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. This is a great post, strong MTESS. As you mention it’s timely and timeless in themes: a few as mentioned eroded corporate ethics and rampant big city crime. In November 2011, a few Detroit cops DID have sort of strike (sickout- calling in sick, to protest budget cuts. Cities need cops. I wonder if security will be privatized here- maybe? On top of themes, is life imitating art? Nice feature and a bit of a think-piece.
    “Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening.”
    – Robocop

    • Actually, I’ve read recently that people in Detroit started taking up a collection in order to have a Robocop statue built!

      “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”

      – Wikipedia

  2. I might have to check this movie out again. I just watched two versions of The Punisher (The Dolph Lundgren version and War Zone) and The Expendables, and Robocop seems like it would fit right in alongside those movies. There was another reviewer I found doing the same project as me, reviewing 100 superhero movies, and he included this movie in his list. I’m not sure if I would do the same thing though.

    I feel like I rambled past my point somewhere in there, anyway it’s a great movie!

    • It’s definitely similar.

      I dont know if I’d call him a “Superhero”… so I dont know what your mandate says Bubba. 😉

      Maybe you should just say “Comic-Book” movies, cause then he’d definitely be in. But so would a lot of other stuff, too… hmm….

      • Until I start running out of movies, I’m keeping it closer to what’s traditionally thought of as a superhero. Robocop could easily be argued either way, he’s very close to the Punisher, although since he’s got the robot body, he’s actually more superpowered than the Punisher. He does fight crime, and it would be nice to compare what’s considered a great movie next to what’s considered awful movies.

        I think I just convinced myself to review it. Looks like April will be a gun-toting vendetta month before switching over to Avengers month.

  3. Great choice for an MTESS, and well-written as always. One of the things I liked about Robocop is the way it used his police partner to humanize him… she’s the one who first recognizes the gun twirl as being Murphy’s signature move, and who keeps calling him “Murphy” even while everybody else just calls him “Robocop”.

  4. Great write up, Fogs.

    Some points of interest:

    For the time Robocop had one of the highest body counts of any movie to that time. 32. It’s uber-violence gained a measure of cultural notoriety, which made it even more attractive to teenage fanboys of the time (like me). It’s worth noting that Robocop was part and parcel of the trend in 1980s Hollywood of one-upmanship over body count. Between movies like Red Dawn, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, every Schwarzenegger film (except Twins), Rambo, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, etc.Hollywood could have depopulated a decent sized city. Robocop 2 even had it’s body count advertised as a world record.

    Robocop came out in 1987, one year after the release of The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller. By 1987 Frank MIller’s name was a magical term in Hollywood. It was widely reported (erroneously) that Frank MIller had written Robocop which spurred even more interest. (Frank MIller did write the scripts for Robocop 2 and 3). There is no question, however, that Robocop had a very real 1980s “Comicbook hero deconstructed” sensibility as regards crime, punishment, heroism, and the law. I recall Frank MIller being interviewed about Robocop in many papers, and he later went on to write several comic-book adaptions of Robocop.

    Robocop introduced America to Paul Verhoeven’s signature style of utilizing broadly parodied tevelevision broadcasts, incorporating mocking newscasts and commercials into his film style. To this day one can still hear the phrase “I’d buy that for a dollar!” in conversations among people of a certain age. This is of course also very similar to Frank Miller’s DKR, which also pilloried mass media.

    • I didnt know that people associated him with it prematurely.


      Jay/Turtle/Doc H and I had “I’d buy that for a dollar” in our lingo for years. It was heavily reinforced by “Smash TV” a Super Nintendo game that we played to death.

      As to the violence, Verhoeven said he intended a lot of it to be over the top comical, but the ratings board didnt get it. He had to cut down some major stuff. Of course, thanks to the wonders of home video, theyve all been wonderfully restored!

