We’re just over a year away from seeing “Robocop” back on screens, in a remake/reboot with “Elite Squad” director Jose Padilha making his English-language debut on the film, and an impressive cast featuring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson and Hugh Laurie . A viral video has already appeared, and this weekend saw banners from the film debut at Comic-Con.
And all that was some neat timing, because today marks the 25th anniversary of the original film. Directed by Dutch helmer Paul Verhoeven, the film was somewhat under the radar at the time, and had a relatively tricky trip to the screen, but on its release, was embraced by critics and audiences alike, and stands as an acerbic, satirical, ultra-violent sci-fi classic that Padilha and co. are going to have a tough time coming anywhere near matching. With the film hitting theaters on July 17, 1987 — 25 years ago today — we’ve taken the opportunity to find five facts that you might not be aware of about the film. Check them out below. Meanwhile, “Robocop” 2.0 hits theaters on August 9, 2013.
1. “The Accused” helmer Jonathan Kaplan was the first director on board the project.
One of the reasons that we’re a little wary of the remake is that it seems so difficult to imagine a successful “Robocop” away from the worldview of Paul Verhoeven (something backed up by the forgettable, generic nature of the various sequels and TV spin-offs). But the helmer was far from the first choice; almost every other Hollywood director had turned the film down before Verhoeven got to it. At first, director Jonathan Kaplan, who’d go on to direct “The Accused,” was attached, but eventually departed in favor of Matthew Broderick‘s “Project X.” One of the first on the list after that was punk helmer Alex Cox, who was hot off early films “Repo Man” and the soon-to-be-released “Sid & Nancy,” and a friend of the film’s co-writer Michael Miner (who penned the script with Ed Neumeier). Cox turned it down in favor of the Joe Strummer-starring “Straight To Hell” (he’d later be approached for the sequel too), and all kinds of other filmmakers were offered the job after that, including David Cronenberg. Finally, it came to Verhoeven, who’d moved to L.A in the early 1980s, and had made his English language debut in 1985 with “Flesh & Blood.” Verhoeven told Empire magazine this month, that when he first read the “Robocop” script on holiday in the South of France, “I skim-read it and just threw it away. I thought it was terrible.” But Mrs. Verhoeven picked the script out of the trash, and told her husband “I think you’re wrong. Read it again because there are many possibilities here for you to do something different and interesting.” Verhoeven took another look, and fortunately agreed with his better half.
2. Rutger Hauer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside and Tom Berenger all could have played the lead role, and Peter Weller was actually fired a couple of days into the shoot.
At first, backers Orion were keen on Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of their recent hit “The Terminator,” playing the title role. But it was ultimately felt that Schwarzenegger was too large to be convincing in the suit, and Verhoeven’s regular collaborator Rutger Hauer was also considered, along with Tom Berenger, Armand Assante and Michael Ironside (who was also up for the villain Clarence Boddicker). Peter Weller got the gig, mainly, according to Verhoeven, because of “the fact that his chin was very good.” Weller prepared heavily to play Murphy, hiring mime artist Moni Yakim to help him with his movement, but the suit was running late. After feuds between Verhoeven and designer Rob Bottin (“The Thing“) who said after the fact: “When Verhoeven came on the project he requested numerous design changes, additions to the suit which looked more like [a] machine than man-like. I’ve never done so many conceptual drawings for a director in my entire life — changing it, and changing it, and changing it!” As filming began, Weller hadn’t had much time to rehearse, and rows immediately erupted between him and the director, to the extent that producer Mike Medavoy shut down production for two days and fired Weller. Overtures were made towards hiring other actors (Lance Henriksen has been mentioned as one possibility), but with the suit having been made for Weller, there weren’t many options, and the director and actor later made up. Verhoeven and Bottin also made peace; they’d rowed over the lighting for the scene where Murphy removes his helmet, and the make-up supremo worried that the scene’s brightness would make his work look ropey, to the extent that he thought he’d end up coming to blows with the director. But after the premiere, Verhoeven and Bottin were so impressed with each other’s work that they later reunited on “Total Recall.”
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.