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The 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies

38. Total Recall (1990)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox

Maybe it's the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the perennial mindless action hero, in a role that's conceived as an average Joe, not a body-builder who speaks broken English. Or perhaps it's the outlandish imagery delivered by in-the-zone director Paul Verhoeven, who's more than happy to show a fat baby protruding out of a man's stomach, a human skull opening like cabinets, eyeballs popping out of melting faces.

Whatever the reason may be, Total Recall has earned a reputation as a cheesy yet incredibly fun sci-fi schlockfest. Schwarzenegger plays a construction worker who signs up for a virtual vacation to Mars, during which he'll get to act out a secret agent's life; naturally, though, he wigs the fuck out once the mad scientists try to implant memories into his brain, punching his way out of the facility and going on the run from sadistic authorities while trying to figure out whether he's still himself or officially the secret Martian agent.

The script keeps things moving at a brisk pace, maximizing its balls-to-the-wall energy with nasty humor and gross visuals. We're not here to argue that Total Recall isn't grade-A camp. But, in the midst of such a lowbrow compliment, it seems that people have lost sight of the film's biggest strength: its script, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" that goes far beyond the Dick's propensity for violence and dark humor.

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