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5 Things You Might Not Know About Paul Verhoeven's 'Robocop,' Released 25 Years Ago Today

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by Oliver Lyttelton
July 17, 2012 2:53 PM
5 Comments
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3. "Two-Lane Blacktop" helmer Monte Hellman was the second-unit director on the film.
Monte Hellman is one of American cinema's more unsung talents. A protege of Roger Corman, he got his start directing Westerns starring Jack Nicholson (1965's "Ride In The Whirlwind" and "The Shooting") and made the cult-classic road movie "Two-Lane Blacktop," which was initially a flop, but now grows in reputation year after year. Although the underrated "Cockfighter" followed, he had trouble getting his own directing jobs, and so he came to "Robocop," to do second-unit work, although had things gone differently, he might've been sitting in the director's chair. Hellman told the AV Club in 1999: "I actually was put up to direct the movie by the studio, and the producer, who was a friend of mine, said he didn't see me as an action director. Then they hired me to direct the action. [Laughs.] You tell me what that means."

4. The film took eleven submissions to the MPAA before it was granted an R-rating.
Verhoeven was already known for lashings of gore and violence in his Dutch films, but he certainly took it to new levels for "Robocop," which features, among other things, Murphy arms being blown off with a shotgun, an executive being blasted into pieces by the ED-209, and villain Emil being covered with toxic waste to the extent that he starts melting, before being splattered by a speeding car (see below!). Verhoeven had intended the violence to be deliberately over-the-top in a darkly comic fashion, but when submitted to the MPAA, it got the dreaded X-rating (which was soon to be phased out in favor of the not-much-better NC-17). Verhoeven attempted to trim the most violent scenes, as well as adding the commercials mid-movie in order to lighten the tone, but the MPAA continually gave the film an X. It was only on the twelfth go around that the film finally received an R. Jose Padilha, the game has been raised... Verhoeven believed that the cuts actually made the violence more disturbing, rather than less, but was eventually able to restore the footage for the film's Criterion Laserdisc release, and the uncut version is now available for viewing on DVD and Netflix.

5. Richard Nixon participated in the film's home video publicity campaign.
Upon release, "Robocop" was an unexpected critical success (critics picking up the satire in ways that many would miss with Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" a decade later), and also proved to be a modest hit, taking $50 million domestically. As such, it launched two vastly inferior sequels, as well as two live-action TV series, many video games and comic books, and somewhat surprisingly, given the tone of Verhoeven's original, two animated series for children. More positively, a fan campaign to build a statue of Robocop in Detroit succeeded, raising over $70000 on Kickstarter. But the most amusing legacy of the film was when Orion enlisted the disgraced former leader of the free world, President Richard Nixon, to shake hands with Robocop in a publicity stunt to promote the film's home video release. Nixon was paid $25,000 for his trouble, which he donated to the Boy's Club of America. History, sadly, doesn't relate what he thought of the movie.

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5 Comments

  • Vincent | July 18, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    What Joel brought to the screen version of "Robocop," was nothing new It looked like nothing from the book, but was still a good film . The original "Robocop" graphic novel by Frank Miller, was extremely violent and still holds up today, suffices to say, Jose Padilha is very capable and able of doing the film justice

  • Warren | July 18, 2012 11:30 AMReply

    There is no way the remake is gonna touch this!!

  • Andrew | July 18, 2012 12:18 AMReply

    Verhoeven talks at length on the commentary about how he thought the script was completely stupid until his wife went on and on about how funny and subversive it was actually was. it's a good commentary and really shows what a lunatic the man is.

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | July 17, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    My acting teacher was in this film for like 5 seconds!
    He's the guy who screws on Robocop's faceplate, haha.

  • Mike White | July 17, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    Yup. Talked to Hellman about this in an interview with him for the Projection Booth podcast last year.

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