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RoboCop

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RoboCop
RoboCop (1987) theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Verhoeven
Produced byArne Schmidt
Written by
Starring
Music byBasil Poledouris
CinematographyJost Vacano
Edited byFrank J. Urioste
Production
company
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • July 17, 1987 (1987-07-17)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$13.7 million
Box office$53.4 million

RoboCop is a 1987 American science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. The film stars Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Daniel O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, and Miguel Ferrer. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan, in the near future, RoboCop centers on police officer Alex Murphy (Weller) who is murdered by a gang of criminals and subsequently revived by the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products as the cyborg law enforcer RoboCop. Unaware of his former life, RoboCop executes a brutal campaign against crime while coming to terms with the lingering fragments of his humanity. The film has been analyzed for themes including the nature of humanity, personal identity, corporate greed, corruption, and is seen as a rebuke of the policies of Ronald Reagan.

The film was conceived by Neumeier while working on the set of Blade Runner (1982), and he developed the idea further with Miner. Their script was purchased in early 1985 by producer Jon Davison on behalf of Orion Pictures. Finding a director proved difficult; Verhoeven dismissed the script twice because he did not understand its satirical content until convinced of it by his wife. Filming took place between August and October 1986, mainly in Dallas, Texas. Rob Bottin led the special-effects team in creating practical effects, violent gore, and the RoboCop costume. Verhoeven emphasized violence throughout the film, making it so outlandish it became comical. Even so, censors believed it was too extreme, and several scenes were shortened or modified to secure an acceptable theatrical rating.

Despite predicted difficulties in marketing the film, particularly because of its title, the film was expected to perform well based on pre-release critic screenings and positive word of mouth. RoboCop was a surprise financial success upon its release in July 1987, earning $53.4 million. Reviews praised the film as a clever action film with deeper philosophical messages and satire but were more conflicted over the extreme violence throughout. The film was nominated for several awards, and received an Academy Award and numerous Saturn Awards.

The success of RoboCop created a franchise comprising the sequels RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3, children's animated series, multiple live-action television shows, video games, comic books, toys, clothing, and other merchandise. A reboot, also called RoboCop, was released in 2014. A direct sequel to the original 1987 film, tentatively titled RoboCop Returns, is in development as of 2020; it ignores other entries in the series.

Plot[edit]

In a dystopian near future, the city of Detroit is on the brink of societal and financial collapse. Overwhelmed by crime and dwindling resources, the city grants the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) control over the Detroit police force. OCP Senior Vice President Dick Jones demonstrates ED-209, a law enforcement droid designed to supplant the police. ED-209 malfunctions and brutally kills an executive, allowing ambitious junior executive Bob Morton to introduce the Chairman ("The Old Man") to his own project; RoboCop.

Meanwhile, officer Alex Murphy is transferred to the Metro West precinct. Alongside his new partner Anne Lewis, Murphy pursues notorious criminal Clarence Boddicker and his gang—Emil Antonowsky, Leon Nash, Joe Cox, Steve Minh—who ambush and torture Murphy until Boddicker shoots him in the head. Morton has Murphy's corpse converted into RoboCop, turning him into a powerful and heavily-armored cyborg with no memory of his former life. RoboCop is programmed with three prime directives: serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. A fourth prime directive, Directive 4, is classified.

RoboCop is assigned to Metro West and hailed by the media for his brutally efficient campaign against crime; but Lewis grows suspicious that he is Murphy from the unique way he holsters his gun—a trick Murphy learned to impress his son. During maintenance, RoboCop experiences a nightmare of Murphy's death. He leaves the station and encounters Lewis, who addresses him as Murphy. While on patrol, RoboCop arrests Emil, who recognizes Murphy's mannerisms, furthering RoboCop's recall. RoboCop returns with Emil to Metro West and uses the police database to identify his associates and Murphy's police record. RoboCop recalls further memories while exploring Murphy's former home, his family having moved away following his death. Elsewhere, Jones gets Boddicker to murder Morton, in revenge for Morton's attempting to usurp his position at OCP.

RoboCop tracks down the Boddicker gang and a shootout occurs. He brutally assaults Boddicker, who confesses to being in Jones's employ. RoboCop attempts to kill Boddicker until his programming directs him to uphold the law. He attempts to arrest Jones at OCP Tower, and Directive 4—a failsafe measure to neutralize RoboCop when acting against an OCP executive—is activated. Jones admits his culpability in Morton's death and releases an ED-209 to destroy RoboCop. Although he escapes, RoboCop is assaulted by the police force on OCP's order and badly damaged. Lewis helps RoboCop escape to an abandoned steel mill to repair himself.

Angered by OCP's underfunding and short-staffing, the police force goes on strike; and Detroit descends into chaos as riots break out throughout the city. Jones frees Boddicker and his remaining gang, arming them with high-powered weaponry to destroy RoboCop. At the steel mill, Boddicker's men are quickly eliminated, but Lewis is badly injured and RoboCop becomes trapped under steel girders. Even so, he kills Boddicker by stabbing him in the throat with his data spike.

RoboCop confronts Jones at OCP Tower during a board meeting, revealing the truth behind Morton's murder. Jones takes the Old Man hostage but is promptly fired from OCP, which nullifies Directive 4 and allows Robocop to shoot him, sending him crashing through a window to his death. The Old Man compliments RoboCop's shooting and asks his name. RoboCop replies, "Murphy".

Cast[edit]

A photograph of Peter Weller
A photograph of Ronny Cox
A photograph of Kurtwood Smith
A photograph of Miguel Ferrer
(Left to right) Peter Weller (pictured in 2016), Ronny Cox (2019), Kurtwood Smith (2010), and Miguel Ferrer (2015)
  • Peter Weller as Alex Murphy / RoboCop:
    A Detroit police officer murdered in the line of duty and revived as a cyborg.[1]
  • Nancy Allen as Anne Lewis:
    A tough and loyal police officer.[2]
  • Daniel O'Herlihy as the Old Man:
    The chief executive of OCP.[3]
  • Ronny Cox as Dick Jones:
    The Senior Vice President of OCP.[4]
  • Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker:
    A crime lord in league with Dick Jones.[1]
  • Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton:
    An ambitious OCP junior executive responsible for the "RoboCop" project.[5][1]

In addition to the main cast, RoboCop features Paul McCrane as Emil Antonowsky, Ray Wise as Leon Nash, Jesse D. Goins as Joe Cox, and Calvin Jung as Steve Minh, who are members of Boddicker's gang. The cast also includes Robert DoQui as Sergeant Reed,[6][7] Michael Gregory as Lt. Hedgecock, Felton Perry as OCP employee Donald Johnson, Kevin Page as OCP junior executive Mr. Kinney—who is shot to death by ED-209—and Lee de Broux as cocaine warehouse owner Sal.[8][7][6] Mario Machado and Leeza Gibbons portray, respectively, news hosts Casey Wong and Jess Perkins,[6][7] and television show host Bixby Snyder is played by S. D. Nemeth.[6][9] Angie Bollings and Jason Levine appear as Murphy's wife and son, respectively.[6]

RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven has a cameo as a dancing nightclub patron,[10][11] producer Jon Davison provides the voice of ED-209,[5] and director John Landis has a cameo in an in-film advert.[6] Smith's partner Joan Pirkle appears as Dick Jones's secretary.[10]

Production[edit]

Conception and writing[edit]

A photograph of Edward Neumeier
Writer Edward Neumeier (pictured in 2007). Neumeier's interest in science fiction, and work on Blade Runner (1982) inspired RoboCop.

