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Every Mars Attacks! Character Ranked From Worst To Best

Looking to do a big-budget tribute to 1950s movies, director Tim Burton – fresh off of "Ed Wood" — optioned the rights to Topps' "Mars Attacks" trading card series published in 1962. Originally a dark and violent — if somewhat sardonic — series of horrifically graphic images of death and destruction, it saw an army of Martian invaders arrive on Earth and lay waste to major cities, vaporizing innocent victims, delighting children and upsetting parents.

The film adaptation by Burton is a deeply ironic black comedy, filled with imagery inspired by the trading cards, including terrifying ray guns, flying saucers, giant robots, and powerful shrink rays, though it didn't include the killer bugs. But what it lacked in giant flies it more than made up for in Hollywood star power, with a broad ensemble cast that included screen legends and television icons including Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, and Jack Nicholson, twice.

With so many characters, it may be tough to rate them all, but that didn't stop us from trying. Where does your favorite "Mars Attacks!" character rank? Scroll on to find out.

Mitch (Brian Haley)

A man of few words and fewer emotions, the straight-laced Secret Service agent Mitch is a part of the security team that protects President Dale (Jack Nicholson). We often get the impression that he's only at the White House to help tourists, though, and to make sure nobody gets in the way of their trip through the White House grounds, even during a Martian attack on Earth. Mitch is played by comic actor Brian Haley, not long after his single-season stint as replacement mechanic Budd Bronski in the final year of the TV sitcom "Wings."

While his part is small, Mitch gets a few good scenes in, which mostly serve as set-ups for a single joke later in the film. But the joke is a good one: seen ushering Taffy Dale (Natalie Portman) out of a hallway to make room for a tour group, we hear him being overly protective of the visitors and spectators. So when the White House later finds itself under attack, with Washington in flames, the president is being rushed to safety and Mitch — in perfect deadpan — declares one escape route off-limits because there's a tour group that way.

Glenn and Sue Ann Norris (Joe Don Baker and O-Lan Jones)

A pair of dim yokels, Glenn and Sue Ann Norris (Joe Don Baker and O-Lan Jones) are the face of the average American in "Mars Attacks!" They're an ordinary, hard-working couple with three children, and a trailer in the country. When word reaches them that aliens from Mars are on their way to Earth, they're not excited or angry. Instead, Glenn is eager kick Martian butt, but not because he wants protect his family or do what's right, but just because it seems like fun. Not too bright and a little too excited about his son Billy-Glenn (Jack Black) going off to fight the Martian menace, Glenn is ashamed of his other son, Richie (Lukas Haas), whose intelligence isn't manly enough for him.

But as the invasion begins, Billy-Glenn is disintegrated on live television, to their utter horror. Still, Glenn and Sue Ann are thrilled for the chance to arm up themselves, ready to defend their homes like good patriotic Americans. It's all for nought, though, as the Martian's giant robot plays a game of smash-up with their trailers, killing them instantly, and leaving Richie the only survivor in the family.

Cedric and Neville Williams (Ray J and Brandon Hammond)

Two of the biggest unheralded heroes of "Mars Attacks!" are the two young brothers Cedric and Neville (Ray J and Brandon Hammond), sons of Byron and Louise Williams (Jim Brown and Pam Grier). When we first meet the kids they've skipped school and are playing at an arcade with some toy guns, in a bit of foreshadowing of what's to come. But just because they're kids doesn't mean they're any less heroic than the brave soldiers and generals that lead the charge against the Martians, and they'd eventually prove it — because the big attack occurs just as they're on a White House tour, and they're in the right place at the right time when fortune plays its hand.

In one of the movie's many goofy gags, Cedric and Neville steal the ray guns off a dead Martian in the White House halls and help defend President Dale (Jack Nicholson) from abduction and death. Putting their arcade skills to good use, they zap away, blasting Martians one after the other before heroically taking charge and snapping at the Secret Service detail, "What are you gawking at? Get the president out of here!"

Richie Norris (Lukas Haas)

Actor Lukas Haas stars as Richie Norris, the one member of the all-American Norris family who actually has a shred of decency and intelligence. While his brother Billy-Glenn gets all of his parent's love, Richie is left to be the outcast, seemingly loved only by his shrewd but aging grandmother Florence. Fascinated by the Martians when they first enter orbit, he doesn't seem to have much opinion on their arrival other than how remarkable it truly is, plus he recognizes the Martian Ambassador's gesture as the "international sign of the donut." 

