Dead Or Alive: A Robocop Retrospective – Part One

The awesomely violent and rather multilayered Robocop turns 35-years-old this month. Originally released on the 17th of July way back in 1987, happy 35th birthday to Robocop. Seeing as this is one of my favourite films, I guess I have to write something. So, I’m going to be looking at some Robocop video games in another article. But here, I’m going to explore Robocop on the big and small screen, everything and yes, I’ll even cover the TV shows too… along with some rather surprising appearances at the end. Starting off, chronologically, with the first film.


Part man. Part machine. All cop. RoboCop was one of the first films I ever saw on our own VHS player. I was about 13-years-old at the time and I remember being really shocked at the swearing in the film. Younger me had heard swearing but just not that much and that frequent. That fella robbing the store in the film and screaming ‘fuck me, fuck me, fuck me’ over and over almost made me want to cover my ears… almost.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, co-written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, Robocop possibly began life as a possible Judge Dredd film. You can see a Judge Dredd influence in the final film but the story goes that writer Neumeier began penning the story as a Judge Dredd film but could not secure the rights, so he then changed it to an original character instead. I say ‘possibly began’ as a Judge Dredd film because I can’t seem to find any concrete evidence that outright states this, just user-submitted ‘trivia’. Still, Edward Neumeier is a self-confessed Judge Dredd fan. Also, there was the early test sculpt of the RoboCop suit…


… yes, that one. Very clearly Judge Dredd influenced but still not proof the film itself was originally a Judge Dredd one. I’m leaving this tit-bit as inconclusive.

But anyway, getting back to the film. Director Paul Verhoeven first thoughts of the film were that it was utterly stupid. Apparently, he only read the first few pages of the script and then threw it in the bin. The idea of a robot/human police officer hybrid was something that Verhoeven just could not get past and he failed to see a film worth directing. His wife, Martine, took the script from the bin and read it herself. She then convinced Verhoeven to read the script properly as it had a lot more depth to it than he first realised. As Paul Verhoeven recalled himself:

“She read it in a completely different way: she felt there were elements that weren’t so far away from me, like [Murphy] losing his past, and the philosophy of losing your memory. … Even my films in Holland, if they were about a war, none of them were action movies. I was more interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the script. I saw RoboCop a bit like a futuristic Jesus.”

That really is the key with RoboCop, it does have a lot of layers and a lot of depth. Yet, you can misunderstand it as just being a stupid sci-fi action flick. Just going back to 13-year-old me watching the film on VHS. That was how I saw it. RoboCop was just a ‘naughty’ film with a lot of swearing that looked cool. But when I watched it as an adult, the film seemed so different… but still with a lot of swearing in it and that it looked cool. The layers on RoboCop really are impressive. You’ve got your satire of American culture and Reaganomics. Those funny little TV ads within the film take on a very different meaning when you realise what they are poking fun at.


Then you have the central character of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) himself. The fact he loses everything, including his memories, and is just used as a ‘product’ by a massive corporation. His humanity is thrown aside so some slimy corporate executive could climb the ladder. Which does bring me to the Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) character and ‘father’ of RoboCop. He’s a slimy snake in the grass for sure… but the way Ferrer played him made him a very likeable guy. He was a bad guy with a heart and one that did actually care for his creation. Speaking of bad guys…

Man, I adore Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and he is one of cinema’s greatest villains. The slightly nasally voice, the ‘Heinrich Himmler’ glasses, the one-liners. He’s a complete dick and has zero redeeming characteristics… but you can’t help but love him. A good film needs a great villain for it to work and RoboCop has one of the best. Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen) was used as the connection between RoboCop and Alex Murphy. The ‘Murphy, it’s you‘ scene really is one of my favourites in the flick. The way that RoboCop does that literal little step backwards and becomes Murphy for just a second or two, before snapping back into RoboCop and continuing on. It’s the really subtle acting that sells it. Acting that must’ve been tough for Peter Weller when we the audience can’t see his face. For an actor to convey emotion and reaction… without having the luxury of using their face is damn tricky.


