The world can basically be broken down into two types of people: those who love the original 1987 Robocop film, and those who lack the proper auditory and visual capabilities to process one of the greatest works ever committed to celluloid. In fact, the only problem with Robocop is that it’s so great, it immediately renders everything else Robocop-related completely moot.
As with nearly every other gruesome action film from the 1980s, Hollywood realized that kids freaking love Robocop. It didn’t matter that it was a seriously hard R-rated movie with tons of gruesome violence and satirical jabs at corporations, the media, and Cold War-era nuclear paranoia that likely flew over young impressionable heads. Hollywood decided that they could turn Robocop into a superhero, and thus the subsequent sequels, cartoons, and live-action TV series stripped the property of everything that made it great in the first place. Without the satirical humor and over-the-top violence, we’re left with a guy in a clunky suit spouting orders to criminals. He’s basically robot Dirty Harry, though it’s the watered-down Dirty Harry from The Dead Pool, that terrible final Dirty Harry movie where Jim Carrey plays a goth rocker.
The many attempts to make Robocop family-friendly led to some truly bizarre moments in the character’s history. Let’s take a look at a few of the strange places Robocop popped up between his classic debut and the new big screen reboot.
That time he was bugged by drugs, ’80s Public Service Announcement
Much like Pee-wee Herman and the cast of Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, Robocop was enlisted in the 1980s war on drugs. Robocop’s PSA captures Detroit’s protector in a pensive moment, staring into the middle distance as Lewis asks what’s been bugging him. “Drugs,” Robocop intones. “Drugs bug me.” Kids of the ’80s were no doubt freaked out by the sudden cut to actor Peter Weller out of costume, causing them to miss his deadpan pitch about visiting their local Boys & Girls Club. “What’s bugging you, son?,” many a parent likely asked. “Realizing Robocop is the guy from Naked Lunch is bugging me.”
That time when he was a cartoon, Robocop: The Animated Series, 1988
Produced by Marvel Productions, 1988’s Robocop: The Animated Series is still one of the most faithful translations of the movie into another medium. Which is odd, since it was one of many cartoons from the 1980s based off of a decidedly adult R-rated movie. (Remember the Rambo and Police Academy cartoons? Well, forget those, because this one wasn’t terrible.) The opening sequence showed Clarence Boddicker and his gang shooting Officer Murphy, while some of the plotlines delved into darker material than most cartoons of the era. (In an episode penned by splatterpunk author and coscreenwriter of The Crow John Shirley, Robocop takes down a group of robot racists who dress up like KKK members.) Still, it’s weird to see Boddiker still alive and shooting lasers instead of pumping cops full of lead and telling “b–ches” to leave.
That time he stole fried chicken and a refrigerator, ’80s Korean commercial
This bizarre Korean ad depicts a horrifying scenario where Robocop leaps out of a television set and menaces a poor family until they give up their tasty fried chicken. He then makes off with their refrigerator, which has to be a violation of at least one of the tenets of the Prime Directive. To be fair, if you had to eat baby food all day, you’d probably be forced to resort to chicken-related home invasions as well.
That time he met Nixon, 1987
Slightly less historic than his tete-a-tete with Elvis was the late Richard Nixon’s photo op with a certain metallic member of Detroit’s finest. (Of course, that’s not Peter Weller under that weirdly pointy helmet.) This wonderful photo was taken at an event at the Boys Club of America as part of the promotion for Robocop‘s VHS release. ($25,000 was donated to the Boys Club thanks to the unfortunately named “Robocop RubOut” sweepstakes.) Robocop looks oddly at ease here. Perhaps he thinks Tricky Dick is OCP’s new CEO.
That time he saved the wrestler Sting from the Four Horsemen, 1990
As part of the promotion for Robocop 2, pro wrestler Sting enlisted Robocop for his grudge match against the Four Horsemen. The much-hyped event was billed as “Capital Combat: Return of Robocop” and took place in Washington, D.C. a month before the release of the lackluster sequel. Unfortunately, everyone forgot that Robocop can barely move, let alone wrestle, so all he ended up doing was rescuing Sting from a metal cage. Still, we’d much rather watch the awkward promos Robocop filmed with Sting than sit through Robocop 3 again.
