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Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #83 Total Recall

Box Office: $119.4 Million

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing

Oscar Wins: Best Visual Effects

Available To Stream: HBOMax 84/100

(This has SPOILERS about Total Recall so if you haven't seen it, check it out)

Total Recall is a much more fun version of Blade Runner and you could argue it might be more innovative. Both come from Philip K. Dick stories but with the focus on dreams, there is a lot of Total Recall in the DNA of Inception, Open Your Eyes/Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a movie with a star and director both at their absolute peak and because it's so bizarre, playful and never quite resolved, it makes re-watching it really enjoyable.

I'll cut right to the end. I believe this was all a dream that was implanted by Rekall. If you go back to what the doctor tells him, it turns out exactly the way it was described. Quaid does save the world and get the girl. And it's exactly the kind of girl that Quaid has asked for. Detractors might say this scene (the best one in the movie) proves otherwise but if you were building a scenario that felt as realistic as possible, wouldn't you have a situation like this built into the world you've created?

That the movie has been out for over 30 years and you can still have discussions about the questions built into the movie shows how strong the script is. When it came out, critics were in agreement that the effects were fantastic but were split on the story and the movie as a whole. This is a case where the audiences were right. Total Recall opened the first week of June 1990 against tough competition and even knocked Back To The Future III out of the number one spot. Total Recall would spend eight weeks in the top 10 and was the seventh biggest movie to come out that year.

The largest reason for Total Recall's success was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was coming off Twins and would go on to do Kindergarten Cop and Terminator 2 after this. You could make a case this was his absolute peak as a movie star. All of those movies would open at number one and make at least $90 million dollars. His acting in Total Recall is among his best. People like to mock Ah-nold's accent and acting skills but he is really good at playing confused as well as confident. He is able to do both of those things when he is Quaid and Hauser. His physicality also makes you believe he's pulling off these crazy fight scenes as well. Anyone who thinks Schwarzenegger is a shitty actor has never really watched Predator, True Lies, T2 or this.

Giphy Images.

This is also as good as it gets for the director Paul Verhoeven. This is wildly creative (especially when they are on Mars) and if the story wasn't so built on the premise of 'is this a dream or isn't it'; this could have been the jumping off point for a number of sequels. Verhoeven's movies are hit or miss for me. I really like this and Robocop. After that, he loses me. Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Hollow Man are bad movies. Don't get me wrong. When I was a teenager, I especially appreciated (and watched many times) certain Sharon Stone (who is so good in this and looks amazing) and Elizabeth Berkley scenes but those are lousy movies as a whole.


Some people love Starship Troopers. I don't but I can at least see what Verhoeven was trying to do. He loves mocking propaganda and marketing. You can tell he has a real distaste for how things are sold to us and he was right that it would become more and more prevalent in our lives. I also love how his futures are not dystopian from the first glance. You have to look deeper to see the corruption. That seems much more realistic then these dark and miserable worlds you see in some science fiction.

This was pitched to the movie studios as Indiana Jones in space and while it's not exactly that, this has the same fun energy. The excessive violence is supposed to be funny and cartoonish. There are bad guys like the always strong Ronny Cox who chomp up the scenery being as evil as possible and you get a few double crosses as well. This is a smart, fun Arnold Schwarzenegger adventure. What more do you want?

83. Total Recall

84. Quiz Show

85. For Love Of The Game

86. Being John Malkovich

87. Men In Black

88. Scream

89. Alive

90. Three Kings

91. Glengarry Glen Ross

92. Die Hard With A Vengeance

93. The Blair Witch Project

94. Twister

95. Dirty Work

96. Election

97. Tremors

98. Any Given Sunday

99. The Wedding Singer

100. Clerks