  5. Rememeber going to see this in the cinema on a friday afternoon after college! yes, I was 18 in 87!!!! Heady days indeed, and it’s quirky, hyper real sardonic style hit a note with us,and like many, it became an instant hit, not only for the ultra violence, some decent gore FX, but the soundbites which still reverberate in pop culture, but more importantly they’ve become part of the lexicon of pop culture referencing adults (like myself) who drop in “I’ll buy that for a dollar”, “stop, or there will be trouble”, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” “You Have 20 seconds to comply” There was even a band on the local scene I was in, in Sheffield (UK) called ED-209
    I just hope they do it justice in the remake, I’m sure the director of Elite Squad (see it, very gritty, very violent, very good!) will do a good job!

    • I’ve never seen Elite Squad, so I’ll take your word for it that there’s hope Nik.

      I was 17, myself, so I’m sure I caught this. Dont remember exactly, but you know… those were… high school days. Not good for the brain cells most of the time. LOL 😀

  6. So, I know you were trying to do an April Fool’s thing, but this is definitely a movie everyone should see. It doesn’t stand alongside films like The Godfather in terms of intent or aesthetic, but it’s a fantastic bit of satire from Verhoeven– and in my opinion one of his best films period.

    • Yeah.

      “Trying” being the operative word. Lol.

      It has its elements that could be argued for. That’s why I chose it.

      I think it’s a little too strong a choice though, apparently.

  7. While many 80’s movies took themselves far too serious Robocop had a knowing line of satire mirroring the ultraviolence and action within, It is a classic of it’s time, cheesefest yes, but not your run of the mill block of processed here, no sir, this is a mature, deep flavoured chedder, with a robust aftertaste that lingers long on the palette!
    I’ve just gone and ordered a cheap Blu-ray, it’s been a while, so I must watch it again!
    Jokes on you Foggy!!!!

  8. I’m glad you decided to spotlight Robocop, Fogs, even if you meant it as a joke. 😀 Gotta love the satire in this movie, and Kurtwood Smith is an awesome villain. I don’t know how I feel about a remake, but I know I will be watching it anyway.

    • Yeah, that’s the damn problem with these remakes… they suck you in. You know?

      And I did intend it as a joke, but the write up is pretty serious. I besically thought the only way to pull it off would be to write a throrough, sincere write up on it.

      Even if what I wrote did occasionally crack me up. LOL

  9. I think they’ve got the right man for the remake job in José Padilha, I urge you to watch Elite Squad, it’s got that same undercurrent of violence just simmering, ready to explode, but this is a movie based on the real Brazillian police, not fantasy! it scores 8.0 on imdb, making it a top 250 movie!
    You will relax a little knowing that no one else could do it justice, even Darren Aronofsky who was attached to this in the past, I doubt would do as good a job.

    • Well, that’s high praise then… Aronofsky’s awesome.

      I’ll definitely keep my eye out for Elite Squad. If I get a way to watch it short of blind buying, I’ll check it out!!

  10. I love Robocop. It’s one of those movies that I’ve seen a bunch of times and still enjoy. It’s also a film that shows a lot on TV and sucks me in on weekend afternoons. Great post, Fogs!

  11. Yep yep yep! Shame on you if you haven’t seen this film. Being deadly serious there.

    The scene where Murphy’s shot to bits gave me nightmares for months when I first saw it as a little small person. My god it was terrifying! Might have been the start of getting de-sensitised by film!

    Am now humming the theme tune….

  12. Love Robocop…actually just added it to my Netflix queue! (YES, ITS AVAILABLE FOR INSTANT VIEW!!)

    It’s definitely worthy of watching if action movie fans have never seen. And who doesn’t like Kurtwood Smith as the bad guy…if you didn’t like him then you are just a “dumbass.”

    • Well, I’m happy I steered you towards a fun movie.

      Of course, I assume it wont be long before you realize my intentions here weren’t entirely above board. LOL. But that’s ok. The Robocop brigade kicked my ass liked I was an ED-209. I now concur! Definitely a Movie That Everyone Should See!

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