In 1987, a science fiction action movie arrived unlike any seen before or since. Helmed by a little known Dutch director with a penchant for violence and nudity and starring a method actor better known for his work in the theater than in film, on paper, RoboCop must have seemed like a pretty risky prospect to the studio bosses over at Orion Pictures.
In practice, it proved to be anything but, with Paul Verhoeven’s provocative directorial style meshing perfectly with Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s clever script, which fused fast-paced sci-fi action with biting satire to create a film that ranks among the decade’s best. Forget Terminator or Blade Runner – RoboCop is the best sci-fi move of the ’80s.
Boasting memorable performances from Peter Weller as the titular hero, as well as Kurtwood Smith and the late, great Miguel Ferrer, it’s also a film with a lot of fascinating stories behind it. Here are 18 things you never knew about RoboCop.
18. The Idea For RoboCop Was Inspired By Blade Runner
Scriptwriter Edward Neumeier got the idea for RoboCop while working as a script reader and junior executive on the Warner Bros. studio lot, just next door to where Ridley Scott was filming Blade Runner. With much of Blade Runner shot at night, Neumeier would often head over to the set when his work day finished and help out – few people asked questions of a guy volunteering to make props. It was there that he had his light bulb moment, after seeing a car called a Spinner on set.
“RoboCop came into my head as a title, and I saw the character in this kind of bluish armored thing,” Neumeier told The Dissolve. “He was a policeman who was also a robot, and he was looking at this strange human race. It was an A.I. idea, like, ‘Why are people the way they are?’ And that was the most science-fiction notion of it.”
At the same time, music video director Michael Miner had been working on his own script for a film titled SuperCop, about a seriously injured cop who becomes a cybernetic police officer. The two combined their ideas, and RoboCop was born.
17. Verhoeven Almost Didn’t Direct RoboCop
Paul Verhoeven wasn’t the first or even second choice to direct RoboCop. British director Alex Cox was initially contacted over the project, after impressing with his cult 1984 sci-fi comedy effort, Repo Man. When Cox declined, attention then turned to Kenneth Johnson. Johnson had just written and directed the popular V sci-fi miniseries, but he also rejected the chance to direct RoboCop, calling the script “mean-spirited, ugly and ultra-violent.” Only then was Verhoeven approached, and at that point, he still took some convincing. In fact, the Dutch filmmaker threw the script in the bin after reading it for the first time.
The studio, undeterred, sent a second copy of the script to Verhoeven and urged him to read it for subtext. Still unconvinced, Verhoeven instead decided to have his wife, Martine Tours, read it and give him her thoughts. When she recommended it, Verhoeven re-read it and realized there was more to the story than first met the eye. He signed on soon after.
16. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rutger Hauer Were Among Those Considered for the lead role
Rutger Hauer was Verhoeven’s initial choice for the role of Alex Murphy, the ordinary police office turned RoboCop, having previously worked together on several previous projects prior. Armand Assante and Michael Ironside were also considered for the role, with the latter of the two also in the running for the part of villain Clarence Boddicker prior to the casting of Kurtwood Smith.
Studio bosses at Orion were also keen on having Arnold Schwarzenegger play the role. Ultimately, it was felt that Schwarzenegger and Hauer, in particular, would both appear too bulky on the screen when wearing the RoboCop costume. Instead, they sought out an everyman actor of a lighter build.
Verhoeven hit upon the idea of casting method actor Peter Weller, after seeing him in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Weller won the role thanks to his light frame and the fact that he was able to convey emotion with his jaw.
15. Murphy Almost Had An Affair
Verhoeven originally wanted to make significant changes to the Neumeier and Miner’s second, more polished version of the RoboCop screenplay in order to give the story more realism. The most contentious of these changes would have seen Murphy embroiled in an extramarital affair with his partner Ann Lewis, prior to his near-execution at the hands of Boddicker and his crew. Given a deadline of just two months to make the changes Verhoeven wanted, Neumeier sent Verhoeven a stack of American comic books so the director could get a clearer idea of what they had been aiming for with their script.