RoboCop was conceived in the early 1980s by Universal Pictures junior story executive and aspiring screenwriter Edward Neumeier.[12][13][14][15] A fan of robots, science fiction films, such as Star Wars, and action films, Neumeier had developed an interest in mature comic books while researching them for potential adaptation.[16][15][12] The 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner was filming on the Warner Bros. lot behind Neumeier's office, and he unofficially joined the production to learn about filmmaking.[12][14][15] His work there gave him the idea for RoboCop; he said, "I had this vision of a far-distant, Blade Runner–type world where there was an all-mechanical cop coming to a sense of real human intelligence".[12][14] He spent the next few nights writing a 40-page outline.[12]

While researching story submissions for Universal, Neumeier came across a student video by aspiring director Michael Miner.[13][14][10] The pair met and discussed their similar concepts, Neumeier's RoboCop and Miner's robot-themed rock music video. In a 2014 interview, Miner said he also had an idea called SuperCop.[10][14][12] The pair formed a working partnership and spent about two months discussing the idea, plus two to three months writing together at night and over weekends, outside their regular jobs.[17][14][12][10] Their collaboration was initially difficult because they did not know each other well and had to learn how to constructively criticize each other.[18]

As well as being inspired by comic books and his personal experience with corporate culture, Neumeier was influenced to kill off his main character early on by the psychological horror film Psycho (1960), whose heroine was killed in the first act.[12][16][19] Neumeier wanted to satirize 1980s business culture, noting the increasing aggression of American financial services in response to growing Japanese influence and that a popular book on Wall Street was The Book of Five Rings, a 17th-century text discussing how to kill more effectively. He also believed that Detroit's declining automobile industry was due to increased bureaucracy. ED-209's malfunction in the OCP boardroom was based on Neumeier's office daydreams about a robot bursting into a meeting and killing everyone.[12][19] Miner described the film as "comic relief for a cynical time" during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, when economist "Milton Friedman and the Chicago boys ransacked the world, enabled by Reagan and the Central Intelligence Agency. So when you have this cop who works for a corporation that insists 'I own you,' and he still does the right thing—that's the core of the film." The in-film media breaks were Neumeier's and Miner's idea. A spec script was completed by December 1984.[10]

Development[edit]

A 2016 photograph of Paul Verhoeven
Director Paul Verhoeven (pictured in 2016). He rejected the RoboCop script twice before taking to its underlying story about a character losing their identity.

The first draft of the script, then titled RoboCop: The Future of Law Enforcement, was given to industry friends and associates.[15][20][12][17] A month later, the pair had two offers: one from Atlantic Releasing[17] and one from director Jonathan Kaplan and producer Jon Davison with Orion Pictures.[13][20] An experienced producer of exploitation films and B movies, such as the parody film Airplane! (1980), Davison said he was drawn to the script's satire.[13][20][12] Davison showed Neumeier and Miner films—including Madigan (1968), Dirty Harry (1971), and Mad Max 2 (1981)—to demonstrate the tone he wanted. Orion greenlit the project, and Neumeier and Miner began a second draft.[21]

Davison produced the film via his Tobor Pictures company.[22][23] Neumeier and Miner were paid a few thousand dollars for the script rights and $25,000 between them for the rewrite. The pair were entitled to 8% of the producer profits once released.[17][24] Davison's contacts with puppeteers, animators, and practical effects designers were essential to Verhoeven, who had no prior experience with them.[13] Discussion was had between producers about changing the Detroit setting, but Neumeier insisted on its importance because of its failing motor car industry.[12] A suggestion by Orion executives that was accepted was to have the connection between Clarence Boddicker and Dick Jones, who had no connection in the first script.[12]

Kaplan left to direct Project X (1987), and finding his replacement took six months. Many prospects declined because of the film's title.[21][25][26][12] The role was offered to David Cronenberg, Alex Cox, and Monte Hellman; Hellman joined as second unit director.[27][25][17] Miner petitioned to direct, but Orion refused to trust a $7 million project to an untested director.[28][12] Miner declined the second unit director position in order to direct Deadly Weapon (1989);[21][12] Orion executive Barbara Boyle suggested Paul Verhoeven—who had received acclaim for his work on Soldier of Orange (1977) and his only English-language film Flesh+Blood (1985)—for director.[21][12][13]

Verhoeven is said to have looked at the first page and discarded the script, calling it a "piece of shit"; reports vary.[10][13] This rejection stalled the project.[21] Boyle sent Verhoeven another copy, suggesting he pay attention to the subtext.[12] Verhoeven was still uninterested, until his wife Martine read it and encouraged him to give it a chance, saying he had missed the "soul" of the story about someone losing their identity.[10] Being not fluent in English, Verhoeven admitted the satire did not make sense to him.[10] The scene that gained his attention was RoboCop returning to Murphy's abandoned home and experiencing lingering memories of his former life.[10][1]

Davison, Neumeier, and Verhoeven discussed the project at Culver Studios' Mansion House.[12] Verhoeven wanted to direct it as a serious film; and to explain the tone they wanted, Neumeier gave him comic books, including 2000 AD, featuring the character Judge Dredd.[12][21] Neumeier and Miner wrote a third draft based on Verhoeven's requests, working through injuries and late nights; this 92-page revision included a subplot involving a romantic affair between Murphy and Lewis.[12][21][11] After reading it, Verhoeven admitted he was wrong and returned to the second draft, looking for a comic-book-on-film tone.[21][12][29]

Casting[edit]

A 1955 photograph of actor actor Daniel O'Herlihy
Daniel O'Herlihy (pictured in 1955). His character, The Old Man, was based on MCA Inc. executive Lew Wasserman.

Around 6–8 months were spent searching for an actor to portray Alex Murphy/Robocop.[26][13] Arnold Schwarzenegger,[13] Michael Ironside,[30] Rutger Hauer, Tom Berenger, Armand Assante,[25] Keith Carradine, and James Remar were considered.[21] Orion favored Schwarzengger, the star of their recent success, The Terminator (1984);[25] but he and other actors were considered too physically imposing to be believable in the RoboCop costume. It was thought that Schwarzenegger would look like the Michelin Man or Pillsbury Doughboy.[13][30][26] Others were reluctant because their face would be largely concealed by a helmet.[26] Davison said that Weller was the only person who wanted to be in the film.[26] His casting was also favoured because he commanded a low salary and had an existing fan base in the science fiction genre, following his performance in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).[28] He also possessed good body control from martial arts training and marathon running, and Verhoeven said "that his chin was very good."[26][25] Weller spent months working with mime Moni Yakim, developing a liquid-movement style, with a stiff staccato ending, while wearing an American football uniform to approximate the finished costume.[31][10] Weller said working with Verhoeven was his main reason for choosing the role over appearing in King Kong Lives (1986).[15][32]

Stephanie Zimbalist was cast as Murphy's partner Anne Lewis but dropped out because of contractual obligations to Remington Steele, which had been canceled in 1986, but was revived because of its popularity.[33][34][35][11] Her replacement, Nancy Allen, thought the film's title was terrible but found the script engrossing. Allen was known for her long blonde hair, but Verhoeven wanted it cut short so the character was not sexualized. Her hair was cut shorter eight times before the desired look was achieved.[36] Allen undertook police academy training for her role, and sought advice from her police-lieutenant father.[36] Verhoeven encouraged her to act masculine and gain more weight; she accomplished the latter by giving up smoking.[11]

