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Total Recall

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Produced by Mario Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Written by Ronald Shusett
Dan O’Bannon
Gary Goldman
Jon Povill
Philip K. Dick (Short story)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
Rachel Ticotin
Sharon Stone
Michael Ironside
Ronny Cox
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Jost Vacano
Editing by Carlos Puente
Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) June 1, 1990 (1990-06-01)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $65 million
Gross revenue $261,299,840 [1]

Total Recall is a 1990 American science fiction action film. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone and is based on the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman, it won a Special Achievement Academy Award for its visual effects. The soundtrack composed by Jerry Goldsmith won the BMI Film Music Award.

The plot concerns an apparently unsophisticated construction worker, Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger), who turns out to be a freedom fighter from Mars who has been relocated to Earth, and his attempts to restore order, and reverse the corrupt influence of commercial powers. Despite multiple challenges, not least from his own wife on Earth and the multiple self-doubts with which he is presented, Quaid conquers the corruption and restores Mars to a viable community.



In 2084, Douglas Quaid is a mild-mannered construction worker on Earth who dreams of exploring the human colonies of Mars. He opts to visit "Rekall", a company that specializes in implanting false memories of a virtual trip to any location. Quaid pays for a Mars experience, including aspects of being a secret agent and discovering alien artifacts. When Rekall attempts to implant the memories, they find he already appears have undergone a previous memory replacement procedure. Believing himself to be a secret agent whose cover has just been blown, Quaid attacks the medical staff until he is sedated. They quickly restore his memory and send him home.

Quaid arrives and suddenly finds his former friends and his wife, Lori, are out to kill him. He is able to subdue Lori and learns that his life prior to the past two months are all false memories, and that she and his friends were there to keep track of him. Their marriage has also been false, as she is really the girlfriend of Richter, the man that has led the attacks on Quaid. Quaid escapes, pursued by Richter, and eventually encounters a man that claims to be a former friend and gives him a briefcase. A tool inside allows Quaid to remove a tracking device implanted in his skull, throwing Richter off track. The briefcase also contains a video of himself; however, this version calls himself Hauser, revealing that he used to work for Mars administrator Vilos Cohaagen, but went undercover and implanted the Quaid personality to cover his tracks. The video of Hauser insists Quaid travel to Mars and deliver the information stored in his mind to the authorities to bring down Cohaagen.

Quaid arrives at the Mars colony and avoids capture by Richter and Cohaagen's men. He discovers that, as Hauser, he has been here before, and reconnects with Melina, lady of the night in the redlight area of Venusville, where poor radiation shielding has created a number of mutants, but after hearing his story, refuses to have anything to do with him. Returning to his hotel room, he is confronted by Lori and Dr. Edgemar, the leading researcher from Rekall. Dr. Edgemar claims that everything Quaid has experienced since leaving Rekall has been part of the false memories that have gone wrong, and that by taking a pill, they can restore his mind to normal. Just as he is able to take it, he kills Dr. Edgemar after seeing him sweating, and spits out the pill. He is forced to run from Lori and several of Cohaagen's soldiers; Melina arrives, having realized Quaid's story is true and helps him to escape, killing Lori in the process. As they flee, she explains that one of the mutants, Kuato, may have the ability to extract Hauser's information from Quaid. Along with a taxi driver named Benny, the three escape from Richter and make their way to Kuato; in revenge for aiding in their escape, Cohaagen blocks Venusville and shuts down its ventilation system, slowly causing the denizens to die from lack of oxygen. Quaid, Melina, and Benny are found by Kuato's forces, and Quaid is taken privately to see the mutant - a small humanoid form conjoined to another man. The mutant helps Quaid identify a giant alien artifact device that has been recently uncovered, and implores him to start it up. As Quaid learns this, they are attacked by Cohaagen's forces, and Benny reveals himself to be a mole having led them to Kuato. Kuato is killed while Quaid and Melina are captured.

