Total Recall (2012 film)

Total Recall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLen Wiseman
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on
Produced by
CinematographyPaul Cameron
Edited byChristian Wagner
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • August 3, 2012 (2012-08-03)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$125 million
Box office$198.5 million

Total Recall is a 2012 American science fiction action film directed by Len Wiseman and starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. The screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name, which is inspired by the 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. The supporting cast features Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Bill Nighy. Unlike the original film, the setting is on a dystopian Earth, not Mars. The film blends American and Asian influences, notably in the settings and dominant populations of the two nation-states in the story: the United Federation of Britain (Western Europe) and the Colony (Australia).

The film was first announced in 2009 and was released in North America on August 3, 2012, grossing over $198 million worldwide. The film received mixed reviews, with the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus praising the action sequences but saying that it lacks the elements of the original film that made it a classic.


At the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare has devastated the Earth. The only habitable land left consists of two territories: the United Federation of Britain (UFB), located on the British Isles and northwestern Europe; and the Colony, spanning all of Australia. Factory workers from the Colony commute to the UFB each day via "The Fall", a gravity elevator running through the Earth's core. The disparity in living conditions has resulted in a group of people called the Resistance, deemed terrorists by the UFB, who seek to improve living conditions in the Colony.

Colony worker Douglas Quaid has been having unsettling dreams of being a secret agent partnered with an unnamed woman. Tired of his factory job building police robots with his friend Harry, he visits Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. He decides on the fantasy of being a secret agent. During exploratory preparations by technician McClane, they discover that Quaid already has real memories of being a spy. As McClane starts to question Quaid about the memories, a squad of UFB police arrive, killing the Rekall staff in an attempt to arrest Quaid. Strange instincts kick in as Quaid defends himself, killing the entire squad. Upon returning home, Quaid relays the incident to his wife Lori, who attempts to kill him, revealing that she is a UFB intelligence agent and they have only been married for six weeks, not seven years as he believed. After Quaid escapes, he receives a phone call from Charles Hammond, a former colleague of his who directs him to a safe-deposit box. Inside it, Quaid finds a message from himself with the address of a UFB apartment.

Upon arriving at the UFB, Quaid is pursued by Lori and her team, but is rescued by Melina, the woman from his dreams. Recuperating at the apartment, Quaid finds another hidden recording, revealing his true identity as rogue UFB agent Carl Hauser, who was working for UFB Chancellor Cohaagen to infiltrate the Resistance before Hauser defected. He had discovered a kill code that can disable an army of robots that Cohaagen intends to use to destroy the Colony and give the UFB more living space, but was captured by UFB agents and implanted with false memories to manipulate him. Nonetheless, Matthias, the Resistance leader, should be able to retrieve the memory of the kill code. Subsequently, Melina reveals she was Hauser's lover before he was captured, comparing their matching scars from when they were shot while holding hands in Quaid's "dream". They are soon surrounded by the police and Harry, who claims that Quaid is still in a Rekall-induced dream and killing Melina is the only way out. A confused Quaid is initially uncertain until he sees a tear on Melina's cheek and shoots Harry. Lori pursues the pair, but they manage to escape.

Melina takes Quaid to see Matthias, who searches his memories until Lori and Cohaagen storm the Resistance base. Cohaagen reveals he came up with the idea of the kill code to trick Quaid into leading him to Matthias before killing Matthias, taking Melina prisoner, and ordering a team to restore Quaid's memory to the "old Hauser" before he was corrupted. However, Hammond reveals himself and frees Quaid, dying in the process.

Cohaagen loads the Fall with his robot army as Quaid sneaks on board, setting timed explosives throughout the vessel while searching for Melina. After reaching the Colony and freeing her, they fight Cohaagen and his soldiers until Quaid's explosives detonate. Quaid and Melina jump off before the vessel plummets back into the tunnel and explodes underground, killing Cohaagen and destroying his army along with the Fall itself.

Quaid wakes up in an ambulance with Melina, who he soon realizes is a holographically disguised Lori. Quaid eventually kills her before reuniting with the real Melina as news channels declare the Colony’s independence from the UFB.


  • Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid / Agent Carl Hauser, a factory worker suffering from strange violent dreams. He is revealed to be a former UFB operative assigned by Cohaagen to assassinate Matthias, before his defection to the Resistance and recaptured, by manipulating Quaid to his former life.
  • Kate Beckinsale as Agent Lori, a UFB undercover agent posing as Quaid's wife.
  • Jessica Biel as Minette Dianella Reynoso, a member of the Resistance and love interest of Quaid
  • Bryan Cranston as Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen, the corrupt and ruthless dictator of the United Federation of Britain, who attempts to ignite a full-scale invasion on The Colony.
  • Bokeem Woodbine as Agent Harry, Quaid's workmate and best friend – in fact an agent sent by Cohaagen to monitor him.
  • Bill Nighy as Matthias, the leader of the Resistance. In the Director’s Cut, he is also Melina's father.
  • John Cho as McClane, a rep and tech at Rekall who offers Quaid the chance to experience an imagined adventure.
  • Will Yun Lee as Marek, a factory worker who refers Quaid to McClane at Rekall.
  • Dylan Smith (credited as Dylan Scott Smith) as Agent Hammond, a UFB agent turned rogue, before aiding Quaid to escape.
  • Ethan Hawke makes an uncredited cameo as the original Carl Hauser in the Director's Cut.


