Total Recall (1990 film)

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Total Recall
Total recall.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Verhoeven
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
by Philip K. Dick
Produced by
CinematographyJost Vacano
Edited byFrank J. Urioste
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byTri-Star Pictures
Release date
  • June 1, 1990 (1990-06-01) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2]
Budget$50–60 million[3]
Box office$261.3 million[4]

Total Recall is a 1990 American science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside. The film is loosely based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".

The film tells the story of a construction worker who suddenly finds himself embroiled in espionage on Mars and unable to determine if the experiences are real or the result of memory implants. It was written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman, and won a Special Achievement Academy Award for its visual effects. The original score, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, won the BMI Film Music Award.

With a budget of $50–60 million, Total Recall was one of the most expensive films made at the time of its release,[5] although estimates of its production budget vary and whether it ever actually held the record is not certain. The film grossed $261 million worldwide.


In 2084, construction worker Douglas Quaid has troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman. Mars is governed by Vilos Cohaagen, who is fighting a rebellion. Quaid visits Rekall, a company that implants false vacation memories, and chooses a "trip" to Mars as a secret agent. However, the procedure backfires because Quaid has suppressed memories of actually being a secret agent on Mars.

The Rekall employees sedate him, erase his memory of the visit, and send him home. On the way, Quaid is attacked by his work colleague Harry and other men and is forced to kill them. At home, his wife Lori attacks him, stating that their marriage is a false memory implant and "the Agency" sent her to monitor him. Quaid incapacitates Lori and flees, pursued by armed men led by Richter, Cohaagen's operative and Lori's real husband.

After Quaid evades his attackers, a man gives him a suitcase containing supplies and a video recording in which Quaid identifies himself as Hauser and explains that he used to work for Cohaagen, but defected after learning about a Martian artifact, undergoing the memory erasure to protect himself. Hauser instructs Quaid to remove a tracking device inside his skull before going to Mars. Upon arrival, Quaid finds a note from Hauser directing him to Venusville, a red light district populated by people mutated as a result of poor radiation shielding, and meets mutant taxi driver Benny and Melina, the woman from his dreams. However, she spurns him, believing that he is still working for Cohaagen.

Quaid later encounters Rekall's Dr. Edgemar and Lori. Edgemar claims that due to a "schizoid embolism", Quaid is trapped in a fantasy from Rekall's implanted memories, but Edgemar had himself and Lori inserted into it to save him. Seeing Edgemar sweating, Quaid realizes he is real and kills him. Richter's men burst in and capture Quaid, but Melina arrives and kills them before fighting Lori. Lori overpowers Melina, but Quaid kills Lori and escapes with Melina and Benny to Venusville.

The mutants usher them into the mines and take them to a rebel base where Quaid is introduced to their leader, Kuato and his conjoined brother George. As Cohaagen shuts down Venusville's ventilation to asphyxiate the inhabitants and force Quaid out, Kuato reads Quaid's mind, recalling a discussion between Cohaagen and Richter about the Martian artifact, a reactor, and its purpose. However, Cohaagen's forces attack and kill most of the rebels. Quaid, George, Kuato, Melina, and Benny escape, but Benny kills George and reveals his alliance with Cohaagen. Kuato implores Quaid to activate the reactor before Richter kills him.

Quaid and Melina are taken to Cohaagen, who reveals a video of Hauser explaining that he developed the Quaid persona to fool Kuato's psychic abilities, infiltrate the rebellion, and destroy them. Cohaagen orders Quaid to be reprogrammed with Hauser's memories and Melina as his obedient "babe", but they escape into the mines and locate the reactor. Benny, Richter, and Cohaagen's men attack them, but the pair outwit and kill them all.

The couple reach the reactor's control room, where Cohaagen is waiting with a bomb, claiming that starting the reactor will kill them all. Melina shoots Cohaagen, but he activates the detonator. Quaid throws the bomb down a tunnel, causing an explosive decompression event, and pushes Cohaagen into it, blowing him out onto the Martian surface, where he suffocates and dies. Quaid activates the reactor before he and Melina are also blown out.

