“Minority Report” started out as a Philip K. Dick short story. Then it became a surprisingly dark Steven Spielberg movie. Now it’s a new, sure to-be-long lived TV show on Fox (update: yeah, they canceled it halfway through the first season). We’re missing a step, though. At one point, it was almost a Total Recall sequel.
Wait, what? How the heck do you make a sequel to Total Recall? Well, obviously they didn’t, but they sure tried to.
Based on Philip Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” Total Recall is the story of a future where people have fake memories of exotic vacations inserted into their brains. When the central character tries it out it either exposes his true identity as a secret agent and sets off an inter-planetary tale of mystery or breaks his brain and causes him to be completely lost in the fantasy. Or, you know, it’s that movie where Arnold meets a hooker with three boobs. Either way is good.
Spoiler alert, while the ending is ultimately open to interpretation the movie’s director, Paul Verhoeven, made it clear that in his view of things Arnold’s character truly did suffer a schizoid embolism. As such, when the movie ends with Arnold kissing Rachel Ticotin on Mars he’s simply digging even deeper into the fantasy world while his body in the real world is about to be lobotomized.
That’s some surprisingly heady material for a 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but it’s also hyper-violent and chock full of action, a Verhoeven specialty since the Dutch director was fresh off of the first RoboCop at the time. Audiences ate it up, turning Total Recall into the seventh-highest grossing film of the year with a domestic gross of $119 million at a time when a movie grossing over $100 million was still kind of a big deal. Worldwide, Recall ended up with $261m, and Hollywood abhors unrealized franchise potential. So, of course, talk soon turned to a sequel, but how in the world do you follow up that story? Wouldn’t any kind of sequel need to carry the subtitle The Continued Fake Adventures of the Lobotomized Man?
For that reason, progress on Total Recall 2 was slow, to the point that when the film’s co-screenwriter Gary Goldman optioned Philip Dick’s “Minority Report” a couple of years later he wasn’t thinking about any kind of sequel. Total Recall 2? Yeah, that shit’s probably not going to happen. Let’s just move on to making a Minority Report movie. Or so the thinking went.
Like the eventual movie and TV show, the “Minority Report” short story is about a future where a group of telepathic humans are used to predict illegal activities before they occur and thus form the basis for a police unit called the Pre-Crime division. Goldman simply liked the story and hoped he could adapt it into a low-budget feature that he would direct. However, he had never directed anything before, and the Total Recall script was only his second writing credit in Hollywood, the first being Big Trouble in Little China. Needing help to convince the money people to let him make Minority Report, he asked Verhoeven to attach his name as an Executive Producer.
What happened next is richly detailed in David Hughes’ book Tales from the Development Hell. As Goldman recalled, “[Verhoeven] read the short story, liked it, and agreed to help me out. Then he asked me if I had thought about how well the story worked as a Total Recall sequel. Although it had nothing to do with the themes of the movie, there was something about the tone and driving narrative that made it seem perfect for a sequel.”
There was some recent precedent at the time for adapting unrelated novels or short stories into film sequels. For example, Walter Wager’s 1987 novel 58 Minutes actually predates the first Die Hard movie, but it was ultimately used as the basis for Die Hard 2 in 1990. You change some character names and plot details and bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got yourself a sequel.
Here’s what Minority Report ended up looking like:
Here’s how it would have generally gone as Total Recall 2:
The vaguely clairvoyant Martians we met in the first Total Recall would stand in for the pre-cogs of “Minority Report,” and Arnold’s character would be in charge of the Pre-Crime division.
For Goldman, giving up on directing his own version of Minority Report was a tough, but practical choice, “It seemed like the Total Recall sequel was a sure thing to speed into production, and become another big hit. So I decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
For contractual reasons, Goldman had to partner with Alien co-screenwriter Ron Shusett on the script since he was the one who first optioned “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” back when Philip Dick was still alive. Their partnership proved fruitful as they produced a first draft which Arnold liked and Verhoeven was attached to direct. Then the money dried up.
The studio behind Total Recall, Carolco Pictures, was driven into the ground in the early 90s by the recession, a series of bad contracts and extravagant corporate spending. Terminator 2, which Carolco produced and TriStar Pictures distributed, cost an unprecedented $94M to make, but made over $500M worldwide, easily the highest-grossing film of 1991. The next year Basic Instinct came along with a $49M budget and grossed over $350M worldwide, one of the top 10 films of the year. However, Carolco still posted a loss of $91m in the first nine months of 1991, and even the insane success of Basic Instinct offered but a brief reprieve. A year after Instinct they released Cliffhanger, which turned into a surprise hit, but Carolco saw very little of the $255M worldwide gross after giving up US theatrical and home video rights just to cover half of the film’s $60M budget.
So, the studio was unable to pay Goldman and Shusett for their Total Recall 2 script. The downside, no money; the upside, the rights to the “Minority Report” short story and the Total Recall 2 script reverted back to Goldman and Shusett. Carolco, incidentally, ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 1995 before Cutthroat Island came out a month later and drove the studio out of business for good.
Total Recall 2 wasn’t dead; the screenwriters just needed to find a new home for it, ultimately landing at 20th Century Fox. The new landlords, though, wondered why this needed to be a Total Recall sequel. As Goldman recalled, “Ultimately, [Fox] decided not to continue with it as a sequel, so we removed all the Total Recall elements and used the first draft as foundation for further work on a Minority Report movie.” At that point, Verhoeven had been pushed aside and Speed‘s Jan De Bont was attached to direct. Goldman and Shusett completed a first draft for him at some point in 1995, but the studio and director couldn’t agree on a leading man. After De Bont’s Speed 2 and The Haunting both bombed, the studio cooled on Minority Report altogether, sending it straight back to development hell.
And then Steven Spielberg came along in 1998 and did the Steven Spielberg thing with it, combining the various drafts with Goldman and Shusset’s original draft along with his own ideas. Around the same time Spielberg was doing that, Dimension Films bought the franchise rights to Total Recall. They eventually came close to making an awesome-sounding sequel, but that’s a story for a different day.
Source: Tales from Development Hell