Movies That Everyone Should See: “Robocop”



Alex J. Murphy is a good cop with horrible timing.

A devoted husband and father, Murphy has recently transferred to a new district in “Old Detroit”. He has a new partner and a new beat to patrol.

Unfortunately, Old Detroit is a living hell. Crime is rampant. The cops are on the verge of striking. The policing of the city has recently been privatized… It is now being handled by a company named OCP (Omni Consumer Products).

Of course, OCP has their own best interests at heart. They plan to build a new metropolis – Delta City – where Old Detroit stands. In order to clear the way for construction, OCP intends to clean the criminals out at any cost. They intend to deploy mechanized assault walkers – dubbed the ED-209 (Enforcement Droids) – to forcibly eliminate criminals. It’s their hope that after deployment in Old Detroit, the ED-209s will be sold for military usage as well.

Unfortunately, the ED-209 malfunctions horrifically in its launch conference, riddling an OCP executive with machine gun fire. Sensing a window of opportunity, a callous, hotshot OCP exec brings up a contingency plan.

The Robocop program.

Which is where Officer Murphy’s bad timing comes into play. On his first call with his new partner, the two wind up chasing a gang of criminals back to their base following a bank robbery. In the resulting confrontation, Murphy is killed. The entire gang, led by a man named Clarence Boddicker, take turns blowing Murphy to bits.

Murphy, however, has a clause in his employment contract with OCP that turns his body over to the corporation upon his death. He becomes the beta test for the Robocop project. His body is mechanized, and his brain is integrated with computer circuitry. After a lengthy building, healing and testing period, he is ready for duty.

A robotic law enforcement officer.

Robocop is programmed with three directives. To serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and to uphold the law. He is also programmed with a fourth directive, that even he is unaware of.

He takes to the street, a bullet proof, unstoppable cop. He turns out to be far too much for the riff raff of Old Detroit to handle. The only issue is… somewhere inside of him, Murphy still exists. He begins to have nightmares. And as he breaks up robbery at a gas station, he recognizes one of the men who killed him. This leads to him recalling his death. He begins to track down the gang that murdered him.

Robocop was the perfect hero for the right-wing Reaganism of the 1980s. Bullet-proof and righteous… an unstoppable juggernaut of justice. Seeing him bust in, warrantless, and shoot up a cocaine factory, killing about a dozen drug dealing scumbags in the process was an idealization of the get tough on crime conservatism prevalent in 1987.

Robocop didn’t just “Take a bite outta crime”, he swallowed it whole.

But it’s also an existential film at times.

Slowly, Murphy tries to piece together what happened to him, including trying to track down his wife and son. They’ve moved on, but watching him struggle to reconnect with his humanity gives the film some of its deeper moments. As he walks around his empty former home, you feel his pain as he recalls the love he felt there… something he now will never get back again. Murphy has become Frankenstein’s modern monster, built to fight crime. He’s been resurrected, but at what cost?

Will the remainder of his humanity only serve to cause him grief and despair?

Robocop is forced to deal with his own nature in the midst of resolving the conflict around him. His attempts to arrest Boddicker are for naught as he proves to be secretly connected to OCP. He is also betrayed. When he attempts to arrest Dick Jones, the OCP exec behind Boddicker, he learns that his hidden fourth directive prevents it. He is then set upon by the ED-209 unit, and has the police force turn against him.

The only one still by his side is his old partner, Lewis.

But with her help, he can get a grip on the new reality of his existence and square off against Boddicker and his gang. He also does battle with the ED-209 again, this time triumphantly, while epitomizing another Reagan era ideal.

Superior firepower.

Writer Edward Neumeier came up with the idea for RoboCop by inverting the core concept of “Blade Runner”. “Blade Runner”, of course, is about cops hunting robots that looked like humans. Instead, Robocop is a cop who’s a robot who pursues humans. Director Paul Verhoeven is quoted as saying that when he first read the script, he “discarded it in disgust.” It was his wife, reportedly, that convinced him that the script was more substantive than he originally thought. It became his first Hollywood film.

Peter Weller prepared for the role with mime exercises. However, once he was fitted for the actual suit, the preparation was rendered useless. The suit was too cumbersome. Shooting was pushed back in order to accommodate him getting accustomed to the armor. The suit cost over half a million dollars to create, but initially it was made without a cooling system. Weller lost three pounds a day during shooting until they incorporated air conditioning into the design.

The movie was initially given an X rating by the MPAA. Verhoeven had to resubmit twelve lessened cuts before finally receiving an R rating. He also inserted the mock commercials in order to “lighten the tone”. It was a stroke of good fortune, actually, as the commercials serve to strengthen the satirical tone.

Robocop wasn’t an enormous blockbuster upon its release, but it was a box office success, grossing $53 million domestically during its initial run. It’s since gone on to garner a cult following and earn its place in the pop culture lexicon. It spawned two sequels, a TV series, cartoons, comic books, video games… and has a remake forthcoming.

It’s an action movie that’s highly entertaining, yet it’s loaded with themes and talking points. Many of which are more topical now than they were in 1987. Should law enforcement be privatized? What morality needs to accompany mechanized combat? What are the ramifications of human augmentation? Crime. Mortality. Gentrification. Scientific boundaries. Lack of corporate ethics.

Robocop can wow you with its action, and then leave you thinking afterwards.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.


53 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Robocop”

  1. Pingback: Total Recall (1990) | Morgan on Media

  2. Pingback: Robocop « Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

  3. Robocop is just perfect and any remake will be an irredeemable piece of sh*t.

    I’m very attached to the film (as you might be able to tell).

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