Kurtwood Smith (Boddicker) auditioned for both Boddicker and Jones. He was known mainly for television work and had not experienced film success. He saw RoboCop as a B movie with potential.[10] The character was scripted to wear glasses so that he would look like Nazi party member Heinrich Himmler. Smith was unaware of this and interpreted it as the character portraying an intelligent and militaristic front to conceal being a "sneering, smirking drug kingpin".[10] Ironside was offered the role but did not want to be involved with another special effects-laden film after working on Extreme Prejudice (1987).[30][25]

Ronny Cox had been stereotyped as playing generally nice characters and said this left the impression that he could not play more masculine roles.[37] Verhoeven cast him as the villainous Dick Jones to play against type.[38] Cox said that playing a villain was "about a gazillion times more fun than playing the good guys."[39] Jones, he said, has absolutely no compassion, he is an "evil S.O.B.".[37] Miguel Ferrer was unsure if the film would be successful, but he was desperate for work and would have taken any offer.[15] The Old Man was based on MCA Inc. CEO Lew Wasserman, whom Neumiere considered to be a powerful and intimidating individual.[12] Television host Bixby Snyder was written as an Americanized version of British comedian Benny Hill, but without any restraint.[10]

Filming[edit]

A photograph of the Dallas City Hall
Dallas City Hall appears as the exterior of OCP's headquarters. Matte paintings were used to make it appear taller.

Principal photography began on August 6, 1986, on an $11 million budget.[40][41] Cinematographer Jost Vacano previously worked with Verhoeven on Soldier of Orange.[41][22] Verhoeven wanted Blade Runner production designer Lawrence G. Paull, but Davison said he could afford either a great production designer or a great RoboCop costume but not both.[36][12] William Sandell was hired.[42] Monte Hellman directed several action scenes.[43]

Filming took place almost entirely on location in Dallas, Texas,[44][10][41] with additional shooting on sets in Las Colinas, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[8][45][41] Verhoeven wanted a modern filming location that looked like it was from the near future.[41] Detroit was dismissed because it had many low, featureless, and indistinct buildings.[26][41] Neumeier said it was also a "[trade union] town", making it more expensive to film there.[46] Detroit does make a brief appearance in stock footage shown during the film's opening.[16] Chicago was dismissed for aesthetic reasons, New York City for high costs, and California because, according to Davison, Orion wanted to distance themselves from the project.[26][41] Dallas was chosen over Houston because it offered modern buildings as well as older, less-maintained areas where they could use explosives.[41] The filming schedule in Dallas was nine weeks, but it soon became clear it was going to take longer. Based on filmed footage, Orion approved extending the schedule and increasing the budget to $13.1 million.[40][31][47] The weather during filming fluctuated: the Dallas summer was often 90 °F (32 °C) to 115 °F (46 °C);[48][26][36] the weather in Pittsburgh was frigid.[10]

RoboCop's costume was not finished until sometime into filming. This did not impact the filming schedule, but it denied Weller the month of costume rehearsal he had expected.[10][26][25][49] Weller was immediately frustrated with the costume because it was too cumbersome for him to move as he had practiced; he spent hours trying to adapt.[10][49][25] He also struggled to see through the thin helmet visor and interact or grab while wearing the gloves.[49][50] He fell out with Verhoeven and was eventually fired, with Lance Henriksen considered as a replacement; but because the costume was built for Weller, he was encouraged to mend his relationship with Verhoeven.[25] Yakim helped Weller develop a slower, more deliberate movement style.[15] Weller's experience in the costume was worsened by warm weather, which caused him to sweat off up to 3 lb (1.4 kg) per day.[26][31] He began taking prescription medication to cope with stress-induced insomnia, which left him filming scenes "under the influence".[51]

Verhoeven often choreographed scenes alongside the actors before filming.[52][53] Even so, improvisation was encouraged because he believed it could create interesting results. Smith improvised some of his character's quirks, such as sticking his gum on a secretary's desk and spitting blood onto the police station counter. He recounted saying "'What if I spat blood on the desk?'... [Verhoeven] got this little smile on his face, and we did it."[10] Neumeier was on set throughout filming; he occasionally was inspired to write additional scenes: including a New Year's Eve party, after noticing some party-hat props; and a news story about the Strategic Defense Initiative platform misfiring.[12][10][21] Verhoeven found Neumeier's presence invaluable because they could discuss how to adapt the script or location to make a scene work.[41]

A photograph of the Wheeling-Pittsburgh steel mill
A steel mill in Pennsylvania served as the site of RoboCop's and Clarence Boddicker's final battle.

Verhoeven gained a reputation for verbal aggression and unsociable behavior on set, although Smith said that Verhoeven never yelled at the actors but was too engrossed in filming to be sociable.[10] Cox and Allen both spoke fondly of Verhoeven.[54][36] Weller was to be referred to only as "Murphy" or "Robo" and Smith was hesitant to speak to him as a result. However, they developed a friendship, and the rule was ignored. Weller spent his time between filming with the actors who played his enemies, including Smith, Ray Wise, and Calvin Jung, who maintained healthy lifestyles that supported Weller in his training for the New York City Marathon.[15]

Many locations in and around Dallas were used in the production. An office in Renaissance Tower was used for the interior of OCP, and the exterior is the Dallas City Hall (modified with matte paintings to look taller).[55][56][44][1][57] The OCP elevator was that of the Plaza of the Americas.[44][56] The Detroit police station is a combination of Crozier Tech High School (exterior) and the Sons of Hermann hall (interior), and the city hall is the Dallas Municipal Building.[56] Scenes of Boddicker's gang blowing up storefronts were filmed in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. One explosion was larger than anticipated; and actors can be seen moving out of the way, Smith having to remove his coat because it was on fire and the actors involved receiving an additional $400 stunt pay.[41][10] The SHELL gas station that explodes was located in the Arts district,[44][56] where locals unaware of the filming made calls to the fire department.[1] The scene was scripted for flames to modify the sign to read "HELL"; Davison approved it but it does not appear in the film. Miner called it a disappointing omission.[10]

The nightclub is the former Starck Club. Verhoeven was filmed while demonstrating how the clubbers should dance and used the footage in the film.[11][10] Other Dallas locations include César Chávez Boulevard, the Reunion Arena,[56] and The Crescent car park.[46] The final battle between RoboCop and Boddicker's gang was filmed at a steel mill in Monessen, outside Pittsburgh.[58][19][59][41] Filming concluded in late October 1986.[60]

Post production and music[edit]

An additional $600,000 budget increase was approved by Orion for post-production and the music score, raising the budget to $13.7 million.[40][21][13][47] Frank J. Urioste served as the film's editor.[61]

Several pick-up shots were filmed during this phase, including Murphy's death, RoboCop removing his helmet, and shots of his leg holster.[62] After the OCP boardroom scene in which RoboCop calls himself Murphy, a further scene revealed Lewis was alive in a hospital, before finally showing RoboCop on patrol. The latter scene lessened the triumphant feeling of the former and was removed.[63][64] Verhoeven wanted the in-film media breaks to abruptly interrupt the narrative and unsettle the viewer. He was influenced by Piet Mondrian's art that featured stark black lines separating colored squares.[10] Peter Conn directed many of the media breaks, except "TJ Lazer", which was directed by Neumeier.[65][66]

RoboCop's violent content made it difficult to receive a desired theatrical R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). An R rating restricted a film to those over 17 unless accompanied by an adult. RoboCop initially received the restrictive X rating, meaning the film could be seen only by those over 17.[67][25][10] Although some reports suggest it was refused an R-rating eleven times, Verhoeven said the number was actually eight.[10][25]

