Total Recall (1990)

  • Review Date: November 21, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1990
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Brilliant but disturbing and violent Schwarzenegger sci-fi.
  • Review Date: November 21, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1990
  • Running Time: 113 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The main plot has to do with evil corporate thugs controlling everything, while individuals could have the power to stand up to them, if only they find the courage. As such, the heroes face some very heavy odds, and solve some big problems, even if their methods are questionable.

Positive role models

Schwarzenegger may be a role model in some of his other films, but in this one his character is excessively mean and violent. He shoots and kills bad guys, uses innocent bystanders as shields, and even beats up women. Additionally, there's very little teamwork, as he's not sure who to trust.


This movie is famous for its graphic sci-fi violence. Arnold smashes his space helmet on Mars and his face bulges and explodes (in a dream). The many fight scenes include shooting, punching, slicing, kicking, breaking bones, and spurting blood. Women fight each other and are shot and killed. The main character also punches a female, and uses an innocent bystander as a shield (the bystander is riddled with bullets and dies, and the scene is played for humor). Dead bodies are stepped on. Arms are ripped off, and characters are briefly tortured. Some of the visual effects are somewhat disturbing as well, such as the hero pulling a large tracking device from his nose.


The main character's wife seduces him, kissing him and undoing her top (nothing shown). An alien woman shows her breasts -- all three of them. A flier for a sex show is shown. There's some innuendo, especially as the hero travels through Mars' "red light district."


Very strong language throughout, with prevalent use of both "f--k" and "s--t." Also: "butt," "bitch," "porking," "ass," "asshole," "d--k," "bastard," "damn," "Christ," and "Jesus."


Pepsi cans are visible, and so is a Pepsi logo. A Lite beer (Miller?) logo is visible. There are several Mars Today newspaper racks, and the logo is similar to that of USA Today. Also a Jack in the Box sign.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some scenes take place in a saloon, and beer is advertised, but very little drinking is actually shown.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Total Recall is packed with heavy sci-fi violence that's treated with a dark humor. It includes women fighting and being shot, innocent bystanders used as shields, dead bodies, limbs ripped off, blood, fighting, and more. There are some sexual situations, including an alien woman with three naked breasts. Language is also very strong, including many uses of "f--k" and "s--t." There are also ads for Pepsi sprinkled throughout, as well as ads for beer. Most teen sci-fi fans will eventually want to see this.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

In the future, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) keeps dreaming about Mars, even though he has never been there. He also dreams about a mysterious woman (Rachel Ticotin) he has never met, much to the concern of his wife (Sharon Stone). On a whim he visits a company that can implant the memories of a vacation, and chooses a "trip" to Mars. The process goes wrong, and perhaps unlocks something inside Quaid's brain. People begin chasing him, and he decides to travel to Mars to find out what's going on. He finds evidence of his previous identity, "Hauser," and some clues to what's really going on: It all ties into a plot to control the air supply on Mars. But how many layers does this mystery have, and how can Quaid tell what's real?

Is it any good?


Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall is a lowbrow/highbrow hybrid, which is sometimes successful and sometimes not. Taking a story by sci-fi cult legend Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report), Verhoeven starts out with some great ideas. The movie plays around with several, rather brilliant layers and themes of "reality" versus "illusion," including a fight scene in which the heroes make holograms of themselves to fool the bad guys.

However, Verhoeven's sensibility usually combines hysterical violence with his clever commentaries. While this sometimes works on its own, here he is forced to adapt it to Arnold Schwarzenegger's larger-than-life, testosterone brand of action. The result is bizarre, asking audiences to laugh and cheer at the meanest and most appalling situations (though this, too, could be part of the film's concept). Likewise, the story often stops while waiting for Arnold to beat the tar out of the latest batch of bad guys. But overall, the movie's imaginative effects and ideas win the day.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. Would you consider it over-the-top? What reactions do you have to this kind of violence and is it any different than seeing realistic violence?

  • Is Quaid a likeable hero? What makes him heroic? What does he do that's not so heroic?

  • What does this movie have to say about our future (or our present)? What concepts in it are realistic? Which are fantasy?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 1, 1990
DVD release date:June 18, 1997
Cast:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone
Director:Paul Verhoeven
Studios:Carolco Pictures, TriStar Pictures
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:113 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of Total Recall (1990) was written by

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Kid, 12 years old March 16, 2013

A Movie I'll See When I'm Older

I'm a huge fan of sci-fi, but I'll see this when I'm older.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 16 years old Written byevolinag January 19, 2013

Terrific sci-fi classic has lots of gory violence, language. Mature teens and up!

"Total Recall" is a science fiction film by paul Verhoeven released in 1990. ----------------------------- The science fiction genre is a very spacious genre. It features entertaining blockbusters, dark cyberpunk thrillers and satirical dramas. There's also a huge variety in plot elements, may it be the classical alien invasion, a totalitarian state or a crew in a spaceship on adventure trips. But "Total Recall" somehow is all of this. It is a blockbuster, but it is also satirical. It has action, but also a message. It is entertaining, but also thought-provoking. "Total Recall" is extremely well-made (thinking of it was filmed in 1990), very thrilling and suprisingly amusing. For the serious movie lovers, there is room for interpretations and what exactly teh solution wants to tell us, and for the lovers of popcorn flicks, there are enough action scenes and Arnie quotes. "Total Recall" quite simply shows the science fiction genre in all its variety and can watched again and again, without getting boring. ---------------------------- (SPOILERS may follow:) The movie is extremely violent and bloody. There are violent combat fights, a very graphic shoot-out at an escalator with many innocent peole getting shot in a bloody fashion, a scene featuring a man's arms getting torn off while hanging on an elevator and a scene in which Arnie rams a rod into a man - all of which is depicted on-screen. Also, there ae two scenes, in which characters get sucked into vacuum, and suddenly start to hyperventilate, causing their eyes and mouth to balloon (very graphic). However, the protagonists survive. A rat is shot off-screen, but we see blood and matter splatter onto a screen. There are several scenes in which people get shot in gory ways, leaving bloody bullet wounds. There is an infamous scene in which a mutant woman reveals her breasts, and we see she has three of them (full breast nudity). The language is at R-standards, having 28 uses of the f-word and some milder language. Of course, it is very gory and has some grizzly scenes, but it is action-ish and the violence is not too disturbing (except for the scene in the vacuum). Speaking from experience, i can say that with parental guidance, mature viewers around 14 can handle it.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 11 years old September 30, 2012

Very violent and bloody movie

The movie contains bloody sequences of action violence, disturbing images and lots of sexual content. But the story is great. I love Total Recall!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing


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