Quaid is taken to Cohaagen, who reveals another video by Hauser that appears to suggest that Hauser went through the false memory process in order to lead Cohaagen to Kuato. Cohaagen orders that Hauser's memories be replaced in a Rekall device as well as wiping Melina's mind, but the two manage to escape. They make their way to the site of the alien artifact, defeating Benny, Richter, and the rest of his men in the process. As they enter the control room of the machine, Cohaagen arrives and attempts to stop Quaid, but accidentally ruptures a wall exposed to the void of Mars' atmosphere. Cohaagen is dragged out in the vacuum and dies from asphyxiation and decompression, while Quaid is able to start the machine just before they are dragged out. The device is revealed to generate massive amounts of oxygen, and Quaid and Melina are saved from death as the waves of breathable gases sweep across the planet. As the citizens of Venusville and the colony find themselves safe and free of Cohaagen's rule, Quaid and Melina kiss, Quaid still wondering if this is still all part of his Rekall memories.


  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as "Douglas Quaid/Hauser", a construction worker discovers that he is actually a secret agent, and travels to Mars to uncover his true identity, who erased his memory and why.
  • 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 also Richter's girlfriend.
  • Ronny Cox as "Vilos Cohaagen", the antagonist and ruthless director 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", the other antagonist and Cohaagen's chief lieutenant. He is domineering, brutal, and has a seething hatred for Quaid.
  • Rachel Ticotin as "Melina", a beautiful brunette seen as the partner in Quaid's Rekall memory program who turns out to be a resistance fighter seeking to overthrow Cohaagen.
  • Marshall Bell as "George/Kuato", the mutant leader of the resistance, Kuato helps Quaid unlock the secret to his past and the mystery of a reactor built by an ancient Martian civilization.
  • Mel Johnson, Jr. as "Benny", a cab driver on Mars Colony who befriends and later betrays Quaid. He is later found out to be a mutant on Cohaagen's payroll.
  • Roy Brocksmith as "Dr. Edgemar", one of the developers of Rekall who also serves as its spokesman.
  • 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 right hand man. He is a computer expert proficient who dies in the siege at Venusville.
  • Rosemary Dunsmore as "Dr. Renata Lull", the lead memory programmer at Rekall and 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.

Production and distribution

The original screenplay for Total Recall was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the writers of Alien, who had bought the rights to Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" while Dick was still alive. They were unable to find a backer for the project and it drifted into development hell, passing from studio to studio. In the mid-1980s, producer Dino De Laurentiis took on the project with Richard Dreyfuss attached to star.[2] Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role.[3] David Cronenberg was attached to direct but wanted to cast William Hurt in the lead role.[2] Cronenberg described his work on the project and eventual 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.'"[2] When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.[4]

The collapse of De Laurentiis's company provided an opening for Schwarzenegger, who had unsuccessfully approached the producer about starring in the film. 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 percent of the profits)[5][6] 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. The first thing Schwarzenegger did was personally recruit 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 forty-two drafts but it still lacked a third act. Gary Goldman was therefore brought in by Paul Verhoeven to work with Ronald Shusett to develop the final draft of the screenplay.[3] The director also brought in many of his collaborators on Robocop, including casting actor Ronny Cox as the main villain, cinematographer Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, and special effects designer Rob Bottin.[7]

Much of the filming took place in Mexico City. The futuristic subway station and vehicles are actually part of the Mexican public transportation system, with the subway cars painted gray and television monitors added.

In an interview with Starlog magazine, Schwarzenegger stressed the challenge of acting in the film, “Because you’re not coming in with the same character that you’re going out with. Hauser’s an interesting character, but Quaid’s just this big program...”

