Total Recall (1990 film)

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 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".

Total Recall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Verhoeven
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
by Philip K. Dick
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJost Vacano
Edited by
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • June 1, 1990 (1990-06-01) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$50–65 million[2][3]
Box office$261.3 million[3]

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 $50–65 million, Total Recall was one of the most expensive films made at the time of its release,[4] although estimates of its production budget vary and whether it ever actually held the record is not certain.


In 2084, construction worker Douglas Quaid is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there. His wife Lori dismisses the dreams and discourages him from thinking about Mars, where the governor, Vilos Cohaagen, is fighting a rebellion. At Rekall, a company that provides memory implants of vacations, Quaid opts for a memory trip to Mars as a secret agent. However, something goes wrong during the procedure, and Quaid starts revealing suppressed memories of actually being a secret agent. The Rekall employees sedate him, wipe his memory of the visit, and send him home. On the way, Quaid is attacked by his friend Harry and other men, and is forced to kill them. He is then ambushed in his apartment by Lori, who states that she isn't his wife; their marriage is a false memory implant, and "The Agency" sent her to monitor Quaid. Quaid knocks Lori out and runs off, pursued by armed men led by Richter, Cohaagen's operative and Lori's real husband.

After evading his attackers, Quaid is left a suitcase containing money, gadgets, fake IDs, and a video recording. The video is of Quaid himself, who identifies himself as Hauser and explains that he used to work for Cohaagen, but switched sides after learning about an alien artifact on Mars and underwent the memory wipe to protect himself. Hauser instructs Quaid to remove a tracking device located inside his skull before ordering him to go to Mars. On arrival, Quaid finds a note from Hauser directing him to Venusville, populated by people mutated as a result of poor radiation shielding. He meets Benny, a taxi driver, and Melina, the woman from his dreams, but she spurns him, believing that he is still working for Cohaagen.

Quaid later encounters Rekall's Dr. Edgemar and Lori. Edgemar asserts Quaid suffered a "schizoid embolism" and is trapped in a fantasy from the implanted memories, and must take an offered pill to wake up, or will otherwise be lobotomized. Seeing sweat on Edgemar's face, Quaid refuses the pill and shoots him, just as Richter's men burst into the room. Melina arrives to aid Quaid, recognizing Quaid to be truthful, and in their escape Quaid kills Lori.

They flee to Venusville with Benny, and are ushered into a secret tunnel. Unable to locate Quaid, Cohaagen shuts down the ventilation, slowly asphyxiating its citizens. Quaid, Melina, and Benny are taken to a resistance base, and Quaid is introduced to the mutant Kuato, conjoined to his brother George. Kuato reads Quaid's mind recalling a discussion with Cohaagen and Richter about the Martian artifact and its unknown purpose. Cohaagen's forces burst in and kill most of the resistance. Quaid, George/Kuato, Melina & Benny escape to an airlock. Benny kills George and reveals that he works for Cohaagen. Kuato implores Quaid to activate the reactor before being shot by Richter.

Quaid and Melina are taken to Cohaagen, who explains that the Quaid persona was a ploy by Hauser to infiltrate the mutants and expose Kuato, thereby wiping out the resistance. Cohaagen orders Hauser's memories to be reimplanted in Quaid and Melina re-programmed as Hauser's obedient "babe", but Quaid and Melina escape into the mines where the reactor is located. Benny attacks them in an excavation machine, but Quaid kills him. Quaid and Melina then outwit and kill Richter and his men lying in ambush for them.

Quaid reaches the reactor control room, where Cohaagen is waiting with a bomb, claiming starting the reactor will destroy them all. Melina arrives and shoots Cohaagen, but he starts the bomb timer. Quaid throws the bomb down the tunnel, blowing the door open and causing an explosive decompression. Quaid pushes Cohaagen aside, and Cohaagen is sucked out onto the surface, where he suffocates and dies. Quaid manages to activate the reactor before he and Melina are also sucked out. The reactor rods deploy, sublimating the turbinium glacier underneath and releasing gas, which bursts from a mountain and forms a breathable planetary atmosphere, saving Quaid, Melina, Venusville, and the rest of Mars' population. As the Mars humans and mutants stand on an outcropping looking at the newly blue sky, Quaid momentarily pauses to wonder whether he is dreaming or not, before turning to kiss Melina.