Which does bring me to the main man himself and the one who gets the big job of carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders. How Weller pulled off playing the titular character is incredible. I’ve read stories of just how damn uncomfortable it was to act in the RoboCop suit. Apparently, it took 11 hours to get Peter Weller into the suit the first time. They got better over the course of the film shoot but it still took a good few hours. Then he couldn’t go to the toilet easily, or at all. It was so damn hot that Weller would lose around 3 lbs a day via sweating. Yet, even with all of that, he still put in an amazing performance and one with so many layers and facets. Look, I’m more than 1,400 words into this retrospective, I’ve only briefly looked at the first film and I need to move on. I could most probably write a huge and in-depth article just on RoboCop alone, just not now.

Still, I really do love this film. Paul Verhoeven’s directing is sublime and RoboCop is a film that I have grown up with. From 13-year-old me watching this on VHS and being shocked at the swearing to 46-year-old me peeling back the layers and enjoying this film for its depth and (sometimes not) subtle digs as 80s Americana and culture. In the middle of all of that, you have this story of lost humanity and one of the best acting performances you’ll ever see in an 80s sci-fi flick.


What do you do when you have an overtly violent and very adult-themed film? You make a kid’s cartoon out of it, of course. Honestly, this was a bit of a trend in the 80s and 90s, taking an obviously adult-focused film and turning it into kid’s entertainment. Be it a cartoon, TV show or even kid’s toys, there are loads of examples of this happening back then. I mean, in the 80s, you could buy officially licenced Freddy Krueger pyjamas for kids to wear… just think about that for a second.


This animated show only lasted for one season and 12 episodes. Originally airing in 1988, a year after the film was released. I mean, they didn’t even wait for the film franchise to begin and get stale before they turned into a kid’s show. RoboCop (animation) was released when the film was getting its home release. The film had been an unexpected hit and work on a sequel was already underway by then but why wait for a proper sequel when you can make a kid-friendly cartoon ‘sequel’ instead? RoboCop (animation) does follow the events of the film quite a lot but it also changes things up a fair bit. For example, Murphy is still killed by Clarence Boddicker and his gang to become RoboCop. But Clarence Boddicker and his gang are actually still alive in the cartoon. Lewis is in this too as are a few of the film’s characters. No Bob Morton though (well I guess he did die in the film) and Dr. Tyler is his creator. Now, Dr. Tyler was in the film but as a very minor character. Look, I could sit here all day and point out the differences between this cartoon and the film it is based on but I need to look at if the show was any good or not.


I never watched this show back then. In fact, I only watched it recently just for this retrospective. It’s kind of like a kid-friendly retelling of the first film that (obviously) replaces the violence of its source material with morals and lessons for children. Guns don’t fire bullets, they shoot lasers… ‘cos kids love lasers. It’s that kind of thing, very typical Saturday morning cartoon fare. None of the film’s actors reprise their roles but it’s not like you’re going to miss them here anyway. The voice cast are actually pretty decent, for a kids cartoon. When watching RoboCop (animation) for this retrospective, I tried to put myself in the shoes of teenage me and work out if I would’ve watched it back when it originally aired. I reckon I would’ve. A bit of Teenage Mutant Ninja (or ‘Hero’ as they were called here in the UK) Turtles, some Spider-Man, a portion of Rude Dog and the Dweebs and a helping of RoboCop on a Saturday morning. Yeah, I think I would’ve gotten into this.

It is very obviously massively diluted from the film but as a kid’s cartoon, it is pretty good. Some episodes even deal with more ‘adult’ content, in a kid-friendly way. Things like racism, terrorism, the environment, various prejudices and so on. The kind of subjects that these types of cartoons like to force in now and then. To be fair, RoboCop even deals with the character’s humanity pretty well too. It is 12 episodes of a very typical but still a fairly entertaining show. If you want to introduce your kids to RoboCop and not worry about scarring them for life via the original film, this is a decent way to do it.