The Dutch filmmaker enjoyed the comics, and after reading the significantly altered third draft requested, he began to grasp what Miner and Neumeier had been working towards and opted to revert back to the second draft, albeit with a few minor alterations.
14. Casting Lewis Proved To Be Very Tricky
Stephanie Zimbalist was Verhoeven’s first choice for the role of Officer Lewis in RoboCop. She was working alongside Pierce Brosnan on the hugely popular detective series Remington Steele at the time, but the show was in danger of being cancelled – a move that would have freed her up to do RoboCop.
Unfortunately for Zimbalist, Remington Steele was renewed for another season, and she was unable to get time off the show to complete the film, due to the grueling round-the-clock schedule that often left both herself and Brosnan close to exhaustion. Carrie star Nancy Allen subsequently won the role of Lewis.
Brosnan was also denied the chance to play James Bond in The Living Daylights around the same time. In fact, the initial buzz generated by the proposed casting of Brosnan as Bond prompted a surge in viewing figures for Remington Steele that eventually resulted in the show being renewed for another season, which meant Brosnan was unavailable. Though Brosnan would eventually get the chance to play 007, Zimbalist would never appear in a RoboCop movie.
13. The RoboCop Suit Was A Nightmare To Work In
The RoboCop suit was far and away the most expensive thing on the set, with a whopping one million dollars shelled out on making six complete suits for use in the film (three of which were designed to look battle damaged). Despite their massive outlay, life inside the suits was anything but luxurious. Rumor has it that Weller lost around three pounds a day while filming from water loss alone.
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and — wanna know the truth? — it was the most difficult thing anyone’s ever done,” Weller recalled to Guide Live years later. “They had to have air-conditioning ducts pointed at me, blowing out freezing air every 20 minutes.”
Getting the suit on was only the start of it. In preparation for the role, Weller had been busy working with Moni Yakim, the head of the Movement Department at Juilliard. Together, they had created what they felt was an appropriate way for Weller to move his body while wearing the suit. Unfortunately, Weller found the suit too cumbersome and a change was required, with filming stopped for three days while new movement patterns were worked out.
12. The Key Catching Scene Took A Whole Day To Film
As well as being boiling hot, the suit took anywhere between six and 11 hours to get into, and came complete with specially-made rubber foam hands that were almost impossible to grip anything with.
The result was pure torture on set at times, with one scene in which Weller’s RoboCop catches a set of car keys proving particularly difficult to master. In the script, RoboCop is thrown the keys to his squad car by Robert DoQui’s Sergeant Reed as he heads off to confront Dick Jones.
The only problem was that Weller simply couldn’t close his fist in time to catch the keys, meaning the scene required some 50 takes before the actor managed to get a grip on the keys. That equated to an entire day of filming, though the resulting shot proved to be a memorable one, at least.
11. Weller Wanted To Stay In Character At All Times
Weller, a known method actor, originally planned to stay in character as RoboCop throughout his time on set. Between takes, the actor would only respond to Paul Verhoeven’s direction when he was addressed as “Robo”. Unfortunately for Weller, most of the crew on set found it very difficult to take him seriously.
Verhoeven, himself, found the idea of referring to Weller as “Robo” as simply too amusing and ditched the notion a few weeks into filming. Matters were made worse when co-star Miguel Ferrer, who played Bob Morton, took to mocking Weller over his insistence on going by the name “Robo”, and the idea was scrapped altogether as a result.
Verhoeven insisted on referring to all actors by their character names throughout filming, though, prompting Ferrer and Kurtwood Smith to break down in fits of laughter during Morton’s death scene after Verhoeven accidentally referred to the two actresses playing prostitutes as “bitches.”
10. Verhoeven Wanted More Nudity In The Film
Early in RoboCop, viewers are treated to a memorable flash of nudity within the confines of the police station locker room. According to Verhoeven, the nudity was present to emphasise that, in the near future, an ethic of gender neutrality existed within the police force.