The reactor sublimates a "turbinium" glacier and releases gas that bursts to the surface and forms a breathable atmosphere, saving Quaid, Melina, Venusville, and the rest of Mars' population. As everyone beholds the new sky, Quaid momentarily pauses to wonder if everything was a dream before he and Melina share a kiss.



Development and writing[edit]

The original screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the writers of Alien, who wrote the initial script before their collaboration on Alien. They had bought the rights to Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" while Dick was still alive. Unable to find a backer for the project, it drifted into development hell, passing from studio to studio for several years, during which time approximately forty drafts of the script were written.[6]

In the mid-1980s, producer Dino De Laurentiis took on the project with Richard Dreyfuss attached to star.[7] Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role.[8] In 1987, it was announced that De Laurentiis would make the film as the first production for his DEG company at the new De Laurentiis film studios on the Gold Coast, with Bruce Beresford to direct from a screenplay by O'Bannon and Shusett. This version of the film was never made.[9]

David Cronenberg was given the script by De Laurentiis, which in his opinion had a great start, but as it went on he felt that O'Bannon and Shusett did not know what to do with the story. Cronenberg described his work on the project as constantly fighting and eventually falling out with Shusett: "I worked on it for a year and did about 12 drafts. Eventually, we got to a point where Ron Shusett said, 'You know what you've done? You've done the Philip K. Dick version.' I said, 'Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?' He said, 'No, no, we want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars."[7] Cronenberg intended to cast William Hurt in the role and envisioned the film as "Spider goes to Mars". Shusett claimed that another reason why Cronenberg quit the film was because around the time Dreyfuss was involved, the director wanted to go on a different approach and in Shusett's words, was "suddenly [...] against his own ideas" after some disagreements.[10] Although he went uncredited in the final version of the film, Cronenberg originated the idea of mutants on Mars, including the character of Kuato (spelled Quato in his screenplay).[11] When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.[12]

The collapse of De Laurentiis' company provided an opening for Schwarzenegger, who had unsuccessfully approached the producer about starring in the film. Schwarzenegger had first become aware of the project while filming Raw Deal, which had been distributed by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. He initially discussed doing the film with Predator producer Joel Silver while working on that film, but this project would never come to fruition.[6] He persuaded Carolco to buy the rights to the film for a comparatively cheap $3 million and negotiated a salary of $10–11 million (plus 15% of the profits)[13][14] to star, with an unusually broad degree of control over the production. He obtained veto power over the producer, director, screenplay, co-stars, and promotion. Schwarzenegger first personally recruited Paul Verhoeven to direct the film, having been impressed by the Dutch director's RoboCop (for which Schwarzenegger was considered for the title role). By this time, the script had been through 42 drafts, but it still lacked a third act. Gary Goldman was then brought in by Schwarzenegger to work with Ronald Shusett to develop the final draft of the screenplay.[6][8] The director also brought in many of his collaborators on RoboCop, including actor Ronny Cox, cinematographer Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, editor Frank J. Urioste, and special-effects designer Rob Bottin.[15]


Mexico City Metro

Much of the filming took place from 20 March 1989 to 23 August 1989 on location in Mexico City and at Estudios Churubusco. The futuristic subway station and vehicles are actually part of the Mexico City Metro, with the subway cars painted gray and television monitors added. The interior of the metro stations Chabacano and Universidad and the exterior of the metro station Insurgentes were shot.[16]


Total Recall: The Deluxe Edition
Soundtrack album by
LabelVarèse Sarabande
DirectorJerry Goldsmith

The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, and 40 minutes of it were released by the Varèse Sarabande label in 1990.[17] Ten years later, the same label released a "Deluxe Edition", in chronological order with additional cues that were left out, totaling 74 minutes.[18] As with several Goldsmith scores, the music was performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

