Was the Robocop Remake Really That Bad?

The 2014 Robocop remake was met with a collective shrug from many fans, but eight years later, is it better than we remember?

Last Updated on August 3, 2023

INTRO: Just like any successful movie franchise from any particular decade, there’s one unwritten rule; if it’s much loved, generated enough in box office returns, and is clearly still a relevant IP, you know what to eventually expect. Yup, that’s right movie-fans – a remake! Love em’ or loathe em’ they’re not going away anytime soon, and sometimes they can not only offer a fascinating take on the original movie but also enhance the legacy by bringing in a whole new audience. 1982’s The Thing is an incredible remake of the 1951 original, along with similarly effective fellow horror remake The Fly from 1986. Also, more recently we’ve had gems such as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, the hugely popular A Star is Born and, of course, The Wicker Man. Okay, maybe not that particular example, but Nicolas Cage randomly punching people in a bear suit has to hold some value to movie-fans, somewhere. Surely. Anyone? However, the point is, remakes are not necessarily a bad thing if handled correctly. Which brings us nicely to the latest in our series on the much lauded, and maligned, Robocop franchise, as we dive in head first into Jose Padilha’s 2014 remake. Did the movie manage to capture the violence and biting satire of the first movie, or was it destined to be just as pathetic as ED-209 in part three. Find out here, on REVISITED!

SET-UP: In our last episode we gave the much derided Robocop 3 a fair crack of the whip, and discovered after revisiting the movie, that it was pretty clear why the Robocop franchise has never really recovered. It had every opportunity to build on a fairly decent part two and squandered it with a mixture of bad-writing, terrible VFX and a protagonist spoiled by a troubled production. So, before we head to the shiny new world of Padilha’s remake let’s take a quick look at what happened to everybody’s favorite robotic law enforcer between part three being released in 1993 and the remake surfacing in 2014. Well, actually robofans, if you were lucky to be of an age to appreciate the world of Robocop in the 80s you may have seen the animated series that was created in 1988, not long after the first movie was released to worldwide acclaim. Robocop: The Animated Series was a spin-off of the hyper violent movie and followed a trend where youngsters were given kid-friendly adaptations of the most adult only movies at the time. Not only did Robocop get the animated treatment but Rambo and even Police Academy had small screen 2D incarnations. To be fair, the animated Robo-series is actually a lot more faithful to the source material than the disappointing Robocop 3, with the opening title sequence showing Alex Murphy being killed by Clarence Boddicker’s crew then being rebuilt as Robocop. The subsequent action is daft, but more entertaining than it has any right to be.

robocop remake test suit

It wasn’t until 1994, a year after the release of Robocop 3 that the franchise had another small screen adaptation with the imaginatively titled, Robocop. The cyberpunk series starred Richard Eden in the title role and again ignored the violence and adult nature of the first two movies and instead, unfortunately, stuck to the kid friendly tone of the third movie. Because, you know, gotta sell those lunchboxes! The show has some entertaining sequences and Eden is pretty decent in the title role but again it’s all just far too watered down with Robocop not even killing any bad guys. Instead he just looks to disarm them. The series still maintained the satirical elements of the original film and some episodes had decent plotlines, the best of which saw Murphy’s father slowly realizing his deceased son was in fact Robocop. Basil Poledouris’ score is used in the opening credits which is a nice touch but overall the kid-friendly tone and lack of violence lets the series down.

In 2001, Fireworks Entertainment brought Robocop back in a four part feature length series called Robocop: Prime Directives which, thankfully, took the character in a more adult direction. The episodes, titled Dark Justice, Meltdown, Resurrection and Crash and Burn, were initially released to lackluster viewing figures in the US on the Sci-fi channel, with the lack of interest mainly down to its poor commercial promotion. The return of violence to the franchise is most welcome and while the low budget visual effects, typical of network TV shows at the time, is a shame, at least we get a half decent series with an antagonist that lives up to his ridiculous name. The series is available on DVD in most territories, so if you’re looking for a half-decent slice of Robo action, it’s worth checking out. There’s also the second animated series, Robocop: Alpha Commando which despite running for forty episodes isn’t unfortunately the badass return of the character, despite the cool title. If you really need an animated Robo-fix, maybe stick with the 1988 show instead.

