RoboCop (1987) Revisited – Movie Review

We’re deconstructing RoboCop, the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic, breaking it down by origin, trivia, legacy, and x-factor

Last Updated on February 27, 2024

When you think of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 ultraviolent crime thriller- Robocop (watch it HERE)- does your brain jump straight to horror? After all, what makes a horror film? Or better yet, what made a horror film in the 80s? If you ask me, a dark sci-fi style noir film with brutal kills, body horror, excessive drugs, and, of course, even some TNA- is well suited to be on our list of iconic horror films that deserve to be praised and properly deconstructed.

Over the years, Robocop has grown to be a rather difficult franchise to get ahold of. With multiple sequels, a failed remake, and a recent hit video game- it’s safe to say that the movie that spawned such a vast catalogue must be incredibly interesting. And I’m happy to say- that it is. Robocop is a movie that packs action, suspense, political satire, Identity crisis, amazing gore, and most importantly- a strong lead character in Peter Wells as Alex Murphy- A newly transferred Detroit police officer whose murder leads to his rebirth as Delta City’s new Sheriff- Robocop.

So, in today’s episode we’re going to revisit this classic 80’s action romp and figure out what makes it tick all these years later. If you’re ready than give me 15 minutes (and a like on the video), and I’ll give you the world. I’m Kier with JoBlo Horror, and you’re watching Deconstructing.

Robocop is the story of Alex Murphy as he involuntarily volunteers to have the remains of his dead body be reconstructed by Detroit megacorporation “Omni Consumer Products” into a high-tech super cop who is only programmed to do three things:

  • Serve the public trust
  • Protect the innocent
  • Uphold the law

Of course, as the OCP gains more and more power, Robocop will get closer and closer to solving the mystery of his own death and taking out the company that made him.

This movie is widely held as one of the greatest action films of all time and is considered to be one of the best films in general of all of the 1980s. And in order for us to properly figure out why we love this movie so much- we’re going to be breaking down this movie into our four key categories. First, we’ll talk about the movie’s origin where we dive into how it got from an idea to the page, to the big screen. Then, we’re going to talk about the movie’s legacy where I get into the vast franchise that this movie spawned as well as the individual moments that make it a standout film in today’s pop culture zeitgeist. After that, we’re going to lighten the load with some trivia where I give you some fun facts about the production, and finally we’ll close it off by talking about the movie’s X-Factor where I look for the one induvial gem that took this movie from being just another sci-fi action film to the blood soaked treat that it really is. Brace yourselves folks, because it’s time for ROBOCOP.

Deconstructing RoboCop

ORIGIN

In the early 1908s, a junior story executive at universal named Edward Neumeier had the idea of a cyborg cop learning to exist and cooperate with the complexities of human intelligence. While stumbling into a job at Warner Bros on the production of Blade Runner– another 80’s sci-fi classic- Neumeier picked up the skills and confidence that he needed to write out a loose outline for his idea. And so began the incredible process of getting the movie greenlit and into production.

Similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film Psycho, Neumeier and his writing partner Michael Miner opted to tell their story by killing off their main character in the first act of the film. While Marion Crane stayed dead in Psycho– Alex Murphy is only partially dead as some of his memories are stored deep, deep down in his new cybernetic body. To add even more layers to this complex script- the writers also wanted to heavily poke fun at 19080s business culture and excess lifestyle. This is best scene in the movie’s hilarious and unsettling commercials and news broadcasts throughout the runtime. These themes are something that Neumeier found himself fascinated with even stating once that the idea for ED-209’s brutal boardroom malfunction was inspired by multiple times where he’d find himself daydreaming that a robot would burst into his meetings and shut everyone up. To drive that home even further, that’s why the killer robot is called ED. Like Edward. Not exactly the workplace experience we aim for, but do you, Ed.

The film’s first draft script was picked up by Orion Pictures and was originally titled “Robocop: The Future of Law Enforcement” but was eventually shortened down to simply “Robocop”. But in order to get the movie made- writers Neumeier and Miner were instructed to watch movies like Dirty Harry and Mad Max 2 in order to get a sense for the tone and style that the studio was looking for before starting the second draft. With a script in hand and a studio budget- Paul Verhoeven was approached to direct, but he turned down the gig… twice.

It wasn’t until the third time he was asked to read the script that Paul Verhoeven decided to take on the project. The director stated that what changed his mind was the satire angle that he found to be refreshing and bold within such a violent film.

In terms of the cast, this movie is fully stacked with talent and as much as I could praise the characters in this movie, the actors giving them life are just as worthy. We’ve got Peter Weller in his iconic performance as the titular Robocop, Nancy Allen as his hard-ass partner, Kurtwood Smith as the film’s villain- who we’re definitely going to talk more about- and even a small role from the legendary Ray Wise. Not to mention one of the most despicable characters in all of Robocop lore- Bob Morton played by Miguel Ferrer.

The film started shooting in 1986 with an estimated budget of $11 million and part of that budget was meant to be allocated to obtaining the production team from Blade Runner for the film- but when it came time to write the check, Verhoeven was forced to choose between a kick ass Robocop costume, or a kick ass production team- but he couldn’t have both. Obviously, it all worked out because the look of Robocop is beautiful and the sets are still pretty incredible. The film mostly shot in Dallas TX and was full of on-set shenanigans which we’re going to explore more in this videos trivia section.

And with a great script, filming underway, a cast of kick ass actors, and a cool looking suit- it was time to release the film.