The MPAA took issue with several scenes, including Murphy's death and ED-209 shooting an executive.[61][47] The violent scenes were shortened and media breaks were added to help lighten the mood.[25] The MPAA also objected to a scene of a mutated Emil being disintegrated by Boddicker's car; but Verhoeven, Davison, and Orion refused to remove it because it consistently received the biggest laughs during test screenings.[13][68] Verhoeven made the violence comical and surreal, and believed the cuts made the scenes appear more, not less, violent.[25][10] He remarked that his young children laughed at the X-rated cut, and audiences laughed less at the R-rated version.[10][47] Verhoeven said people "love seeing violence and horrible things."[47] The film was released in the United Kingdom without cuts, the rating board there stating that the comic excess of the violence and the clear line between the hero and villains justified it.[69] The complete version of RoboCop runs for 103 minutes.[70]

Basil Poledouris provided the film's score, having worked previously with Verhoeven on Flesh+Blood.[5] The score combines synthesizers and orchestral music, reflecting RoboCop's cyborg nature. The music was performed by the Sinfonia of London.[71][72]

Special effects and design[edit]

Special effects[edit]

A behind-the-scenes photograph of actor Paul McCrane in a prosthetic costume depicting melting skin
Actor Paul McCrane as Emil Anotowsky. McCrane wore a prosthesis over his upper body to give the appearance of his skin melting. His death was the highest-rated scene by test audiences.[68]

The special effects team, led by Rob Bottin,[50] included Phil Tippett,[13] Stephan Dupuis, Bart Mixon,[73] and Craig Davies, among others.[74]

The effects were excessively violent because Verhoeven believed that made scenes funnier.[25][10] He likened the brutality of Murphy's death to the Crucifixion of Jesus, which offered an efficient method of engendering sympathy for Murphy because the audience did not get to know him well beforehand.[10][61][68] The scene was filmed at an abandoned auto assembly plant in Long Beach, California, on a raised stage that allowed operators to control the effects from below.[75] To show Murphy being dismantled by gunfire, prosthetic arms were cast in alginate and filled with tubing that could pump artificial blood and compressed air. Attached to Weller's shoulders by velcro, the left hand was manufactured to explode in a predictable way and was controlled by three operators.[75] The right arm was jerked away from Weller's body by a monofilament wire.[19][75] A detailed, articulated replica of Weller's upper body was used to depict Boddicker shooting Murphy through the head.[75][76][68] A mold of Weller's face was made, using foam latex that was baked to make it rubbery and flesh-like and placed over a fiberglass skull containing a squib and explosive charge. The articulated head was controlled by four puppeteers and had details of sweat and blood. A fan motor attached to the body made it vibrate as if shaking with fear. The charge in the skull was connected by wire to the trigger of Smith's gun to synchronize the effect.[77]

Emil's melting mutation was inspired by the 1977 science fiction film The Incredible Melting Man.[78] Bottin designed and fabricated Emil's prosthetics, creating a foam latex headpiece and matching gloves that gave the appearance of Emil's skin melting "off his bones like marshmallow sauce."[78][79] A second piece depicting further degradation was applied over the first. Dupuis painted each piece differently to emphasize Emil's advancing degradation. The prosthetics were applied to an articulated dummy to show Emil being struck by Boddicker's car. The head was loosened so it would fly off, and by chance, it rolled onto the car's hood. The effect was completed with Emil's liquified body (raw chicken, soup, and gravy) washing over the windscreen.[79] The same dummy stands in for RoboCop when he is crushed by steel beams (painted wood).[79] Verhoeven wanted RoboCop to kill Boddicker by stabbing him in the eye, but it was believed the effort to create the effect would be wasted because it would likely be censored.[80]

Dick Jones's fatal fall is shown by a stop-motion puppet of Cox animated by Rocco Gioffre. The limited development time meant Gioffre used a foam rubber puppet with an aluminum skeleton, instead of a higher-quality articulated version. It was composited against Mark Sullivan's matte painting of the street below.[81][80] ED-209's murder of OCP executive Kevin Page was filmed over three days. Page's body was covered in 200 blood squibs, but Verhoeven was unhappy with the result and brought Page back months later to re-film it in a studio-built recreation of the board room. Page was covered in over 200 squibs, plus plastic bags filled with spaghetti squash and fake blood. Page described being in intense pain, as each squib detonation felt like being punched.[8] In the cocaine warehouse scene, Boddicker's stuntman was thrown through real glass panes rigged with detonating cord to shatter microseconds before he hit.[82] Gelatin capsules filled with sawdust and a sparkling compound were fired from an air gun at RoboCop to create the appearance of ricocheting bullets.[83]

RoboCop[edit]

Bottin was tasked with designing the RoboCop costume.[13][84][10] He researched the Star Wars character C-3PO, looking at its stiff costume, which made movement difficult.[84] Bottin was also influenced by robot designs in Metropolis (1927) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951),[61][16] and comic book superheros.[85][86] He developed around 50 different designs based on feedback from Verhoeven, who pushed for a more machine-like character.[87][85] Verhoeven admitted he had unrealistic expectations after reading Japanese science fiction mangas; and it took him too long to realize it, which contributed to the costumes delay.[10]

The RoboCop costume was unprecedented, and both design and construction exceeded cost and schedule.[41][26][76] It took six months to build, using flexible foam latex, semi- or completely rigid Polyurethane, and a fiberglass helmet.[88][85][26] Moving sections were joined together with aluminum and ball bearings.[88] The entirety of the costume is supported by an internal harness of hooks, allowing for sustained movement during action-heavy scenes.[76] Seven costumes were made, including a fireproof version and costumes to convey sustained damage.[89] They weighed 25 to 80 lb (11 to 36 kg); reports vary.[90][26][91][92] RoboCop's gun, the Auto-9, is a Beretta 93R with an extended barrel and larger grip. It was modified to fire blank bullets, and vents were cut into the side to allow for multi-directional muzzle flashes with every three-shot burst.[93]

ED-209[edit]

A photograph of a miniature ED-209 model
One of the miniature ED-209 models used for animation by Phil Tippett, Randal M. Dutra, and Harry Walton.

To budget for its development, Tippett developed preliminary sketches of ED-209, and hired Davies to design the full-scale model, which was constructed with the help of Paula Lucchesi.[74] Verhoeven wanted ED-209 to look mean and believed Davies' early designs lacked a "killer" aesthetic. Davies was influenced by killer whales and a United States Air Force Corsair Jet. He approached the design with modern American aesthetics and corporate design policy that he believed prioritized looks over functionality, including excessive and impractical components. He did not add eyes because they would make ED-209 more sympathetic.[94] The fully-articulated fiberglass model took four months to build, cost $25,000, stood 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, and weighed 300 to 500 lb (140 to 230 kg).[95][96][97] The 100-hour work weeks took their toll, and Davies made ED-209's feet minimal in detail, as he did not think they would be shown on camera.[98] The model was later used on promotional tours.[99][96][97]

Davies spent another four months building two 12 in (30 cm) miniature replicas for stop motion animation.[100] The two small models allowed scenes to be animated and filmed more efficiently, which saved time in completing the fifty-five shots needed in three months.[100] Tippett was the lead ED-209 animator, with Randal M. Dutra and Harry Walton assisting.[101][97][13] Tippett conceived ED-209's movement as "unanimal"-like as if it was constantly about to fall over before catching itself.[97] To complete the character, the droid was given the roar of a leopard. Davison provided a temporary voiceover for ED-209's speaking voice, which was retained in the film.[102]

