RoboCop is a 1987 cyberpunk action film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Set in crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan, in the near future, RoboCop centers on a police officer named Alex J. Murphy who is murdered brutally by a vicious gang and subsequently re-created as a cyborg known as RoboCop. It includes larger themes regarding the media, gentrification and human nature in addition to being an action film. It has spawned merchandise, two sequels, a TV Series starring Richard Eden, a TV miniseries directed by Julian Grant, video games, and two comic book adaptations and an animated series. A remake was released on February 7, 2014.
In a near future in Old Detroit, Michigan, violent crime is out of control, and the city is in financial ruin. The city government contracts the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products, OCP for short, to fund and operate the police force, in effect privatizing it. But OCP is not interested in rebuilding "Old Detroit;" rather, its plan consists of replacing Old Detroit with a modern settlement it calls "Delta City." Before construction can begin, however, OCP needs to end crime in the city, but knows it cannot rely on an already undermanned police department whose officers are contemplating going on strike.
At an executive meeting, OCP Senior President Dick Jones (Cox) presents his new law-enforcement droid, the ED-209, which he believes will end crime in Old Detroit. Unfortunately, the demonstration quickly goes awry, resulting in the violent death of a junior executive. Bob Morton (Ferrer), another junior executive, uses the opportunity to propose his "RoboCop" program directly to the CEO of OCP, the "Old Man" (O'Herlihy), who accepts. As a result, Morton immediately earns the hatred of Jones.
Meanwhile, Detroit police officers Alex Murphy (Weller), who is transferring in from another precinct, and Anne Lewis (Allen), who has been assigned to be Murphy's partner, pursue a crew of thugs fleeing a robbery to an abandoned steel mill. Inside, Murphy is brutally and violently executed by the notorious gang leader Clarence Boddicker (Smith) and his men, who are responsible for the recent 'cop killings' plaguing Old Detroit. After being pronounced dead, Morton's team transfers Murphy's remaining organs (including his brain-which is blanked so he has no memory of his former existence or how he was assassinated) into a 'full body prosthetic' cyborg and is 'reborn' into RoboCop. RoboCop has only limited memories of his former life as Alex Murphy, though he retains the habit of twirling his pistol before holstering it; this was a skill he had learned to impress his son. This mannerism later helps Lewis recognize RoboCop as her old partner.
RoboCop patrols the city and proves extremely effective at stopping violent crime. Morton's overwhelmingly successful project propels him to an OCP vice-presidency, but Jones warns him that his humiliation will not go unanswered. Boddicker, who has been secretly working for Jones, arrives at Morton's home and murders him on Jones's orders.
As time passes, RoboCop regains more memories of his previous life, triggered in large part by his incidental arrest of Emil Antonowsky (McCrane), one of Boddicker's thugs and a participant in Murphy's murder. RoboCop begins pursuing Boddicker's henchmen, finally capturing Boddicker himself after a gunfight in a drug factory. In desperation, Boddicker announces that Jones is supposed to be protecting him. All that stops RoboCop from killing the helpless Boddicker is his programming, specifically his "Directive Three" ("Uphold the Law"). He instead takes Boddicker to the station and travels to Jones's office to arrest him. In the attempt, however, RoboCop discovers a previously-hidden part of his programming, "Directive Four" (revealed in RoboCop 3 as reading "Never Oppose An OCP Officer") which prevents him from arresting any senior OCP executive. Jones boasts of his crimes, including the murder of Bob Morton, while RoboCop is paralyzed by the directive. RoboCop is then attacked by an ED-209 and later several SWAT teams, suffering heavy damage but escaping with the help of Lewis.
While RoboCop repairs himself, and for the first time removes his visor to reveal his face, the Detroit police begin their long-threatened strike, complaining of budget reductions that have reduced their salaries and manpower, resulting in innumerable deaths. In the subsequent chaos, Jones arranges to free Boddicker and his gang, ordering Boddicker to destroy RoboCop with the promise of making him the new crime lord of Delta City. Jones supplies Boddicker's gang with vehicles, anti-material weapons, and a tracking device to find RoboCop's location.
Boddicker's gang tracks RoboCop to the same abandoned steel mill where the gang had killed Murphy. In a final showdown, RoboCop and Lewis kill Boddicker's group. The battle leaves RoboCop with further damage and Lewis seriously wounded. Boddicker tries to shoot Lewis to death, but RoboCop comes to her rescue. He stabs the villain in the neck, killing him.
