Out of the twenty-two people listed in the opening credits, only seven survive the film: Taffy Dale, Richie Norris, Grandma Florence Norris, Byron Williams, Louise Williams, Barbara Land, and Tom Jones.
The writers weren't sure what the Martians should sound like, so the script read "ack, ack, ack, ack" for all of their lines of dialogue. This became the actual words spoken by the Martians in the film.
When people had their flesh vaporized from their bones, the remaining skeletons were either red or green. Tim Burton explained this had been done because the movie had been scheduled for a Christmas release. Also, the red and green skeletons were first seen in Beetlejuice (1988). When Barbara and Adam were in Juno's office, you can see them with other ghouls looking at the screen.
In the first drafts of the script and in the novelization, the Martians' ray-guns had a variety of lethal and graphic effects on people. Examples of this include people being bisected, body parts cut off, literally exploding, melting, being shredded, having huge holes blown into their bodies, and turning into flame when hit by a Martian ray. However, to avoid an "R" rating from the MPAA, the film's producers were forced to tone down the effects of the Martian rays to simply having people be reduced to skeletons.
A real-life demolition in Las Vegas was filmed by Tim Burton, and incorporated into the movie. The casino was The Landmark, once owned by Howard Hughes. The location is now an expansion of the parking lot for the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The Martians land in Pahrump, Nevada, home of radio talk-show host Art Bell. Bell is well known for featuring guests who are involved, in one way or another, with the subject of outer-space life forms. This ranges from scientists investigating the possibility of extraterrestrial life, to people who claim to have been contacted, kidnapped, examined, or impregnated (sometimes all at the same time) by space aliens.
Tim Burton had wanted the Martians brought to life via stop-motion animation, but finally went with CGI. The animators told Burton they could animate the Martians without motion blur to make them look more "stop-motiony," but Burton decided against that.
When General Decker shouts at the Martians, "We'll never surrender, do you hear me? We'll fight you on the beaches! We'll fight you on the streets!" this parodies the words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940, regarding the threat of invasion by Nazi Germany: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we will never surrender."
In the very early stages of filming, the movie was supposed to have sixty major characters, but it was later cut to twenty-three. Scrapped characters included a suburban housewife, a soldier, a televangelist, a couple of college students, several of Professor Kessler's colleagues, a doctor and his nurse fiancée, an actress, a couple of survivalists, and a police officer.
Tim Burton called Pam Grier and asked her to fly to Los Angeles for an audition. She said she wanted to but couldn't, because her dog was terminally ill. Tim Burton called her back several times, and eventually decided that Pam Grier had already auditioned by not leaving her dog, since her character in the movie refused to leave her son.
Barry Purves was originally involved with creating the Martians using stop-motion animation, and helped develop some of their gestures. However, the producers decided to use computer graphics imagery instead, and Purves was never credited for his contributions.
The scene where characters are wandering through a collection of old neon signs, was filmed at the "Neon Boneyard", located on property maintained by the Neon Museum, a non-profit organization in Las Vegas. Many of the signs in the collection were donated by the Young Electric Sign Company (which constructed many of the casino signs, and were originally salvaged for parts), and are slated for restoration and incorporation into outdoor exhibits. The "Boneyard" has been used in several film and television projects, and is open for tours by appointment only.
The design of the alien ships was inspired by Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), including the radio-dish looking weapon emanating from the belly of the ship. In both movies it was used to destroy buildings, people, et cetera.
When Martin Short is courting the Martian Girl (Lisa Marie), he brings her into a secret room, which he calls "The Kennedy Room", a reference to John F. Kennedy's rumored extramarital dalliances while in office. There is a fish tank in the room, which contains the species of fish that inspired almost the entire cast of Finding Nemo (2003), including Nemo, Gill, Dory, and Bubbles (no sharks, shrimp, whales, or pelicans, though). The coincidence occurred probably because these species are the most popular and colorful types of salt-water aquarium fish.
Rance Howard and voice actor Frank Welker worked that same year in another alien invasion film, Independence Day (1996). Howard played a Texan investor in this movie, and a Chaplain in Independence Day (1996). Welker did "alien voices" in both.
The sound of the Martians' ray guns seems very similar to the sound that aliens emitted when raising their hands as built-in ray guns vs. opponents, in the original Outer Limits episode entitled: "The Children of Spider County." United Artists originated this series; the sound seems similar to Paramount's "War of The World's" ray-guns. If identical, perhaps the two studios reached an agreement around 1964.
During the attack in Pahrump, none of the human soldiers fire their weapons. Only a few post production muzzle flashes of turret mounted machine guns can be seen in the distance. None of the M-14s are fired.
Cedric (Ray J) and Neville (Brandon Hammond) are on a school tour of the White House when the Martians invade. One boy has a green jacket, his brother has a red shirt. One boy has a Martian weapon that fires green rays, his brother has a weapon with red rays.