Cars[edit]

The police cars are 1986 Ford Taurus models painted black.[45] The vehicle featured a customized interior that would show graphical displays for mug shots, fingerprints, and other related information; but the concept was too ambitious.[13][60] The 6000 SUX is an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme modified by Gene Winfield based on a design by Chip Foose. Two working cars were made, plus a third, non-functional one that was used when the vehicle was shown to explode.[103] The 6000 SUX commercial features a plasticine dinosaur animated by Don Waller and blocked by Steve Chiodo.[103]

Matte effects[edit]

RoboCop contains seven matte effects painted mainly by Gioffre. Each matte was painted on masonite. Gioffre supervised on-site filming to mask the camera where the matte is inserted. He recounted having to crawl out from a 5-story high ledge to get the right shot of the Plaza of the Americas.[104] The burnished steel RoboCop logo was developed using special photographic effects that supervisor Peter Kuran based on a black and white sketch from Orion. Kuran created a scaled-up matte version and backlit it. A second pass was made with a sheet of aluminum behind it to create reflective detail.[60] RoboCop's vision was created using hundreds of ink lines on acetate composited over existing footage. Several attempts had to be made to get the line thickness right; at first, the lines would appear too thick or too thin.[66] Assuming thermographic photography would be expensive, Kuran replicated thermal vision using actors in body stockings painted with thermal colors and filmed the scene with a polarized lens filter.[105] The OCP boardroom model of Delta City was made under the supervision of art director Gayle Simon.[106]

Release[edit]

Context[edit]

Industry experts were optimistic about the theatrical summer of 1987 (June–September).[107] The season focused on genre films—science fiction, horror, and fantasy—that were proven to generate revenue if not industry respect.[108] Other films—such as Roxanne, Full Metal Jacket, and The Untouchables—were targeted at older audiences (those aged over 25), who had been ignored by the teenage-centric films of previous years.[109][110] The action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop II was predicted to dominate the theaters,[107] but many other films were expected to perform well, including the action adventure Ishtar, comedy films Harry and the Hendersons, Who's That Girl, Spaceballs, the action film Predator, and sequels such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the latest James Bond film, The Living Daylights.[107][110]

Along with the musical La Bamba, RoboCop was predicted to be a sleeper hit,[111][12] having received positive feedback before release, including both a positive industry screening (which was considered a rarity) and multiple pre-release screenings that demonstrated the studio's confidence in the film.[112][113]

Marketing[edit]

An image of the RoboCop logo
The RoboCop logo used in the film

Marketing the film was considered difficult.[114] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Jack Mathews described RoboCop as a "terrible title for a movie that anyone would expect an adult to enjoy." Orion head of marketing Charles Glenn said it had a "certain liability... it sounds like 'Robby the Robot' or Gobots or something else. It's nothing like that."[114] The campaign began three months before the film's release. 5,000 adult-oriented and family-friendly trailers were sent to theaters. Orion promotions director Jan Kean said children and adults responded positively to the RoboCop character.[114] Miguel Ferrer recalled a theater audience unfavorably laughing at the trailer, which he found disheartening.[115] Models and actors in fiberglass RoboCop costumes made appearances in cities throughout North America. The character appeared at a motor racing event in Florida, a laser show in Boston, a subway in New York City, and children could take their picture with him at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Los Angeles.[114]

An incomplete version of the unrated film was screened early for critics, which was outside the norm for an action film. Glenn reasoned that critics who favored Verhoeven's earlier work would appreciate RoboCop. The feedback was generally positive, providing positive quotes for promotional material and making it one of the best-reviewed films of the year up to that point.[114] Verhoeven recalled how one reviewer was confused by the jarring in-film ad breaks and complained the projectionist had used the wrong film reel.[10] The week before release saw the introduction of television adverts and limited theatrical screenings for the public.[114]

Box office[edit]

RoboCop began a wide North American release on July 17, 1987.[116][117] During its opening weekend, the film exceeded expectations by earning $8 million from 1,580 theaters—an average of $5,068 per theater.[118][119] It was the weekend's number-one film, ahead of a re-release of the 1937 animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($7.5 million) and the horror sequel Jaws: The Revenge ($7.2 million), both of which were also in their first week of release.[118][120] RoboCop retained the number-one position in its second weekend with an additional gross of $6.3 million, ahead of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($6.05 million) and the debuting comedy Summer School ($6 million).[121][122]

In its third weekend, RoboCop was the fourth-highest-grossing film with a gross of $4.7 million, behind La Bamba ($5.2 million) and the debuts of the horror film The Lost Boys ($5.2 million) and The Living Daylights ($11.1 million).[123] RoboCop never regained the number one spot but remained in the top ten for six weeks in total.[116][117]

By the end of its theatrical run, the film had grossed about $53.4 million,[116][117] becoming a modest success.[25] This figure made it the year's fourteenth highest-grossing film, behind Crocodile Dundee ($53.6 million), La Bamba ($54.2 million), comedy film Dragnet ($57.4 million), Predator ($59.7 million), fantasy comedy The Witches of Eastwick ($63.8 million), action film Lethal Weapon ($65.2 million), action comedy Stakeout ($65.7 million), the comedy films The Secret of My Success ($67 million) and Three Men and a Baby ($70.8 million), The Untouchables ($76.3 million), Fatal Attraction ($126 million), Platoon ($137 million), and Beverly Hills Cop II ($153.7 million).[124] Figures are not available for the film's performance outside North America.[117][116]

Due in part to higher ticket prices and an extra week of the theatrical summer,[109] 1987 set a record of $1.6 billion in box-office gross, just exceeding the previous record of $1.58 billion record set in 1984. Unlike that earlier summer, which featured multiple blockbuster successes such as Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the summer of 1987 delivered only one: Beverly Hills Cop II. Even so, more films, including RoboCop, had performed modestly well, earning $274 million between them—a 50% increase over 1986.[125][110] The average audience age continued to increase, as teen-oriented films—such as RoboCop and Beverly Hills Cop II—suffered a 22% drop in performance against similar 1986 films. Adult-oriented films saw a 39% increase in revenue.[125] RoboCop was one of the summer's surprise successes, and contributed to Orion's improving fortunes.[21][126]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

RoboCop opened to generally positive reviews.[47][25] Audience polls by CinemaScore reported that moviegoers gave the film an average grade of "A–" on a scale of F to A+.[127]

Comparisons were made between the film and Frankenstein (1931), Superman (1978), Blade Runner, Repo Man (1984), The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), and the television series Miami Vice.[128][129][130] Desson Thomson of The Washington Post called it a "weird" but entertaining amalgam of camp style and science fiction.[129] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said that its genre could not be easily categorized, recognizing broad conventions of thrillers, slapstick comedy, romance, social satire, and philosophy.[131] Carrie Ricket said the film portrays a distinct futuristic vision of Detroit in the same way Blade Runner did for Los Angeles.[128] Writing for The New York Times, Janet Maslin said the film evoked the futuristic tone of Blade Runner and the masculinity of classic Western film.[111]

Some saw RoboCop as a self-aware comic-book film for adults that combined extreme violence with humor and technology.[132][133] Maslin appreciated that the film takes place on a relatively small scale with a "big imagination" and a "powerful sense of purpose".[111] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times found it surprisingly clever, unlike other "bone headed action films", offering both humor and cynicism.[133] Ebert concurred, saying that unlike predictable fare of the thriller genre, RoboCop offered something different;[131] and Pat Graham of the Chicago Reader labelled it "creepy" but stylish.[134] David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor praised Verhoeven's skillful direction and "razor-sharp" social satire.[135] Time Out's review said Verhoeven's blend of comic book and snuff film was fast-paced, violent, and funny.[136] Wilmington found the direction exhilarating, and Kempley said that Verhoeven had delivered a smart, darkly comic, and savage film, which in other hands might simply have been a fast-paced action film.[133][130] In contrast, Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote it was over-directed and lacking in tension or momentum. He concluded that Verhoeven's European filmmaking style was different but lacked any rhythm.[137]

A black and white photograph of Nancy Allen in 1984
Variety's review highlighted Nancy Allen (pictured in 1984) for providing the only human warmth in RoboCop.