  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who discovers that he is actually a secret agent formerly named Carl Hauser, and travels to Mars to uncover his true identity and why his memory was erased.
  • Rachel Ticotin as Melina, a beautiful woman seen as the partner in Quaid's Rekall memory program who turns out to be a resistance fighter seeking to overthrow Cohaagen.
  • Sharon Stone as Lori Quaid, Quaid's seemingly loving wife who is later also revealed to be an agent sent by Cohaagen to monitor Quaid. She is Richter's wife. Lori is shown to possess various martial arts skills (she is able to nearly fight Quaid to a standstill, and also gives Melina a vicious beating), as well as being proficient in the use of knives and firearms.
  • Ronny Cox as Vilos Cohaagen, the corrupt and ruthless governor of the Mars Colony and friend of Hauser who stops at nothing in the mining of turbinium ore, which places innocent people at risk.
  • Michael Ironside as Richter, Cohaagen's chief lieutenant. He is domineering and sadistic and has a seething hatred for Quaid stemming from a grudge against Quaid for sleeping with the undercover Lori. He relentlessly tries to kill Quaid several times, defying Cohaagen's orders to take him alive.
  • Mel Johnson Jr. as Benny, a taxi driver and mutant on Mars Colony who befriends and later betrays Quaid and the mutants to Cohaagen.
  • Marshall Bell as George and as the voice of Kuato. George is a member of the resistance who has his mutant brother Kuato, the resistance leader, conjoined at his abdomen. Kuato helps Quaid unlock the secret to his past and the mystery of a reactor built by an ancient Martian civilization. Kuato seemingly has clairvoyant powers.
  • Roy Brocksmith as Dr. Edgemar, who tries to talk Quaid into taking a pill which he claims would break Quaid out of his fantasy and restore him to reality. Quaid executes him with a pistol upon discovering he is in league with Cohaagen.
  • Ray Baker as Bob McClane, a Rekall manager and sales agent who convinces Quaid to buy an "Ego Trip" memory implant.
  • Michael Champion as Helm, Richter's acerbic right-hand man.
  • Rosemary Dunsmore as Dr. Renata Lull, the lead memory programmer at Rekall, who initiated Quaid's memory implant procedure that triggered his outburst in the lab.
  • Robert Costanzo as Harry, Quaid's workmate, who is revealed to be an agent sent by Cohaagen to monitor Quaid on Earth and later had his neck snapped by Quaid when he and his henchmen tried to apprehend him.
  • Marc Alaimo as Captain Everett, a Captain of the Mars Colony security force. He does not get along with Richter. Everett orders his men to arrest a disguised Quaid on Richter's orders, but Quaid escapes.
  • Dean Norris as Tony, a disfigured mutant who knew Quaid on Mars as Hauser, and dislikes him.
  • Debbie Lee Carrington as Thumbelina, a dwarf mutant who fought against Richter's mercenaries with Tony.
  • Lycia Naff as Mary, widely known as the Three-Breasted prostitute.


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.[5]

In the mid-1980s, producer Dino De Laurentiis took on the project with Richard Dreyfuss attached to star.[6] Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role.[7] 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.[8]

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." 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.[9] 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).[10] When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.[11]

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.[5] 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)[12][13] 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.[5][7] 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.[14]


Much of the filming took place in 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.[15]


The film was initially given an X rating. Violence was trimmed and different camera angles were used in the over-the-top scenes for an R rating.[4]


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.[16] Ten years later, the same label released a "Deluxe Edition", in chronological order with additional cues that were left out, totaling 74 minutes.[17] 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.[18]


Critical response

Total Recall debuted at number one at the box office.[19] The film ultimately grossed $261,299,840 worldwide. It received an 82% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 68 reviews, with an average rating of 7.29/10. 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."[20] Metacritic rated it 57 out of 100 based on 17 reviews.[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[22]

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."[23] 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."[24] 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".[25]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is not a classic, "but it's still solid and entertaining."[21] 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."[26]

Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, considered the film excessively violent.[27] 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."[28] 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."[29]


Academy Awards[30]
Best Sound Nelson Stoll, Michael J. Kohut, Carlos Delarios & Aaron Rochin Nominated
Best Sound Effects Editing Stephen Hunter Flick Nominated
Best Visual Effects (Special Achievement Award) Eric Brevig, Rob Bottin, Tim McGovern & Alex Funke 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
BAFTA Best Special Visual Effects Whole Special Visual Effects Production team Nominated
Hugo Award Best Dramatic Presentation Tyler Maurice Kooy Nominated



The film was novelized by Piers Anthony.[31] The novel and film correspond fairly well, although Anthony was evidently working from an earlier script than the one used for the film, with the main character named Douglas Quail instead of Douglas Quaid.[32] 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

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 and Amstrad CPC) and popular 16-bit home computers (Amiga and Atari ST) was also released the following year.

