In 2084, construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) dismisses the dreams and discourages him from thinking about Mars, where the governor, Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), is fighting rebels while searching for a rumored alien artifact located in the mines. At Rekall, a company that provides memory implants of vacations, Quaid opts for a memory trip to Mars as a Secret Agent fantasy. However, during the procedure, before the memory is implanted, something goes wrong, and Quaid starts revealing previously suppressed memories of actually being a Secret Agent. The company sedates him, wipes his memory of the visit, and sends him home. On the way home, Quaid is attacked by his friend Harry (Robert Costanzo) and some construction co-workers; he is forced to kill them, using elite fighting skills. He is then attacked in his apartment by Lori, who states that she was never his wife; their marriage was just a false memory implant, and Cohaagen sent her as an agent to monitor Quaid. He is then attacked and pursued by armed thugs led by Richter (Michael Ironside), Lori's real husband and Cohaagen's operative.
After evading his attackers, Quaid is given a suitcase containing money, gadgets, fake IDs, a disguise, 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 the artifact 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 and check into the Hilton Hotel with a fake ID. Quaid makes his way to Mars and follows clues to Venusville, the colony's red-light district, primarily populated by people mutated as a result of poor radiation shielding. He meets Benny (Mel Johnson, Jr.), a taxi driver, and Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the woman from his dreams; but she spurns him, believing that Quaid is still working for Cohaagen.
Quaid later encounters Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) and Lori, who claim Quaid has suffered a "schizoid embolism" and is trapped in a fantasy based on the implanted memories. Edgemar warns that Quaid is headed for lunacy (his description loosely predicting later events) and a lobotomy if he does not return to reality, then offers Quaid a pill that would waken him from the dream. Quaid puts the pill in his mouth, but after seeing Edgemar sweating in fear, he kills Edgemar and spits out the pill. Lori alerts Richter's forces, who burst into the room and capture Quaid, but Melina rescues him, with Quaid killing Lori in the process. The two race back to the Venusville bar and escape into the tunnels with Benny. Unable to locate Quaid, Cohaagen shuts down the ventilation to Venusville, slowly asphyxiating its citizens. Quaid, Melina, and Benny are taken to a resistance base; and Quaid is introduced to Kuato (Marshall Bell), a parasitic twin conjoined to his brother's stomach. Kuato reads Quaid's mind and tells him that the alien artifact is a turbinium reactor that will create a breathable atmosphere for Mars when activated, eliminating Cohaagen's abusive monopoly on breathable air. Cohaagen's forces burst in and kill most of the resistance, including Kuato, who instructs Quaid to start the reactor. Benny reveals that he is also working for Cohaagen, and that he alerted Cohaagen's forces.
Quaid and Melina are taken to Cohaagen, who explains that the Quaid persona was a ploy by Hauser to infiltrate the mutants and lead Cohaagen to Kuato, thereby wiping out the resistance. Cohaagen orders Hauser's memory to be re-implanted in Quaid and Melina programmed as Hauser's obedient wife, but Quaid and Melina escape into the mines where the reactor is located. Benny attacks them in an excavation machine, but Quaid kills Benny with a drill. Quaid then confronts Richter and his men, killing them too.
Quaid reaches the reactor control room, where Cohaagen is waiting with a bomb. During the ensuing struggle, Cohaagen triggers the bomb, but Quaid throws it away, blowing out one of the walls of the control room and causing an explosive decompression. While reaching for the reactor controls, Quaid knocks out Cohaagen, and he is sucked out onto the Martian surface, killing him. Quaid manages to activate the reactor before he and Melina are also pulled out and begin to experience similar decompression effects. Before they are killed, the reactor releases air into the Martian atmosphere, saving Quaid, Melina and the rest of Mars' population. As humans walk onto the surface of the planet in its new atmosphere, Quaid momentarily pauses to wonder whether he is dreaming or not, before turning to kiss Melina.Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid
Rachel Ticotin as Melina
Sharon Stone as Lori Quaid
Ronny Cox as Cohaagen
Michael Ironside as Richter
Mel Johnson, Jr. as Benny
Marshall Bell as George
Roy Brocksmith as Dr. Edgemar
Ray Baker as Bob McClane
Michael Champion as Helm
Rosemary Dunsmore as Dr. Renata Lull
Robert Costanzo as Harry
Marc Alaimo as Captain Everett
Dean Norris as Tony
Debbie Lee Carrington as Thumbelina
Lycia Naff as Mary
The original screenplay 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. Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role. 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 film did not eventuate.
David Cronenberg was attached to direct but wanted to cast William Hurt in the lead role. 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.'". When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project. 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).
The collapse of De Laurentiis' 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% of the profits) 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. 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.
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 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.
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.
The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, and 40 minutes of it was released by the Varèse Sarabande label in 1990. Ten years later, the same label released a "Deluxe Edition," in chronological order with additional cues that were left out, totaling 74 minutes. 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.
Total Recall debuted at number one at the box office. The film grossed $261,299,840 worldwide. It received an 82% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 67 reviews. Metacritic rated it 57 out of 100 based on 17 reviews.
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." 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." 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".
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is not a classic, "but it's still solid and entertaining." 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."
Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, considered the film excessively violent. 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." 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."
The film ranked number 79 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies).
In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated this film for its Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.
The film was novelized by Piers Anthony. 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 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.
A video game was made based on the film, 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 popular 16-bit home computers (Amiga and Atari ST). The game was developed and released by Ocean Software, reaching number 2 in the UK sales charts, behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was also a NES version which was notably different from the others, being developed by a different team (Interplay), who were subcontracted by Acclaim Entertainment. 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 a tie-in with the NES game, the August 1990 version of Nintendo Power promoted the game for their well-known monthly mail-in contests, with the Rekall slogan of "Making the Impossible Possible" whereby first prize would be one of the Martian police uniforms along with a videotaped trip to Hollywood with a chance to meet Schwarzenegger. Years later, the magazine admitted that it was their worst promotion, as "our winner did not get to meet Arnold until late 1991, and even then only for a quick handshake."
A television series called Total Recall 2070 went into production in 1999. The show 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. 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.DC Comics: Total Recall (1990)
In 2011, a four-issue comic-book adaptation was released by Dynamite Entertainment, continuing the story from the film.
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. In 1994, producer Mario Kassar spoke with director Ronny Yu about possibly helming the sequel. In 1998, actor-director Jonathan Frakes was also attached to the follow-up. 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 the Steven Spielberg sci-fi thriller Minority Report, which opened in 2002 to commercial success.
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. 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.
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 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." Kate Beckinsale was cast in the role of agent Lori, while John Cho was cast as McClane, the smooth-talking rep for the memory company.
The film was released on August 3, 2012 and received mixed reviews.