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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Verhoeven|
|Produced by||Arne Schmidt|
|Written by||Edward Neumeier|
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Edited by||Frank J. Urioste|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Running time||102 minutes|
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (June 2014)|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Verhoeven|
|Produced by||Arne Schmidt|
|Written by||Edward Neumeier|
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Edited by||Frank J. Urioste|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Running time||102 minutes|
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, Dan O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, and Ronny Cox. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan, in the near future, RoboCop centers on police officer Alex Murphy (Weller) who is brutally murdered by a gang of criminals and subsequently revived by the malevolent mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) as a superhuman cyborg law enforcer known as "RoboCop".
Themes that make up the basis of RoboCop include the media, gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, greed, privatization, capitalism, identity, dystopia, and human nature. It received positive reviews and was cited as one of the best films of 1987, spawning a franchise that included merchandise, two sequels, a television series, two animated TV series, a television mini-series, video games, and a number of comic book adaptations/crossovers. The film was produced for a relatively modest $13 million.
In 2030's, Detroit, Michigan, is a dystopia and on the verge of total collapse and anarchy due to financial ruin and a high crime rate, higher than any large American city. To avoid mass collapse, the city mayor has signed a deal with the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP), allowing them to run and control the underfunded police force in exchange for giving OCP the freedom to demolish the poor run-down sections of Detroit and construct a high-end utopia called "Delta City," to be managed by OCP as an independent city-state free of the United States. However, OCP must clean the city of crime in order for the plan to be put in effect.
This move angers the police officers as they are now forced to obey OCP instead of the city, and they threaten to strike, but OCP evaluates other options for law enforcement. OCP senior president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) offers the prototype ED-209 enforcement droid, but when it accidentally kills a board member during a demonstration, the OCP chairman, nicknamed "The Old Man" (Dan O'Herlihy), decides to go with the experimental cyborg design titled "RoboCop" as suggested by the younger Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). His decision infuriates Jones, who objects to the idea of a human having robotic parts.
Because a recently-deceased officer is needed for the RoboCop prototype, OCP reassigns police officers to more crime-ridden districts, expecting officers to be killed in the line of duty. One such officer is Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller), who is teamed with Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), a rookie police officer. On their first patrol, they chase down a gang led by the ruthless criminal Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), tailing them to an abandoned steel mill. When Murphy and Lewis are separated, Murphy is brutally gunned down by Boddicker and his gang.
Murphy is pronounced dead and is chosen for the RoboCop program. As RoboCop, he is given three primary directives: serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. He single-handedly and efficiently cleans Detroit of crime, and Morton is given praise for his success. This draws Jones' anger with Norton's plan working perfectly while Jones's ED-209 is ridiculed, and he hires Boddicker to assassinate Morton. Lewis eventually discovers that RoboCop is really Murphy. Murphy experiences past events from his life and, at one point, returns to his former home, finding out that his wife and son have long since moved away, thinking that Murphy has died.
Murphy tracks down Boddicker to a cocaine factory and threatens to kill him, but Boddicker admits his affiliation with Jones, and is able to verbally trigger RoboCop's law-abiding directive. Murphy finds he cannot kill Boddicker and arrests him instead. He approaches Jones at OCP headquarters and attempts to make an arrest, but Jones reveals he planted the hidden fourth directive that prevents Murphy from taking any action against an OCP executive. Jones explains his larger goal of taking over OCP, and confesses to Morton's murder. Although he orders his personal ED-209 to kill Murphy, Lewis is able to help Murphy escape and takes him to the same steel mill at which he was murdered to repair himself and recover. There, Lewis learns that much of his personality still exists intact.
Meanwhile, the police force under further duress by OCP and fearing their replacement by the RoboCop program, finally goes on strike, and crime runs rampant. Boddicker regroups his gang to take out Murphy using anti-tank rifles and a tracking device provided by Jones. They converge on the steel mill, but Murphy and Lewis are able to fend off the attack and kill the gang, although Lewis is wounded in the leg. Murphy assures her that medical help is on the way, and heads back to OCP, easily destroying the ED-209 guarding Jones using one of the anti-tank rifles.