RoboCop proceeds to OCP headquarters and plays a recording of Jones's confession to the murder of Morton at an OCP executives meeting. He also reveals that he cannot act against an officer of OCP. Jones panics and takes the CEO hostage, demanding a helicopter to make his escape. The Old Man fires Jones, invalidating his Directive Four protection. RoboCop thanks the Old Man and shoots Jones, sending his body flying through a boardroom window and plunging down to the ground. The Old Man compliments RoboCop on his shooting and asks his name. RoboCop, having regained his former memories, smiles and replies: "Murphy."
- Peter Weller as Murphy/RoboCop
- Nancy Allen as Lewis
- Daniel O'Herlihy as The Old Man
- Ronny Cox as Jones
- Kurtwood Smith as Clarence
- Miguel Ferrer as Morton
- Robert DoQui as Sgt. Reed
- Ray Wise as Leon
- Felton Perry as Johnson
- Paul McCrane as Emil
- Jesse Goins as Joe
- Del Zamora as Kaplan
- Calvin Jung as Minh
- Rick Lieberman as Walker
- Lee DeBroux as Sal
- Mark Carlton as Miller
- Edward Edwards as Manson
- Michael Gregory as Lt. Hedgecock
- Fred Hice as Bobby
- Neil Summers as Dougy
- Gene Wolande as Prisoner
- Gregory Poudevigne as Slimey Lawyer
- Charles Carroll as Bail Bondsman
- Ken Page as Kinney
- Yolanda Williams as Ramirez
- Tyress Allen as Starkweather
- John Davies as Chessman
- Laird Stuart as Cecil the Clerk
- Stephen Berrier as Roosevelt
- Sage Parker as Tyler
- Karen Radcliffe as Technician #1
- Darryl Cox as Technician #2
- Jerry Haynes as Dr. McNamara
- Bill Schockley as Creep
- Donna Keegan as Rape Victim
- Mike Moroff as Hophead
- Marjorie Rynearson as Grocery Mom
- Jo Livingston as Grocery Pop
- Joan Pirkle as Barbara
- Diane Robin as Chandra
- Adrianne Sachs as Tawney
- Maarten Goslins as Salesman
- Angie Bolling as Murphy's Wife
- Jason Levine as Murphy's Son
- S.D. Nemeth as Bixby Snyder
- Bill Farmer as Justin Ballard-Watkins
- Michael Hunter as Peter the Homeowner
- Spencer Prokop as Gas Station Attendant
- Debra Zach as Nurse
- L.J. King as Emergency Doctor
- David Packer as Emergency Doctor
- Leeza Gibbons as Jesse Perkins
- Mario Machado as Casey Wong
- James Staszkiel as Keva Rosenberg (uncredited)
RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Edward Neumeier stated that he first got the idea for RoboCop when he walked past a poster for Blade Runner. He asked his friend what the film was about; the friend replied, "It's about a cop hunting robots." This then sparked the idea for him about a robot cop.
Allegedly, while the two were attempting to pitch the screenplay to Hollywood executives, they were accidentally stranded in an airplane terminal with a high-ranking movie executive for several hours. Here they were able to speak to him about the project and thus begin the series of events which eventually became RoboCop.
RoboCop marked the first major Hollywood production for Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. Although he had been working in the Netherlands for more than a decade and directed several films to great acclaim (e.g. Soldier of Orange), Verhoeven moved away in 1984 to seek broader opportunities in Hollywood. While RoboCop is often credited as his English language debut, he had in fact previously made Flesh+Blood during 1985, starring Rutger Hauer. It was for RoboCop, however, that Verhoeven would rise to the international spotlight.
On the Criterion Edition audio commentary (available on both the laserdisc and DVD versions) Verhoeven recalls that, when he first glanced through the script, he discarded it in disgust. Afterwards, his wife picked the script from the bin and read it more thoroughly, convincing him that the plot had more substance than he originally assumed. Repo Man director was offered to direct before Verhoeven came aboard.
The character of RoboCop itself was inspired by British comic-book hero Judge Dredd as well as the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man. An Iron Man comic book appears on screen during the film's convenience store robbery. Although both Neumeier and Verhoeven have declared themselves staunchly on the political left, Neumeier recalls, on the audio commentary to Starship Troopers, that many of his leftist friends wrongly perceived RoboCop as a fascist movie. However, on the 20th Anniversary DVD, producer Jon Davison referred to the film's message as "fascism for liberals" - a politically liberal film done in the most violent way possible.
