Paul Verhoeven established himself with studio films which also contained subversive, dark humor, like RoboCop (1987), Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. (What do you mean, Showgirls wasn’t supposed to be hilarious?) RoboCop earned over $50 million in theaters on a $13 million budget and became an even bigger hit on home video. Sony tried to repeat that success with 2014’s RoboCop, which barely earned back its $100 million budget.
There’s been plenty of speculation about why it wasn’t more successful, like its PG-13 rating. Joel Kinnaman — who played the titular robotic cop in the remake — told Uproxx’s Mike Ryan that, “What we did wrong on RoboCop, we just did something new and didn’t really take into account what the fans really loved about the original. I think that we should have gone and found more humor and more charm in it. And it’s tricky doing a movie like RoboCop at PG-13.”
Now Paul Verhoeven has also weighed in on what went wrong, and it boils down to leaving out the humor. When Collider asked Verhoeven if he’s seen the remakes of his movies, he replied:
“Oh sure, I watch them. Somehow they seem to think that the lightness of say Total Recall and RoboCop is a hindrance. So they take these somewhat absurd stories and make them much too serious. I think that is a mistake. Especially in [2014’s] RoboCop when he awakens they gave him the same brain. He’s a horribly injured and amputated victim, which is horrifying and tragic from the very beginning. So we didn’t do that in [1987’s] RoboCop. His brain is gone and he has only flashes of memory and needs to go to a computer to find out who he even is. I think by not having a robot brain, you make the movie much heavier and I don’t think that helps the movie in any way. It becomes more silly or absurd, but in the wrong way. Both those movies needed the distance of satire or comedy to situate it for audiences. Playing it straight without any humor is a problem and not an improvement.”
It’s a fair point, and I’ll keep it in mind when I remake Showgirls.