RoboCop (1987 film)

For the upcoming remake, see RoboCop (2014 film). For other uses, see RoboCop (disambiguation).
File:Robocop film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Produced by Arne Schmidt
Written by Edward Neumeier
Michael Miner
Starring Peter Weller
Nancy Allen
Dan O'Herlihy
Ronny Cox
Kurtwood Smith
Miguel Ferrer
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Jost Vacano
Editing by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s)
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million[1]
Box office $53,424,681[1]

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 and subsequently revived by the malevolent mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) as a superhuman cyborg law enforcer known as "RoboCop".

RoboCop includes themes regarding the media, gentrification, corruption, 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, and a television mini-series, video games and a number of comic book adaptations/crossovers. The film was produced for a relatively modest $13 million.[1]


In the near future, Detroit, Michigan is on the verge of collapse due to financial ruin and unchecked crime. The mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) enters into a contract with the city to run the police force. OCP plans to demolish "Old Detroit" and redevelop it as a high-end utopia called "Delta City." To address the city's crime, OCP tests several projects to engineer robotic law enforcement. During a presentation of a project spearheaded by the senior president, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), the ED-209 enforcement droid malfunctions and kills a junior executive. With Delta City's construction scheduled to begin within months, the OCP Chairman (Dan O'Herlihy) immediately advances an alternative put forth by an ambitious, middle-ranking executive named Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). Morton calls his cyborg project "RoboCop."

Veteran police officer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) is transferred to a new precinct in Old Detroit and is partnered with Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). On their first patrol, they chase down a team of miscreants led by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) to an abandoned steel mill. After Lewis is knocked unconscious by one of the gang, the rest of Clarence's thugs corner Murphy and brutally execute him firing-squad style with shotguns. Murphy is pronounced dead at the hospital, and OCP subsequently harvests his body to construct the first RoboCop.

RoboCop single-handedly deals with violent crime in the city according to three simple directives programmed by the engineers (Serve the public trust, Protect the innocent, and Uphold the law) along with a fourth, classified directive. The RoboCop project is hailed by the media and Morton is promoted to vice president (which draws the ire of Jones). However, unbeknownst to the OCP engineers, remnants of RoboCop's life as Murphy have survived the memory wipe, including brief glimpses of his wife and son and the habit of twirling his gun before holstering it. Lewis recognizes the habit and deduces RoboCop's identity.

After thwarting the armed robbery and explosion of a gas station by one of Clarence Boddicker's men, Emil Antonowsky (Paul McCrane), RoboCop has a nightmare featuring memories of his previous life. He identifies the members of Clarence's gang from his dream and hunts them down. Meanwhile, Clarence's alliance with Jones is revealed when Clarence goes to Morton's house, shoots Morton in his legs, then forces him to watch a video in which Jones shames him for embarrassing him and taking advantage of his previous failure with the ED-209 presentation, then blows up his house.

RoboCop tracks Clarence to a cocaine factory, where he kills an army of criminals to get to the crime boss. When it becomes clear that the cyborg means to kill him, Clarence reveals his alliance with OCP senior vice president Dick Jones. When RoboCop proceeds to nearly strangle the unarmed Clarence, he begs that he can't kill him because he is a cop, which causes RoboCop's directives (Uphold the Law) to make him stop. Instead, he arrests Clarence and visits Jones at his corporate office, intending to arrest him as well.

The attempted arrest, however, triggers RoboCop's classified fourth directive, preventing him from arresting or acting against any senior executive of OCP and causing RoboCop's systems to start shutting down. Jones then dispatches an ED-209 against the now-vulnerable RoboCop. The ED-209 pursues RoboCop with an onslaught of military-grade firepower, but it is unable to follow him down a stairwell. RoboCop's escape, however, is cut off by an ambush by a police SWAT team with orders to destroy him. Lewis arrives to save him and they retreat to the steel mill.

After the police launch a labor strike, the city is plunged into chaos. Because the recording of Clarence's confession could implicate him, Jones arranges for the release of Clarence and his men from prison and provides them with "Cobra assault cannons" to destroy RoboCop. Using a tracking device, Clarence and his gang converge on the steel mill for a showdown, where RoboCop and Lewis kill everyone there.