So, like all good franchises in need of a reboot, or, you know, not in need of a reboot – depending on your own opinion, 2014 eventually saw the return of officer Alex Murphy. Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures, initially announced the robo-remake in 2005 with the intriguing prospect of Darren Aronofsky and David Self attached to direct and write the movie respectively. Just imagine the messed up fun Aronofosky may have had with the dystopian world of Robocop. However, the project was delayed numerous times with Elite Squad director Jose Padilha ultimately brought in to helm the project and up-and-coming screenwriter Joshua Zutemer was brought in to write the script. Despite being involved with a number of projects that were ultimately canceled or left in limbo, Zutemer had been involved with the screenplay on the troubled 2008 Bond adventure Quantum of Solace. Director Padilha was conscious of the comparisons his remake would, naturally, have with the incendiary 1987 original, stating in 2011 that, “the environment nowadays is different than the environment in the 80’s and the way to explore the concept is different.” There’s always new and different ways to explore the concept involved in any existing entertainment ‘product’, for want of a better word, but as we’ll find out very shortly in this video, some are largely better left alone.

RoboCop remake

With the director and writers locked in, the production began looking for a suitable cast to bring the franchise back to life and in 2011 a wonderful smorgasbord of acting talent were rumored to be playing the title role of Alex Murphy / Robocop. Big Hollywood names such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and even Keanu Reeves were considered, as were the likes of Michael Fassbender, who by the way, would have made a great James Bond, plus Matthias Schoenaerts and Russel Crowe. Ultimately, in March 2012 actor Joel Kinnaman was announced as the new robo-face of the franchise, fresh from killing it in, well, The Killing; a very good crime drama that was a remake of the Danish original. Kinnaman had everything the part would need; tall, fit, good looking, decent acting range, not that THAT was a dealbreaker for a monotone cyborg mind.

The rest of the cast is also suitably talented and is definitely something the movie has going for it. Joining Kinnaman was Michael Keaton as the CEO of OmniCorp, Gary Oldman as Dr Dennet Norton, the late, great Michael Kenneth Wiliams as Murphy’s partner Jack Lewis; an interesting move by the writers to swap the non-romantic beating heart of the original movie from a female to a male character. We also have Jackie Earle Haley as a military man called Mattox who is tasked with training Robocop, Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife, Jay Baruchel as Tom Pope, a marketing exec for OmniCorp and, of course, badass motherf*****g legend Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, the host of a cable TV news station. The movie has a superb cast, so surely the filmmakers could catch lightning in a bottle again and bring fans the hardcore action adventure they were craving? Well, not exactly.

REVIEW: Watching the movie again for this retrospective and the first thing that’s glaringly obvious, is the lack of engaging or memorable moments in the opening act, compared to the writing involved in the 1987 original. We have to compare the two because that’s the inevitable issue remakes have, just how exactly do they stack up against what came before. In the opening act of Robocop 1987 we get fun satire, Lewis kicking ass, ED-209 laying waste to poor Mr Kinney, the “can you fly, Bobby” line and possibly one of the most brutal cop killings ever put to celluloid, plus the subsequent iconic death and rebirth of the main character. The opening of Robocop 2014 looks great; the production design is decent, the cast seem game but everything else is just, bland. Like a shiny, polished up but watered down version of the classic original. Its opening act is entertaining enough but that’s it – it’s simply a satisfactory opening to a generic action movie that happens to be called Robocop which, more or less, follows the narrative of the first movie. 