The Dutch filmmaker was not satisfied, though, feeling that the scene went by far too quickly for his liking. As a result, his 1997 film, Starship Troopers, featured a slower, more drawn out scene involving gratuitous nudity. The sequence in question occurred during the infamous co-ed shower session. Keen for everyone on set to be at ease during filming on that occasion, Verhoeven even agreed to strip off himself. “My Director of Photography Jost Vacano and I, we undressed and of course then everyone started to laugh,” Verhoeven told Digital Spy. “Then we shot the scene with no problem.”
9. They Had One Full Scale ED-209 And It Didn’t Work Properly
Just one full-scale model of the ED-209 robot was built for the film. Standing seven feet tall and weighing 300 pounds, the ED-209 design was actually based on the design of a Vietnam-era Bell helicopter combined with the rear legs of the Zentraedi Battlepod mecha that featured in the Japanese animated series Robotech.
As impressive as it looked, the full-scale ED-209 was simply too cumbersome to be used for many of RoboCop’s action scenes. Instead, live-action animator Phil Tippett was recruited to animate ED-209. Tippett was previously responsible for the four-legged AT-AT walkers and the two-legged Tauntauns from The Empire Strikes Back.
He utilized Go motion frame-by-frame animation techniques, similar to the ones that featured in the original King Kong movie, bringing ED-209 to life via a series of rear projected stop-motion animated miniatures. Despite the large scale of this undertaking, just one cameraman and one animator were required for ED-209’s various action sequences.
8. ED-209’s Boardroom Massacre Was Inspired By A Day Dream
The scene in which ED-209 malfunctions and ends up killing OCP junior executive Mr. Kinney was actually inspired by a fantasy Neumeier had during his days as a young executive in Hollywood. Neumeier sat through many a soul-crushing meeting during his time in the movie business, and would often daydream about the idea of a robot bursting into the room and killing everyone.
“The scene is completely over the top, yet it underlines how cheap life is in the corporate world,” he explained to Money Into Light. “I guess the scene was my way of saying goodbye to my life as an executive!”
It also served to reflect the ruthlessness of life in the corporate world, with Neumeier highlighting one other, often overlooked, detail from the scene: “Can I just add that I find it funny that no-one has ever asked or written about why there is a gun in the boardroom?”
7. RoboCop’s Prime Directives Came From An Unusual Source
Everyone knows Robocop operated by three Prime Directives (along with a fourth, classified Directive, of course). They were to: “Serve The Public Trust”, “Protect The Innocent” and “Uphold The law”. What most fans probably don’t realize is that the first of those three directives, “Serve the public trust”, was actually inspired by…a fortune cookie.
Maybe that’s why Weller was less than enthusiastic about saying the lines on film. According to Neumeier, Weller came up with his own version of the Prime Directives. “The idea was that we would shoot two versions, his and ours, but on the set, Peter would only shoot his version,” he told Money Into Light.
6. The Guy RoboCop Shot In The Dick Went On To Great Things
The scene in which RoboCop shoots one of a pair of criminals attempting to mug and assault an innocent female citizen, played by Donna Keegan, is one of the most memorable in the movie – but it almost didn’t happen. In the original script, RoboCop was originally supposed to shoot past Keegan’s character, hitting one of the attackers, played by William Shockley, in the cheek.
Paul Verhoeven decided to alter it during filming, so that RoboCop shot through Keegan’s legs and hit the attacker in the crotch. It’s a good thing he did – according to Verhoeven, Shockley credits his memorable but brief appearance in RoboCop as helping him land the part of Hawk Lawson on Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. Shockley went on to star in a spin-off from the show and has had bit parts in several major movies since.
5. Kurtwood Smith’s Look Was Inspired By A Real-life Nazi
Kurtwood Smith originally auditioned for the role of Dick Jones but lost out to Ronny Cox, who was cast in the role because Verhoeven felt it went against the good guy image the actor had cultivated in films like Beverley Hills Cop.
Smith was instead cast as crime lord Clarence Boddicker, with Verhoeven choosing the future That ’70s Show actor for the part based on the bizarre fact the Dutch filmmaker felt he bore a passing resemblance to Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler. Verhoeven even had Smith wear a pair of round, wire-framed glasses similar to the ones worn by Himmler.
