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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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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens' maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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Marvel vs. DC: This Map Shows Each State’s Favorite Comic Universe
Disney/Marvel Studios
Disney/Marvel Studios

Which comic book company is the best: Marvel or DC? This is a perennial argument on middle-school playgrounds and Reddit threads, but this map, courtesy of USDish.com, might just give us a definitive answer. The information here is broken down by state, using information provided by Google Trends to give us a clear winner of not only the most popular comic book company but also the most popular individual hero in each state (let’s show a little respect to Indiana for championing the Martian Manhunter).

According to the map, Marvel is the most popular publisher in 37 states, with DC trailing behind at eight, and five additional states coming to a 50/50 stalemate. The totals weren’t a blowout, though. In certain states like Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, the favored company only won by a point. And just because a state searches Google for a specific publisher the most doesn’t mean an individual character from the opposing team isn’t its favorite—Hawaii is listed as favoring Marvel overall, yet they love Aquaman on his own. Same with DC-loving Maryland showing Black Panther some love (helps to have a big movie coming out). Take a look at some of the most notable state preferences below:

So how did Marvel amass so many states when there are just as many DC TV shows and movies out there? Well, according to Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media, the answer lies in the depth at the House of Ideas.

“While Superman and Batman may be dominant characters,” Selepak said in a statement, “the DC Universe offers few other well-known heroes and villains and when these other characters are presented to the audience in film and on TV, they often are less than well-received.” This is opposed to Marvel, which launches new heroes on the big and small screen seemingly every year.

Does this map tell the whole story? That’s up for debate. When it comes to comics sold, DC and Marvel are always in a close battle: In January 2018, DC had six of the 10 best-selling comics of the month, placing four of the top five. Marvel, meanwhile, had three, while Image Comics had one with The Walking Dead. In terms of overall retail market share, though, Marvel eked out DC 34.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

This is a battle that's been raging since the 1960s, and for an industry that thrives on a never-ending fight between good and evil, we shouldn't expect the Marvel vs. DC debate to be settled anytime soon.

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