RoboCop returns to OCP headquarters and uses a Cobra assault cannon to destroy the ED-209 guarding the building. He then interrupts Jones' pitch to resume the ED-209 project and informs the OCP chairman about being unable to act against Jones due to the classified fourth directive. After Jones' recorded confession of his role in Morton's death is presented to the board, Jones grabs a gun and takes the chairman hostage. During the standoff, the chairman dismisses Jones, thereby enabling RoboCop to shoot Jones and send him falling to his death through the window of the OCP board room.

The chairman commends RoboCop for his skill and asks for his name, to which RoboCop replies: "Murphy".



Inspiration and script

RoboCop was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Edward Neumeier stated that he first got the idea of Robocop when he walked past a poster for Blade Runner. He asked his friend what the film was about and he replied saying, "It's about a cop hunting robots". This then sparked the idea for him about a robot cop. Allegedly, while the two were attempting to pitch the screenplay to Hollywood executives, they were stranded accidentally 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 begin the series of events which eventually became 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 (e.g. Soldier of Orange), 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 during 1985, starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

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 picked the script from the bin and read it more thoroughly, convincing him that the plot had more substance than he originally assumed. Repo Man director Alex Cox was offered to direct before Verhoeven came aboard.[2]

The character of RoboCop itself was inspired by British comic book hero Judge Dredd[3] as well as the Marvel Comics superhero Rom. A ROM comic book appears on screen 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.[4]

Stephanie Zimbalist, who at the time was one of the stars of the television series Remington Steele, was cast as Anne Lewis - NBC had cancelled 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 Zimbalist was then forced to withdraw from Robocop, to be replaced by Nancy Allen.[5]

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, and 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 similar to the similarly bespectacled Heinrich Himmler.[6]


Filming started on August 6, 1986, and ended 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 both in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Dallas, Texas.[7] The futuristic appearances of the Dallas buildings such as the Reunion Tower is visible in the background near the end. 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.[8][9]

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 arrived on set, however, Weller discovered he was almost unable to move in it and needed additional training to get accustomed. 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.[10] 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 .

Monte Hellman acted as second unit director after Verhoeven began to fall behind schedule.[11] He directed several action scenes.[11]

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.[12]

RoboCop design

The task of creating the Robocop suit was given to Rob Bottin.[13] Having come off doing the special effects for John Carpenter's The Thing, the studio decided that Bottin would be the ideal person to create the RoboCop suit. A budget of up to a million dollars was given towards the completion of the suit, making it the most expensive item on the set. Six suits were made in total: three regular and three showing damage.

As for the suit's design, Bottin himself had produced early sketches that the studio was very happy with in regards to the suit's prototype (although some minor adjustments had to be made). Taking influence from Japanese comics "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 only 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!" [14]

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." [14]

The suit itself attached to the actor in sections. As for wearing the helmet, Peter Weller wore a bald cap that allowed the helmet to be removed easily. After almost ten months of preparation, the Robocop suit was completed based on live casts from Peter Weller and Rob'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 glaring on the camera when it was being filmed.

Peter Weller had in the meantime 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 Robo suit.[15] 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 a gunsmith, who extended the gun barrel to make it look bigger so as to be 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.

Visual effects

The ED-209 stop motion model was designed by Craig Davies,[16] who also built the full size models, and animated by Phil Tippett, a veteran stop-motion animator.[16] 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 drive RoboCop off the road 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.[17]

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.[18]


Robocop theme
Soundtrack's main theme, composed by Basil Poledouris.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

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 home-coming scene. The music was performed by the Sinfonia of London conducted by Howard Blake and Tony Britten. The soundtrack was initially released by Varèse Sarabande and has been reissued and remastered several times since.

On the theatrical trailer, the theme of The Terminator (1984) was used instead of the RoboCop theme. The theme song also made its way into the arcade and NES RoboCop video games.

In the nightclub scene, the song "Show Me Your Spine" by P.T.P. was played. 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.

All songs written and composed by Basil Poledouris

The complete and entire film score was released in 2010, by Intrada Records.


The movie was originally given an X rating by the 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 blood and gore in the most violent scenes in the movie, including ED-209's shooting of Kinney in the boardroom, Boddicker's gang executing 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 are satirical on 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.[19] 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.

Regarding the omitted scenes, Verhoeven stated in the 2007 anniversary edition DVD that he had wanted the violence to be 'over the top', in an almost comical fashion (the executive that is killed by ED-209, for example, and Bob Morton immediately asking "Somebody wanna call a goddamn paramedic?!", was meant as black comedy). Verhoeven also states 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 remove footage of the extensive animatronic puppet of Murphy just before he is executed by Boddicker.


Box office

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[20] and $53,424,681 during its North American domestic run,[21] making it the 16th most successful movie that year.[22]

Home media

RoboCop was released in a Region 1 DVD on June 12, 2007, and then on October 5, 2010, by MGM in a standard edition and as part of the Blu-ray Robocop Trilogy. The VHS and laserdiscs were released in 1988.


Critical response

The film received mainly positive reviews by critics[23] and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1987.[24][25][26][27] On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an 88% "Certified Fresh" rating based on reviews from 42 critics, with the site's consensus: "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".[28]

Roger Ebert praised the film, calling Robocop "a thriller with a difference" praising the way it puts audience off guard, a thriller not easily categorized with splashes of other genres added. Ebert praises Weller for his performance and his ability to elicit sympathy despite the layers of makeup and prosthetics.[29]

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."[30] Rene Denfeld disagrees 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."[31]


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.[32] In 2007, Entertainment Weekly named it the #14 greatest action movie of all time.[33] In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[34] It was placed on a similar list, The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, by The New York Times.[35]

The film was on the ballot for two of the American Film Institute's 100 Series lists. These lists included 100 Years…100 Thrills,[36] a list of America's most heart-pounding movies, and AFI's "Ten Top Ten", a list of the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres. RoboCop was a candidate for the science fiction category.[37] At its release, British director Ken Russell said that this was the best science fiction film since Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).

Themes and analysis

RoboCop explores larger themes regarding the media and human nature.

In 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 is 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 return as RoboCop, and the scene at the steel mill where RoboCop is seen walking ankle-deep in water, creating the illusion of him walking on water. On that note, Verhoeven was asked by a fan whether the showdown with Dick Jones was intended as a representation of Satan (Jones)'s rebelling against Jehovah (the OCP president), or the Devil's subsequent fall from grace (being fired on the spot, and then blown backwards through the window of the OCP tower to his death). Verhoeven replied, "It's a sharp observation, but none of that was on my mind at the time."

Darian Leader considers RoboCop one example of how the cinema has dealt with the problem of masculinity, showing us 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 writes 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."[38]

Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek writes 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."[39]

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."[40]


The film novelization was written by Ed Naha and was released on June 1, 1987. The novel differed in several ways to the film by following one of the earlier drafts of the screenplay. It expanded on Murphy's struggle with being part man and machine, and his memories. It also includes more "humanized" dialogue from RoboCop as opposed to the minimal, cold dialogue heard in the film.[41]



Main article: RoboCop (franchise)

The success of the movie spawned a large franchise, including merchandise, two sequels, a television series, two animated TV series, and a television mini-series, video games and a number of comic book adaptations/crossovers.


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.[42] There are plans to unveil the RoboCop statue in spring of 2014.[43]


It was announced that MGM and Sony will produce a remake of RoboCop. José Padilha is attached to direct the film with Joel Kinnaman set to play the title role of Alex Murphy while Gary Oldman is signed on to appear as a new character named Norton, 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.[44] Samuel L Jackson is confirmed to be playing a powerful and charismatic media mogul while Hugh Laurie was announced in mid-June 2012 to be playing the CEO of Omnicorp. Hugh Laurie dropped out of the project in August 2012 and was replaced by Michael Keaton.[45] Actress Abbie Cornish is in talks to play Murphy's wife. Watchmen star Jackie Earle Haley has signed on to play Maddox, the man who gives RoboCop his military training.[46]

Sony has targeted the film for a February 7, 2014 release.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Criterion Collection essay by Carrie Rickey

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