In the 80s, Orion Pictures was one of many mid-budget studios vying for that sweet spot in the Hollywood elite. However, unlike studios like Cannon or Empire, Orion was able to squeeze their way in, with such memorable films as The Terminator, Arthur, Hoosiers, and even major Oscar winners like Amadeus and Platoon. Unfortunately, like many other mid-budget studios, they would often have fewer hits than misses. While many of their films were critically acclaimed and even award winners, they also had several bombs, such as Great Balls of Fire! and She-Devil. But then, hope in the form of a huge box office hit would come along with Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop.
Prior to Robocop, Verhoeven made films in The Netherlands including Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, working with actor Rutger Hauer. Then in 1985, Verhoeven made his transition to American films with Flesh + Blood, which, though having gained a substantial cult following in years since, was not a huge hit at the box office and ended the partnership between Verhoeven and Hauer. Suddenly, he gets a script for a movie called RoboCop, which he ended up throwing away in disgust. Then, his wife picked it up and told him to give it a read. He did and the rest is history.
Set in a futuristic Detroit, crime runs rampant and the police are privatized by a multi-million dollar company called OCP. Looking to reduce crime to make way for Delta City, they initially try a giant robot known as the ED-209. When the ED-209 proves to be too destructive, they decide to move forward with a program for a cyborg cop. After being gunned down by bank robbers led by Clarence Boddicker, Officer Alex Murphy is turned into this cyborg cop. Now as RoboCop, he stops various crimes including a convenience store robbery, an attempted rape, and a hostage situation. When his inner humanity starts to break through, RoboCop seeks revenge on the gang that gunned him down. As he takes down the gang, RoboCop ends up confronting Dick Jones who’s been working with Clarence. After a run-in with ED-209 and the Detroit police, Officer Anne Lewis helps to save him.
RoboCop is easily one of the greatest action sci-fi movies ever made. While on the surface an insanely fun, action-packed, and bloody-as-hell movie, there is actually more to it than that. The over-the-top violence is very cartoonish, almost making fun of violent action movies. Throughout the movie, there’s all kinds of social satire, in the form news segments and fake commercials. These really help to expand on the world on display, as well as poking fun at American culture. With Verhoeven being Dutch, it’s interesting seeing an outsider’s perspective on the rampant consumerism taking place. Plus, it predicts a future where a rundown city is taken over by a giant corporation that’s only interested in money. It tackles issues of reclaiming one’s humanity from corporate America that neglects the psychological effects.
Peter Weller is terrific as the cop-turned-cyborg. As Murphy, he’s instantly relatable and likable. As RoboCop, he’s both awesome and tragic. He kicks all kinds of ass here, including a sequence where he busts a drug factory and just mows down everyone in sight. Once he starts rediscovering his humanity, Weller delivers such an emotional performance. You really get a sense of the pain he’s feeling and just how tragic his situation is. Nancy Allen is great as Anne Lewis, and Kurtwood Smith steals the show as Clarence Boddicker. Ronny Cox shines as the corrupt businessman Dick Jones, and Miguel Ferrer is fun as the sleazy Bob Morton who’s also RoboCop’s creator. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script is phenomenal, expanding the concept even further than expected. Rob Bottin’s practical effects, mixed in with stop-motion by Phil Tibbett and the Chiodo Brothers, make the film a sight to behold.
On a $13 million budget, which is amazing given the scope of the film, RoboCop made over $53 million. Verhoeven went on to make movies like Total Recall and Basic Instinct. There were two sequels, a live-action television series, at least two animated series, a TV mini-series, comic books, video games, and a quickly forgotten 2014 remake. RoboCop remains an important film in both the action and sci-fi genres and is easily one of my all-time favorites.
Your move, creep!