The resulting performance ranks among the film’s best, with Smith famously improvising several of Boddicker’s most memorable moments including the line “Can you fly Boddy?” and the moment in which he spits blood on the police station’s front desk. Interestingly, the scene in which Smith encounters Dick Jones’ secretary was noteworthy for the fact that Jones’ assistant was played by Joan Pirkle, who Smith began dating while working on the film. They married a year later.
4. Emil’s Toxic Waste Death Was Complicated
Of all the gruesome deaths to feature in Robocop, few compare to the toxic waste-based demise of Paul McCrane’s Emil Antonowsky, who finds himself engulfed in toxic goo after crashing the gang’s getaway vehicle and is smashed into a mushy pulp by Boddicker’s car.
The crowning achievement of makeup and costume director Rob Bottin’s time on the film, Emil’s death was actually an homage to one of Bottin’s previous films, The Incredible Melting Man. Keen to create the illusion of someone’s muscles quite literally melting from their bones, McCrane was initially decked out in saggy latex prosthetics to give his appearance a drooped down quality, as if all of his muscles were starting to slide off his skeleton.
A dummy resembling Emil was created for the moment he is run over and designed so that the head would pop off on impact, while balloons filled with leftover food from the on-set catering truck were thrown at the windshield for the gruesome reverse angle. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) pushed to have the scene cut, citing the extreme violence, but the filmmakers stood firm, pointing to initial test screening reactions that saw many cite the scene as their favorite.
3. The Film Was Originally Rated X
The melting man scene wasn’t the only one the MPAA struggled with. In fact, RoboCop was initially given an X certificate by the censors due to the graphic and extreme violence running throughout the movie.
The main bone of contention was the early scene in which Alex Murphy is horrifically murdered, but not before being tortured by Boddicker and his gang of thugs. All told, RoboCop had to be re-cut and resubmitted to the MPAA a total of 12 times before it was cleared for an R-rating, with the majority of cuts coming during the Murphy scene.
These cuts were not restricted to merely the onscreen violence either – the sounds that feature in the scene were also cut so that Boddicker’s gang sounded less sadistic, the sound of blood flowing was also less apparent, and the horrific pain and anguish felt by Murphy was reduced.
This is most apparent in the moment after Murphy’s right hand is blasted off by Boddicker, who then quips, “Well give the man a hand!” prompting laughter among the group. The uncut version can be found online and on the RoboCop DVD.
2. Paul Verhoeven’s Cameos Twice
Paul Verhoeven actually features in RoboCop in two entirely separate scenes – one intentionally and one completely unintentionally. The first comes when RoboCop is in the police research room searching through a computer for Emil’s face (Paul McShane). While searching through suspects, several faces pop up including the members of Clarence’s gang responsible for Murphy’s death. Verhoeven’s face also features in the scroll, along with several other members of the film’s crew.
The Dutch filmmaker then makes a more prominent appearance during the scene in which RoboCop arrests Leon, one of Boddicker’s gang, at a disco. After Leon kicks RoboCop in the groin and falls to the ground in agony, the film cuts to a man laughing madly at the camera while waving his arms. That man is Verhoeven.
1. There’s A Post-Credits Easter Egg
Post or mid-credits Easter Eggs and additional scenes were almost completely unheard of when RoboCop was released back in 1987, but Paul Verhoeven’s film does feature one early example of the art form that can be found in the film’s closing seconds.
A few minutes after RoboCop gets the nod from the Old Man to see off Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones, and once all of the necessary cast and crew behind this inspired ’80s bloodbath have duly been acknowledged, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it message appears on the screen: “Unauthorized duplication, distribution or exhibition may result in civil liability and criminal prosecution by enforcement droids.”
It’s the kind of extra, knowing, nod that some fans may have missed the first-time round. More importantly, it’s the kind of cool, hidden, extra that you could easily impress your RoboCop-loving friends with.
Did we forget anything about RoboCop? Have your say in the comments section.
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