A joke among people who know RoboCop is a popular, but inane, TV show with the catchphrase, "I'd buy that for a dollar!" People in the film's future universe find this humorous. The star is the goofy Bixby Snyder (S.D. Nemeth). Neither the name of the show nor the character are ever revealed in the movie, although girls are heard to greet him with "Bixby!" and "Happy birthday Dave!" On the DVD commentary, Edward Neumeier comments that somehow the explanation and history of this television show was never included in the script. A deleted scene from the DVD finally reveals the show's name to be It's Not My Problem! This is also a reference to one of the film's major themes of greed and personal satisfaction.
Filming began during the summer of 1986 and lasted from August 6 until mid-October. The scenes depicting Murphy's 'death' were not filmed until the following January (1987), some months after principal shooting had ceased. Many of the urban settings of the movie were filmed in downtown Dallas due to the futuristic appearances of the buildings. The front of the Dallas City Hall was used as the exterior for the fictional OCP Headquarters, combined with extensive matte paintings to make the building appear taller.
Peter Weller had prepared extensively for the role using a padded costume (supposedly, development of the actual RoboCop suit was three weeks behind schedule). By the time shooting was underway and the costume arrived on set, however, Weller discovered he was almost unable to move in it as he had anticipated, and required additional training to get accustomed. Weller later revealed to that during filming, he was losing three pounds a day due to sweat loss while wearing the RoboCop suit in +100 °F (+38 °C) temperatures. Peter's personal assistant, Todd Trotter, was responsible for keeping the actor cool in between takes with electric fans and, when available, large ducts connected to free-standing air conditioning units. The suit later had a fan built into it.
Paul Verhoeven initially considered Rutger Hauer, whom he had worked with on most of his films, as well as Michael Ironside, for the role of RoboCop. Ironside was also originally considered for the villainous part of Clarence Boddicker; he later portrayed a similar villain in Verhoeven's Total Recall. (Coincidentally, Kurtwood Smith, who ultimately portrayed Clarence, was considered to play the villain in Total Recall; instead, he passed the script to Ironside.) Allegedly Arnold Schwarzenegger was suggested by the studio, but the film makers eventually dismissed all three on the basis that the bulky RoboCop costume would require an actor of light build to work with while producer Jon Davison quipped on the Schwarzenegger suggestion that it would look like the Michelin Man. Peter Weller, a method actor known for playing "everyman" characters, was subsequently cast as Murphy/RoboCop.
After being cast as Anne Lewis, Nancy Allen had to get her hair cut several times, until it was short enough for Verhoeven, because he wanted to desexualize her character.
In the commentary, Verhoeven explains his choice to cast Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox as the central villains. Cox was an actor who until then was primarily known for "nice-guy" roles such as fatherly figures, and similarly Smith was cast as a more intellectual type; Smith was originally brought in to audition for both Clarence and Jones. Verhoeven comments that the look of Clarence Boddicker with the glasses reminded him of Heinrich Himmler. The background of Cox's character Dick Jones is similar to Superman villain Lex Luthor.
In addition, Barbara, the secretary of OCP Vice President Dick Jones, whom Boddicker lasciviously hits on, is played by Joan Pirkle, the real-life wife of Kurtwood Smith; they first met on that set. Television personality Leeza Gibbons has a small role as news anchor Jesse Perkins. Paul Verhoeven himself has a small cameo appearance during the arrest of Leon in the nightclub scene; there is one brief close-up of him dancing maniacally as Leon is being dragged away by his hair.
The 1986 Ford Taurus was used as the police cruiser in the movie, due to its then-futuristic design.
One of the Taurus's competitors at the time, the Pontiac 6000, is parodied in the movie as the "6000 SUX". The 6000 SUX itself was based on a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with extensive bodywork. Commercials advertise the SUX as "an American tradition" with a fuel efficiency of 8.2 miles per gallon. In early production, it was to be powered by jet turbines; the exhaust of the turbine is still visible above the rear license plate of Clarence Boddicker's SUX in chase scenes. The 6000 SUX was designed by Gene Winfield of Winfield Rod & Custom, while Chiodo Brothers Productions fabricated and animated the dinosaur puppet in the 6000 SUX commercial. The dinosaur itself was animated by Don Waller, who also had a cameo in the same sequence, reacting to the rampaging creature in a tight close-up.
The newly released Merkur XR4Ti makes a cameo appearance as an executive vehicle when RoboCop is delivered to the precinct.
As of June 2010, RoboCop's Taurus is on display at the Branson Auto Museum in Branson, Missouri.
