Total Recall (1990) Movie Poster Image

Total Recall (1990)

Brilliant but disturbing and violent Schwarzenegger sci-fi.
Popular with kids
  • 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.

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/Streaming 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

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 15 years old Written byMavrah333 June 15, 2015

One of Schwarzenegger's best is action packed and enthralling.

Total Recall takes place in a semi-dystopian future, with Arnold starring as a worker Quaid. After failing to go to Mars for a holiday with his wife, he buys fake memories of a holiday as a secret agent on mars from a company called Total Recall. However, soon he is on the run, and unsure if he is having a dream or not. This is easily one of Schwarzenegger's best, with more humour than many of his classics, and is probably one of his most action packed. While the over-the-top violence may dissuade some, and elements of the story feel pro-forma, I feel that this movie is an instant classic of sci-fi and action. A must see for Arnie Fans!
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
Kid, 12 years old June 20, 2015

AWESOMENESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Dad just saw this movie with me. It was super violent and gory, unnecessarily so. The plot was great though and I loved the action. It might not be appropriate for some 12 year olds though, (I.E. boobs, arms chopped off, over 80 deaths, lots of shooting, blood everywhere, innocent used as shield against guns, etc.) It had a great plot though, and sci-fi fans will definitely like it.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing