If you were to ask me, “Rich, what are your top five favorite movies?” I’d say, easy. Apocalypse Now, Big Trouble in Little China, Taxi Driver, Adaptation, and Total Recall. And, while I totally get why the other four films are on my top five, I had to really think about why I love Total Recall so much. This is, after all, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, right? I mean, I love Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but I would never put that in my top five. So, why Total Recall?
When I really got to thinking about it, though, I started to wonder, IS it really an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? Because, no offense to Arnie, but his movies aren’t really what you would consider high art. Still, I love his flicks! I watch Jingle All the Way every year without fail. I quote lines from Commando like it’s going out of style—“Please don’t wake my friend. He’s dead tired.”
But, here’s what I think: Total Recall is more than just a great Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It’s a great movie, period. Now, I’m not saying that you could just swap out Arnie and it would still be just as good (They actually tried and failed), but I have five reasons why Total Recall is the best movie Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever been in, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
Arnold’s Best Acting Can Be Found In Total Recall
Let’s be blunt. Arnold has never been a great actor. You went to an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie to have a good time, and back in the '80s and '90s, you usually did. True Lies? Great Arnold movie. Twins? Great Arnold movie. Hell, even End of Days? Great Arnold movie. But Total Recall? You know, I don’t forget that Arnold’s in it, but I also don’t think about him in it, either.
And, I’m pretty sure it’s all because of his acting. Yes, Arnold hams it up a lot in the movie, and yes, he has a lot of one-liners (“Consider this a divorce”), but it all feels a lot more natural in Total Recall. His confusion and anxiety feel genuine. When he’s confronted by his “friend” in the alley, he legitimately seems like he doesn’t know what’s going on. I credit this to Paul Verhoeven’s direction, as I get lost in the story and totally forget I’m watching Arnold perform, which is really saying something.
Arnold’s Best Villain Can Also Be Found In Total Recall With Michael Ironside’s Character
Ask anybody, and they’ll probably say that the best Arnold villain is the T-1000. But, being the kind of person who thinks Terminator 1 is better than Terminator 2, I honestly don’t think anybody could out-Arnold Arnold. So, I think Arnold makes for a better villain, despite Robert Patrick’s best efforts. You could argue that the Predator is Arnold’s best antagonist, but again, I would say that the Predator went on to much bigger things, and he even overshadowed Arnold.
No, give me Michael “Scanners” Ironside any day. Even though he’s not the main antagonist of the film (That would be Cohaagen, played by Robocop’s Ronny Cox), he’s the one who presents the biggest problem for him. I love this character because he’s relentless. You wouldn’t think that somebody like him would haunt a big guy like Arnold, but he’s so intimidating that he’s downright creepy. Given the fact that this is likely all in Arnold’s character’s head, it’s really interesting to think what he could possibly represent in his mind. But, I’ll get to the cerebral aspect later.
The Settings Are The Most Interesting Arnold Schwarzenegger Has Ever Been In
At times, Total Recall looks downright cheap. Here’s the thing, though. I still buy it. While I do love The Running Man’s futuristic game show aesthetic, and Conan the Barbarian’s fantasy world, Total Recall’s Earth and Mars are the two settings that grip me the most. The Earth in this movie has such a distinct, proto-futuristic aesthetic that even back in the '90s it looked dated.
But, this distinguishes it a great deal from the red planet Mars, which feels like a threat from the very beginning with that excellent intro when Arnold’s visor breaks and he suffocates with his eye balls popping out. In Total Recall, I would say the setting is just as much a character as Arnold, which is yet anther reason why the story is so engaging. Like I said earlier. This is not an Arnold movie. It’s just a movie that happens to have Arnold in it. And it’s the best movie he’s in, by far.
Total Recall’s Story Is Undeniably Complex And Cerebral
This is probably the only Arnold movie that will actually make you think. The 6th Day tried to be cerebral, but it wasn’t. Total Recall is, and it should be since it comes from a Philip K. Dick story. He was all about questioning reality, and Total Recall (the short story it comes from is called, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) is successful in making you question if what you just watched was real or a false memory. Even down to the very last shot, you’re questioning if any of it actually happened.
Total Recall is an excellent, thought-provoking film that is heavy on the action, but also heavy on the ideas. Like, what is reality, really? Is reality the world that we’re living in, or, is reality the memories and ideas that we personally manufacture for ourselves throughout our lives? When somebody else comes into our life, do they interrupt our reality, or do they add on to it? I could talk about this all day, but I don't want to bore you. So, Total Recall is smart! There!
It Is The Most Sci-Fi Film That Arnold Has Ever Been In
Lastly, Total Recall is a sci-fi movie. Yes, so is Terminator 2. So is Predator. So is The 6th Day. But Total Recall does the best job of really feeling like sci-fi. And, get this. It’s accessible! In fact, whenever anybody asks me if I could recommend any good sci-fi movies, I know they’re thinking I’m going to say stuff like 2001 or Solaris, but without fail, I always say Total Recall.
It’s because I know they’ll enjoy it. Total Recall is the greatest sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s because it never loses sight of being enjoyable. Sci-fi is one of my favorite genres, but it can get a little boring at times. Not so with Total Recall. It’s enlightening and exciting. It’s just an overall fantastic movie, and definitely Arnold’s best.
But, hey, maybe YOU could try to convince ME that Total Recall isn’t Arnold’s best movie. I mean, it totally is, but you can try to prove me wrong with the poll below or in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.