The movie was given an X rating by the MPAA in 1987 (the rating which replaced X, NC-17, emerged in 1990) due to its graphic violence. To appease the requirements of the ratings board, Verhoeven strove to reduce blood and gore in the most violent scenes in the movie, including the malfunctioning of ED-209, Murphy's execution (where his entire right arm is severed by a shotgun blast and a final overhead shot of Lewis sobbing over Murphy on the blood-soaked floor), and the final battle with Clarence Boddicker (in which RoboCop stabs Boddicker in the neck with his neural spike and a chunk of Boddicker's throat splatters onto RoboCop's chest). Verhoeven also added humorous commercials throughout the news broadcasts to lighten the mood and distract from the violent aspects of the movie. After 11 original X-ratings, the film was eventually given an R rating. The original uncut version was included on the Criterion Collection laserdisc and DVD of the film (both out of print), the 2005 trilogy box set and the 2007 anniversary edition; the latter two were released by MGM and are classified as unrated.
Regarding the omitted scenes, Verhoeven stated in the 2007 anniversary edition DVD that he had wanted the violence to be 'over the top', in an almost comical fashion (the executive that is killed by ED-209, for example, and the line about calling a paramedic soon after his demise, was meant as black comedy). Verhoeven also states that the tone of the violence was changed to a more upsetting tone due to the deletions requested by the MPAA, and that the deletions also remove footage of the extensive animatronic puppet of Murphy just before he is executed by Boddicker.
RoboCop was released in American theaters on July 17, 1987. The film was a commercial success and grossed over $8 million in its opening weekend and $53,424,681 during its domestic run, making it the 16th most successful movie that year.
The film was well received by critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1987. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an 90% "Certified Fresh" rating from critics, with the following consensus: "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".
RoboCop was nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing and the Academy Award for Sound. It won the Academy Award for Sound Effects Editing. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly named it the #14 greatest action movie of all time. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It was placed on a similar list, The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, by The New York Times.
The film was on the ballot for two of the American Film Institute's 100 Series lists. These lists included 100 Years...100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies, and AFI's "Ten Top Ten", a list of the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres. RoboCop was a candidate for the science fiction category. At its release, British director Ken Russell said that this was the best science fiction movie since Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).
Feminists have disagreed over the portrayal of women in RoboCop. Susan Faludi called it one of "an endless stream of war and action movies" in which "women are reduced to mute and incidental characters or banished altogether." Rene Denfeld calls Faludi's characterization of the film amazing, calling it her "favorite blow-'em-up movie" and mentioning Officer Lewis as an example of an "independent and smart police officer."
Budget $13,000,000 (estimated)
$8,008,721 (USA) (19 July 1987) (1,580 Screens)
£708,923 (UK) (7 February 1988) (135 Screens)
DEM 288,005 (West Germany) (6 January 1988) (27 Screens)
RoboCop explores larger themes regarding the media and human nature in addition to being a big budget action film; the philosopher Steven Best wrote an essay on some of this content.
In the Criterion Edition DVD commentary track, executive producer Jon Davison and writer Edward Neumeier both mention the decay of American industry from the 1970s through the early 1980s. The abandoned "Rust Belt-style" factories that RoboCop and Clarence Boddicker's gang use as hideouts demonstrate this theme. Massive unemployment is prevalent, being reported frequently on the news, as is poverty and the crime that results from economic hardship.
Director Paul Verhoeven, known for his heavy use of Christian symbolism, states in the documentary "Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop" (featured on the RoboCop DVD) that his intention was to portray RoboCop as a Christ figure. This is represented in Murphy's horrific death, his return as RoboCop, and the scene at the steel mill where RoboCop is seen walking ankle-deep in water, creating the illusion of him walking on water. On that note, Verhoeven was asked by a fan whether the showdown with Dick Jones was intended as a representation of Satan (Jones)'s rebelling against Jehovah (the OCP president), or the Devil's subsequent fall from grace after being stripped of his prestige and cast out of Heaven (being fired on the spot, and then blown backwards through the window of the OCP tower to his death). Verhoeven's reply: "It's a sharp observation, but none of that was on my mind at the time."
Notes and Trivia
- Although the writers have never publicly stated what year the film takes place in, Stack Exchange user "Wikis" determined – through the timeline given in the film and novelization – that it takes place over the course of November 2043 to February 2044. However, other dates have been used in other works in the franchise:
- The computer that RoboCop looks up criminal records on is actually a Northern Telecom telephone switch.
- The point-of-view shots from RoboCop include references to MS-DOS.