Rita Kempley, also of The Washington Post, described Weller's Robocop as the best turn since Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, praising Weller's ability to convey chivalry and vulnerability in a physically limited role. She concluded he offered a certain beauty and grace that added a mythic quality, making his murder even more horrible.[130] Ebert was impressed by Weller's ability to elicit sympathy despite a bulky costume.[131] Conversely, Graham said that Weller "hardly registered" behind the mask and Verhoeven—normally adept at portraying the "sleazily psychological" through physicality—had failed to utilize RoboCop's "Aryan blandness".[134] Variety's review highlighted Nancy Allen for providing the only human warmth in the film, and Kurtwood Smith as a well-cast "sicko sadist".[132]

Reviews discussed the film's violent content.[135][128][133][137][138] Ebert found ED-209 killing an executive to be "very funny", contrasting it with the Charlie Chaplin silent film Modern Times (1936), which finds humor in applying logic to a situation where it is irrelevant. He said the scene subverts expectations and puts the audience off guard because they no longer know what type of film they are watching.[131] Wilmington found the violence to be presented with a "comic lunancy" that created experiences of sadism and poignancy in a single scene.[133] Ricket said the violence made The Terminator seem like Bambi (1942).[128] Other reviewers were more critical,[137][138] including Kehr, who found it disturbing that the film drew comedy from extreme violence. He believed following the violence with a sarcastic remark to provide the audience with relief was a "mechanical and underhanded" way to elicit audience emotions.[137] Walter Goodman said the story about corrupt corporations served as a thin excuse for violence.[138] Wilmington said the violence would offend many, but was justified by the "modern nauseatic generic clichés it tears up".[133] Graham found the violence had a "brooding agonized quality... as if Verhoeven were both appalled and fascinated" by it.[134] Sterritt said that critical praise for the "nasty" film demonstrated a preference for "style over substance".[135]

Wilmington enjoyed how the satire transformed a cliché revenge story by making the protagonist a machine that keeps succumbing to humanity, emotion, and idealism. He said it was good to see a fable about a decent hero fighting back against corruption, villains, and the theft of his humanity.[133] Thomson said the film works because it takes a classic take of the tragic hero in search of redemption, and adds a science-fiction element;[129] and Ricket said that RoboCop's victory is satisfying because he has both technology and morality on his side.[128] Kehr said that the satire of corporations was the film's most successful effort, depicting unchecked greed and callous disregard.[137] Kempley praised Neumeier's and Miner's portrayal of corporate villains and street-level criminals as interchangeable, complemented by understated dialogue and clever criticisms of various subjects, including game shows and military culture.[130] Kempley agreed that the film's "heart" is the story of Murphy regaining his humanity, but action fans less interested in depth could still enjoy the effects and stunts. She concluded that "with all our flesh-and-blood heroes failing us—from brokers to ballplayers—we need a man of mettle, a real straight shooter who doesn't fool around with Phi Beta Kappas and never puts anything up his nose. What this world needs is 'RoboCop'."[130]

Accolades[edit]

RoboCop received one award at the 1988 Academy Awards: Special Achievement for Best Sound Editing (Stephen Flick and John Pospisil). The film received two other nominations: Best Film Editing for Frank J. Urioste (losing to Gabriella Cristiani for the drama film The Last Emperor) and Best Sound for Michael J. Kohut, Carlos Delarios, Aaron Rochin, and Robert Wald (losing to Bill Rowe and Ivan Sharrock for The Last Emperor).[139] At the 42nd British Academy Film Awards, RoboCop received two nominations: Best Makeup and Hair for Carla Palmer (losing to Fabrizio Sforza for The Last Emperor); and Best Special Visual Effects for Bottin, Tippett, Kuran, and Gioffre (losing to George Gibbs, Richard Williams, Ken Ralston, and Edward Jones for the 1988 fantasy film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[140]

At the 15th Saturn Awards, RoboCop was the most-nominated film. It won awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director for Verhoeven, Best Writing for Neumeier and Miner, Best Make-up for Bottin and Dupuis, and Best Special Effects for Kuran, Tippett, Bottin, and Gioffre. It received a further three nominations, including for Best Actor (Weller) and Best Actress (Allen).[141][142]

Post-release[edit]

Home media[edit]

RoboCop was released on VHS in early 1988, priced at $89.98.[143][144] Orion promoted the film by having former United States President Richard Nixon shake hands with a RoboCop-costumed actor. Nixon was paid $25,000, which he donated to Boys Club of America.[25] The film was a popular rental, peaking at number 1 in mid-March 1988.[145][146] Demand for rentals outstripped supply as estimates suggested there was one VHS copy of a film per 100 households, making it difficult to find new releases such as Dirty Dancing, Predator, and Platoon; the longest waiting list was for RoboCop.[147] VHS sales were estimated at $24 million.[13] RoboCop was one of the earliest film releases in the S-VHS video format, priced at $39.98, and was offered as a free incentive when buying branded S-VCR players.[148]

The extended violent content removed from the theatrical release was restored on a The Criterion Collection LaserDisc that included commentary by Verhoeven, Neumeier, and Davison.[13][149] The uncut version of the film has since been available on other home media releases.[13] It was released on DVD by Criterion in September 1998.[150][151] In June 2004, the DVD version was released in a trilogy boxset that included RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3. This edition included featurettes about the making of the film and the RoboCop design.[150] A 20th-anniversary edition was released in August 2007, which included both the theatrical and uncut versions of the film, as well as previous extras and new featurettes on the special effects and villains.[150]

The scheduled Blu-ray disc debut in 2006 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was canceled only days before release. Reviews indicated that the video quality was very poor. A new version was released in 2007 by Fox Home Entertainment without any extra features.[152][153][154] The trilogy was released as a Blu-ray disc boxset in October 2010.[155][156] In 2019, a Limited Edition remastered Blu-ray disc was released, featuring a 4K resolution restoration, approved by Verhoeven, from the original film negative. The release included limited edition collectible items (a poster and cards); new commentaries by film historians and fans; deleted scenes; new featurettes with Allen and casting director Julie Selzer; and the theatrical, extended, and television cuts of the film.[157][158]

Other media[edit]

RoboCop was considered easier to merchandise than other R-rated films.[114] Despite its violent content, film merchandise was targeted at a younger audience. Merchandise included cap guns, comic books, other assorted toys,[47][61][114][25] theme park rides, novels,[61] and the RoboCop Ultra Police action figures (released alongside the 1988 animated series adaptation RoboCop).[90] By the time of the film's release, Marvel Comics had published a black-and-white comic book adaptation of the film, without the violence and adult language;[159][114] a video game was in development; and negotiations were underway to release t-shirts, other video games, and RoboCop dolls by Christmas. The film's poster was reportedly more popular than the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue;[114] and its novelization, written by Ed Naha, was in its second printing by July.[114][160] Since its release, RoboCop has continued to be merchandised, with collectible action figures by the National Entertainment Collectibles Association,[161] Hot Toys,[162] Sideshow Collectibles,[163] clothing, and crockery.[164] A 2014 book, RoboCop: The Definitive History, details the making of the RoboCop franchise.[165][164][166]