When the alien invaders are burning the city, Richie has no interest in picking up a gun and fighting for the honor of his country, all he wants to do is save his grandmother. When he finds her though, he discovers that her record of Slim Whitman is the Martians' greatest weakness. It's then up to him to get the word out and turn every speaker in town into a Martian killing machine, saving the world and proving that manly toughness and patriotic duty aren't everything. In the end, Richie finds a budding romance with first daughter Taffy Dale (Natalie Portman) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, which lies in ruin.

General Casey (Paul Winfield)

Played by character actor Paul Winfield, who audiences may recognize from supporting roles in such hits as "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "The Terminator," General Casey is one of President Dale's top military advisors. More soft-spoken than his fellow military officials, Casey has a gentler touch and a sensitive way with the Martians, which ultimately leads to his undoing. But even if he's a bit of a yes man, Casey is a loyal, by-the-book officer, always with a big goofy grin on his face that makes him hard to dislike.

The problem is that President Dale, not wanting to frighten the Martians with too strong a show of strength, opts to put Casey in charge of the military forces over the more iron-fisted General Decker. But it's Casey's kinder hand and naivete in underestimating the Martians that leads to their undoing. Could things have played out differently if the war-mongering Decker had been in charge of the military response to the invasion from the Red Planet? It's impossible to say, but perhaps at least Earth forces could have gotten a few good licks in before the Martian ray guns came out. As it happened, Casey became their first helpless victim.

Jerry Ross (Martin Short)

Another big-name comedian in the sprawling cast is Martin Short, a regular guest on "Saturday Night Live" and frequent Steve Martin collaborator known for movies like "Three Amigos" and more recently appearing in the Hulu thriller-comedy "Only Murders in the Building." In "Mars Attacks!," though he plays Jerry Ross, the slimy, awkward press secretary to President Dale. Eager to please, Ross is either endlessly charming or seriously creepy, depending on your point of view. Level-headed, he remains calm and collected throughout the Martian invasion, which is an odd acting choice for Short, known for his many manic characters.

Proud of being the president's right-hand man, it couldn't have been a good feeling when he realized he was suckered by a Martian in an alluring human disguise (Lisa Marie), and ultimately the man responsible for an assassination attempt on the president. Unable to help himself when he countered a slender beehive-haired mystery woman who turned out to be a Martian in disguise, he lets her into the White House only to be killed while trying to seduce her. Thankfully, Dale was tougher than he looked and survived the attack.

First Lady Marsha Dale (Glenn Close)

First Lady Marsha Dale is played by Hollywood legend Glenn Close, who more recently returned to science fiction with small roles in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films. Back in 1996 though, she starred in "Mars Attacks!" and made her presence felt as the uptight and pretentious wife to President Dale. Prissy and particular, she's none too happy about the Martians approaching, but not because she fears an interstellar war or even because she thinks they're ugly, but because she doesn't want them using the White House's fine Van Buren china.

But when push comes to shove, the First Lady gets tough. Realizing that the attack from the Martians was no mistake, she makes it clear what they should do: "Kick the crap out of them," she tells her husband, much to the delight of the eager General Decker, who wants nothing more than to blow the Martians out of the stars. Of course, the First Lady also gets one of the movie's funniest death scenes, killed by the Nancy Reagan chandelier as she's making her escape from the presidential residence.

Billy-Glenn Norris (Jack Black)

Believe it or not, "Mars Attacks!" also starred a young Jack Black, too. Here he's the slow-witted, America-loving, Martian-hating military recruit Billy-Glenn Norris. A local yokel and not too bright, he's loved by his similarly dopey father and hates his more intelligent little brother, Richie, because he's not dumb enough or manly enough for him. So of course, when the invasion begins, Billy-Glenn is all too happy to go to war, arriving at the Martian landing ceremony where he's totally incapable of doing anything right.

And when the Martians open fire, zapping General Casey and vaporizing the crowd, Richie sees his chance to be a hero. Doing his best "Forrest Gump" impression, he runs across the field of battle only for his total and utter incompetence to leave him with little more than a flagpole to defend himself. Proving himself a coward, he tries to surrender to the Martian soldier, who promptly atomizes him with his ray gun, leaving nothing left but a smoldering skeleton.

