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


In 2084, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction engineer on Earth, who is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) is dismissive, pointing out how life on Earth is perfect compared to the ongoing conflicts between rival factions on colonized Mars, in part due to actions by the governor of Mars, Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), with rumors that an alien artifact has been located in the mines on the planet. Despite warnings from his co-workers, Quaid visits "Rekall", a company that uses memory implants to give its clients experiences of fabulous vacations. Quaid opts for a trip to Mars (a program entitled "Blue Sky On Mars") including an optional espionage facet. As he is put under but before the technicians can implant the memories, Quaid violently reacts, claiming they have blown his cover. The company re-sedates him, wipes his memory of the visit to Rekall, and sends him home in an automated taxi. Waking up in the taxi, Quaid exits and is soon cornered and attacked by his coworkers, forcing him to kill them to escape. Lori also turns against Quaid, claiming that their marriage is a fake created by memory implants. Quaid leaves her and escapes into the city before armed thugs arrive, led by Richter (Michael Ironside), Lori's real husband and Cohaagen's subordinate.

Quaid is contacted by an unknown man that warns him he is being tracked, and leaves him with a suitcase. Quaid takes refuge in an abandoned building and investigates the suitcase, which contains money, gadgets, and a video. The video is of himself, apparently called "Hauser"; Hauser explains that he used to work for Cohaagen but has learned something about the artifact, and underwent the memory wipe to protect himself. The video instructs Quaid on removing the tracking device, and then to get himself to Mars and meet "Kuato". Quaid makes his way to Mars and follows clues left by Hauser to a bar in Venusville, the colony's red light district populated by a number of people who are mutants due to poor shielding from radiation. There, he meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the woman from his dreams and Hauser's former lover. She refuses to have anything to do with him, believing that Quaid is still working for Cohaagen.

Returning to his room, Quaid encounters Lori and Rekall's President, Dr. Edgemar. Edgemar insists Quaid is living out the implanted memories, and offers Quaid a pill that would wake him from the dream. Quaid is about to take the pill when he sees Edgemar sweating in fear, and kills him instead. Richter's forces capture Quaid, but Melina arrives to rescue him, with Quaid killing Lori in the process. The two race back to the Venusville bar, and with Benny, their taxi driver, escape into tunnels hidden behind the bar. Unable to locate Quaid, Cohaagen isolates and shuts down the ventilation to Venusville, slowly suffocating its citizens. Quaid, Melina, and Benny are taken to a resistance base, and Quaid is introduced to Kuato, a deformed humanoid conjoined to his brother's stomach. Kuato reads Quaid's mind and learns that the artifact is a reactor that, once activated, will create a breathable atmosphere for Mars. Suddenly, Cohaagen's forces burst in, led there by Benny, and kill most of the resistance, including Kuato; Kuato, in his final words, instructs Quaid to start the reactor.

Quaid and Melina are taken to Cohaagen. Cohaagen shows them another video of Hauser, who reveals the Quaid persona was a ploy to infiltrate the mutants and lead Cohaagen to Kuato, thereby wiping out the resistance. Cohaagen orders Hauser's memory to be reimplanted in Quaid and Melina to be programmed to be Hauser's slave, but Quaid and Melina escape, making their way into the mines where the alien reactor is located. They work their way to the control room of the reactor, killing Benny, Richter, and the rest of his men along the way. Cohaagen confronts them in the control room, insisting that turning on the artifact will kill them all. Quaid tries to dispose of a bomb Cohaagen has planted, accidentally blowing out one of the walls of the control room and exposing them to the vacuum of the Martian atmosphere. Cohaagen is pulled into the Martian atmosphere and dies from choking and decompression. Quaid and Melina are also pulled out, but not before starting the reactor. As Kuato predicted, the reactor releases a massive plume of air that covers the surface of Mars, saving Quaid and Melina in time, and bursting the windows of Venusville, saving its population. As humans walk onto the surface of the planet in its new atmosphere (with blue skies), Quaid takes a moment to wonder if he is still living the memory before turning to kiss Melina.