He arrives at the board room where Jones is offering his ED-209 to replace the Detroit Police Department, which is still out on strike. Murphy replays Jones's confession, which reveals his duplicity to the board, and explains that he is unable to act against an OCP officer. Jones threatens to kill The Old Man unless he's given a helicopter. The Old Man immediately fires Jones, which gives RoboCop clearance to kill him by shooting him out the window. The Old Man thanks RoboCop and asks for his name, to which RoboCop replies, "Murphy."
RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Neumeier stated that he first got the idea of RoboCop when he walked with a friend past a poster for Blade Runner. He asked his friend what the film was about and his friend replied, "It's about a cop hunting robots". For him, this sparked the idea about a robot cop. Allegedly, while the two were attempting to pitch the screenplay to Hollywood executives, they were accidentally stranded 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 began the series of events which eventually gave rise to 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 (such as Soldier of Orange in 1977), 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, starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, during 1985.
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, after picking the script from the bin and reading it more thoroughly, convinced him that the plot had more substance than he had originally assumed. Repo Man director Alex Cox was offered the opportunity to direct before Verhoeven came aboard. Kenneth Johnson, creator of television series V, The Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk, said that he was offered the chance to direct, but turned it down when he was not allowed to change aspects of the script that he considered to be "mean-spirited, ugly and ultra-violent."
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 onscreen 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 liberal 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.
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.
Stephanie Zimbalist, who at the time was one of the stars of the television series Remington Steele, was originally cast as Anne Lewis. NBC had canceled Remington Steele in 1986, leaving the stars free to accept other roles, subject to options for further episodes on their contracts. However, an upsurge of interest in the show saw the network exercise the options, which meant that Zimbalist was then forced to withdraw from RoboCop, to be replaced by Nancy Allen.
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. Similarly, Smith had been cast as more intellectual characters. Verhoeven chose to outfit Smith's character Clarence Boddicker in rimless glasses because of their intellectual association, creating a disparity in the character that Verhoeven found akin to the similarly bespectacled Heinrich Himmler.
Filming began on August 6, 1986, and wrapped on October 20, 1986. 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 RoboCop were filmed either in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Houston or Dallas, Texas. One scene, as RoboCop walks outside to electrocute himself to wipe all directives, shows the One Shell Plaza in downtown Houston in the background (a white building with a tall mast on top.) The futuristic appearances of the Dallas buildings, such as the Reunion Tower, are visible in the background during the car chase. 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 the Pittsburgh suburb of Monessen, Pennsylvania.
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 had arrived on set, however, Weller discovered he was almost unable to move in it and needed additional training to become accustomed to it. 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. Weller'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. As of May 2012, RoboCop's Taurus is on display at the Branson Auto Museum in Branson, Missouri.
Bob Morton's home was filmed in a home near Dallas featured in the show Beyond 2000 in 1987.
The task of creating the RoboCop suit was given to Rob Bottin. The studio decided that Bottin would be the ideal person to create the RoboCop suit, as he had just finished doing the special effects for John Carpenter's The Thing. A budget of up to one million dollars was allotted to the completion of the suit, making it the most expensive item on the set. A total of six suits were made: three intact and three showing damage.
Bottin himself had produced early design sketches for the suit's prototype that the studio accepted enthusiastically, albeit with the request of some minor adjustments. Influenced by the Japanese comic The 8 Man and the first Tokusatsu Metal Hero Uchuu Keiji Gavan (Space Sheriff Gavan) from Toei, Rob, Paul Verhoeven, and Edward Neumeier came up with the concept of the suit being more of an outer shell, with very little of the actor's actual face being visible. Bottin explained the basis of the design:
It's meant to look very speedy and aerodynamic. All the lines are measured to go on a slant – forward, forward, forward! All the lines were geometric, and complement every shape on the body from all angles. When Verhoeven came on the project, he requested numerous design changes, additions to the suit which looked more like machine than man-like. I've never done so many conceptional drawings for a director in my entire life – changing it, and changing it, and changing it!
However, the design ended up bearing a closer resemblance to Bottin's original design:
RoboCop looks the way he does because that's the way a man's body works! Although we went through fifty different variations, developing his character, everything came back to man-like. It's definitely a guy in the suit, which doesn't belittle it any.
The suit itself was attached to the actor in sections. To wear the helmet, Peter Weller wore a bald cap that allowed the helmet to be removed easily. After almost 10 months of preparation, the RoboCop suit was completed based on life casts from Peter Weller and Bottin's six-foot clay models. The suit's color was supposed to be bright blue; however, it was given a more grayish tint to make it look more metallic and produce less glare on the camera when it was being filmed.
Peter Weller hired Moni Yakim, the head of the Movement Department at Juilliard, to help create an appropriate way for him to move his body while wearing the RoboCop suit. He and Moni had envisioned RoboCop moving like a snake, dancing around and moving very elusively. The suit, however, proved to be too heavy and cumbersome. Instead, at the suggestion of Moni, it was decided that they would slow down RoboCop's movements in order to make them more appealing and plausible. Filming stopped for three days, allowing Peter and Paul Verhoeven to discuss new movements for the suit.
The original gun for RoboCop was a Desert Eagle, but this was deemed too small. A Beretta 93R was heavily modified by Ray Williams of Freshour Machine, Texas City, Texas, who extended the gun barrel to make it look bigger and more 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 allow the gun to be placed inside.
The ED-209 stop motion model was designed by Craig Davies, who also built the full size models, and animated by Phil Tippett, a veteran stop-motion animator. As one of the setpieces of the movie, the ED-209's look and animated sequences were under the close supervision of director Paul Verhoeven, who sometimes acted out the robot's movements himself. ED-209 was voiced by producer Jon Davison. Davies and Tippett would go on to collaborate on many more projects.
In one scene, Emil attempts to run down RoboCop, but instead accidentally drives into a vat of toxic waste, causing the flesh to melt off his face and hands. These effects were also conceived and designed by Bottin, who was inspired by Rick Baker's work on The Incredible Melting Man, and who dubbed the RoboCop effects "the Melting Man" as an homage to the production.
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.
Soundtrack's main theme, composed by Basil Poledouris.
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The soundtrack score for the movie was composed by Basil Poledouris, 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 RoboCop theme and ED-209's theme, with more introverted pieces for strings, such as during RoboCop's homecoming scene. The music was performed by the Sinfonia of London, conducted by Howard Blake and Tony Britten. The soundtrack initially was released by Varèse Sarabande, and has been reissued and remastered several times since.
The song "Show Me Your Spine" by P.T.P. was played during the nightclub scene. 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 originally given an X rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1987 due to its graphic violence, in sharp contrast to most other X-rated movies that received the rating due to strong sexual content. To appease the requirements of the ratings board, Verhoeven reduced the blood and gore in the most violent scenes in the movie, including ED-209's shooting of Kinney in the boardroom, the Boddicker gang's execution of Murphy with shotguns, and the final battle with Boddicker (in which RoboCop stabs him 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 (most of the commercials satirize various aspects of the American consumer culture, such as the commercial for the 6000 SUX sedan). 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 were unrated. The 2014 Blu-ray 4K master edition also features this unrated cut.
Regarding the omitted scenes, Verhoeven stated on the 2007 anniversary edition DVD that he had wanted the violence to be "over the top", in an almost comical fashion (such as the executive that is killed by ED-209, and Bob Morton immediately asking "Somebody wanna call a goddamn paramedic?!", which was meant as black comedy). Verhoeven also stated 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 removed 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 North American domestic run, making it the 16th most successful movie that year.
