15 Things You Might Not Know About Total Recall

We may be eager to forget its lackluster 2012 remake, but the 1990 blockbuster Total Recall—which was released 25 years ago today—will live forever as a benchmark of gloriously silly science fiction. Even if you’ve rewatched the film ad nauseam on cable reruns, there are still a few facts you might not know about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s modern classic.

1. THE MOVIE WAS IN DEVELOPMENT FOR OVER A DECADE. 

In 1976, fledgling screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon teamed up to adapt Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” The pair purchased the rights to the piece that year, but soon hit the first of many delays on the road to the screen.

Difficulties in reimagining the story as a film forced the pair to take a long break from the Dick story to work on a different project. (This distraction would prove rather fortuitous, ultimately becoming the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Alien.) Over the course of many years, the screenplay went through more than 40 revisions. 

2. TOTAL RECALL ALMOST COST THE WORLD THE FLY. 

Even after Shusett and O’Bannon’s script found a patron in power producer Dino De Laurentiis, setbacks persisted as finding the right director proved challenging. David Cronenberg, then only on the precipice of his cult glory, was the first director assigned to the project. He opted to take on Total Recall instead of an offer to direct a different film: The Fly, which was then snagged by commercial director Robert Bierman.

After spending a year working on the Dick adaptation, Cronenberg parted ways with production, handing the baton off to Tender Mercies director Bruce Beresford. Cronenberg returned his sights to The Fly—a newly vacant job after the departure of Bierman due to a personal tragedy—ultimately making it his most iconic feature. (By the time Total Recall actually went into production, Beresford would be gone, too.)

3. CRONENBERG’S VERSION WAS CONSIDERED TOO FAITHFUL TO THE STORY.

As the story always goes, “creative differences” prompted Cronenberg to jump ship on Total Recall. While the director approached the project hoping to pay homage to Dick’s writing, its producers fostered a divergent vision that Cronenberg described as “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.” In a 2003 conversation with WIRED, the filmmaker remembered an odd exchange with the writing team: “Eventually we got to a point where Ron Shusett said, ‘You know what you've done? You've done the Philip K. Dick version.’ I said, ‘Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?’” 

4. SOME OF CRONENBERG’S CREATIONS REMAIN IN THE FINAL CUT. 

Although the project shifted gears in a major way following Cronenberg’s departure, he did leave behind a few creative concepts that survived in the version of Total Recall that hit theaters. Chief among them was the community of Martian mutants—among the movie’s most memorable elements—including the major character Kuato.

5. THE QUAID/HAUSER CHARACTER WENT THROUGH AN IMAGE OVERHAUL. 

Producer De Laurentiis’ initial vision of the film’s hero Douglas Quaid (originally named “Quail”)/Carl Hauser was decidedly more in line with Dick’s short story: A schlubby office drone who dreams of a more exciting life. With this characterization in mind, his first choice for the part was Richard Dreyfuss. Over time, the desired machismo of the film’s leading man increased, prompting suggestions like William Hurt (courtesy of Cronenberg) and Patrick Swayze. 

6. AT FIRST, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WAS TURNED DOWN FOR BEING TOO MANLY. 

Despite the gradual growth of Quaid’s imagined virility, there was a limit to how far De Laurentiis was willing to stray from the original character. He insisted that someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger was out of the question for the part and even turned down the Terminator star when Schwarzenegger expressed interest in the role. 

7. TO GET THE PART, SCHWARZENEGGER LED ANOTHER COMPANY TO BUY THE MOVIE. 

Schwarzenegger saw an opportunity when De Laurentiis’ production company, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. The actor convinced Carolco Pictures, with whom he had recently worked on Red Heat, to purchase the rights to Total Recall.

8. SCHWARZENEGGER HAD AN UNUSUAL AMOUNT OF CONTROL OVER PRODUCTION. 

The coveted role of Quaid was not the only thing Schwarzenegger won in the transaction: In addition to being welcome to recruit the director of his choice (as a big fan of RoboCop, he picked Paul Verhoeven), Schwarzenegger maintained authority over all creative aspects of the film, script, production, and even elements of distribution. 

For instance, Schwarzenegger took issue with the portrayal of the movie in its TriStar Pictures studio trailer, demanding that the company create and release a preview that better represented Total Recall. Furthermore, when the actor was dissatisfied with the middling public awareness conjured by the movie in the weeks leading up to release, he convinced Carolco to invest more and more money into marketing until virtually everyone had heard of Total Recall

9. THE MOVIE WAS ORIGINALLY RATED “X.” 

The notorious “X” rating did not enjoy a particularly long tenure in the culture of United States cinema, starting in 1968 and lasting only up to 1990, when it gave way to “NC-17.” Total Recall, heavy with graphic violence and soaked in bloodshed, would have been one of the last movies rated “X” were it not softened up late in production in the interest of achieving the more commercially viable “R” rating. 

10. THE MOVIE’S FUTURISTIC VEHICLES WERE ACTUALLY MEXICAN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.

A memorable sequence involves Schwarzenegger’s character speeding away from his pursuers through a futuristic public train station. Though evocative of the film’s 2084 setting, the station and its vehicles were in fact actual features of the Mexico City public transportation system. Minor touch-ups like sleek silver paint and television screens were applied to boost the ultramodern feel, but surprisingly little effort was needed to make the setting read as “of another time.” 

11. TOTAL RECALL MARKED THE TRANSITION FROM OLD TO NEW SPECIAL EFFECTS. 

The 1990 film was both one of the final movies to heavily utilize miniature effects and one of the first to employ computer-generated imagery. The former camp, which involves the projection of filmed shots inside miniature scale model sets, includes a number of Total Recall’s Mars scenes. In the latter category are only sequences featuring Schwarzenegger’s passage through a transit station’s X-ray machine. The coming years would see CGI quickly become the predominant form of special effects used in Hollywood filmmaking, with the miniature method all but losing its place to more advanced techniques following Total Recall

12. THE MARTIAN GUARDS WERE REAL AMERICAN SOLDIERS. 

All of the actors portraying guards in the movie’s Mars scenes are in fact genuine American Marines and Naval officers.

13. ALMOST EVERYONE GOT SICK OR INJURED ON SET. 

Multiple cast and crew members had to be hospitalized during production. First, a craft services foul-up resulted in almost everybody on set enduring a bout of food poisoning. Only Schwarzenegger, who ate privately catered food, and the fanatically health-conscious Shusett were exempt from the illness. Verhoeven required a steady stream of medication and fluids and regular access to a nearby ambulance in order to keep directing through the pain.

Next, associate producer Elliot Schick fell terribly ill due to the rampant air pollution of Mexico City. Finally, the least surprising accident of the lot: Schwarzenegger repeatedly cut and damaged his hand, even breaking his finger at one point, during shooting of the film’s innumerable punching stunts. 

14. TOTAL RECALL WAS, POSSIBLY, THE MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE EVER MADE AT THE TIME OF ITS PRODUCTION. 

Although exact accounts of the Total Recall budget are elusive, official estimates have the film costing around $65 million. This neighborhood makes it one of the most—if not the most—expensive movies produced by 1990.

15. THE MOVIE WON AN OSCAR.

By winning the Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects at the 63rd annual Academy Awards, Total Recall became the first—and to date only—Philip K. Dick film adaptation to win an Oscar. Total Recall was also the final live-action picture to receive the Special Achievement prize; the only film to win since has been Toy Story, recognized five years later for its advancements in computer animation.

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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