Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Verhoeven Produced by Jon Davison Written by Edward Neumeier
Starring Peter Weller
Music by Basil Poledouris Cinematography Sol Negrin
Editing by Frank J. Urioste Distributed by Orion Pictures (2007, original) MGM (2007 & 2010, DVD) Release date(s) July 17, 1987 Running time 103 minutes Country United States Language English Budget $13 million Box office $53,424,681
RoboCop is a 1987 American science fiction-action film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan in the near future, RoboCop centers on a police officer who is brutally murdered and subsequently re-created as a super-human cyborg known as "RoboCop". The film features Peter Weller, Dan O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, and Ronny Cox.
In addition to being an action film, RoboCop includes larger themes regarding the media, resurrection, gentrification, corruption, privatization, capitalism, masculinity, and human nature. It received positive reviews and was cited as one of the best films of 1987, spawning merchandise, two sequels, a television series, two animated TV series, and a television mini-series, video games and two comic book adaptations. The film was produced for a relatively modest $13 million dollars.
In the near future, Detroit, Michigan is on the verge of collapse due to financial ruin and unchecked crime. The mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products enters into a contract with the city to run the police force. OCP plans to destroy "Old Detroit" to replace it with the utopia of "Delta City". Recognizing that human law enforcers are insufficient to stop the crime spree, OCP runs several programs to find robotic replacements. One program, the ED-209 enforcement droid, headed by senior president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), malfunctions and kills an executive during its demonstration. As a result, the OCP Chairman (Dan O'Herlihy) opts for a cyborg program helmed by junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), named "RoboCop". Jones is furious at Morton for going over his head.
The RoboCop program requires a recently-deceased "candidate" for conversion; to obtain one, OCP reorganizes the police force to the crime-ridden Metro West precinct expecting an officer will die in duty and become a candidate. One such officer is veteran Alexander James Murphy (Peter Weller), who is partnered with Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). On their first patrol, they chase down a team of criminals led by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) to an abandoned steel mill. Murphy and Lewis separate. Lewis is later rendered unconscious by one of the gang, while the rest of Boddicker's men corner Murphy and sadistically mutilate him with shotguns before Boddicker executes him with a pistol shot to the head. Lewis, disarmed and unable to help, witnesses the murder in horror. Murphy is pronounced dead at the hospital, but OCP takes his body and uses it to create the first RoboCop.
RoboCop is guided by three prime directives written into his programming: serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. This is followed by a classified fourth directive that he is unaware of. He is able to single-handedly deal with much of the violent crime in the city, causing the rest of the police force to become worried they may be replaced. Unknown by his human monitors, RoboCop still retains memories of his life as Murphy, including brief glimpses of his wife and son, and the action of spinning his gun before holstering it, a trick Murphy had done for his son. Lewis recognizes these elements from Murphy's mannerisms, and tries to learn more from RoboCop, but he remains silent on the issues. Because of Robocop's success, Morton is promoted to become one of OCP's Vice Presidents.
Morton's success and arrogance leads Jones to have Boddicker, secretly in his employ, kill the young executive. Meanwhile, an armed gas station holdup by one of Boddicker's men allows RoboCop to track down Boddicker to a cocaine bunker. RoboCop bursts into the facility and a shootout between him and the bandits ensues. Boddicker reveals his alliance with Dick Jones. RoboCop then apprehends Boddicker. RoboCop visits Jones at his offices at OCP, showing him Boddicker's statement and preparing to arrest Jones.
The previously unknown and secret fourth directive, preventing RoboCop from arresting or harming any senior executive of OCP, activates, incapacitating RoboCop. Jones boasts to RoboCop about the Fourth Directive, which Jones added to RoboCop's program. Jones also boasts about his role in Morton's murder, and then sends an ED-209 against RoboCop. RoboCop, handicapped by the directive, engages the machine. The ED-209 proves incapable of descending a stairway, enabling RoboCop to escape. When RoboCop enters the parking complex of the building, a police SWAT team is waiting for him with orders to destroy him. The hail of bullets severely damages RoboCop's armor, but he is saved by Lewis, his former partner.