RoboCop 2

Released in 1990, this sequel saw a few of the original cast return like Peter Weller and Nancy Allen. But throw in plenty of new characters, including an ‘improved’ RoboCop 2 (title) to contend with as well as a city-wide drug problem and a Detroit running out of money. Behind the camera, director of the first film, Paul Verhoeven was gone. As too were the original writers with Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Sitting in the director’s chair was Irvin Kershner, with the film being written by Frank Miller and Walon Green.


There were several behind-the-scenes issues with RoboCop 2, mainly the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner began work on writing a very different and gritter sequel. But the aforementioned writer’s strike put an end to that script. So Frank Miller was brought on as writer instead and he penned a much darker script that involved corporate fascism and would explore the backstory of Alex Murphy more. Then, Walon Green was hired to rewrite Miller’s script and ‘lighten’ it, make it more fun and jokey. This new script also removed a lot of the backstory and ‘simplified’ everything. Then there was Orion Pictures themselves. With the first film, as it wasn’t expected to be a big hit, they left Paul Verhoeven to do whatever he wanted. With this sequel, the studio saw the potential of a franchise, and so they began to control everything much more tightly and perhaps played it too safe.


RoboCop 2 is a hard film to outright dislike but it is clearly a film that suffers from studio interference and horrible script rewrites. It is still ‘adult’… I guess. Yet, it had this undercurrent of trying to be broader and more appealing to a wider audience. RoboCop 2 is nowhere near as creative or deep as the first film, it’s very shallow and lacks heart. We do get to learn more about Alex Murphy and his (widowed) wife, yet it all feels very ‘off’, lacking in any real meaning. When speaking to, Peter Weller said that:

“RoboCop 2 didn’t have a third act. I told the producers and Irv Kirshner up front, and Frank Miller. I told them all. I said, “Where’s the third act here, man? So I beat up a big monster. In the third act, you have to have your Dan O’Herlihy. Somebody’s got to be the third act.” “No, no, the monster’s going to be enough.” “Look, it’s not enough!” When you have a movie like the first RoboCop, where the bad guys are never the bad guys and it’s always the morality of the thing. You know, like the idea that progress in the name of progress can steal a man’s identity. Look, the first RoboCop’s got deregulated trickle-down social economic politics in it, way before Bush and Romney and the debates with Obama and Senator Clinton. It’s got a morality to it. If you don’t have that, man, you’ve got no flick, and I said that so much.”

He was right too, the lack of a real third act thing aside, there really isn’t much of a flick with RoboCop 2 at all. The whole film is just so lacking over the first one. The idea of morality, humanity and so on are just not here. It’s a very typical ‘oh look, we may have a franchise on our hands’ type of sequel. One where the studio were reluctant to take any chances and played it safe just to make a better-looking and bigger budget film but one with very little substance. RoboCop 2 is watchable, even enjoyable at times… but it is still a pretty poor sequel. One thing I will say about this film though is that it got it right about Detroit going bankrupt.

RoboCop 3

RoboCop 2 was a flawed but still a somewhat watchable sequel. RoboCop 3 was just fucking atrocious. Third film and third director with Fred Dekker at the helm. Dekker also co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Miller. Now, in Frank Miller’s defence, his original script was said to have been far better but once he handed it into the studio, it went through several edits and changes. To the point where Miller turned his back on Hollywood and refused to write another script until 2005’s Sin City. Miller turned his bastardised RoboCop scripts into well-received comic books later. Some of the first two film’s cast returned for this sequel… but not Peter Weller, he had good taste. Robert Burke stepped into the chrome suit this time around and he’s a bit terrible. But I think that has more to do with the awful script than the actor. RoboCop 3 was released in 1993 when Orion Pictures were going through bankruptcy.


There really is very little to like here. You have a film where RoboCop is now helping homeless people and going to get revenge because Lewis has been killed. To be fair, Nancy Allen as Lewis is about the only saving grace in the whole film… and they killed her off about a quarter of the way in. RoboCop gets an interchangeable hand-thing that feels like an idea from one of the kid’s toys. He uses a flamethrower, wears a jet-pack and takes on a ninja robot from Japan. Seriously, I’m convinced that the producers just looked at the RoboCop kids toy line that existed at the time and said ‘make a film like that’. RoboCop has gone from shooting potential rapists in the dick to babysitting an 11-year-old girl who makes ED-209 ‘as loyal as a puppy’.