Martian Spy Girl (Lisa Marie)

Though she doesn't have any dialogue in the film, the mysterious character referred to as the "Martian Girl" in the film's closing credits may be one of the most memorable. Played by Tim Burton's girlfriend at the time Lisa Marie, the Martian Girl's red-swirled dress and beehive hairdo are downright iconic, and were front and center on the movie's poster, too. Her lithe figure glides effortlessly to and fro, with an unusual gait that belies the alien underneath her human skins. Constantly chewing what we later learn is a kind of gum that allows the Martian to breathe in Earth's atmosphere, she's both alluring and sinister at the same time.

Using her looks to lure Press Secretary Jerry Ross, she cons her way into the White House past the unsuspecting security. With her bizarre spy camera — disguised as a ring that looks like a human eyeball — she's able to send back images to the Martian mothership as she seeks out President Dale. While her assassination attempt is ruthless, it's also bumbling, and she is toppled by Dale and shot through the brain by the Secret Service. Though her role is brief, it's unforgettable.

Louise Williams (Pam Grier)

A year before her big Hollywood comeback in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," '70s blaxploitation star Pam Grier made a notable if relatively small appearance in "Mars Attacks!" Here, she plays Louise Williams, a no-nonsense Washington, D.C. bus driver and mother to Cedric and Neville. When we first meet her, she is driving through the city on her regular route when she spies her two kids playing hooky from school and immediately halts the bus. While onlookers gawk, Louis gives her kids an earful and gets them aboard with a stern talking-to. 

But Louise is caught in D.C. when the Martians attack, helplessly watching as they destroy the city all around her. Distraught that her husband, Byron, is stuck in Vegas, she fears he's been killed. Sadly, we never do get to see her tearful reunion with him, and Louise doesn't get much more to do in the movie, which is too bad. It would have been nice to see the one-time "Foxy Brown" star knocking out Martians with a bar stool or karate chopping their big bulbous brains.

The Gambler (Danny DeVito)

Having worked together on "Batman Returns," director Tim Burton added Danny DeVito to the cast of "Mars Attacks!" in a small role as an unnamed but pathetically weaselly Las Vegas gambler out to save himself when he sees the Martians attacking the casino. Though we first see him early in the film gambling while the president addresses the nation about a forthcoming visit from the Martians, where he's too invested in winning a game of craps to realize — or care about — what's happening.

But the diminutive gambler returns at the film's climax, a greedy little troll looking out for himself. He gets himself invited aboard Barbara Land's private plane, hoping to avoid being trapped amid the destruction, and becomes attached to flighty Barbara Land. But while heading for the plane, his impatience gets the better of him, and he makes a run for it, only to run smack into a Martian soldier. Though he tries to bribe the green-faced goon with his Rolex watch, it's no use, and he's fried alive by the dastardly alien's ray rifle.

Jason Stone (Michael J. Fox)

"Back to the Future" star Michael J. Fox was one of the bigger names in the roster of stars that paraded through "Mars Attacks!," as he had just begun starring in the hit sitcom "Spin City." He stars in the film as Jason Stone, a well-known TV host for cable news network GNN. A smarmy, egocentric celebrity newsman, he thinks he should have every important story, even over his own wife, Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker), who hosts a less reputable talk show, and he's incensed when the government's lead scientist chooses to appear on her show instead of his — because all the Martian invasion means to him is a chance for bigger ratings.

Of course when the visitors from Mars make plans for a major public landing, Stone wants to be there — camera crew in hand — for a chance of capturing the Martians on video. But it's nothing like what he expected, and all hell breaks loose when the Martian Ambassador opens fire on General Casey, leaving Stone caught in the middle of the chaos. Dodging ray gun fire, Stone makes his way across the battlefield to find his wife, only to be vaporized just as he reaches her, with only his hand left for her to hold onto.

Florence Norris (Sylvia Sydney)

Also starring in "Mars Attacks!" is Hollywood great Sylvia Sidney, who had also appeared in Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice." In "Mars Attacks!" she plays Florence Norris, a role that would be her final big screen appearance before her death in 1999. As the aging Florence she is disdainful of her own children, but her favorite member of the family is grandson Richie, who is smart enough to make her proud. She also loves her cat Muffy — who just so happens to be dead and stuffed — and has a soft spot for old records. She also gets one of the film's most crowd-pleasing lines, as she laughs when the Martians invade the U.S. Capitol, exalting "They blew up Congress!"

Though Florence is suffering the effects of old age and does not have the quickest mind, she's still sharper than she lets on. After the Martians attack and invade her nursing home, Richie comes to her rescue. But as everyone around him is charred by Martians, Richie discovers that his grandmother has the secret weapon that can defeat the invaders: an old Slim Whitman album. When played at full volume, the sounds of Whitman's voice make the Martians' brains go splat, and before long Richie and others begin using Florence's record to wipe out Martians in the streets.