  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who discovers that he is actually a secret agent formerly named 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.
  • 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, sadistic, and has a seething hatred for Quaid stemming from a grudge against Quaid for sleeping with an 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 brother Kuato, the resistance leader attached to 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, one of the developers of Rekall who also serves as its spokesman. 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 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.
  • Lycia Naff as Mary, widely known as the Three-Breasted prostitute.[4]

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.[1] Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role.[5] In 1987 it was announced that De Laurentiis would make the movie as the first production for his DEL company at the new De Laurentiis film studios on the Gold Coast, with Bruce Beresford to direct from a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. This movie did not eventuate.[6]

David Cronenberg was attached to direct but wanted to cast William Hurt in the lead role.[1] 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.'".[1] When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.[7] 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).[8]

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)[9][10] 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.[5] 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.[11]

Much of the filming took place on location in Mexico City and at Estudios Churubusco. 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.

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, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, also starring Schwarzenegger, prompted a revolution in special effects with its extensive use of CGI.[11]


Total Recall (1990)

The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, and 40 minutes of it was released by the Varèse Sarabande label in 1990.[12] Ten years later, the same label released a "Deluxe Edition," in chronological order with additional cues that were left out, totaling 74 minutes.[13] As with several Goldsmith scores, the music was performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

The main title theme features a metal percussion pattern that bears similarities to a drum pattern from Anvil of Crom.[12] 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.[14]

Original soundtrack release
No. Title Length
1. "The Dream"   3:33
2. "The Hologram"   5:36
3. "The Big Jump"   4:33
4. "The Mutant"   3:16
5. "Clever Girl"   4:31
6. "First Meeting"   1:10
7. "The Treatment"   5:30
8. "Where Am I?"   3:56
9. "End of a Dream"   5:45
10. "A New Life"   2:23

Deluxe Edition release
No. Title Length
1. "The Dream"   3:32
2. "First Meeting"   1:10
3. "Secret Agent"   0:52
4. "The Implant"   2:41
5. "The Aftermath"   0:30
6. "For Old Times' Sake"   3:00
7. "Clever Grill"   4:30
8. "The Johnny Cab"   3:47
9. "Howdy Stranger"   2:00
10. "The Nose Job"   1:55
11. "The Space Station"   0:47
12. "A New Face"   1:29
13. "The Mountain"   1:27
14. "Identification"   1:02
15. "Lies"   1:04
16. "Where Am I?"   3:59
17. "Swallow It"   3:07
18. "The Big Jump"   4:33
19. "Without Air"   1:15
20. "Remembering"   1:50
21. "The Mutant"   3:16
22. "The Massacre"   2:34
23. "Friends"   1:40
24. "The Treatment"   5:36
25. "The Hollowgram"   5:36
26. "End of a Dream"   5:46
27. "A New Life"   3:30


Critical response

Total Recall debuted at No.1 at the box office.[15] The film grossed $261,299,840 worldwide, a box office success. Critical reaction to Total Recall has been mostly positive. It currently holds an 84% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 51 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] 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."[20]

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."[21]

Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, considered the film excessively violent.[22] 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."[23] 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."[24]

The film ranked #79 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies).


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 hypothesizes about a future where a crime can be solved before it is committed—in the movie, the clairvoyants would be Martian mutants.[25] The sequel 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 a science fiction thriller as Minority Report by Steven Spielberg and opened in 2002 to box-office success and critical acclaim.[26][27]


Award Category Winner/Nominee Result
Academy Awards[28]
Best Sound Mixing 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 Tyler Maurice Kooy Nominated

In 2008, Total Recall was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.[29]


The film was novelized by Piers Anthony.[30] 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-malignedTemplate:By whom 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."(citation needed)

A television series called Total Recall 2070 went into production in 1999. The show was meant to be a prequel; however, it 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 on VHS and DVD for the North American market, borrowed footage from the film, such as the space cruiser arriving on Mars.