The score has been hailed as one of Goldsmith's best, especially as heard in the Deluxe Edition, and commended for its blend of electronic and orchestral elements.[19]



The initial marketing of the film was done by TriStar Pictures, which presented the film in a vague, dramatic fashion with none of the action sequences. The trailer did not score well with test audiences.[20] When Schwarzenegger saw the trailer, he felt it cheapened the film, and made contact with Peter Guber, his friend who was the head of Sony Pictures which owned TriStar, to work out how to improve the film's marketing. Guber brought in the firm of Cimarron-Bacon-O’Brien, which had done trailers for The Empire Strikes Back and The Terminator, to produce a new trailer, focusing more on the action-oriented parts of Total Recall with heavy emphasis on Schwarzenegger's role. The new trailer was much more successful with test audiences, and translated to a US$25.5 million box office on its first three days of opening.[20]

The film was initially given an X rating, one of the last films to be given such.[21] As with Verhoeven's Robocop before, violence was trimmed and different camera angles were used in the over-the-top scenes for an R rating.[5] The number of on-screen deaths in Total Recall was considered extremely high at the time, and this fact was later spoofed in the film Hot Shots! Part Deux.[20]


Box office[edit]

Total Recall debuted at number one at the box office, with a weekend take that surpassed that of the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.[22][20] The film ultimately grossed $261,299,840 worldwide.

Critical response[edit]

Total Recall received an 82% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 74 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. The site's critical consensus states "Under Paul Verhoeven's frenetic direction, Total Recall is a fast-paced rush of violence, gore, and humor that never slacks."[23] Metacritic rated it 57 out of 100 based on 17 reviews.[24] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[25]

Roger Ebert awarded the film three and a half stars (out of four), calling it "one of the most complex and visually interesting science-fiction movies in a long time," and arguing Total Recall demonstrated Schwarzenegger's talent as an actor by his showing more confusion and vulnerability than earlier roles.[26] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it a score of "B+" and said that it "starts out as mind-bending futuristic satire and then turns relentless [and] becomes a violent, post-punk version of an Indiana Jones cliff-hanger."[27] Film scholar William Buckland considers it one of the more "sublime" Philip K. Dick adaptations, contrasting it with films like Impostor and Paycheck, which he considered "ridiculous".[28]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is not a classic, "but it's still solid and entertaining."[24] James Berardinelli gave the film two and a half stars (out of four), saying that "neither Schwarzenegger nor Verhoeven [has] stretched [his] talents here," but added, "with a script that's occasionally as smart as it is energetic, Total Recall offers a little more than wholesale carnage."[29]

Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, considered the film excessively violent.[30] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave it a negative review, saying that director Paul Verhoeven "disappoints with this appalling onslaught of blood and boredom."[31] Feminist cultural critic Susan Faludi called it one of "an endless stream of war and action movies" in which "women are reduced to mute and incidental characters or banished altogether."[32]


Award Category Recipients Result
Academy Awards[33]
Best Sound Nelson Stoll, Michael J. Kohut, Carlos Delarios & Aaron Rochin Nominated
Best Sound Editing Stephen Hunter Flick Nominated
Best Visual Effects
(Special Achievement Award)
Eric Brevig, Rob Bottin, Tim McGovern & Alex Funke Won
Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards
Best Sound Editing – Dialogue and ADR Won
Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects and Foley Won
Saturn Awards
Best Science Fiction Film Won
Best Costume Erica Edell Phillips Won
Best Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger Nominated
Best Direction Paul Verhoeven Nominated
Best Make-up Rob Bottin, Jeff Dawn, Craig Berkeley & Robin Weiss Nominated
Best Music Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
Best Special Effects Thomas L. Fisher, Eric Brevig & Rob Bottin Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Rachel Ticotin Nominated
Best Writing Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon & Gary Goldman Nominated
Japan Academy Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Special Visual Effects Whole Special Visual Effects Production team Nominated
Hugo Award Best Dramatic Presentation Paul Verhoeven (director), Ronald Shusett,
Dan O’Bannon (screenplay/screen story), Gary Goldman (screenplay),
Jon Povill (screen story), Philip K. Dick (original short story)