Tom Jones

Classic crooner Tom Jones made what might be the most fun cameo in "Mars Attacks!," not as an eccentric tycoon or powerful government bureaucrat, but as himself. As Las Vegas is being overrun we cut to the inside of one of the casino's concert halls where Jones is putting on a lively concert. But just as he's getting to the best part of his hit son "It's Not Unusual," a pack of Martian soldiers comes bursting in to vaporize his audience. Fleeing the hall, Jones meets up with Byron, Barbara Land, and others, and offers his services as pilot to get them safely out of Vegas.

Playing hero, Jones is able to get a handful of survivors out, and together they land safely outside the caves of Tahoe, a remote area the Martians can't reach. In the film's conclusion, once the invasion is over and the Martians lay dead, we're treated to a rousing reprisal of "It's Not Unusual," this time with Jones singing to some friendly animals who greet him in the spirit of peace and harmony.

The Martian Ambassador

While there are dozens if not hundreds of Martians seen throughout "Mars Attacks!," there's another besides the Martian Girl to get the spotlight: the Martian Ambassador. He's not just the most cruel, ruthless, and vile Martian we see in the film; he's also the one with the most wicked sense of humor, and he's a big reason why the movie works so well. We first get a glimpse of him when he sends a communication to Earth governments announcing his impending arrival, which scientists translate to "for dark is the suede that mows the harvest."

Not only does the Ambassador get the Martians' first kill, zapping General Casey, but he also accepts President Dale's invitation to return even after he massacres the American military envoy in the desert. As a response, he blows up all of Congress. Later, while President Dale is preparing a counterstrike, the Martian Ambassador invites world leaders to a summit in France. While he tricks the diplomats into believing a peace can be negotiated, the Ambassador ignites another bloody horror in Paris. Though his message of conquest was clear, all we ever heard was "Ack, Ack, Ack."

Byron Williams (Jim Brown)

Played by NFL great Jim Brown (who is best known to moviegoers for his roles in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" and "The Running Man"), former boxer Byron Williams was once the heavyweight champion of the world. But long after his career has wound down, Williams is reduced to working as a costumed mascot at an Egyptian-themed casino in Las Vegas, which is where we meet him at the start of the film. Having a hard time making ends meet to support his two kids, Byron is down on his luck and struggling to reconcile with his wife Louise. 

As the Martians initiate their attacks on Earth though, Byron is terrified of what is happening to his family, who don't live far from the capitol, and sets out to get back East to help them. He meets Barbara Land, who has a plane, and Tom Jones, who says he can fly it, and together they make their way to a local airfield. But before they can take off, they're confronted by a small contingent of Martians, and Byron sacrifices his own escape to allow Barbara and Jones a chance to get away. Smashing the enemy soldiers with his fists, we think for a moment that he might have met his end, but he returns in the film's final moments walking triumphantly up the steps of his wife's apartment.

Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker)

Before she starred as Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City," Sarah Jessica Parker was a favorite of director Tim Burton, who cast her in two of his films in the '90s: the offbeat biopic "Ed Wood" and "Mars Attacks!" In the latter, she starred as Nathalie Lake, a smug and pretentious — and slightly air-headed — daytime talk show host and fashion critic with a colorful flare and an annoying little dog named Poppy. She dates GNN's Jason Stone but openly flirts with Professor Donald Kessler (Pierce Brosnan) — much to her boyfriend's chagrin — when she's granted an exclusive interview.

After Martians invade, she becomes their prize captive and is experimented on in gruesome and hilarious ways, with her head transplanted onto her chihuahua's body. But Kessler is also abducted and after Stone's death at the hands of Martian soldiers, he and Lake share an emotional kiss — as a pair of decapitated heads — aboard a Martian saucer just before its destruction.

Barbara Land (Annette Bening)

Barbara Land, wife of real estate tycoon Art Land, is played by Annette Bening, another big name in the ensemble cast, who is also the wife of real-life Hollywood tycoon Warren Beatty. Barbara lives life with her head in the clouds, and she doesn't care for her husband's obsession with his business. Nevetheless, she is loyal to Art and sticks by him just the same. A peace-loving hippie, she embraces spirituality and a love for her fellow man ... at least until the Martians land, that is. 