You know how the first film had real depth. Yeah, it was in its most basic form, just a film about revenge. Still, it had some amazing writing, characters you cared about, satire, witty observations, good acting and more. RoboCop 2 lost a lot of that, yet it did still have some semblance that could be connected to what made the original great. This film, RoboCop 3 however, is just truly heinous. This one feels like a made-for-TV movie that was being used as a vehicle for a family-friendly TV show… which I will get to soon enough. The iconic violence is gone, the excessive swearing is gone and the social satire is gone to be replaced with cheap parody. What you have is a prime example of why the PG-13 rating should never have been invented.

Now, before anyone starts jumping up and down on my nuts for praising and liking the animated RoboCop show earlier for it being kid-friendly, whilst decrying RoboCop 3 for going kid-friendly… allow me to explain. First, I did qualify the animated show by wondering if I would’ve liked it as a teenager back then, not as an adult now. Plus, the animated show may have been the same characters on a technical level, but the show was a retelling of the first film and created its own continuity. Those ‘same’ characters existed in a different universe to the first film. With RoboCop 3, the characters are still supposed to be the same ones from the first two films and it is in continuity with the 1987 original. So RoboCop now being all ‘help a granny cross the road’ is stupid. The character hardly does anything in the film and spends most of it out of action and being repaired.


There’s always been something that bothered me about the film too. Well, there are a great many things that bother me about it, to be honest. But there is one specific thing that always annoyed me. When you see RoboCop moving and talking, the suit looked terrible. You could see the jawline flopping about when Robert Burke spoke. You could see the joins in the suit more than before and it just looked really ‘fake’. It really did just look like an actor in a suit. Whereas before, it looked and felt genuine, even if we did know it was just an actor in a suit. I later found out that the suit used was the same one from RoboCop 2. Now, there is nothing wrong with reusing older props in films but with the RoboCop suit, it was measured and built specifically for Peter Weller and his body. Robert Burke had a different build and his jawline was not as strong. One of the reasons Weller got the part in the first film was because Paul Verhoeven loved his strong jawline. So when Burke wore the suit, it didn’t fit, or it didn’t fit well enough. You can really see as much in the film too. I later learned that the suit was so uncomfortable on Robert Burke that it actually hurt him when he was acting in it and he’d be in that thing for several hours at a time. I genuinely feel sorry for Burke. He had a shit script to work with and spend hours in a suit that caused him pain… just to make a shit and utterly pointless sequel.

And this is just half of the ‘fun’ too. There is more questionable RoboCop content coming up in part two of this retrospective, including some of the most bizarre appearances of the character ever…


I’d Buy That For A Dollar: New Robocop Sequel In The Works?

This one caught me off guard.

Robocop is one of my all time favourite flicks. Not only is it one of the best sci-fi/action films made, its simply one of the best films made ever. However, as a franchise, its pretty poor. The original flick is sublime – not just an ultra-violent revenge picture with plenty of action but also a deep and meaningful story underneath about humanity and  redemption. Scratch the surface of this one and you’ll find a whole other film lying in wait for you to discover. Robocop 2 is a very different story. I wouldn’t call it a ‘bad film’ but I can hardly sing its praises either. Robocop 3 is…well it exists.

Then of course there was the Robocop TV series – both of them. The franchise lay dormant for a while before the inevitable remake in 2014. Again a film that is hardly great, nor bad, its just there really. I thought the franchise was all done after the very average remake but if they were to carry on, I assumed a sequel to the remake would be on the cards or another remake/reboot. Well it seems that a new Robocop sequel is very much on the cards indeed. But there is a sting in the tail as its not going to be a sequel to the remake at all. No, this is going to be a sequel to the original…and I’m really fucking excited for it too.

