Half a century ago, Topps unleashed a decadent series of trading cards called Mars Attacks onto the nation’s impressionable young minds. The parental outcry was so strong that the cards were yanked from store shelves only months later. But the legend lived on, no doubt due to what ’60s kids remembered about the cards’ graphic depiction of a brutal attack on Earth courtesy of the big-brained, masochistic denizens of our solar system’s reddest planet. Mars Attacks came back in a big way in 1996 with the moderately okay-received movie of the same name by Tim Burton (we still think it’s a brilliantly depraved piece of cinema, for the record). And Topps itself has re-released the cards a few times, most recently in 2012, to celebrate 50 years of Martian mayhem. What follows are the cards that most likely set off outrage in the parents of the Baby Boomer generation, as well as a good helping of cards that were EVEN WORSE, so much so that Topps didn’t even release them until the reprint sets came out decades later. (Sadly, the unpublished series of cards that account for some of the most twisted entries on this list were included in the 1994 edition of Mars Attacks but not the 2012 edition. Damn you, Topps!)
20) Watching From Mars
As horrible as the attack was that Mars had launched on the planet Earth, it was even creepier to think that Martian families were snuggled up in their living room, munching on popcorn and enjoying bloody news footage of the invasion like it was the latest episode of I Dream of Jeannie.
19) Burning Cattle
Most alien visitors are content to buzz their flying saucers over remote human farms, beam up a few cattle, perform a few madcap experiments, and then leave the mutilated corpses behind as a valentine. But the not Martians, no; they crank up the heat rays until Wisconsin smells like a McDonald’s kitchen.
At some point during the invasion, the Martians got a bit lazy and created entire armies of giant, mutated insects and spiders to do the busy work of clearing out the human population. This results in a whole subset of cards depicting giant insect encounters that goes on way too long, like Topps swiped art from a scrapped series called Bugs Attack! and transplanted them into Mars Attacks to pad out the set. The best of these cards depicts an unfortunate woman caught up in a web, about to be devoured by a giant spider. This is every arachnophobic’s worst nightmare.
17) The Human Torch
Martian weapons completely overwhelmed Earth’s military forces, with a new awful method of death and destruction being unveiled every day. The soldier on this card got to become possibly his favorite member of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (or Nazi-fighting superhero team the Invaders) in absolutely the worst way possible.
16) Panic in Parliament
This card is actually one of the least graphic in the set, but what makes us incredibly unsettled is that giant Martian breaking through the roof. Do the Martians have some kind of growth ray we don’t know about? (The card text doesn’t mention it.) Are there normally giant Martians?? Does the artist have that poor an understanding of perspective??? Ahhh!!!!! Panic!!!!!!!!!
15) The Skyscraper Tumbles
When the Mars Attacks cards first came out, an attack on New York City such as this was yet another one of the terrors dreamed up by the creative team at Topps. Today, this chilling scene has more real world resonance.
14) Destroying the Bridge
Crossing a long span like the Golden Gate Bridge and looking down at all that water below can be stressful enough as it is. Having a horde of flying saucers come along and send your car spiraling down to the murky depths, in flames no less, will certainly put a crimp in your day.
13) Crushed to Death
To the Martians, Earthlings were pretty much just the doomed residents of a cruel child’s ant farm. Martians would clear rubble with giant shovels that emerged from their spaceships, and for giggles would sweep up groups of people and smash them into buildings. Good times!
12-11) Beast and the Beauty / Prize Captive (tie)
Do you think implied Martian rape could have had anything to do with 1960’s parents rallying against these cards? Do you think it’s possible? I don’t know, I think they were okay with that.
10) Flight of the Doomed
The writers of Lost didn’t bother to show it because they were too busy with polar bears and mediocre sideways realities, but this is what REALLY happened to Oceanic 815.
9) Smashing the Enemy
The Mars Attack
saga ends with Earth launching rockets full of soldiers to Mars for a counterattack. Earth armies destroy Martian cities, butcher the populace and then, in the ultimate feel-good moment, Mars is destroyed by an atomic explosion. Even if the Martians pretty much deserved it, watching soldiers use the butts of their guns to pop Martian heads like pimples is a tiny bit barf-inducing.
8) Death By Impalement
This is a “Deleted Scene” card that had been sketched out for the original Mars Attacks series but never produced until the 2012 set. This poor fella who jumped from a building set on fire by those Martian scamps certainly met a grisly end, but let’s look on the bright side; at least he didn’t get it through the schlong.
7) Burning Flesh
A good number of Mars Attack cards GRAPHICALLY depict Martian heat rays melting the flesh off of victims down to the bone, and this might be the worst of them. Mmm, bacon!
6) Unspeakable Experiments
Not only do Martians like to pull out your internal organs and make you watch, they make your significant other watch, too! Let it never be said they’re not romantic. Of course, the real terror of this card is seeing the Martians in their underwear.
5) Naked and the Dead
Brain shutting down, confused. Incredibly turned on, but nauseous. Is this what they mean by torture porn? Well, at least bugs don’t have tentacles.
4) Blasted Into Oblivion
The Martians weren’t content to just zap Earth’s soldiers and turn them into human firecrackers. They also took great glee in strapping soldiers to the exhaust ports of their ships and activating the engines. When you put that much work and creativity into new ways to kill things, that just has to be respected.
3) Saucers Invade China
We don’t know what’s more terrible in this card… the sickening gore or the awful Chinese stereotypes.
2) Last Licks
An innocent, young girl tries to befriend a Martian by offering it her ice cream crone. Judging by the name of card and knowing from other evidence what rat-bastards the Martians are, you don’t want to see what happens next.
1) Destroying a Dog
For all the atrocities the Martians are seen joyfully depicting in this card series, perhaps nothing is more tragic and awful then this Martian frying a dog right in front of its tearful, young owner. Many thanks to the artists at Topps for mentally scarring generations of kids for five decades running!