With Martians attacking, Barbara goes on a bender in Vegas after realizing the utter hopelessness of the situation. But more than just feeling like all is lost, Barbara comes to feel that humanity is getting just what it deserves: its own destruction. But after the Martians declare all-out war, Barbara's flighty nature comes in handy, as she has a plan to escape Vegas, and with the help of Byron, she's able to get out of town aboard a small plane, even getting a measure of revenge on the Martian who killed poor Danny DeVito. In the end, Barbara Land finds the balance with nature she's been looking for with Tom Jones in Tahoe after the Martian menace is finally defeated.

General Decker (Rod Steiger)

Always angry, always ready to open fire, the tyrannical General Decker (Rod Steiger) is a well-trained, by-the-book general with a passion for war and the resolve to squish the Martian's brains with his bare hands if he has to. Eager to open fire at the first sight of the alien spacecraft, he repeatedly pushes President Dale for a stronger military response, including a "nucular" attack, only to be rebuffed by the president's desire for peaceful relations with their interplanetary neighbors. 

Incensed by what he sees as a yellow-bellied reaction to clear alien aggression, Decker curses the "liberals, intellectuals, peace mongers ... idiots!" Eager to take charge of the military when the Martians land, Decker is stunned when Dale chooses Casey to command the troops but doesn't let that stop him from preparing for war. The embodiment of America's obsession with military might, he is proof of why humanity needs to be exterminated, but also the only one who was right about the Martians from the very beginning. In one of the movie's best scenes, Decker goes down firing before being reduced to the size of a grape with the shrinking ray. He flips the Martian Leader the bird and is promptly squished under his boot alien boot. 

Art Land (Jack Nicholson)

One of Hollywood's biggest stars, Jack Nicholson had the distinction of playing unrelated dual roles in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!" The first is the ambitious and unscrupulous Art Land, a Las Vegas real estate developer who'd probably like to call himself a mogul. Really though, he's more of a scoundrel and a hustler, whose latest big idea is the construction of the outer space-themed casino hotel called The Galaxy. 

Played to comic perfection by Nicholson in an unconventionally over-the-top role that's a departure for the screen legend, Land is oddly endearing. Blustery, egomaniacal, and obsessed with his own schemes, he's also not above playing dirty, offering Byron cash to knock out an associate who isn't playing ball. But he's also so self-centered that when the Martians attack he is completely unfazed, seeing the invasion as just another opportunity to make money. Oblivious to the destruction, he's entirely too preoccupied with the opening of his new casino and making sure his new limo has the finest corinthian leather to care about the millions left dead.

Like most members of the cast, Art Land doesn't survive the film. He meets his doom near the end of the action, crushed to death under his own hotel after it's blasted to smithereens by a passing saucer.

Professer Kessler (Pierce Brosnan)

A year after making his debut as James Bond in 1995's "Goldeneye," British actor Pierce Brosnan joined the ensemble cast of "Mars Attacks!" in one of the biggest roles in the film. Starring as the suave, debonair Professor Donald Kessler, he's brought in immediately to advise President Dale when word comes in that a fleet of flying saucers from Mars is on its way to Earth. He's the chairman of the American Academy of Astronautics, an apparent biologist, a fan of Nathalie Lake, and supremely naive to the Martian's conquest.

So absolutely oblivious is Kessler to the threat of the Martians that he repeatedly implores the president to seek an amicable solution even after they attacked. Certain that no race with such advanced technology could be anything but benign and enlightened, Kessler is a walking social allegory for our own violent, advanced human race. Even with the smell of burning flesh and the fried remains of politicians all around him, Kessler still begs for peace, but he's instead abducted and left little more than a dripping stump of neck and head.

President Dale (Jack Nicholson)

Jack Nicholson's second role in "Mars Attacks!" is the film's best, as the commander-in-chief, President James Dale. Fashioning himself as a folksy, Lincoln-esque American president, Dale is warm but resolute, sensitive yet tough. Unfortunately, he surrounds himself with people-pleasing yes men and incompetent staffers like Jerry Ross, General Casey, and Secret Service agent Mitch. Determined to establish peaceful relations with his Martian neighbors, he wants too much to believe their initial attack is a mistake and doesn't see the true threat they pose.

Dale gets a number of the film's funniest moments and some of its best lines, but his impassioned plea for peace falls on deaf ears, while his call for calm amidst the chaos does little to quell a nervous populace. Because even with two out of three branches of government working, it's not enough, and Dale is impaled through the back with a steel tentacle as he begs the Martian leader to "just get along."