Why the 1987 'RoboCop' Like, Totally Rules

Maybe you have a friend who says the original RoboCop is his or her favorite movie ever. And maybe upon hearing such an admission, you throw that person a little shade for throwing in so heavily on a silly movie about a half-cop, half-robot. That would be a mistake. While RoboCop IS kind of a silly movie about a half-cop, half-robot, it is also an extreme satire that knows exactly what it is doing. Here are 10 examples why this 1987 movie rules.

Dead Detroit

RoboCop doesn't just take place in the near future for campy science fiction elements. Its Detroit setting is a specific warning about the dangers of economic disparity that has only grown more prescient with time. Things were already bad in Detroit when the film came out in 1987. Now the city is bankrupt and there are whole neighborhoods that have been abandoned and reclaimed by nature.

Corporate Hegemony

Not everyone has it bad in RoboCop's Detroit, however. The rich still do pretty well. The film takes place in an America where private corporations own everything, not just prisons and space exploration but also the police force. Their plan to eradicate crime in Detroit arises not to ensure its citizens live better but to wipe out the city as it is and replace it with a gentrified community, which likely has no place for the poor or working class.

Even the Good Guys Aren't Good Guys

RoboCop was created by OCP and should therefore exist as little more than a mindless corporate tool. But from the moment he hits the streets his allegiance feels more aligned with his fellow blue-collar cops than his white-collar overlords. The character who would stand out as his father figure in a normal film, Miguel Ferrer's Bob Morton, is just as sleazy and despicable as villainous Dick Jones, if not more so. His death, which comes just after we see him snort cocaine off a model's chest, has no impact on anyone emotionally and instead represents the dog-eat-dog world of OCP much more than any kind of bond between Frankenstein and his creature.

RoboCop as Frankenstein

Speaking of which, Verhoeven doesn't push this too hard, but RoboCop represents an interesting and relatively radical take on the Frankenstein story. Rather than make a monster people hate, Bob Morton creates a corporate product people love. But the human element that makes RoboCop so uncontrollable and separates him from the soullessness of other machines (like ED-209) ends up being the one thing that allows him to be an effective police officer.


Verhoeven contrasts RoboCop's humanity with ED-209, a hulking tank that can't make autonomous decisions, illustrated early on as we witness a programming glitch result in an innocent  lackey getting filled with about 2,000 bullets (2,500 in the unrated version). Even worse, the think tank design that makes ED-209 so menacing ends up handicapping it significantly. Just watch ED-209 try to navigate a flight of stairs. Having said all that, he does look super cool.

The Cheerfully Horrific Newscasts

The first thing we see in RoboCop is not Detroit at all but a newscast in which the anchors smile vacantly while describing a world on the brink of nuclear war, an idea so casual in this future that we later see an advertisement for an international diplomacy-based board game called "Nukem" which seems to have no endgame other than nuclear holocaust. The film may be pessimistic about the future, but at least it manages to make its pessimism hilarious.

"I'd Buy That for a Dollar!"

Nowhere is RoboCop's pessimistic view of future culture more apparent than with the film's ubiquitous, unnamed television show we see enjoyed by everyday people and criminals alike. The show offers little more than a goofy-looking, contextless sleazeball frequently surrounded by women while spewing his catchphrase "I'd buy that for a dollar!" It's absolutely nonsensical, yet everyone watching laughs uproariously, lending RoboCop a level of media satire that wouldn't have been out of place in Idiocracy.

The Gratuitous Violence

RoboCop is itself a kind of satirical exaggeration, thanks largely to its extremely high level of gratuitous violence. The film had to cut some of its gore to get an R rating, but even with these concessions it's still one of the most extreme action films of the '80s -- or any decade, really. The relentless violence serves a thematic purpose by highlighting the melodramatic ridiculousness of a movie about a cyborg cop, but also makes the film a lot more fun to watch than it would have been otherwise.

The Ending

RoboCop ends with the hero reclaiming his humanity (as much as he can in that tin-can body, anyhow) and vanquishing his main enemies. But the corporate evil that created him in the first place still lives on to torment both RoboCop and Detroit in the sequels. It's not like OCP's nefarious plan to get rid of Old Detroit dematerializes just because RoboCop shoots the company's senior president out of a skyscraper.

The Fact That It's Awesome

All this great stuff enriches rather than directs what, at its very core, is still a violent action film about a cyborg police officer. There's not a boring moment in RoboCop, and you can totally enjoy it both as a satirical exercise and as a really fun movie. The design, the performances and the characters all work on multiple levels to create a film that is just as exciting as it is thematically rich. Few movies can boast such an accomplishment, and fewer still that can do so while featuring a melted henchman literally splattered onto the windshield of a speeding car.

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Next Article by Derrick Deane

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