- The entrance to the OCP building in the movie is actually the front entrance of Dallas City Hall with extensive matte work (by Rocco Gioffre) above to make the building appear to be a giant skyscraper.
- The song 'Show Me Your Spine' by PTP is playing in the club when RoboCop arrests Leon. This song, which features vocals by Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy, was unavailable in any format until October 2004, when it was included on the CD 'Ministry: Side Trax' released by Rykodisc.
- For the theatrical trailer, Orion Pictures used the music from their film The Terminator (1984) which is also a movie about a cyborg (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). Schwarzenegger was briefly considered for the role of RoboCop, but those involved with the film were concerned he would be too bulky in the suit and end up looking like the Michelin Man.
- Two scenes were storyboarded, but never filmed. The drawings are shown on the DVD. The first was a scene where RoboCop visits his grave. The second was a long car chase, an alternate scene that got them to the old steel mill (where Murphy died). This car chase was to be set after RoboCop removed his helmet and had RoboCop and Lewis break up a riot, followed by a shootout with Joe and Emil with the Cobra Assault Cannons. Eventually, they retreated to their cars then the car chase to the old steel mill began.
- Realizing that the film was running behind schedule and over budget, director Paul Verhoeven and producer Jon Davison purposely didn't film one crucial scene: Officer Murphy's death. When production wrapped, they went back to Los Angeles and 'grimly' informed the execs that Murphy's death hadn't been filmed. So the execs gave them more money and they filmed the scene in a warehouse in Los Angeles.
- The RoboCop suit was so hot and heavy that Peter Weller was losing 3 lbs a day from water loss. Eventually, an air conditioner was installed in the suit.
- RoboCop's gun, referred to in the script as an Auto-9, was a modified Beretta M93R: The barrel was extended and modified to resemble a casket. The weapon has a selectable fire mode switch. Semi-automatic and three-round burst which also is full auto with the trigger held. The basic design of the Beretta 93R machine pistol is based on the famous Beretta 92 pistol. The trigger mechanism, however, is somewhat different from Beretta 92, as it is a single action only, with non-ambidextrous frame mounted safety and additional fire mode selector. (Semi-automatic and three-round burst which also is full auto with the trigger held.)
- The RoboCop suit was designed by Rob Bottin and his team. It took a while for the production team to settle on a design, so that by the time the suit was completed it was three weeks late and arrived at the studio on the day that the first RoboCop scene was scheduled to be shot. It took 11 hours for Bottin's people to fit Peter Weller into the suit, and when it was done Weller found that all his mime exercises were now useless because he needed time to get used to the suit and to perform as a robot in it. Production was halted so that Weller and his mime coach, Moni Yakin, could learn how to move in the suit.
- The scene where RoboCop leaves the precinct was the first scene shot using the suit. The shot of RoboCop catching the cruiser keys was very difficult as they kept bouncing off the rubber hand of the suit. It took at least fifty tries before they got it right.
- After Clarence was taken to the precinct, he spits blood onto the table demanding for a phone call. This was not in the script but was improvised on the spot by Kurtwood Smith.
- To shoot the scene where ED-209 falls down the stairs, Phil Tippett and his team made a small replica of the stairs and pushed the model down.
- Writers and producers were concerned that cops would be offended by their portrayal on the movie. On the contrary, they loved it.
- Body count: 30
- In the gas station scene two of the comic books on the wrack are Iron Man and ROM, both of which star heroes wearing robotic suits, similar to RoboCop.
- A scene not filmed was to show Anne Lewis in the hospital being visited by Mayor Gibson after being shot by Clarence at the steel mill.
- Emil Antonowsky
- Justin Ballard-Watkins
- Clarence Boddicker
- Joe P. Cox
- Enforcement Droid Series 209
- Frank Frederickson (mentioned)
- Donald Johnson
- Dick Jones
- Anne Lewis
- Old Man
- Ron Miller
- Steve Minh
- Bob Morton
- Alex Murphy
- Ellen Murphy
- James Murphy
- Leon Nash
- Jess Perkins
- Warren Reed
- Keva Rosenberg
- Bill Walker
- Peter Whitley
- Casey Wong
- 548 Primrose Lane
- Acapulco (mentioned)
- Family Heart Center
- France (mentioned)
- Gray Bar Hotel (mentioned)
- Henry Ford Memorial Hospital (mentioned)
- Lee Iacocca Elementary School
- Metro West
- Mexico (mentioned)
- Old Detroit
- Pretoria (mentioned)
- Santa Barbara (mentioned)
- Steel mill
- United States