The story of RoboCop has been continued in comics, initially by Marvel Comics. The adaptation of the film was reprinted in color to promote an ongoing series that ran for 23 issues between 1987 and 1992, when the rights were transferred to Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse released multiple miniseries, including RoboCop Versus The Terminator, which pitted RoboCop against the machinations of Skynet and its Terminators from The Terminator franchise.[159][31] The story was well-received and was followed by other series, including Prime Suspect (1992), Roulette (1994), and Mortal Coils (1996).[31] The RoboCop series was continued by other publishers: Avatar Press (2003), Dynamite Entertainment (2010), and Boom! Studios (2013).[31][159]

Several games based on, or inspired by, the film have been released. A 1988 side-scroller, RoboCop, was released for arcades in 1988, and ported to other platforms, such as the ZX Spectrum and Game Boy.[167][90] RoboCop Versus The Terminator, an adaptation of the comic of the same name, was released in 1994. RoboCop, a 2003 first-person shooter, was poorly received, resulting in the shuttering of developer Titus Interactive.[31]

Thematic analysis[edit]

Corporate power[edit]

A photograph of President Ronald Reagan presenting tax reduction legislation
President Ronald Reagan addressing the nation in 1981 on tax reduction. RoboCop satirizes Reagan's political policies, espousing limited regulation, trickle-down economics, and a pro-business agenda.

A central theme in RoboCop concerns the power of corporations. Those depicted in the film are corrupt and greedy; their goal is privatizing public services and gentrifying the entirety of Detroit.[168][13] Miner believed Detroit to be a city destroyed by American corporations.[10] A self-described hippie who grew up during the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War, he was critical of the pro-business policies of President Ronald Reagan.[13][61][10] Rita Kempley said that the Detroit created by Neumeier and Miner is one beset by rape, crime, and "Reaganomics gone awry".[130] Drew Taylor describes the film as portraying the unfettered capitalism of Reagan-era politics "brutally realized", as corporations conduct literal war and the police become a profit-driven entity.[61] Miner said that out-of-control crime was a particularly Republican or right-wing fear.[13] RoboCop, however, puts the blame for drugs and crime on advancing technology and the privatization of public services such as hospitals, prisons, and the police.[13] Dave Kehr said that the film portrays gentrification and criminality as equivalent.[134] The criticism of Reagan-era policies was in the script but Verhoeven did not personally understand urban politics such as privatizing prisons.[15] He considered The Old Man to be morally good but ignorant of the misdeeds occurring around him, making him complicit; he gave him redeeming features to retain a sense of hope.[47] Weller said that trickle-down economics espoused by Reagan were "bullshit" and did not work fast enough for those in need.[15]

Michael Robertson described the media breaks throughout the film as direct criticisms of neoliberal Reagan policies.[169] He focused on OCP's claim that it has private ownership over RoboCop, despite making use of Murphy's corpse.[169] The Old Man was modelled after Reagan, and the corporation policies emphasize greed and profit over individual rights. The police are deliberately underfunded and the creation of RoboCop is done with the aim of supplanting the police with a more efficient force. Jones openly admits that it does not matter if ED-209 works, because they have contracts to provide spare parts for years. He plots with Boddicker to corrupt the workers brought in to build Delta City with drugs and prostitution.[170] Davison believed the film is politically liberal, but the violence made it "fascism for liberals".[61] It also demonstrates a pro-labor union stance: the police chief, believing in the essential nature of their service, refuses to strike; but the underfunded, understaffed, and under-assault police eventually do so. OCP sees the strike as an opportunity merely to develop more robots.[171]

Masculinity and authority[edit]

Vince Mancini describes the 1980s as a period in which cinematic heroes were unambiguously good, as depicted in films that promoted suburban living, materialism, and unambiguous villains: such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Back to the Future (1985).[13] Some films of the decade send the message that authority is good and to be trusted, but RoboCop demonstrates that those in authority are flawed, and that Detroit has been carved up by greed, capitalism, and cheap foreign labor.[13] Weller described RoboCop as an evolution of strait-laced heroes of the 1940s—such as Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart—who lived life honorably, with modern audiences now cheering a maimed police officer taking brutal revenge.[47]

Susan Jeffords considers RoboCop to be among the many "hard body" films of the decade that portray perfect, strong, masculine physiques who must protect the "soft bodies": the ineffectual and the weak. RoboCop portrays strength by eliminating crime and redeeming the city through violence. Bullets ricochet harmlessly off RoboCop's armor; and even attempts to attack his crotch, a typical weak point, only hurt the attacker, demonstrating the uncompromising strength and masculinity needed to eliminate crime.[172] Darian Leader argues that it requires the addition of something unnatural to a biological body to be truly masculine. RoboCop's body incorporates technology, a symbolic addition that makes him more than an average man.[173]

Humanity and death[edit]

A painting of the Resurrection of Christ by Heinrich Bloch
The Resurrection by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1881. Murphy's transformation into RoboCop is a direct analogue of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Another central theme centers on defining what is humanity, and how much of Murphy is left in RoboCop.[131][130] Neumeier wanted to leave audiences asking the question of "what's left" of Murphy, and he described the character's journey as one of coping with his transformation.[81] As an officer, Murphy works for a corporation that insists it owns individuals based on waivers and can do with Murphy's remains as they wish. Even so, Murphy does the right thing and fights against the demands of his corporate masters.[10] Despite his inhuman appearance, RoboCop has a soul, experiences real human fears, and has a core consciousness that makes him more than a machine.[61] In contrast, Brooks Landon argues that Murphy is dead and, while he recalls memories of Murphy's life, RoboCop is not and can never be Murphy and regain enough of his humanity to rejoin his family.[174] Dale Bradley posits that RoboCop is a machine who mistakenly thinks it is Murphy because of its composite parts and only believes it has a human spirit within.[175] An alternate view is that RoboCop's personality is a new construct informed partially by fragments of Murphy's own personality.[176] Slavoj Žižek describes Murphy as a man between death, who is by all measure deceased and simultaneously reanimated with mechanical parts. As he regains his humanity, he transforms from a state of being programmed by others to his former state as a being of desire. Žižek calls this return of the living dead a fundamental fantasy of the masses, the desire to avoid death and take revenge against the living.[177]

Murphy's death is prolonged and violent so that the audience can see RoboCop as imbued with the humanity taken from him by the inhumane actions of Boddicker's gang and OCP.[47] Verhoeven considered it important to acknowledge the inherent darkness of humanity in order to avoid inevitable mutual destruction. He was impacted by his childhood experiences during World War II and the inhuman actions he witnessed. He believed the concept of the immaculate hero died following the war, and subsequent heroes had a dark side that they must overcome.[47] Describing the difference between making films in Europe and America, Verhoeven said that a European RoboCop would explore the spiritual and psychological problems of RoboCop's condition, where the American version focuses on revenge.[47] He also incorporated Christian mythology into the film. Murphy's brutal death is referred to as the Crucifixion of Jesus before his resurrection as RoboCop, an American Jesus who walks on water at the steel mill and wields a handgun.[61][10] Verhoeven asserted he had no belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, but "I can see the value of that idea, the purity of that idea. So from an artistic point of view, it's absolutely true."[61][10] The scene of RoboCop returning to Murphy's home is described as like finding the Garden of Eden or paradise.[10][1]