On June 2, 2009, Variety reported that Kurt Wimmer would write the script for the film. Mark Bomback was later brought on board, and James Vanderbilt did an uncredited "polish" on the script. Over a year later Len Wiseman was hired to direct. Paul Cameron is the film's cinematographer, and Christian Wagner is the film's editor. The soundtrack is a collaboration of Harry Gregson-Williams and Welsh electronica group Hybrid.

Although described in the press as a "remake," star Jessica Biel claimed in her August 2, 2012 appearance on The Daily Show that the film is not a remake of the 1990 film, but an adaptation of the original short story by Philip K. Dick. However, Biel's own character of "Melina" was not actually present in the original short story by Philip K. Dick and exists only in this film and the original 1990 film. The same is true for the characters of Cohaagen and Harry, along with the leader of the Resistance. This version of the film also uses the names Quaid and Lori for the main character and his wife, like the 1990 film, whereas in the original short story they were Quail and Kirsten. The basic story also follows that of the original 1990 film, albeit with certain changes such as keeping the action on Earth rather than Mars. Also, this version does not credit Dick as a writer.

In August 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed an interest in reprising his role as Quaid, but in October 2010 it was officially reported in The Hollywood Reporter that Colin Farrell was on top of the short list, which included Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender, to play Quaid. On January 11, 2011, it was announced that Farrell had secured the role. Farrell stated in April that the remake would not be the same as Dick's short story. Schwarzenegger ridiculed the film in 2019 saying, "someone tried to do a remake of [Total Recall]. How stupid is that? Jesus!"

Beckinsale and Biel were both confirmed for roles on May 25, after actresses Eva Green, Diane Kruger, and Kate Bosworth had previously been considered for Biel's role. Actor Bryan Cranston was cast as the film's villain. Ethan Hawke was cast in a cameo role, and commented that his character had a monologue about five pages long; however, this role was cut from the theatrical version of film, but is part of the extended Director’s Cut. Later cast additions included Bill Nighy and John Cho.

On a reported budget of $125 million, principal photography began in Toronto on May 16, 2011, and ended on September 20, 2011. Scenes were filmed at the Pinewood Toronto Studios, as well as the University of Toronto, Lower Bay Station, CIBC Commerce Court, the University of Toronto Scarborough, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and Guelph. The film was shot with Red Epic digital cameras and Panavision anamorphic lenses. After securing the film rights from Miramax, Columbia Pictures distributed the film.


The film score was composed and produced by Harry Gregson-Williams, with additional music performed by Hybrid.


Total Recall was released on August 3, 2012.

The Director's Cut includes an extra 12 minutes of footage and there are several key differences compared to the theatrical version. In this version, both Hauser's memory and physical appearance were heavily altered by the UFB to turn him into Quaid, and an uncredited Ethan Hawke portrays Hauser's original appearance in a pre-recorded hologram video. Additionally, Hauser is still working for Cohaagen and plans to get close to Matthias by seducing Melina, who is the Resistance leader's daughter in this version. The Director's Cut ends with Quaid, on finding the real Melina, noticing that his forearm is missing the Rekall symbol he received earlier. Recalling Matthias' words, during their short meeting, that the past blinds us to the present our heart wants, Quaid decides to accept his current world with Melina as real.


Box office

The film opened in 3,601 theaters in the United States, grossing $9,092,341 on its opening day and $25,577,758 on its opening weekend, ranking #2 with a per theater average of $7,220. The film performed poorly domestically with only $58,877,969, and $139,589,199 outside of the United States for a total of $198,467,168 against a $125 million budget.

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 31% based on 235 reviews and an average rating of 5/10. The website's critical consensus states: "While it boasts some impressive action sequences, Total Recall lacks the intricate plotting, dry humor and fleshed out characters that made the original a sci-fi classic." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 43 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". The film earned a Razzie Award nomination for Biel as Worst Supporting Actress.

Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, "The richly constructed first hour is so superior to any feat of sci-fi speculation since Minority Report that the bland aftertaste of the chase finale is quickly forgotten." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four; praising its details, he stated: "Total Recall is well-crafted, high energy sci-fi. Like all stories inspired by Philip K. Dick, it deals with intriguing ideas. It never touched me emotionally, though, the way the 1990 film did, and strictly speaking, isn't necessary." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune stating that "the movie marches in predictable formations as well. But when Biel's rebel pulls over in her hover car and asks Farrell if he'd like a ride, your heart may sing as mine did."

Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "the outcome is engaging enough, although not entirely satisfying from either a genre or narrative standpoint, lacking both substance and a degree of imagination." Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "For all of its dazzlingly rendered cityscapes and nonstop action, this revamped Total Recall is a bland thing—bloodless, airless, humorless, featureless. With or without the triple-bosomed prostitute." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C", stating that "this one is somberly kinetic and joyless." Justin Chang of Variety wrote, "Crazy new gadgets, vigorous action sequences and a thorough production-design makeover aren't enough to keep Total Recall from feeling like a near-total redundancy." Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote, "As for a villain, you could do worse than Bryan Cranston as the evil political overlord who is trying to stamp out the resistance... But... When he goes mano a mano with Farrell, it's not spine-tingling. It's embarrassing, like watching a dude beat up his dad." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it "totally witless" and said audiences should not expect comedic elements, originality, or coherence.

Other media

A 3D first-person shooter video game of the same name for iPhone, iPad and Android was released as a tie-in to the film.

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