Lewis tends to RoboCop's injuries at the same steel mill where Murphy was killed, and discovers that there is still some of Murphy's old self present despite the cyborg augmentation. Meanwhile, the police launch their long-threatened strike, sending the city into chaos. Jones arranges for Boddicker and his men to be released from prison and funds them with new cars and assault cannons capable of puncturing RoboCop's heavy armor. Boddicker's team converges on the steel mill using a tracking device provided by Jones. RoboCop and Lewis defend themselves and kill the entire gang. RoboCop finds Lewis severely wounded but alive.
RoboCop returns to OCP headquarters alone and uses one of the assault cannons to destroy the ED-209 guarding the building. Arriving in the middle of an executive board meeting with the president, Jones, and other executives, RoboCop plays back Jones's confession to Morton's murder and explains his inability to arrest OCP employees. Jones quickly grabs a gun, takes the president hostage and begins making demands. The president, after being told about the Fourth Directive by RoboCop, fires Jones from OCP, allowing RoboCop to shoot him. Jones then crashes through the window and falls to his death. The president commends RoboCop for his skill and asks for his name, to which he replies, "Murphy".
- Peter Weller as Police Officer Alex James Murphy / RoboCop
- Nancy Allen as Officer Anne Lewis
- Ronny Cox as OCP Vice President Richard "Dick" Jones
- Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker
- Miguel Ferrer as OCP Executive Robert "Bob" Morton
- Dan O'Herlihy as The Old Man
- Paul McCrane as Emil Antonowsky
- Ray Wise as Leon Nash
- Jesse D. Goins as Joe Cox
- Calvin Jung as Steve Minh
- Michael Gregory as Lt. Hedgecock
- Robert DoQui as Sergeant Warren Reed
- Felton Perry as OCP Executive Donald Johnson
Before Peter Weller was cast, Rutger Hauer and Arnold Schwarzenegger were favored to play Robocop by Verhoeven and the producers, respectively. However, each man's large frame would have made it difficult for either of them to move in the cumbersome Robocop suit, which had been modeled on hockey gear and designed to be large and bulky. Weller won the role both because Verhoeven felt that he could adequately convey pathos with his lower face, and because Weller was especially lithe and could more easily move inside the suit than a bigger actor.
In the DVD director's commentary, Verhoeven explained that he intentionally chose to cast Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox against type by making them 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. Verhoeven chose to outfit Boddicker in rimless glasses because of their intellectual association, creating a disparity in the character that Verhoeven found similar to the similarly bespectacled Heinrich Himmler.
RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Edward Neumeier stated that he first got the idea of Robocop when he walked past a poster for Blade Runner. He asked his friend what the film was about and he replied saying, "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 stranded accidentally at 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 the movie.
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 and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
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 Alex Cox 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 Rom. A ROM comic book appears on screen during the film's convenience store robbery. Another ROM comic appears in a flashback of Murphy's son. 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 perceived RoboCop as a fascist movie. 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.
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, Texas due to the futuristic appearances of the buildings. The Reunion Tower is also visible in the background near the end. The front of Dallas City Hall was used as the exterior for the fictional OCP Headquarters, combined with extensive matte paintings to make the building appear taller. The steel mill scenes were filmed at Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel's Monessen Works, in Monessen, PA.
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 Roger Ebert 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.
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 task of creating the Robocop suit was given to Rob Bottin. Having come off doing the special effects for John Carpenter's The Thing, the studio decided that Bottin would be the ideal person to create the RoboCop suit.
A budget of up to a million dollars was given towards the completion of the suit, making it the most expensive item on the set. Six suits were made in total, three regular, three showing damage.