Robocop Wallaper

The writer of the original flick, Ed Neumeier is said to be working on a new sequel. Following the recent Hollywood trend of making sequels to failing franchises but ignoring the sequels (Halloween, Terminator). Robocop is looking like its going to be getting the same treatment too. While being interviewed for Zeitgeist magazine, Neumeier had this to say:

“It’s nice that people are still interested in RoboCop and they have me working on a new one at MGM right now so maybe we’ll get another one out of it.

We’re not supposed to say too much. There’s been a bunch of other RoboCop movies and there was recently a remake and I would say this would be kind of going back to the old RoboCop we all love and starting there and going forward. So it’s a continuation really of the first movie. In my mind. So it’s a little bit more of the old school thing.”

What I find interesting about this bit of news is that Neumeier did actually write a sequel to the original Robocop in 1988 called RoboCop: The Corporate Wars but the film was never made. The basic idea behind the film is that Robocop is destroyed and rebuilt 25 years in the future (the future of the future of the world of Robocop). Its been over 25 years since the original flick (over 30 now), so Neumeier could be taking his original idea and tweaking if for today’s audience.

Robocop Spike

After waiting so long, could we may be getting a real and worthy Robocop 2? I very much doubt a 70 year old Peter Weller will return in the main role – but it would be amazing if he did. Nancy Allen is still going strong too so could be involved in the project, oh and get that mad Dutchman Paul Verhoeven back behind the camera. If this all comes together, it could be awesome. Oh yeah and it needs to be a bloody and violent adult film not some PG-13 shit.

Murphy Hand

Clarence Boddicker: “Well give the man a hand!”

Part Action. Part Drama. All Awesome. Robocop.

Sadly, we recently lost actor Miguel Ferrer to cancer aged 61. He had a prolific acting career and featured in over 120 movies, TV shows and even lent his voice talent to animated projects and video games. Yet with so much work under his belt and so many varying roles – he’ll always be Bob Morton to me. The head honcho behind the Robocop project from the 1987 movie Robocop.

It also just so happens to be Robocop’s 30th anniversary this year too (July 17th). So no better time for me to take a look at one of my all time favourite movies and share my memories of this flick as I take a look at a film that has a much deeper story than you first think.

This one is for you Miguel as Bob himself would say…

There’s a new guy in town. His name is RoboCop.

I’d Buy That For A Dollar

I must have been around the age of 13 when I first watched Robocop. I remember my older brother renting the VHS tape from our local rental shop. I didn’t know what it was or what it was about. The simplistic title of Robocop was all I needed for it to pique my early teenage interest… a film about a robot cop? I’m in. I also had no idea just how full of violence and swearing it was. I was 13, I had seen violent films before, but nothing quite like Robocop at the time. When the final credits rolled – I was speechless. I sat there with a look of disbelief on my face, stunned at the film I had just witnessed. It was all kinds of awesome contained in 1 hour and 40 odd minutes.

Robocop was a film that scorched images into my head that have stayed there for almost 30 years. The death of Officer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) was one of… no THE hardest thing I had ever seen on film at that point. It was brutal.


The guy robing the liquor store screaming obscenities over and over and over as Robocop walks in to arrest him. That (almost) rape scene and the exquisite solution to saving the blonde woman. Poor Kinney (Kevin Page) being perforated by ED-209 in the boardroom. Emil (Paul McCrane) getting splattered after his toxic bath, etc. So much of that film impacted me at that young age and I loved it. All I talked about at school the following weeks was Robocop, telling friends about the film and trying my best to describe what I had witnessed. I covered my school books in Robocop pictures, drew doodles of Robocop in the back of them too… and got in trouble for it. I was obsessed by this film, yet I didn’t understand it at that young age. To me then – it was just an awesome flick with a ton of swearing and violence. It wasn’t until I was much older and when I saw the film as an adult when the true genius of this picture was revealed to me.