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.[citation needed] It was one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects rather than computer generated imagery. Five different companies were brought in to handle Total Recall's effects. The only CGI sequence in the entire film was a 42-second sequence, produced by MetroLight Studios, showing the X-rayed skeletons of commuters and their concealed weapons. Only a year later, Schwarzenegger's Terminator 2: Judgment Day prompted a revolution in special effects with its extensive use of CGI.[7]

Total Recall” was translated as “El Vengador del Futuro” /"O Vingador do Futuro" (Spanish/Portuguese for “The Avenger of the Future”), in Latin America.[8] In Spain and Portugal it was called “Desafío Total[9] and “Desafio Total[10] respectively, which means “Total Challenge”. In Turkey it was called “Gerçeğe Çağrı,”[11] which means “The Call for Reality.” In Italy it was called “Atto di Forza,” which means “Forceful Action.”[12]. In Poland it was called “Pamięć absolutna,” which means “Absolute Memory.” In Israel it was called “זיכרון גורלי,” which means “Fatal Memory.” In French Canada it was called “Voyage au centre de la mémoire,” which means “Journey to the Center of the Memory”, a play on the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Center of the Earth” In USSR it was called “Вспомнить всё,” which means “To Recall Everything.” In Hungary, it was called “Emlékmás,” which means “A Counterpart of Remembrance." In Germany it was called “Total Recall: Die totale Erinnerung,” which is a literal translation and also means "(the) total recall" ("Erinnerung" can also mean 'memory' as in "a memory that I have").” In Serbia, it was called “Totalni Opoziv” which literally translates to “Total Recall”. In Greece, it was called “Ολική Επαναφορά“, which is a literal translation. In Denmark, the movie is known as "Sidste Udkald," translating to "Last Call-out". In Finland, the movie is known as "Unohda tai kuole", translating to "Forget or die".


The score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and 40 minutes of it were released by the Varese Sarabande label in 1990.[13] Ten years later, the same label released a "Deluxe Edition," with additional cues that were left out, totaling 71 minutes.[14]

The Main Title features a metal percussion pattern that was inspired by the similar drum pattern from Anvil of Crom.[13] The score has been hailed as one of Goldsmith's best, especially the deluxe edition, and commended for its blend of electronic and orchestral elements.[15]


The film grossed $261,299,840 worldwide, a box office success. Critical reaction to Total Recall has been mostly positive. It currently holds a 79% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 39 reviews.[16] Metacritic reported, based on 17 reviews, an average rating of 57 out of 100.[17]

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."[18] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised the film, giving 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."[19]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is not a classic, "but it's still solid and entertaining."[17] James Berardinelli gave the film two and a half stars (out of four), saying that "neither Schwarzenegger nor Verhoeven have stretched their 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."[20]

Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of the New York Times, considered the film excessively violent.[21] Rita Kempley of the Washington Post gave the film a negative review, saying that director Paul Verhoeven "disappoints with this appalling onslaught of blood and boredom."[22]

Due to the success of the movie, a sequel was written with the script title Total Recall 2, and with Arnold 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 postulates about a future where a crime can be solved before it’s committed—in the movie, the clairvoyants would be Martian mutants.[23] The sequel was not filmed, but the script survived and it was changed drastically and contained greater elements from the original short story. The film was eventually directed as a sci-fi thriller as Minority Report by Steven Spielberg and opened in 2002 to box-office success and critical acclaim.[24][25]


Award Category Winner/Nominee Result
Academy Awards
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
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 Nominated


The film explores the question of reality versus delusion, a recurrent topic in Philip K. Dick’s works. The plot calls for the lead character and the audience to question whether the character’s experience is real or being fed directly to his mind. There are several visual and informational clues which point in both directions. Verhoeven plays up the intentional ambiguity to the very end and no definitive answer is ever given. However the beginning title of the movie soundtrack is called "the dream" and the ending title "end of a dream".