Television series

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.[33] 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


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.[37] In 1994, producer Mario Kassar spoke with director Ronny Yu about possibly helming the sequel.[38] In 1998, actor-director Jonathan Frakes was also attached to the follow-up.[39] 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.[40][41]


At one point, Dimension Films acquired the rights to the film in 1997 after Carolco Pictures went bankrupt, in an attempt to remake the film[42].

In February 2009, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Neal H. Moritz and Original Film were in negotiations for developing a contemporary version of Total Recall for Columbia.[43] In June 2009, it was announced that Columbia Pictures had hired Kurt Wimmer to write the script for the remake. Over a year later, Len Wiseman was hired to direct.[44]

On January 9, 2011, it was confirmed that Colin Farrell would be starring in the remake and Bryan Cranston would play the villain, with production starting in Toronto on May 15. According to Moritz, this version of the film would be closer to Dick's original story. Moritz also stated that the film would not be shot in 3D, saying "we decided that it would be too much."[45] Kate Beckinsale was cast in the role of agent Lori,[46] while John Cho was cast as McClane, the smooth-talking rep for the memory company.[47] The film was released on August 3, 2012,[48] and received mixed reviews.[49][50]

See also


  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. Vest, Jason P. (2009). Future Imperfect: Philip K. Dick at the Movies. University of Nebraska Press. p. 184 (note 2.1). ISBN 9780803218604.
  3. "Total Recall (1990)". Box Office Mojo. October 2, 1990. Archived from the original on February 23, 2011. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  4. Keesey, Douglas (2005). Paul Verhoeven. pp. 119, 123. ISBN 3-8228-3101-8.
  5. Murray, Will (July 1990). "Man Without Memory". Starlog (156): 50–55, 79.
  6. Rose, Frank. "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick". Wired magazine. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014.
  7. Leamer, Laurence. Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, pp. 259–262. Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-312-93301-0
  8. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p285-286
  9. "Tales from Development Hell: Hollywood Film-making the Hard Way". Titan Books. ISBN 9780857687234. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  10. Robb, Brian J. (2006), Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, Titan Books, pp. 15, 158-159, ISBN 1-84023-968-9
  11. Review at Archived May 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, 2005
  12. Fabrikant, Geraldine (December 10, 1990). "The Hole in Hollywood's Pocket". New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  13. "The 101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment". Entertainment Weekly. November 2, 1990. Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  14. Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie. Wesleyan University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8195-6801-5
  15. "Film locations for Total Recall". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
  16. "SoundtrackNet : Total Recall Soundtrack". Archived from the original on October 9, 2007. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  17. "Varèse Sarabande Product Details". Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  18. "Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)". Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  19. Broeske, Pat H. (June 4, 1990). "Total Recall Totally Dominates Box Office Movies: Film starring Schwarzenegger posts one of the top 10 biggest three-day openings ever". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 17, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  20. Rotten Tomatoes. "Total Recall". Archived from the original on February 25, 2010.
  21. Metacritic. "Total Recall". Archived from the original on August 26, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  22. "CinemaScore".
  23. Review by Roger Ebert Archived March 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 June 1990
  24. "Article 99". Archived from the original on January 11, 2014. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  25. Buckland. pg. 209
  26. Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  27. Review by Janet Maslin of the NY Times, 1 June 1990
  28. Kempley, Rita (June 1, 1990). "Total Recall (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  29. Susan Faludi, in Backlash, Chatto & Windus, 1992, p. 169
  30. "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  31. ISBN 0-380-70874-4
  32. "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.
  33. 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
  34. "DC Comics: Total Recall". Grand Comics Database.
  35. DC Comics: Total Recall at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
  36. "Total Recall #1". Archived from the original on March 12, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  37. Alan Daly, The Digital Fix. "Overview of Total Recall DVD audio commentary at". Archived from the original on January 13, 2009. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  38. "Yu talks with Kassar about helming "Total Recall 2"". Variety. September 5, 1994. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  39. "The Long, Strange Saga of Total Recall 2". Archived from the original on October 17, 2015. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  40. "Minority Report box office reports". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on December 13, 2010.
  41. "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.
  42. "'RECALL' IN NEW DIMENSION". Variety. January 14, 1997. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  43. "'Total Recall' ready for revival". The Hollywood Reporter. February 25, 2009. Archived from the original on February 3, 2012. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  44. "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.
  45. "Neal Moritz Interview TOTAL RECALL; Says Colin Farrell Is the Lead, No 3D". Collider. January 9, 2011. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  46. "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.
  47. 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.
  48. Fischer, Russ (February 25, 2011). "Sony Schedules 'Total Recall' For August 2012, Also Dates 'I Hate You, Dad' And Kevin James' MMA Film". /Film. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  49. "Total Recall". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Archived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  50. "Total Recall". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on August 19, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.


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