Other media[edit]


The film was novelized by Piers Anthony,[34] working from an earlier script than the one used for the film, with the main character named Douglas Quail instead of Douglas Quaid.[35] Anthony was criticized for the ending of his book which removed the ambiguity about whether the events of Total Recall are real or a dream. In addition, the novel had a subplot wherein the aliens planted a fail-safe device within their Mars technology, so that if it were misused or destroyed, the local star would go nova and therefore prevent the species from entering the galactic community. It coincided with a comment earlier in the novel that astronomers were noticing an abnormal number of recent supernovae, giving an indication that the aliens seeded their tech as part of a galactic experiment in technological maturity. Instead of mentioning that he dreamt of her earlier in the film, Melina mentions she was once a model, explaining how Quaid could have seen her on the screen at Rekall.

Video game[edit]

A Total Recall video game based on the film was developed and released by Ocean Software in 1990, featuring 2D action, platformer scenes and top-down racing scenes; a version for popular 8-bit home computers (Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, NES, and Amstrad CPC) and popular 16-bit home computers (Amiga and Atari ST) was also released the following year.

Television series[edit]

A television series called Total Recall 2070 went into production in 1999. The series was meant to be a sequel; however, it had far more similarities with the Blade Runner film (also inspired by a Philip K. Dick story) than Verhoeven's film.[36] The two-hour series pilot, released on VHS and DVD for the North American market, borrowed footage from the film, such as the space cruiser arriving on Mars.

Comic books[edit]


Due to the film's success, a sequel was written with the script title Total Recall 2, and with Schwarzenegger's character still Douglas Quaid, now working as a reformed law enforcer. The sequel was based on another Philip K. Dick short story, "The Minority Report", which hypothesizes about a future where a crime can be solved before it is committed—in the movie, the clairvoyants would be Martian mutants.[40] In 1994, producer Mario Kassar spoke with director Ronny Yu about possibly helming the sequel.[41] In 1998, actor-director Jonathan Frakes was also attached to the follow-up.[42] The sequel ultimately was not filmed, but the script survived and it was changed drastically and contained greater elements from the original short story. The story was eventually adapted into the Steven Spielberg sci-fi thriller Minority Report, which opened in 2002 to commercial success.[43][44]


In 1997, Dimension Films acquired sequel, prequel and remake rights to Total Recall from Carolco Pictures' bankruptcy auction.[45]

In February 2009, Neal H. Moritz and Original Film were in negotiations for developing a contemporary version of Total Recall for Columbia.[46] Later in June, Columbia Pictures hired Kurt Wimmer to write the script for the remake. Over a year later, Len Wiseman was hired to direct.[47]

Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston were cast as a protagonist and the antagonist respectively. Production started in Toronto on May 15, 2011. Moritz said that this version of the film was intended to be closer to Dick's original story. Moritz also stated that the film would not be shot in 3D, due to being expensive process to make.[48][full citation needed] Kate Beckinsale was cast in the role of agent Lori,[49] while John Cho was cast as McClane, the smooth-talking rep for the memory company.[50] The film was released on August 3, 2012,[51] and received mixed reviews.[52][53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "TOTAL RECALL (18)". British Board of Film Classification. June 13, 1990. Archived from the original on November 1, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  2. ^ "Film #1841: Total Recall". Lumiere. Archived from the original on January 23, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  3. ^ Vest, Jason P. (2009). Future Imperfect: Philip K. Dick at the Movies. University of Nebraska Press. p. 184 (note 2.1). ISBN 9780803218604.
  4. ^ "Total Recall (1990)". Box Office Mojo. October 2, 1990. Archived from the original on February 23, 2011. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Keesey, Douglas (2005). Paul Verhoeven. pp. 119, 123. ISBN 3-8228-3101-8.
  6. ^ a b c Murray, Will (July 1990). "Man Without Memory". Starlog (156): 50–55, 79.
  7. ^ a b Rose, Frank. "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick". Wired magazine. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Leamer, Laurence. Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, pp. 259–262. Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-312-93301-0
  9. ^ David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p285-286
  10. ^ Hughes, David (2012). "We Can Rewrite it for You Wholesale: Why the long development of Total Recall and its unproduced sequel is a memory most of those involved would rather forget". Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? (New ed.). London: Titan. p. 64. ISBN 9780857687234.
  11. ^ Robb, Brian J. (2006), Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, Titan Books, pp. 15, 158-159, ISBN 1-84023-968-9
  12. ^ Review at Archived May 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, 2005
  13. ^ Fabrikant, Geraldine (December 10, 1990). "The Hole in Hollywood's Pocket". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  14. ^ "The 101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment". Entertainment Weekly. November 2, 1990. Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  15. ^ Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie. Wesleyan University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8195-6801-5
  16. ^ "Film locations for Total Recall". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
  17. ^ "SoundtrackNet : Total Recall Soundtrack". Archived from the original on October 9, 2007. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  18. ^ "Varèse Sarabande Product Details". Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  19. ^ "Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)". Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  20. ^ a b c d Siegel, Alan (June 4, 2020). "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mission to Mars". The Ringer. Archived from the original on June 5, 2020. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 24, 2020. Retrieved March 6, 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  24. ^ a b Metacritic. "Total Recall". Archived from the original on August 26, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  25. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on September 16, 2017. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  26. ^ Review by Roger Ebert Archived March 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 June 1990
  27. ^ "Article 99". Archived from the original on January 11, 2014. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  28. ^ Buckland. pg. 209
  29. ^ Review by James Berardinelli Archived May 10, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, ReelViews
  30. ^ Review by Janet Maslin of the NY Times, June 1, 1990[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ Kempley, Rita (June 1, 1990). "Total Recall (R)". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 8, 2017. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  32. ^ Susan Faludi, in Backlash, Chatto & Windus, 1992, p. 169
  33. ^ "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  34. ^ ISBN 0-380-70874-4
  35. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Total Recall by Piers Anthony, Author William Morrow & Company $16.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-05209-6". Archived from the original on December 13, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  36. ^ Platt, John (March 1, 1999), "A Total Recall spin-off that's an awful lot like Blade Runner", Science Fiction Weekly: Issue 98 Vol.5 No.9, archived from the original on January 15, 2008, retrieved February 6, 2008
  37. ^ "DC Comics: Total Recall". Grand Comics Database.
  38. ^ DC Comics: Total Recall at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
  39. ^ "Total Recall #1". Archived from the original on March 12, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
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  43. ^ "Minority Report box office reports". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on December 13, 2010.
  44. ^ "Home Video (DVD & VHS) Out Sells Feature Films, Video Games and Movies in 2002". Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
  45. ^ "'RECALL' IN NEW DIMENSION". Variety. January 14, 1997. Archived from the original on July 24, 2019. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  46. ^ "'Total Recall' ready for revival". The Hollywood Reporter. February 25, 2009. Archived from the original on February 3, 2012. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  47. ^ "Wimmer to write 'Recall' remake—Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. June 2, 2009. Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved June 3, 2009.
  48. ^ "Neal Moritz Interview TOTAL RECALL; Says Colin Farrell Is the Lead, No 3D". Collider. January 9, 2011. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  49. ^ "Kate Beckinsale has also been set for Total Recall role". April 21, 2011. Archived from the original on April 24, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  50. ^ Labrecque, Jeff (May 26, 2011). "John Cho signs on for 'Total Recall' -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on May 28, 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  51. ^ Fischer, Russ (February 25, 2011). "Sony Schedules 'Total Recall' For August 2012, Also Dates 'I Hate You, Dad' And Kevin James' MMA Film". /Film. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
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  53. ^ "Total Recall". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on August 19, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.


External links[edit]