Brooks Landon describes the film as typical of the cyberpunk genre, because it does not treat RoboCop as better or worse than average humans, just different, and asks the audience to consider him as a new lifeform.[174][47] Similarly, the film does not treat this technological advance as necessarily negative, just an inevitable result of a progression that will change our lives and our understanding of what it means to be human.[174] In this way, the RoboCop character is the embodiment of the struggle of humanity in giving itself over to technology.[12] The central cast are not given romantic interests or overt sexual desires. Paul Sammon described the scene of RoboCop shooting bottles of baby food as a symbol of the relationship he and Lewis can never have.[79][13] Taylor concurred, but believed the confrontation between Morton and Jones in the OCP bathroom was sexualized.[61]

Legacy[edit]

RoboCop is considered a groundbreaking entry in the science fiction genre.[61] Unlike many films of its time, the central character is not a robotic-like human who is stoic and invincible, but a human-like robot who is openly affected by his lost humanity.[61] Its impact was not limited to North America: Neumeier recalled finding unlicensed RoboCop dolls on sale near the Colosseum in Rome.[12] In a 2013 interview, following Detroit's real-life bankruptcy and being labeled as the most dangerous place in America, Neumeier spoke about the prescience of the film. He said, "We are now living in the world that I was proposing in RoboCop... how big corporations will take care of us and... how they won't."[178][172] Verhoeven described RoboCop as a film ahead of its time, which could not be improved with digital effects.[179] Neumeier has stated how many robotics labs use a "Robo-" prefix for projects because of the film.[19]

Weller described the filming experience as among the worst of his life, mainly because of the RoboCop costume.[180] Verhoeven also considered filming RoboCop as a miserable experience, in part due to the difficulties with special effects and things going wrong.[181] In contrast, Ferrer described it as the best summer of his life.[115] Following the film, Neumeier was hired as a United States Air Force consultant for futuristic concepts.[19] In the next few years, Verhoeven parlayed his success into directing the science fiction film Total Recall (1990)—featuring Cox—and the erotic thriller Basic Instinct (1992).[5][7] He also worked with Neumeier on the science fiction film Starship Troopers (1997).[5] Previously typecast as moral characters, Cox credited RoboCop with changing his image and—along with the Beverly Hills Cop films—boosting his film career to make him one of the decade's most iconic villains.[39][37][182]

Modern reception[edit]

RoboCop holds a 90% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator website, based on 68 reviews, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The website's consensus reads: "While over-the-top and gory, RoboCop is also a surprisingly smart sci-fi flick that uses ultraviolence to disguise its satire of American culture."[183] The film has a score of 67 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 16 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[184]

Rotten Tomatoes listed the film at number 139 on its list of 200 essential movies to watch, and one of 300 essential movies.[185][186] In 2004, The New York Times listed it as one of the 1,000 Best Movies Ever.[187] In 2008, Empire listed the film at number 404 on its list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[188]

Several publications have ranked RoboCop as one of the best science-fiction films ever made: 12th best by Paste,[189] 12th by IGN,[190] 13th by Thrillist;[191] 20th by Empire,[192] 26th by GamesRadar+,[193] 19th by Rotten Tomatoes,[194] and unranked by i09.[195] It has been listed as one of the best films of the 1980s: number one by Consequence of Sound,[196] number six by ShortList;[197] number seven by Empire,[198] number 25 by Complex,[199] and unranked by Collider[200] and Highsnobiety.[201] Several publications have listed it as one of the greatest action films of all time: 14th by Entertainment Weekly;[179] 19th by Time Out;[202] and 22nd by Empire.[203]

Cultural impact[edit]

Several filmmakers have spoken of their appreciation for RoboCop or cited it as an inspiration in their own careers, including Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck,[204] Neill Blomkamp,[24] Leigh Whannell,[205] and Ken Russell, who called it the best science fiction film since Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).[206] During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, it was among the action films director James Gunn recommended people watch.[207] Doom Eternal creative director Hugo Martin also cited it as an inspiration.[208] RoboCop (voiced by Weller) appears as a playable character in the fighting game Mortal Kombat 11 (2019).[209] The character also served as a design inspiration for the Nintendo Power Glove (1989),[210] and appeared in advertisements for KFC in 2019 (again voiced by Weller),[211] and Direct Line in 2020, alongside the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bumblebee.[212]

The crowdfunded documentary RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop is in development. It covers the technical production of the first three RoboCop films and features interviews with many of the cast and crew involved, except Weller who declined to participate.[213][214] Weller had said everything he wanted to say about the film and vowed not to discuss it again.[32] Even so, he participated in a 30th-anniversary screening of the film by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at Dallas City Hall, because it was in his home town and he considered it a homage to the city.[32][44] A RoboCop statue is to be erected in Detroit. First proposed in 2011, $70,000 was crowdfunded for its construction. The idea for the statue had Weller's backing and the approval of RoboCop rights-holder MGM. The 10 ft (3.0 m) tall statue is under construction as of 2020.[25][215][216][217]

Sequels and adaptations[edit]

A 2016 photograph of Joel Kinnaman
Joel Kinnaman (pictured in 2016) portrayed Alex Murphy/RoboCop in the 2014 reboot RoboCop.

RoboCop launched a multimedia franchise that includes film sequels and a reboot, animated and live action television series, and expansions of the RoboCop lore in video games and comic books.[25][10][61]

By November 1987, Orion had greenlit development of a sequel targeting a PG-Rating that would allow children to see the film unaccompanied by adults,[218][219][220] and tying into the 12-episode animated series RoboCop, which was released by Marvel Productions in 1988.[31][61] Neumeier and Miner began writing the film but were fired after refusing to work through the 1988 writers strike, and were replaced by Frank Miller, whose second draft was made into RoboCop 2 (1990), and his first draft became the second sequel RoboCop 3 (1994).[12][221] Weller reprised his role in the Irwin Kershner–directed first sequel,[222] which was released to mixed reviews and was estimated to have lost the studio money.[223][224]

RoboCop 3, directed by Fred Dekker, was targeted mainly at younger audiences, who were driving merchandise sales. Robert John Burke replaced Weller in the title role, and Allen returned as Anne Lewis for the third and final time in the series.[61][31][36] The film was a critical and financial failure.[225] A live-action television series, RoboCop was released the same year, but also fared poorly critically and was cancelled after 22 episodes. Starring Richard Eden as RoboCop, the series was notable for involving Neumeier and Miner and using aspects of their original RoboCop 2 ideas.[31][90][61] A second animated series followed in 1998, RoboCop: Alpha Commando.[31][61] Page Fletcher was featured as RoboCop in the four-part live-action miniseries RoboCop: Prime Directives (2001). The series is set 10 years after the events of the first film and ignores the events of the sequels.[31][61] After years of experiencing financial difficulties, Orion—and the rights to RoboCop—were purchased by MGM in the late 1990s.[226][31][227]

A 2014 reboot of the 1987 original, also called RoboCop, was directed by José Padilha and features Joel Kinnaman in the title role. The film received mixed reviews but was a financial success.[12][24][228] Verhoeven said that he "should be dead" before a reboot was attempted, and Allen believed an "iconic" film should not be remade.[36] A direct sequel to the original film, titled RoboCop Returns, is in development. The film is set to be directed by Abe Forsythe, who is rewriting a script written by Neumeier, Miner, and Justin Rhodes.[226][229]

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