I just watched The Martian again and noticed something I missed the first time: Watney's notebook has four holes (instead of three) punched in the left margin, which means it's probably A4 in size (though I didn't get a close enough look to be sure).

This is odd since it's an American mission. Is there an official explanation? If not, what's the likeliest explanation?

  1. By 2035 the US has switched to ISO paper formats and metric measurements.
  2. Watney stole the notebook from Vogel's personal effects.
  3. The production designer thought that that particular notebook looked cool.
  4. Other.
  • 3
    Well, Nasa has already decided to use metric since a while. Sure the actual transition takes some time and pockets of imperial units still remain, but you could assume that by 2035 the transition is over.
    – Hoki
    Aug 7, 2016 at 7:37
  • 22
    I learned something new today... I didn't even understand the question at first, am I to understand that there is a place in the world where 3 holes are normal?
    – orion
    Aug 8, 2016 at 12:52
  • 6
    "By 2035 the US has switched to ISO paper formats and metric measurements" - so, THAT"S why the whole mission ended up screwed up! :) Aug 8, 2016 at 14:19
  • 4
    @XandarTheZenon Sure, but metric can be customary as well.
    – Nils_M
    Aug 8, 2016 at 15:28
  • 4
    @XandarTheZenon The metric system works perfectly fine for cooking and anything else. Honestly, 95% of the world is using metric, if that was really a deal breaker you'd think someone would've noticed over the years.
    – Voo
    Aug 9, 2016 at 0:25

3 Answers 3


I've reached out to the film's Prop Master and the film's Senior Graphics Artist who both kindly responded to my (more than slightly odd) email.

I assume they won't mind my quoting verbatim.

I don't remember any 4 hole binders. We punched all the hand books to 3 holed ones with 2 hooks like NASA does. The binders in bg [background] were probably 4 hole just cause it was easier to get. No hidden meaning just budget and time. Haha


There are many prop elements that go into a complicated film like the Martian and when making decisions about what props should look like we firstly research what NASA has used in the past, or what fits into are fictional Martian world and helps to tell our story and look good on screen.

I'm pleased that you and your friends found the ring binders so interesting, I just hope the rest of the film lived up to your exacting standards.

  • 87
    This has to go into the book of SE records as the one answer that goes above and beyond!!!
    – Rincewind
    Aug 6, 2016 at 6:53
  • 18
    Ahhhh would this platform have been that popular when I went to school.... When ever my teacher had asked "What might the author try to tell us" I had answered: "No idea, but lets check SE, some one over there for sure is able to ask the author!" '^.^
    – Zaibis
    Aug 6, 2016 at 8:51
  • 33
    @Zaibis Not really. It used to be much easier to get in contact with your favorite author. Famous writers used to be listed in the telephone directory and you could actually just call them. Yes, you could call Isaac Asimov and ask him if he could tell you the name of this one short story you thought he might have written (it was apparently always The Last Question). Sadly I'm also way too young to have experienced that myself.
    – Voo
    Aug 6, 2016 at 11:29
  • 23
    @Voo apparently they all started to go ex-directory when the fans started calling them. By accounts Tolkien was particularly upset because American fans would call him - he got fed up explaining they were calling in the wee hours, UK time.
    – gbjbaanb
    Aug 6, 2016 at 14:19
  • 12
    @djechlin: "No hidden meaning just budget and time." -- Meaning that there is no in-universe explanation possible.
    – DevSolar
    Aug 8, 2016 at 9:00

The Martian was filmed in Hungary and Microsoft lists A4 as the default paper size for that country in its applications adding weight to the suggestion that it was just cheap to go and buy some notepads locally rather than ship them in and they would therefore have likely been A4.

  • 9
    Paper sizes based on DIN476 are actually the standard everywhere in the world except the US (and Canada). For good reason - it's far superior to the US system. In my experience it's nigh impossible to get letter sized paper outside North America so that's the most likely explanation.
    – Voo
    Aug 9, 2016 at 0:20
  • 2
    Agree that DIN format is vastly superior, because of the √2 aspect ratio. In my experience some Latin America countries (e.g. Bolivia) also use a mix of DIN and America paper formats. Aug 9, 2016 at 9:30
  • A lot of the movie was shot in Jordan businessinsider.com/wadi-rum-photos-the-martian-2015-9
    – Rdster
    May 25, 2017 at 14:35

I know this notebook well, because it's my everyday notebook at work, but not only for this reason... It's an Oxford International MeetingBook, A4+ size, squared 5x5mm ruled. https://www.my-oxford.com/int-en/oxford-international/oxford-international-meetingbook/oxford-international-meetingbook-100100362 I have always thought the reason for the 4 holes A4 size (instead of US standards) was because it was shot in Hungary, do European standards. I use this notebook since 2004. As soon as it was launched on the market.

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  • 3
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. The top answer already has confirmation from the makers that this was basically because that was easily available to them; unless you have another source for inside information, a personal theory doesn't have nearly as much weight. You should only post an answer when you have something substantial to add; you might want to take the tour.
    – DavidW
    May 14 at 16:40

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