RoboCop was released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1988. It was re-released on Region 1 DVD in 2007 and on Blu-ray in 2010 as part of the Blu-ray Robocop Trilogy. A remastered Blu-Ray edition was released in January 2014 to tie into the 2014 RoboCop remake.
The film received positive reviews from critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1987. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave it a rating of 88% based on reviews from 58 critics. The site's consensus was: "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".
Roger Ebert praised the film, calling RoboCop "a thriller with a difference," praising the way it puts the audience off-guard, and calling it a thriller not easily categorized with splashes of other genres added. Ebert praised Weller for his performance and his ability to elicit sympathy despite the layers of makeup and prosthetics.
Feminist author 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 disagreed with Faludi's characterization of the film, calling it her "favorite blow-'em-up movie," citing Officer Lewis as an example of an "independent and smart police officer."
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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 (Stephen Hunter Flick and John Pospisil). 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 made 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 10 films in 10 "classic" American film genres. RoboCop was a candidate in the science fiction category. At its release, British director Ken Russell said that this was the best science fiction film since Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).
Two of the primary themes explored by RoboCop are the media and human nature.
On 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 are 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 resurrected return as RoboCop, and the scene at the steel mill in which RoboCop is seen walking ankle-deep in water, creating the illusion of him walking on water.
Darian Leader considers RoboCop one example of how the cinema has dealt with the problem of masculinity, showing that to be a man requires more than having the body of a man: something symbolic that is not ultimately human must be added. He sees RoboCop as similar to The Terminator and The Six Million Dollar Man in this respect. Leader wrote of RoboCop:
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.
Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek wrote 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.
The depiction of Murphy's struggles in reasserting his humanity also deals with themes of identity. This is even touched upon in the cyborg's construction. On the Robocop: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD, Paul Sammon states:
Rob Bottin and Paul Verhoeven, and Ed Neumeier had all come up with a concept that there would be such a potential for psychological disruption. Even if you had supposedly wiped someone's memories and emotions they'd still might have some kind of residual humanity where, if they'd looked at themselves as a complete robot with no relation to their past organic form, they'd completely freak out and have a psychotic breakdown. So the idea was that surgeons had literally skinned off Alex Murphy's face and then placed it on the cyborg. So it's not like they transplanted his head, they just took his face off and laid it on the cyborg, and that was to give him his own little sense of identity.
The film novelization, written by Ed Naha, was released on June 1, 1987. The novel differed in several ways from the film by following one of the earlier drafts of the screenplay. It expanded on Murphy's struggle with being part man and part machine, and his memories. It also included more "humanized" dialogue from RoboCop, as opposed to the minimal, cold dialogue heard in the film.
The success of the movie spawned a large franchise, including merchandise, two sequels, a television series, a remake, two animated TV series, a television mini-series, video games, and a number of comic book adaptations/crossovers.
In February 2011, a humorous ploy asked Detroit Mayor Dave Bing if there was to be a RoboCop statue in his "New Detroit" proposal, which was planned to turn Detroit back into a prosperous city again. When Bing said there was no such plan, and word of this reached the Internet, several fundraising events raised enough money for the statue, which would be built at the Imagination Station. There were plans to unveil the RoboCop statue in spring of 2014.
MGM and Sony produced a remake of RoboCop, directed by José Padilha. Joel Kinnaman plays the role of Alex Murphy and Gary Oldman is "Norton", a new character, "the scientist who creates RoboCop and finds himself torn between the ideals of the machine trying to rediscover its humanity and the callous needs of a corporation." Samuel L. Jackson plays a powerful and charismatic media mogul, while Michael Keaton plays the CEO of Omnicorp after Hugh Laurie dropped out of the project in August 2012. Actress Abbie Cornish plays Murphy's wife and Watchmen star Jackie Earle Haley plays Maddox, the man who gives RoboCop his military training. The film was finally released in the United States on February 12, 2014.
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