On the DVD commentary Verhoeven notes that in multiple parts of the film characters reference events they claim will be part of Quaid's Rekall experience prior to their occurrence in the film. Conversely, Schwarzenegger notes that these references are somewhat vague and could easily be explained as misdirection on the part of the film's antagonists. Ultimately Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger come to opposite conclusions regarding how real the post-Rekall events of the film actually were. Thus, the viewer is left wondering whether or not the events actually happened, if the entire story is simply the memory purchased at Rekall gone terribly awry, or if in fact Rekall had simply delivered on its original promise of “action” and “adventure.” This theme has been revisited since in similarly-themed films such as The Matrix, eXistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor, and Vanilla Sky.

A consistent motif throughout the film is the presentation of striking opposites: Earth/Mars; Quaid/Hauser; the mutants Kuato and his brother George; the use of holographic doubles by Quaid and Melina; reflections of Quaid, Lori and Dr. Edgemar in mirrors in Quaid's hotel room; Melina/Lori. The latter example subverts a standard film noir convention, the saintly blonde versus the devilish brunette; in Total Recall, the blonde turns out to be the villain and the brunette the heroine.[7]


The film was novelized by Piers Anthony.[26] The novel and film correspond fairly well, although Anthony was evidently working from an earlier script than the one used for the film, and was criticized for the ending of his book which removed the ambiguity whether the events of Total Recall are real or a dream. In addition, the novel had a subplot wherein the aliens planted a failsafe 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.

A video game was made based on the movie, featuring 2D action, platformer scenes and top-down racing scenes; a version was released for popular 8-bit home computers (Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC), and the popular 16-bit home computers (Amiga and Atari ST). The game was developed and released by Ocean Software. There was also a much-maligned NES version which was notably different from the others, being developed by a different team (Interplay). Interplay defended the changes, however, claiming that their alteration stuck closer to the spirit of the original short story, which they said "read more like a platformer."

In 1999, there was a television series named Total Recall 2070 which was meant to be a prequel; however, the show had far more similarities with the Blade Runner movie (also inspired by a Philip K. Dick story) than Verhoeven's film. The two-hour series pilot, released in VHS and DVD for the North American market, borrowed footage from the film, such as the space cruiser arriving on Mars.


In February 2009, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Neal H. Moritz and Original Films were in negotiations for developing a contemporary version of Total Recall for Columbia.[27] In June, 2009, it was announced that Columbia Pictures have hired Kurt Wimmer to write the script for the remake.[28]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Rose, Frank. "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick". Wired magazine. 
  3. ^ a b Leamer, Laurence. Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, pp. 259-262. Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-312-93301-0
  4. ^ Review at, 2005
  5. ^ Fabrikant, Geraldine (December 10, 1990). "The Hole in Hollywood's Pocket". New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2009. 
  6. ^ "The 101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment". Entertainment Weekly. November 2, 1990.,,318518,00.html. Retrieved February 19, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie. Wesleyan University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8195-6801-5
  8. ^ Total Recall listing on
  9. ^ Total Recall’s Spanish entry at
  10. ^ Total Recall’s entry at Cinema PTGate
  11. ^ Total Recall’s Turkish entry at
  12. ^ Total Recall’s Italian entry at FilmUP
  13. ^ a b "SoundtrackNet : Total Recall Soundtrack". Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  14. ^ "Varese Sarabande Product Details". Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  15. ^ "Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)". Filmtracks. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  16. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. "Total Recall". 
  17. ^ a b Metacritic. "Total Recall". Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  18. ^ Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 June 1990
  19. ^ Review by Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
  20. ^ Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  21. ^ Review by Janet Maslin of the NY Times, 1 June 1990
  22. ^ Review by Rita Kempley, Washington Post
  23. ^ Overview of Total Recall DVD audio commentary at
  24. ^ "Minority Report box office reports". Box Office Mojo. 
  25. ^ "Home Video (DVD & VHS) Out Sells Feature Films, Video Games and Movies in 2002". Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  26. ^ ISBN-10: 0-380-70874-4
  27. ^ "'Total Recall' ready for revival". The Hollywood Reporter. 2009-02-25. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  28. ^ By. "Wimmer to write 'Recall' remake - Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Alien Nation
Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film
Succeeded by
Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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