The film regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made, and is regularly featured in the "bottom 100" list on the Internet Movie Database, and was featured in an episode of the 1986 syndicated series, the Canned Film Festival. The film took on newfound fame in the 1990s after being featured on an episode of the comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The episode became a holiday staple on the Comedy Central cable channel in the years following its 1991 premiere. It has since found new life again, as it has been the subject of new riffing by Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax, both productions of former MST3K writers and performers. Similar series, such as The Best of the Worst series produced by RedLetterMedia, have refused to review it because of its extremely poor quality. The film was also featured on the current run of Elvira's Movie Macabre.
The story involves the people of Mars, including Momar ("Mom Martian") and Kimar ("King Martian"). They are worried that their children Girmar ("Girl Martian") and Bomar ("Boy Martian") are watching too much Earth television, most notably station KID-TV's interview with Santa Claus in his workshop at the North Pole. Consulting the ancient 800 year old Martian sage Chochem (a Yiddish word meaning "genius"), they are advised that the children of Mars are growing distracted due to the society's overly rigid structure; from infancy, all their education is fed into their brains through machines and they are not allowed individuality or freedom of thought.
Chochem notes that he had seen this coming "for centuries", and says the only way to help the children is to allow them their freedom and be allowed to have fun. To do this, they need a Santa Claus figure, like on Earth. Leaving the Chochem's cave, the Martian leaders decide to abduct Santa Claus from Earth and bring him to Mars.
As the Martians could not distinguish between all the fake Santas, they kidnapped two children to find the real one. Once this is accomplished, one Martian, Voldar, who strongly disagrees with the idea, repeatedly tries to kill Santa Claus along with the two kidnapped Earth children. He believes that Santa is corrupting the children of Mars and turning them away from Mars' original glory.
When they arrive on Mars, Santa and the children build a factory to make toys for the children. However, Voldar and his assistants, Stobo and Shim, sabotage the factory and change the programming so that it makes the toys incorrectly. Meanwhile, Dropo, Kimar's assistant, has taken a great liking to Santa Claus and Christmas, puts on one of Santa's spare suits and starts acting like Santa Claus. He goes to the toy factory to make toys, but Voldar mistakes him for Santa and kidnaps him.
When Santa and the children come back to the factory to make more toys, they discover the machines have been tampered with. Voldar and Stobo come back to the factory to make a deal with Kimar, but when they see the real Santa Claus they realize that their plan has been foiled. Dropo, held hostage in a cave, tricks his guard Shim and escapes. Kimar then arrests Voldar, Stobo and Shim. Santa notices Dropo acts like him, and says that Dropo would make a good Martian Santa. Kimar agrees to let Dropo be the Martian Santa Claus and sends Santa and the children back to Earth.
The film received mostly negative reviews, with most of its positive feedback in the form of the film being so bad, it's good. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 25% score based on twenty reviews, with an average rating of 2.8/10. The film has been viewed as a cult film.
Due to its public domain status in the United States, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has been released on many different bargain price DVD labels.Originally broadcast on The Comedy Channel on December 21, 1991, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film was released on DVD by Rhino Home Video as part of "MST3K: The Essentials" on August 31, 2004.
Mill Creek Entertainment released the film on DVD as part of their Holiday Family Collection in 2006.
Cinematic Titanic riffed the film on DVD, released in November 2008.
The Cinema Insomnia version was released by Apprehensive Films as part of their Slime Line series.
The bonus content of the Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale DVD includes the film.
E1 Entertainment Elvira's Movie Macabre version was released on DVD on December 6, 2011.
Kino Lorber planned to release a Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Kino Classics Special Edition on Blu-ray and DVD on October 30, 2012. However, it was discovered that the discs had been pressed using a severely truncated master copy running only 69 minutes. A new version was released on December 4, 2012, with the original running time intact.
RiffTrax, a production of several former MST3K writers and performers, selected the film for riffing in a live event held December 5, 2013 and broadcast to movie theaters around the country. The live show became available as a digital download on August 1, 2014 and was released on DVD on November 24, 2015. The show was presented on a double bill with RiffTrax Holiday shorts on December 1, 2016.
A single issue comic book adaptation of the film was published by Dell Comics.
It has been named one of the worst films ever. Since February 1998, a remake was rumoured with David Zucker as producer, and Jim Carrey attached to play Dropo. An estimated release date was announced as 2002, though it was then believed to have been in development hell. The film was listed in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (1978).
The film was featured in episode number 3.21 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with additional commentary tracks by its spiritual successors Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax in November 2008 and August 2014 respectively. Scenes from the film were used in both A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (during the song sung by Toby Keith), and Eloise at Christmastime (when Sir Wilkes is watching television).
The film spawned a tongue in cheek novelization by Lou Harry, released by Penguin Books/Chamberlain Bros. in 2005. The book, which includes a DVD of the original film, presents the story from the perspective of a now adult Girmar, who has not only succeeded her father as ruler of Mars, but also narrates the tale in a 'valley girl' type of language.
In 1993, a theatrical production of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the Musical premiered at the Factory Theatre in Chicago, adapted and directed by Sean Abley. In 2006, a second theatrical production premiered at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, California, this version was adapted by Brian Newell and Nick McGee. The Maverick's production has become a comedic success, a local tradition and performed every holiday season there since 2006, with a tenth anniversary production to be performed in December 2015.
Brazilian comedy group, Hermes & Renato, spoofed the film in their program on MTV Tela Class, redubbing it as "Santa Claus e o pozinho mágico" (Santa Claus and the Magic Powder; "magic powder" being more loosely translated here as "angel dust"). In this version, Santa is a drug dealer.
In December 2011, the Onyx Theatre, Las Vegas presented a staged version, adapted and directed by John Tomasello, that was performed near midnight. It featured foam tomatoes or "fomatoes" for the audience to throw. Zadora was in attendance.