As for the suit's design, Rob himself had produced early sketches that the studio was very happy with in regards to the suit's prototype (although some minor adjustments had to be made). Taking influence from Japanese comics and anime, Rob, Paul Verhoeven, and Edward Neumeier came up with the concept of the suit being more of an outer shell, with only so little of the actor's actual face being visible. The suit itself attached to the actor in sections. As for wearing the helmet, Peter Weller wore a bald cap that allowed the helmet to be removed easily.
After almost ten months of preparation, the Robocop suit was completed based on live casts from Peter Weller and Rob's 6 foot clay models. In the end however, the suit was already two weeks late.
Peter Weller had in the meantime hired a mime specialist by the name of Moni Yakinn to practice movements for the Robo suit. He and Moni had envisioned Robocop to move like a snake, dancing around and moving very awkward so that his targets were unable to attack him. The suit however proved to be too heavy and cumbersome for Peter to do anything like that. Instead, at the suggestion of Moni, it was decided that they would slow down RoboCop's movements in order to make his movements far more appealing and plausible. Filming stopped for 3 days, allowing Peter and Paul Verhoeven to discuss new movements for the suit.
The suit's color itself was supposed to be bright blue, however it was given a more grayish tint to make it look more metallic and produce less glaring on the camera when it was being filmed.
The original gun for RoboCop was a Desert Eagle but was deemed too small. A Beretta 93R was heavily modified by its original gunsmith, who had extended the gun barrel to make it look bigger so as to be proportional to Robocop's hand.
The gun holster itself was a standalone piece that was not integrated into the suit. Off screen technicians would operate the device on cue by pulling cables that would force the holster to open up and the gun be placed inside.
The soundtrack score for the movie was composed by Basil Poledouris (1945–2006), who used both synthesized and orchestral music as a mirror to the man-versus-machine theme of the movie. The score alternates brass heavy material, including the memorable RoboCop theme and ED-209's theme, with more introverted pieces for strings, such as during RoboCop's home-coming scene. The music was performed by the Sinfonia of London conducted by Howard Blake and Tony Britten.
The soundtrack was initially released by Varèse Sarabande and has been reissued and remastered several times in recent years. The listing below reflects the 2004 reissue, featuring four tracks (in italics) previously unreleased.
- Main Title (:39)
- Van Chase (4:51)
- Murphy's Death (2:36)
- Rock Shop (3:42)
- Home (4:15)
- Robo Vs. Ed-209 (2:07)
- The Dream (3:06)
- Across The Board (1:50)
- Betrayal (2:18)
- Clarence Frags Bob (1:43)
- Care Package (2:09)
- Robo Drives To Jones (1:46)
- We Killed You (1:44)
- Directive IV (1:03)
- Showdown (5:15)
- Have A Heart (:31)
- OCP Monitors (1:15)
- Nuke 'Em (:26)
- Big Is Better (:27)
Intrada released the complete score in 2010, in chronological order and including the film's end credit suite (which was not specially composed for the film but edited together out of material from "Rock Shop," "Murphy Goes Home" and "Murphy's Dream"). Expanded cues are in italics, completely unreleased cues in bold.
- Main Title (:45)
- Have A Heart (:33)
- O.C.P. Monitors (1:41)
- Twirl (:25)
- Van Chase (4:56)
- Murphy Dies In O.R. (titled "Murphy's Death" on original release) (2:35)
- Robo Lives (1:05)
- Drive Montage (1:04)
- Helpless Woman (1:16)
- Nukem (:26)
- Murphy's Dream ("The Dream") (3:05)
- Gas Station Blow-Up ("We Killed You") (1:44)
- Murphy Goes Home ("Home") (4:15)
- Clarence Frags Bob (1:45)
- Rock Shop (3:42)
- Robo Drives To Jones (1:47)
- Directive 4 (1:04)
- Robo & Ed 209 Fight ("Robo Vs. Ed 209") (2:10)
- Force Shoots Robo (2:43)
- Big Is Better (2:33)
- Care Package (2:58)
- Looking For Me ("Showdown") (5:13)
- Across The Board (End Credits) (7:32)
The theme song also made its way into the arcade and NES RoboCop video games.