Dead Or Alive – You’re Coming With Me

Its a completely different film now. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the bloody violence and swearing as much now as I did when I was 13. Its just that now, I see what this film is with its truly spectacular subtleties and deep humanity story that it has. Director Paul Verhoeven has gone on record as saying that Robocop is his version of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In an interview with MTV, Verhoeven said this…

“The point of Robocop is of course that it is a Christ story. It is about a guy that gets crucified after fifty minutes then is resurrected in the next fifty minutes and then is like the supercop of the world. But is also a Jesus figure as he walks over water at the end. he could walk over the water and say this wonderful line, which is basically, em, to Clarence Boddicker ‘I am not arresting you any more.’ Meaning I’m going to shoot you. And that is , of course, the American Jesus.”

The film’s writers; Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner crafted a carefully layered and subtle story that has a lot more meaning behind it than most people first think. Yeah, action and gore-hounds are well catered for here. But then so are folks who want a bit more depth to their story and characters.

On the surface and looking at it as simply as possible – then Robocop is a basic revenge story that ticks all the boxes. If that is all you want from the movie then great. But there is much more to Robocop than just vengeance. There is the internal struggle Robocop faces as he slowly starts to remember his past life as Alex Murphy. The scene where he visits his old family home and the memories of his previous life appear on screen, the sombre music that slowly builds in the background and best of all… Peter Weller’s amazing acting. I mean, seeing as you can only see his mouth – he still manages to convey emotion with his face and movements in that bulky costume.

Murphy… Its You

I just adore the scene where his ex-partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) starts to talk to Robocop and whispers those 3 words that kick-start his memories. That one scene is amazing and for 3 very good reasons.

  • Verhoeven’s directing is masterful here with great camera angles that capture one of the most important parts of the movie.
  • Neumeier and Miner’s writing is subtle yet effective. Full of character with very little dialogue.
  • Weller’s acting is sublime here. Its that thing I mentioned before about how he can convey great emotion while wearing that helmet only showing his mouth. The way Robocop steps backward, stunned at Lewis’ words and he becomes Murphy once more – even if only for a few seconds before snapping back into Robocop mode. Brilliant.

The film is full of great little moments like this and many people miss them.

Can You Fly Bobby?

Of course, every great film need great antagonists and Robocop is no different.

A ragtag group of villains that features; Leon C. Nash (Ray Wise), Emil M. Antonowsky (Paul McCrane) and Joe P. Cox (Jesse D. Goins) who likes to show his penis to female police officers. All headed up by the cold and callous Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). I adore Clarence as a villain, if I made a list of top movie bad guys then Clarence would definitely be in there. This guy is evil personified, he’s just total bad-ass and played brilliantly by Smith. The whole teasing/tormenting of Murphy during his death is disturbing and entertaining at the same time. A sadistic bastard, but one I love watching.

Nice shooting son. What’s your name?

The ending to this film always leaves a huge smile on my face too. The whole final scene where Robocop takes out Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and then ‘The Old Man’ (Dan O’Herlihy) asks our hero that all important question.

Robocop smiles and answers, “Murphy”. Finally connecting to his humanity and accepting who he was and now is. Then it just abruptly ends and cuts to credits.

I love this ending, its sharp, snappy and uplifting.

But I’d like to end this article the way I started it, remembering Miguel Ferrer and Bob Morton…

You Are gonna Be A Bad Motherfucker!

Bob Morton is a complex character. Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? I mean in his own words he “restructured the police force to place prime candidates according to risk factor”. So he is directly to blame for Murphy’s death as he ensured Murphy was placed in high risk areas. Plus he really enjoys ‘models’ and drugs. So he is a villain then right?

But then he did create Robocop and crime declined because of that. Also notice how much he adores his Frankenstein-like creation through the film? He actually cares and believes in his project and Bob Morton becomes a very likeable character. Villain or not, its a tough one eh? You know how there are anti-heroes, those characters that do the wrong things but for the right reasons. I consider Bob Morton a anti-villain, a character who does the right things but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Miguel Ferrer brought this character to life. Love or hate Bob Morton, Miguel Ferrer made him memorable.

I really don’t think I can top that so I’ll end here. Thanks Miguel for creating one of the best characters in one of my favourite films…

RoboCop was maybe the best summer of my entire life. It was the summer of 1986, and it was the best part I’d been asked to do at the time.