There were several scenes in the original screenplay that were never used, which made the film a lot longer and much darker. Among the cut scenes were: A scene in the beginning with Mr. Lee (originally, the burning cows trampled over Mr. Lee, killing him, as his family watches in horror); another where the Martians break into the White House (the White House decorator is decorating the Ronald Reagan Room, and the Martians break in through the window and vaporize him); an extended version of the Doughnut World scene (the female employee at the doughnut shop is trying to escape the building with Richie and some cops when the Martians attack. Richie gets out, turns around and sees the building burst into flames, and we see the skeletons of the other characters); the death scene of Dr. Zeigler; and the stealing of the translator device; an extended version of the casino break-in, including the death of Mr. Brian, who is trying to save his money and gets zapped, along with many other gamblers; an alternate ending, where Byron actually IS killed by the Martians and the Martians drag his body away. Planes fly by later, and kill those Martians with the Slim Whitman music. Later, during the award ceremony, Byron is remembered by Taffy in a long and sweet speech. Louise, Cedric and Neville are sitting in the audience of this ceremony, crying and wearing black.
The following scenes were cut from the film, but, for the most part, are in the novelization and early drafts of the script. It is unknown if any of them were actually filmed: Right after the Norris family is introduced, there is a short scene of General Decker playing golf with some fellow military brass. During that scene, he expresses disgust with President Dale's peaceful approach to the Martians. Nathalie's interview of Professor Kessler was slightly longer. Right after the press conference, where the reporter asks the two sexes question, there is a short scene of Byron in his apartment going through a scrapbook and looking at all of his victories, and the reason why he and Louise are divorced is revealed: Spousal abuse. A scene where Jason and Nathalie learn that they will both be going to cover the Martians' landing. The clip of Nathalie dancing in the trailer was part of this scene. The Pahrump massacre was a little longer. A short scene right after the Pahrump massacre showing the aftermath: surviving reporters too stunned to speak to any surviving camera crews, surviving soldiers trying to assess the situation, and traumatized and wounded civilians searching for separated loved ones. The Oval Office scene right after the Pahrump massacre was longer and showed President Dale and the others watching Carl Sagan being interviewed by Larry King, and Sagan was insisting that the Martians' attack was a cultural misunderstanding. It is highly unlikely Sagan and King would both have been available for cameo appearances (especially since Sagan's health was declining at the time), so it is probable that this was never filmed. The character of Cindy was given a slightly larger role and more lines. A short scene involving Byron taking a photo with three Asian businessmen, and Cindy bragging about how she gets big tips during national disasters, while images from the Pahrump massacre were playing on the televisions. A scene showing an anti-Martian protest in New York City on the morning of their Congressional address. President Dale's speech after the Congressional massacre was longer, and was supposed to have him announcing that diplomatic relations with the Martians will be completely suspended. Jerry's tour of the White House with the Martian Girl is slightly longer. Taffy wanders by and tells the Martian Girl to "make sure that he wears a condom". While heading for the President's bedroom, the Martian Girl was confronted by a Secret Service Agent. When he asks who she is and why she is there, she pulls out her ray-gun and disintegrates him. A short scene showing a Martian "ritual" before the invasion. The Martian Leader ignites a globe of Earth. The Martians' attack on the White House was slightly longer. Right after Byron and Barbara discuss their plans to leave Las Vegas, there was a scene where Mr. Bava tells a group of panicking guests to remain calm, and that "the Army has arrived and will have the situation under control very soon." Right before Byron, Tom Jones, Barbara, Cindy, and the Rude Gambler leave the Luxor, there was a shot showing the Emergency Broadcast System on all of the casino's televisions. The Martians' attack on Las Vegas was slightly longer. During that scene, the Martian holding the translating computer was supposed to be saying, "HAVE A NICE DAY" in addition to "DON'T RUN, WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS." A short scene where Byron's group is going through the neon junkyard. Tom Jones refuses to try to risk flying Byron to Washington, D.C., fearing that the Martians' attack on that city could be much worse than their attacking Las Vegas, but Byron will not take "no" for an answer. The group is then confronted by another Martian, and Tom Jones kills it. A short War Room scene, where General Decker tells President Dale that the Martians will destroy Earth in around six days if they maintain their assault. The Martians attacking the retirement home was slightly longer. The "invasion" montage after the nuclear attack scene was longer. It showed cities like New York City, Moscow, Tokyo, and Sydney being attacked, and landmarks such as the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Opera House, and part of the Great Wall of China being destroyed. A short scene involved Richie and Grandma arriving at the radio station and telling some survivors barricaded inside what the record will do. Though skeptical, the survivors relent and allow them in. The "Martians' defeat" montage was longer. Richie's speech at the end was longer.
On a radio broadcast soon after the film was released on video, Howard Stern said he had finally watched it and was amazed to note similarities to his own earlier work. He stated that during the first week he was on the air at WNBC in 1982, he and co-worker Fred Norris had created and aired a segment entitled "Slim Whitman Versus the Midget Aliens From Mars", which Stern proceeded to re-broadcast as proof. The bit depicted Whitman's singing as a weapon against invading aliens and which rendered the planet a wasteland. "It's the same. I want credit," said Stern. "It's a weird coincidence, and it freaked me out." Years later, Stern had Tim Burton on his show as a guest, and he told Burton that he had created a bit, "Slim Whitman Versus the Midget Aliens From Mars", in the early 1980s, to which Burton immediately responded "wow" in amazement, and then added, "you should have sued me".
Tim Burton: [distorted female face] Nathalie's head is incongruously grafted onto a Chihuahua body, the Martian Girl's face is partially ripped off to show something like a Glasgow smile, and numerous women are turned into colorful skeletons by the disintegration rays.