In the nightclub scene, the song "Show Me Your Spine" by P.T.P. was played. P.T.P was a short lived side project consisting of members of the band Ministry and Skinny Puppy. However, this song was not available in any official form and could only be heard in the film. It was eventually released in 2004 on a compilation album called Side Trax by Ministry.
The movie was given an X rating by the MPAA in 1987 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 (one of the executives shot to death by 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 Boddicker's blood 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 88% "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". Susan Faludi called RoboCop 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", giving Officer Lewis as an example of an "independent and smart police officer."
RoboCop was nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing and the Academy Award for Best Sound (Michael J. Kohut, Carlos Delarios, Aaron Rochin and Robert Wald). 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).
In addition to being an action film, RoboCop explores larger themes regarding the media and human nature.
In the Criterion Edition DVD commentary track, executive producer Jon Davison and writer Edward Neumeier both relate the film to the decay of American industry from the 1970s through the early 1980s, with the abandoned "Rust Belt-style" factories that RoboCop and Clarence Boddicker's gang use as hideouts reflecting this concern. 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 (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."
Darian Leader comments that in popular cinema, "We are shown time and again that to be a man requires more than to have the biological body of a male: something else must be added to it." Leader gives Robocop as an example, writing: "The Robocop is a family man who is destroyed by thugs, then rebuilt as a robot by science. His son always insists, before the transformation, that his human father perform the gun spinning trick he sees on TV. When the robot can finally do this properly, he is no longer just a male biological body: he is a body plus machinery, a body which includes within it the symbolic circuitry of science. Old heroes had bits of metal outside them (knights), but modern heroes have bits of metal inside them. To be a man today thus involves this kind of real incorporation of symbolic properties."
Slavoj Žižek in Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (p. 22) writes that: "RoboCop, a futuristic story about a policeman shot to death and then revived after all parts of his body have been replaced by artificial substitutes, introduces a more tragic note: the hero who finds himself literally "between two deaths"—clinically dead and at the same time provided with a new, mechanical body—starts to remember fragments of his previous, "human" life and thus undergoes a process of resubjectivication, changing gradually back from pure incarnated drive to a being of desire. (...) [I]f there is a phenomenon that fully deserves to be called the "fundamental fantasy of contemporary mass culture," it is this fantasy of the return of the living dead: the fantasy of a person who does not want to stay dead but returns again and again to pose a threat to the living."
In February 2011, there was a humorous ploy asking Detroit Mayor Dave Bing if there was to be a RoboCop statue in his 'New Detroit' proposal, which is planned to turn Detroit back into a prosperous city again. When the Mayor said there was no such plan, and word of this reached the internet, there were several fund raising events to raise enough money for the statue which would be built at the Imagination Station. It is yet to be seen if a statue will actually be built, but it is reported that over $50,000 has already been raised on the internet.
RoboCop was released in a Region 1 DVD on June 12, 2007, and then on October 5, 2010, by MGM in a standard edition and as part of the Blu-Ray Robocop Trilogy.
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- RoboCop at the Internet Movie Database
- RoboCop at AllRovi
- RoboCop at Box Office Mojo
- RoboCop at Rotten Tomatoes
- Criterion Collection essay by Carrie Rickey
Awards and achievements Preceded by
Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film
RoboCop Films Animated televisionThe Animated Series • Alpha Commando Live-action televisionThe Series • Prime Directives Video gamesRoboCop • RoboCop 2 • RoboCop 3 • RoboCop 3D • RoboCop Versus The Terminator • RoboCop (2003) Comics Characters Organizations Other Films directed by Paul Verhoeven 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
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