LEGACY

Where to start with this movie’s legacy? When we talk about Robocop– we’re most likely going to talk about the insane brutality of the violence in the film and how unforgiving some of these kills are. Specifically, the ED-209 malfunction which leaves an innocent OCP executive reduced to a pile of guts in front of everyone in the room. Of course, Paul Verhoeven is no stranger to extreme violence in cinema as we can see from films like The 4th Man, Hollow Man, and Flesh + Blood. Even his more comedic approach to Starship Troopers had its fair share of guts.

But this movie’s legacy is built on more than excess blood and action. The movie also had an iconic character with the potential for Hollywood’s favorite drug and greatest crutch… FRANCHISING.

Like many of the movies we break down on this show, this movie was quickly turned into multiple movies with only a few years passing between each film. It’s easily the most iconic role that Peter Weller has ever found himself in and with good reason. When I talk about Robocop from now on, I’m going to be talking about Weller as Alex Murphy- a charming but fully competent everyman with the right balance of edge and polish. Then his performance as Robocop- cold, scripted, but still full of personality. Peter Weller IS ROBOCOP. No offense to the attempt to revive the film’s status with 2014’s Joel Kinnaman led Robocop remake– but this role only requires one guy- and that guy is NOT you (we still love you Joel).

Aside from the two poorly received sequels, there was also a cartoon, as well as a few TV series which chronicled the continued adventures of Robocop. Not to mention the video game which saw the return of Weller as the voice of Robocop. Have you played it? Is it awesome?

But for me- The number one defining thing about Robocop that truly cemented its legacy is the timeless and incredibly intricate design of the protagonist. The Robocop suit is timeless. Even the remake tried to keep it basically the same but nothing will speak to this movies iconic status more than the look of its leading man. The scene that reveals Robocop for the first time is about 30min into the movie and it REALLY takes its time charging up our anticipation as the camera teases us with small glimpses and reflections of the high-tech street soldier before finally giving us… the money shot.

I even love how when you hear him walking, you get those little bass hits and hydraulic hisses to add to the experience of witnessing this thing in action for the first time.

Just like many of the great accomplishments in cinema, the setbacks and odds were stacked against the production in many ways but one of them being that to make a suit this good- the costume department needed more time than they had to get it up to parr. Luckily, the production was able to stay on schedule, but Weller was unable to rehearse with the suit before filming his scenes. In many ways, I actually think it adds to the robotic nature of Robocop’s movements. If Weller had been more comfortable moving in the suit, he may not have had such a slow and intimidating performance, and it may have made the character less believable as a cyborg. I don’t know, but to me, those little things REALLY make a difference when it comes to a movie being scrutinized like this nearly 40 years later.

Deconstructing RoboCop

TRIVIA

Okay, so here’s a funny story from the making of Robocop:

While on set, gun safety expert and weapons master Randy E. Moore was prepping an explosion for a scene while having a mid-day snack with a stack of Oreo cookies when Weller reportedly walked up to him in full Robocop attire and in character and said to him “Robo wants an Oreo” to which Moore replied that he could only have an Oreo if he asked him out of character. Weller refused to break character and began shouting from the top story of the set “ROBO WANTS AN OREO!” causing a bit of a spectacle onset. Randy Moore then decided to shove the entire stack of Oreos in his month and let the crumbs fall to the floor right in front of Weller, which apparently made him upset.

Weller, of course, denies this event ever happening. What do you think? Was he embarrassed about his behavior, or does he really not recall Robo wanting an Oreo? Also, hey man, if you’re in character as Robocop- you DO NOT want an Oreo because we all know that Robocop only eats baby food.

And before we move on, let’s see if you can answer this question:

After the success of Robocop, Paul Veroeven opted to use fake TV commercials as a way of developing concepts in his movies. Which other Paul Veroeven films utilize fake commercials? HINT: There are two.

  1. Total Recall
  2. Basic Instinct
  3. Black Book
  4. Starship Troopers

X-FACTOR

This may be the most difficult time I’ve had with this segment yet. Not because this movie is better than the others I’ve covered- but it certainly has a lot going for it. I avoided talking much about Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker because the plan was to pin this section of the video on him and focus on his ideal portrayal of a menacing villain. He’s a little but Jack Nicholson, a little bit John Malkovich, and a whole lot of crazy. The movie has a lot of villainous characters, but Clarence and his gang are the REAL enemies here. Kurtwood Smith plays the character as a smooth talking, never cracked under pressure, calm and collected opportunist. He’s cold as ice but smiling the entire time. It’s fucking ART. But… it’s just not the X-Factor.

I also considered using this section to talk about the film’s legendary score by Basil Poledouris which uses industrial foley and metallic sounds to create a futuristic soundtrack that plays perfectly into the final act’s more orchestral and intense composition. It’s so good that I kind of wonder why this guy wasn’t hired to compose the remake. But alas, I can’t give it the title of X-Factor.

But the truth is, we all know what this movie’s stand out element is. And I’m not talking about ED-209’s stop motion animation situation or whatever that is… But what I’m talking about is the final line of the film.

This movie rules. There’s a lot of brilliant and thoughtful filmmaking that went into delivering this underdog turned blockbuster and it all wraps up with a line that reveals the movie’s true meaning. The ROBO in ROBOCOP isn’t what makes him special. It’s the COP in ROBOCOP. The individual whose uncompromising sense of morality, of empathy, of justice- is what saved the day. Robocop was an experiment born out of green and harmful ambition. But the journey he goes on to discover the Alex J. Murphy underneath the high tech suit and corporate coding, is what makes Robocop a true cinematic hero.

A couple of the previous episodes of Deconstructing… can be seen below,. To see more episodes, and to check out our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

45 Articles Published