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10 Reasons Why The Original 'RoboCop' Can't Be Beaten By The Remake

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist February 13, 2014 at 1:01PM

With the remake of Paul Verhoeven's "RoboCop" lumbering mechanically into theaters nationwide this week, there has been a lot of talk, online and elsewhere, about how the remake simply cannot live up to the 1987 original. But what there's been precious little of is a discussion of why the original film is so highly regarded; instead the deafening pre-release backlash just seems like a general kind of foggy, nostalgia-tinged outrage that is both inarticulate and unhelpful. And, all things considered, the remake isn't all that bad; read our colleague's review here. Still, there's no question that the remake won't manage to have the same kind of impact the original did, so we're taking this chance (having longed for one for a while) to look back to the future of Detroit, and examine exactly why that original film felt so fresh and new.

8. It Featured An Atypical Lead
Action heroes at the time were nearly invincible, outrageously muscular super-men, and in "RoboCop," a movie about a man who is literally turned into a machine, we were given a vulnerable, deeply human lead character. Some of this had to do with the casting of Peter Weller, who up until this point was known for the marginal cult oddity "Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," and was of a willowy, diminutive stature that could more easily be encased in a clunky robot costume. It also allowed for an action star that people who don't bench press small cars could identify with. But more than that, in the depiction of a conflicted man in crisis, Weller's performance mirrored the daily struggle of the American male in a far more realistic way than virtually any other action star of the period. (The year after "RoboCop's" release, John McTiernan's "Die Hard" would turn a shoeless sitcom star into an even-more-relatable everyman hero.) Take, for instance, "Commando," released by 20th Century Fox two years before Orion unleashed "Robocop," which opens with a sequence where Schwarzenegger is doing fatherly things with his daughter (played by an insanely young Alyssa Milano), including feeding a wild deer, before, moments later, a bunch of bad guys show up and Schwarzenegger dispatches them all. That was what counted as being a "sensitive" action hero in the late eighties.


9. It's Formally Ambitious
The news broadcasts and commercials that periodically interrupt the proper narrative of "RoboCop" weren't just bitingly hilarious interjections of social satire, they were somewhat groundbreaking in the way that they were presented. Most movies at the time would show someone watching a film, or turning on a television, and then we would fade into that television or movie, establishing that it was something that one of the characters inside the movie was viewing. With "RoboCop," Verhoeven and his editor Frank J. Urioste would just cut to the commercial or the news program, like the movie itself was also part of the same stream-of-consciousness satellite feed. This kind of editorial style has been adopted countless times since "RoboCop's" release, but at the time it must have been slightly startling. Elsewhere, Verhoeven's European sensibilities make the movie feel like a colossal achievement in action movie formalism. There are long, unbroken shots, and weird editorial tics scattered throughout, in addition to a number of trippy point-of-view sequences that very literally put you inside the glitch-ridden mind of Murphy/RoboCop. 

Robocop 3

10. It Spawned Its Own Universe
Every Hollywood franchise in existence is no longer happy with simply having a series of films, instead, they are interested in creating a vast, expansive, interconnected "universe" in which several films, spin-offs, cartoons, and merchandising properties, feed and redistribute the main brand. In a sense, "RoboCop" accomplished this way back when, which is even more hilarious considering how consumerism is one of the movie's very biggest targets. The movie spawned two sequels: 1990s guilty pleasure smorgasbord "RoboCop 2" (which Weller returned for but Verhoeven wisely sat out) and 1993's "RoboCop 3," a half-baked sequel that Weller too abandoned (Nancy Allen, for some reason, returned) and which sat on the shelf for a number of years while studio Orion went through bankruptcy proceedings. There were a pair of live action series, as well, 1994's "RoboCop: The Series" and 2001 miniseries "RoboCop: Prime Directive," as well as the animated spin-offs "Robocop: The Animated Series" (which aired in 1988) and "RoboCop: Alpha Command," which aired a decade later. In addition, there were comic books, novels, theme park rides and video games, one of which anticipated the team-up phenomenon by pitting RoboCop against that other robotic Orion antihero The Terminator.

The 2014 edition of "RoboCop" is in theaters now. If you're seeing it, a fun game is to check off how many of these same achievements it can claim.   

This article is related to: RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven, Peter Weller, Features, Feature, Jose Padilha

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