacks!,' roasting fans, critics, and artists alike."

You can currently stream "Mars Attacks!" yourself on Netflix.