In 2011, a four-issue comic book adaptation was released by Dynamite Entertainment, continuing the story from the film.[31]


Main article: Total Recall (2012 film)

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.[32] 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.[33] 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 producer Neal Moritz, this version of the film would be closer to Philip K. 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."[34] Kate Beckinsale was cast in the role of agent Lori,[35] while John Cho was cast as McClane, the smooth-talking rep for the memory company.[36] The film was released on August 3, 2012,[37] to mixed to negative reviews.[38][39]

See also

  • Simulated reality


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Rose, Frank. The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick. Wired magazine.
  2. Vest, Jason P. (2009). Future Imperfect: Philip K. Dick at the Movies. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803218604. 
  3. Total Recall (1990). Box Office Mojo (1990-10-02). Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  4. See Kaitlyn Leeb, the Three-Breasted Woman From 'Total Recall,' at Comic-Con (Video)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Leamer, Laurence. Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, pp. 259–262. Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-312-93301-0
  6. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p285-286
  7. Review at, 2005
  8. Robb, Brian J. (2006), Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, Titan Books, pp. 15, 158-159, ISBN 1-84023-968-9
  9. Fabrikant, Geraldine. "The Hole in Hollywood's Pocket", New York Times, December 10, 1990. Retrieved on February 19, 2009. 
  10. "The 101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment", Entertainment Weekly, November 2, 1990. Retrieved on February 19, 2009. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie. Wesleyan University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8195-6801-5
  12. 12.0 12.1 SoundtrackNet : Total Recall Soundtrack. Retrieved on 2009-06-08.
  13. Varèse Sarabande Product Details. Retrieved on 2009-06-08. [dead link]
  14. Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith). Retrieved on 2009-06-08.
  15. Broeske, Pat H.. "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, 1990-06-04. Retrieved on 2010-11-16. 
  16. Rotten Tomatoes. Total Recall.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Metacritic. Total Recall. Retrieved on 2007-12-03.
  18. Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 June 1990
  19. Review by Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
  20. Buckland. pg. 209
  21. Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  22. Review by Janet Maslin of the NY Times, 1 June 1990
  23. Review by Rita Kempley, Washington Post
  24. Susan Faludi, in Backlash, Chatto & Windus, 1992, p. 169
  25. Overview of Total Recall DVD audio commentary at
  26. Minority Report box office reports. Box Office Mojo.
  27. Home Video (DVD & VHS) Out Sells Feature Films, Video Games and Movies in 2002. Retrieved on 2007-02-17.
  28. The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners. Retrieved on 2011-10-20.
  29. AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  30. ISBN 0-380-70874-4
  31. "Total Recall #1", Retrieved on May 12, 2011. 
  32. "'Total Recall' ready for revival", The Hollywood Reporter, 2009-02-25. Retrieved on 2012-09-05. 
  33. By. "Wimmer to write 'Recall' remake—Entertainment News, Film News, Media", Variety, 2009-06-02. Retrieved on 2009-06-03. 
  34. Error on call to Template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified. Collider (January 9, 2011). Retrieved on January 10, 2011.
  35. By. "Kate Beckinsale has also been set for Total Recall role",, 2011-04-21. Retrieved on 2011-04-21. 
  36. Labrecque, Jeff (2011-05-26). John Cho signs on for 'Total Recall' -- EXCLUSIVE. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2011-05-26.
  37. Fischer, Russ. "Sony Schedules 'Total Recall' For August 2012, Also Dates 'I Hate You, Dad' And Kevin James' MMA Film", /Film, February 25, 2011. Retrieved on 2012-08-26. 
  38. Total Recall. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved on 2012-08-07.
  39. Total Recall. Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved on 2012-08-07.


  • Buckland, Warren (2006). Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-1691-8. 

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