That time he fought an Aztec Sun God, Marvel Comics Robocop series, 1992
Marvel’s short-lived Robocop comic book series is a mixed bag, with some issues dealing with OCP’s various machinations and others getting into territory that is weird even by ’90s comic book standards. (Surprisingly, Robocop never met Wolverine.) By the end of the series, Transformers scribe Simon Furman was writing stories that had very little to do with Robocop. The final story arc involves Murphy running afoul of an Aztec sun god worshiper and a cyborg who goes by the admittedly awesome name of Colonel Flak. A stark reminder of the days when Marvel would basically publish anything.
That time he appeared in a music video with Joe Walsh and Lita Ford, Robocop: The Series, 1994
The live-action Robocop TV series was a pretty dreadful affair, featuring miniscule production values and plotlines that pitted Detroit’s robotic protector against lame villains like Boppo the Clown and the Dick Tracy-ish mook “Pudface.” Dating the show even further is its end credits theme, a bombastic ballad — performed by former Eagle Joe Walsh and Lita “Kiss Me Deadly” Ford — called “A Future to This Life.” A music video featuring Walsh and Ford wailing at Robocop on a generic futuristic set played over the show’s first few episodes. Sadly, it never made it to MTV. We can only imagine what Beavis and Butt-head would’ve had to say about this debacle.
That time he showed up in a British kid’s toy collection, The Indian in the Cupboard, 1995
The mid-’90s were a grim time for Robocop fans, with the dreadful third movie and the cheesy 1994 live-action TV series all but destroying the franchise. But Robocop briefly returned to the big screen in what is easily the best scene in Frank Oz’s somewhat forgotten adaptation of the classic children’s book The Indian in the Cupboard. In an effort to test his magical cupboard, young Omri puts a Robocop toy and several other action figures inside of it. When he opens it up, Darth Vader is battling a Jurassic Park T-Rex while Robocop is engaged in a shootout with a couple of Star Trek characters and a G.I. Joe figure. (Sadly Ram-Man from He-Man doesn’t get in on the action.) Robocop even gets a line of dialogue, pointing his tiny gun at Omri and exclaiming “Halt!” like he’s a violent perp and not a scared kid whose toys just came to life. Even plastic Robocop is a tool for OmniCorp.
That other time he was a cartoon and also rollerbladed, Robocop: Alpha Commando, 1998
A cheap franchise extension during a time when nobody was interested in making a Robocop movie, the 1998 cartoon Robocop: Alpha Commando was even more dumbed-down and kid-friendly than the 1980s animated series. This time out, Robocop leads a team of high-tech agents in their battle against the forces of DARC (Directorate of Anarchy, Revenge, and Chaos), a terrorist organization that isn’t at all like G.I. Joe’s nemesis COBRA. Because it was the ’90s, Robocop got all Poochie-fied with some “extreme” gadgets like a jetpack and retractable rollerblades.
That time he rode proudly on a unicorn, 2008
Had memes been around back in 1987, you can bet that Robocop, with his general stiffness and tendency towards ultra-violence, would’ve been placed in all sorts of incongruous scenarios. Fast forward to 2008, when artist Olav Rokne’s image of the late Alex Murphy astride a mystical creature took the Web by storm. Many images of Robocop atop flying steeds ensued, offering Hollywood an instant movie premise. If you’re going to tone down Robocop for the PG-13 crowd, might as well go all the way and give him a trusty unicorn pal.
That time he inspired a musical and a hip hop song, ’00s
Besides being a catchy song, hip hop duo The Anomalies’ “Robocop Rap” doubles as a tight recap of the film. Meanwhile, Jon and Al, the showtune maestros behind the Conan the Barbarian and Predator musicals, offer up the moving ballad “Murphy, It’s You.” It’s that rare bit of Robocop media told from Lewis’ point-of-view.