robocop 2014

It was perhaps inevitable that the studio wouldn’t greenlight a hardcore R-rated Robocop movie because of those pesky studio execs, plus opening weekend box-office is key, and making the film available to as wide an audience as possible is more important than satiating its original fanbase. I get it, but if that’s the motivation, what’s the point? Therefore, instead of the iconic death scene we see in the first movie, in which the superbly villainous Clarence Boddicker and goons blow Murphy apart, literally, in a cruel and brutal sequence, Murphy in the remake is unimaginatively blown up by a car bomb. In the original film, that sequence helps to develop several of the characters and their motivations for the rest of the narrative while the remake loses all sense of this, basically with lazy writing.

Otherwise, if you take away the fact that the remake has the unenviable job of pleasing hardcore fans, new ones, plus those pesky studio execs and their Scrooge McDuck dollar counting, the remake is a half-decent movie. Sure, it’s not a patch on the 1987 original and it never was going to be, but ultimately it just exists as another unimaginative remake. The plot, as we mentioned earlier, follows the first movie pretty closely, with the action now set in the near future, 2028. This time OCP incarnate OmniCorp are at the center of robot technology and want to bring their successful overseas utilized cyborgs and drones, back to home soil. The issue is that they’ve been prohibited in doing so for fear of the technology killing innocent civilians, so et voila – the idea for a half-human, half-cyborg cop is developed and the unfortunate Alex Murphy is chosen for the project. While the Detroit of the 1987 movie looked like hell on earth, with crime on the streets rife, the Detroit in the remake looks like quite a nice place to live, mostly. It makes you wonder why they need such expensive and effective robotic law enforcement, which is the entire point of the movie.

The look of Robocop is also slightly questionable and although he’s more agile, the ropey CGI takes away any notion that this guy is supposed to be a hefty cyborg, more machine than man. His human side and relationship with his family is explored quite thoroughly but these scenes drag slightly due to lack of an interesting script for Abbie Cornish, plus her one-note delivery. We also don’t get a villain anywhere near the likes of Clarence Boddiker, Dick Jones or the melty Emil Antonowsky. Overall, Robocop 2014 is an entertaining but far too family friendly remake of a once classic franchise. Watch it as a standalone action movie and it’s fine, but that’s not really enough for this particular writer.

Joel kinnaman robocop remake

LEGACY / NOW: The Robocop remake opened at 3,372 theaters in the US and grossed $21 million, with an average of $6,430 per theater, ranking it at number three at the box office. The film ultimately earned $58 million domestically and $184 million internationally for a total of $243 million, on a roughly $100 – 130 million budget.

Reviews were typically mixed and on Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 49% based on 221 reviews and an average rating of 5.6/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “While it’s far better than it could have been, José Padilha’s RoboCop remake fails to offer a significant improvement over the original.” Critics were largely in agreement that the movie fell way short of the 1987 original, but also praised it overall with The Hollywood Reporter saying that the movie, “has a better cast, more meticulous script and, naturally, flashier effects, but it lacks the original’s wit and subversive slipperiness.” Empire magazine were slightly less impressed, stating in their review that, “there’s a sense that Padilha, or perhaps his corporate overlords, don’t really get what made the original so special.” Wise words Empire, wise words.

So, our Robo-retrospective series is almost at an end, so what’s your take on the 2014 reboot, plus the future of the franchise itself? In 2018, Neil Blomkamp was attached to helm a direct sequel to the original movie but unfortunately that fell apart, with Abe Forsythe then set to direct in another project that faltered. However, in March 2023, Amazon acquired MGM and soon after they announced that a Robocop movie plus TV series were both in development, with the film set to arrive first. Intriguing, and this is Amazon Studios after all so what could possibly go wrong. As always let us know in the comments what your thoughts on this news plus the franchise is as a whole. I hope you’ve enjoyed our series and whatever your view is of the franchise overall, we’ll always have the original movie to enjoy. Until next time movie-fans.

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