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It’s based on a short story
Philip K. Dıck was a prolific science-fiction writer who has seen a lot of his work adapted to the big screen. That includes his short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” which serves as the basis for Total Recall.
Developed began a long time before the movie was released
Producer Ronald Shusett bought the rights to Dıck’s story in 1974. Given that Total Recall came out in 1990, clearly it was a long process. Shusett, who has a “story by” and screenplay credit on the final film, is the one who came up with the title “Total Recall.”
Shusett picked up a collaborator
Shusett started working on the screenplay with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. The two fleshed out the short story and basically had to create entirely original second and third acts after running out of material from Dıck’s story. They shopped their script around, but it was considered “unfilmable” by the studios. Shusett and O’Bannon then moved onto another project, a little movie called Alien. The massive success of that film got them a deal to work on Total Recall at Disney, but that never went anywhere because the whole “unfilmable” issue continued.
Dino de Laurentiis got involved
In 1982, Shusett sold his project to the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, the production company helmed by the Italian superproducer. After considering a few directors, they settled on David Cronenberg in 1984.
Cronenberg worked hard…then quit
Cronenberg wanted to shape the script into something he found appealing, and to solve the third-act problems that had studios worried, wrote a full 12 drafts himself. However, Shusett was not happy with the direction that Cronenberg was taking. He wanted a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type film, not a serious sci-fi movie. Cronenberg got tired of the arguing and quit the project. A couple years later, de Laurentiis asked him to return to the project, but he declined, not wanting to argue with Shusett any longer.
A production started…and was scrapped
Finally, production on Total Recall was to begin in 1988. Bruce Beresford had been hired to direct, and Patrick Swayze was cast in the main role as Quaid. Sets were being built in Australia and everything. Then, the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group filed for bankruptcy. The crew was fired, the sets were destroyed, and Total Recall went into turnaround, meaning any studio could sweep in and buy it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger had really wanted to be in Total Recall, but de Laurentiis didn’t think he was right for the role. Now, though, de Laurentiis was out of the picture. Schwarzenegger convinced Carolco Pictures to buy the rights to the film so he could star in it. In fact, Schwarzenegger was heavily involved, overseeing cast decisions, script revisions, and more.
Schwarzenegger hired Verhoeven
The muscular Austrian actor had been considered for RoboCop, Verhoeven’s breakthrough film in the United States. He did not get the role, but he did like the film. As such, Schwarzenegger asked Verhoeven to direct Total Recall. He agreed and brought in Gary Goldman to do some rewrites. Goldman joined O’Bannon and Shusett as credited screenwriters.
Michael Ironside finally worked with Verhoeven
The Dutch director had wanted Ironside to play Clarence Boddicker, the villain in RoboCop, but Ironside did not want to play another “psychopath.” However, he did agree to play the antagonist Richter in Total Recall. Ironside called Richter a “sociopath,” apparently enough of a distinction for him to take the role.
It shot in Mexico (and in an unusual way)
Production of Total Recall went down to Mexico City, where it was primarily shot on sets at a studio. The train station on Earth was filmed on the Mexico City Metro as well. The only things not shot in Mexico City were the exterior Mars scenes, which were shot at Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, Nevada. Additionally, Total Recall was shot almost entirely in sequence, which is very rare.
There was a lot of sickness on set
Dust inhalation and food poisoning hit basically everybody during the production of Total Recall. The only people who didn’t get sick were Shusett and Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger had actually had all his food sent in from the United States, having gotten sick from food while filming Predator in Mexico.
Schwarzenegger wasn’t able to completely avoid health concerns, though
While he may have not gotten food poisoning, Schwarzenegger wasn’t unscathed. An issue with a stunt involving smashing a train window ended with the actor cutting his wrist. He had to cover his injury with a jacket.
Ironside suffered a serious injury as well
Ironside ran into actor Michael Champion, who played Richter’s right-hand man Helm, and the collision did not go well for Ironside. He cracked his sternum and separated two ribs, and he had a lot of intensive filming left to do. Ironside was on the sidelines for three weeks, and even when he returned, he couldn’t really lift his arm. The actor actually borrowed a brace that was made for NFL quarterback Jim Plunkett in order to help him get through his filming.
Schwarzenegger did a lot for the crew
The actor and producer took it upon himself to try and keep morale from falling. He would throw parties and stage water gun fights and Styrofoam snowball fights. On the more serious side, Schwarzenegger let Ironside use his personal phone in his trailer to keep tabs on his ill sister. This was, of course, a time when contacting somebody in the United States from Mexico was more difficult.
The movie had to be pared down to get an R rating
In classic Verhoeven fashion, the original cut of Total Recall got an X rating, now known as an NC-17 rating. This is pretty much death for any major motion picture, so the gore and violence had to be pared down. In the end, they got it down to an R rating.
Schwarzenegger hated the first trailer
TriStar, the distributor of the film, released a first trailer that didn’t include any of the action or special effects. It tested poorly with audience, and also with Schwarzenegger. The actor hated this trailer, saying it “cheapened” the movie. He got in touch with the powers that be to get a new trailer made by a different company. This one was up to snuff.
Total Recall was supposed to be made for a budget of $30 million. However, the extensive special effects and other issues led to the budget bloating. The exact number isn’t known, but the estimated budget is anywhere between $48 million and $80 million. Schwarzenegger, for his part, dropped $50 million when talking about the movie. Regardless, it was one of the most expensive movies at the time.
Fortunately, it raked in plenty of cash
In its opening weekend Total Recall made $25.5 million in the United States and Canada, making it the top movie at the box office that week. It made $119.4 million in that region overall, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of that summer. Overall, it made a worldwide gross of $261.4 million.
Total Recall was nominated for three Academy Awards. It didn’t win for Best Sound or Best Sound Effects Editing, but it did win for Best Visual Effects.
Total Recall is considered a weird, gory, sci-fi classic. We never even mentioned Kuato. The movie was remade in 2012, with Colin Farrell stepping into the role of Quaid. However, the remake was generally panned and seen as a bit of a flop.