Mars Attacks! Almost Featured Killer Dinosaurs - Here's Why Tim Burton Changed It

"Mars Attacks!" is Tim Burton's ode to alien invasion B-movies from the 1950s, and it's become a bit of a cult classic despite its cold reception at release. The hijinx-strewn battle between inept politicians and big-brained aliens wearing fishbowls on their heads seemed confusingly silly to an audience hot off the very earnest "Independence Day," which came out earlier the same year. However, Burton initially wanted to make a movie about a dinosaur assault instead, which would have drawn immediate comparisons to "Jurassic Park."

"Mars Attacks!" is based on a series of trading cards published in 1962 that featured the familiar-looking bug-eyed aliens mercilessly burning and violently slaughtering the denizens of Earth. The card series was created by Len Brown, who brought on pulp comic book artists Wally Wood, Bob Powell, and Norman Saunders to bring the Martian atrocities to life. This was, of course, only a couple of years after Fredric Wertham's infamous "Seduction of the Innocent" launched a moral panic centered on comic books in 1954. Needless to say, Topps stopped producing the cards under threat from a Connecticut district attorney. It wasn't until 1984 that the cards saw the light of day once more, spurring a follow-up collection featuring killer dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs attack!? In this economy?

"Dinosaurs Attack" was an attempt at recreating the success of the "Mars Attacks!" cards, revisiting the era of 1950s B-movies to pay homage to giant monster flicks. The loose story featured a time travel experiment gone horribly wrong, while the artwork featured even more over-the-top violence as the prehistoric beasts mutilated, crushed, and devoured everyone in their path.

Jonathan Gems, screenwriter of "Mars Attacks!," spotted both card sets while shopping for a birthday present for his collaborator Tim Burton. In an interview with Inverse that tells the difficulties in the making of "Mars Attacks," Gems recounts the discovery:

"I was in a kind of gift store, and on the counter, I saw a complete collection of two sets of cards. These were cards that were like baseball cards. There were two sets, one called Dinosaurs Attack and another called Mars Attacks. They had these fantastic little oil paintings of these atrocities."

According to Gems, Burton was initially drawn to the dinosaurs, but the duo found out that Steven Spielberg was working on a "Jurassic Park" sequel that would feature dinosaurs running amok in Los Angeles ("The Lost World: Jurassic Park" ended up having one T-Rex rampage through San Diego). Though Spielberg's project was surely not going to be as violent as the Topps cards, Burton and Gems decided to stick with a Martian invasion instead. Half the fun of "Mars Attacks!" is seeing the bumbling humans try to make peace with the jerkish alien trolls, so it might have been for the best that a campy disaster movie about dinosaurs never happened. Still, one has to wonder what the dinosaur movie landscape would look like today if Burton had made a schlock response to the beloved piece of prestige dinosaur cinema that was "Jurassic Park," which is very scary in the dark.