Hollywood will continue its assault on the films of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven this weekend with the rebooted version of RoboCop, and whether Joel Kinnaman is a worthy successor to the Robo suit — or the entire thing is just a heap of scrap metal — isn’t the issue here. Today, we pay tribute to the original savior of dystopian Detroit — the original RoboCop.
The movie gave 1980’s audiences their second bad-ass cyborg of the decade and a Jesus allegory that was splattered with blood by the end of the film. Its themes of corruption, authoritarianism, greed, and human nature are just as relevant today as they were in 1987, and its special effects makeup remains impressive.
With a new (presumably not nearly as awesomely bloody) PG-13 rated version on the way, now is the perfect time to roll out some obscure facts for one of the greatest sci-fi action movies to ever blast its way onto the big screen.
1. Director Paul Verhoeven initially didn’t film the crucial scene of Officer Murphy’s death. The film was behind production and over budget, and wrapped without filming Officer Murphy’s death (which would allow him to become RoboCop). After wrapping production, Verhoeven and producer Jon Davidson approached the studio with the information and were given more money to film the scene in a Los Angeles warehouse.
2. Learning to move in the suit was difficult for Peter Weller. The heavy suit was designed by a team led by Rob Bottin and caused considerable delays because of changes to the design. The suit didn’t get final clearing until the first day of shooting, which meant that Weller had no time to rehearse with it on. Naturally, this caused problems and production had to be halted for three days so that Weller could be coached on how to move while wearing the suit — which could take up to 11 hours to put on!
3. The studio was worried that real-life cops might object to the brutality. The studio was worried that RoboCop throwing Clarence Boddicker through the glass while reading him his Miranda rights might upset actual police forces. Not surprisingly, when officers were brought in for the test screening, that scene was met with cheers and applause.
4. The movie was pitched as a futuristic version of The Lone Ranger. The movie mimics aspects of the western classic from RoboCop’s gun twirl to Murphy being gunned down by bandits, only to return as a masked lawman of vengeance.
5. RoboCop didn’t wear pants while driving. Robo police suits didn’t function well with the cars of 1987 and Peter Weller couldn’t fit into a car while wearing the entire suit. That’s why you only see RoboCop preparing to step into or halfway out of his car. For the scenes with RoboCop driving, Weller wore boxer shorts and only the top half of the suit.
6. Director Paul Verhoeven referred to all actors by their character name while filming. This doesn’t seem like such an odd practice, but caused Miguel Ferrer and Kurtwood Smith to start laughing during Bob Morton’s death scene because Verhoeven addressed the actresses playing prostitutes as “b*tches.”
7. RoboCop borrowed The Terminator’s theme. For the original theatrical trailer Orion used the theme music from another of their hit sci-fi movies, The Terminator. Schwarzenegger was initially considered for the role, but producers were worried that he was too large and would look like the Michelin Man in the suit.
8. RoboCop is one of four sequel spawning movies directed by Paul Verhoeven. In addition to RoboCop, Verhoeven directed Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Hollow Man, all of which went on to spawn less successful sequels that were not directed by Verhoeven.
9. RoboCop’s suit came with a hefty price tag. The suit was by far the most expensive item on the set and producers were given one million dollars to make the six suits used in the film. Three of them were made to look damaged from battle and the other three normal looking. The suits were so hot and heavy that Peter Weller was reportedly losing almost three pounds a day from water loss. Eventually, an air cooling system was installed to cool the actor down. Here are Weller’s thoughts on wearing the suit:
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and — wanna know the truth? — it was the most difficult thing anyone’s ever done. They had to have air-conditioning ducts pointed at me, blowing out freezing air every 20 minutes.”
10. It wasn’t in the script for RoboCop to blow the rapist’s balls off. In the movie’s script, the rape scene is written with RoboCop shooting past the woman and hitting the rapist in the cheek. It wasn’t until filming that Paul Verhoeven had the idea for RoboCop to shoot between Donna Keegan’s legs and shoot the rapist in the crotch.
11. RoboCop had the endorsement of President Nixon. As part of the movie’s VHS release, RoboCop escorted the former U.S. President to a charity event for the Boys Club Of America. While it wasn’t actually actor Peter Weller in the Robo suit, $25,000 was donated to the Boys Club on behalf of Nixon and Orion Home Video.
12. The infrared heat vision was actually pretty low-tech. The RoboCop suit didn’t actually come equipped with infrared heat vision, but a much cheaper alternative. In order to achieve the look, the actors were painted with florescent body paint and a black light was shown on them. Hollywood magic, guys!
13. The hostage scene was based on a real-life hostage situation from the 1978. Former city council member Dan White held several people hostage while demanding his job back before assassinating San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. In the movie, one of the characters is seen eating Twinkies — this was done as an homage to White’s Twinkie Defense that alluded his murderous actions were out of depression from switching to a Twinkie-based diet.
14. RoboCop was a bit of a butterfingers. The hands on RoboCop’s suit were made of rubber and this made it incredibly difficult for Peter Weller to catch car keys. The scene with RoboCop catching the car keys took an entire day to film and up to 50 takes before finally getting the shot.
15. The gore was cut down to avoid an X-rating. Murphy’s death scene was heavily edited down during post-production to save the film from receiving an X-rating and submitted to the MPAA 12 times before being cleared for an R-rating. The DVD version contains the full unedited torture scene of Alex Murphy’s death. If you want to really nerd-out and get all the gory differences in the various versions check out the video below. It’s clearly evident that Red Foreman was a heartless ass-kicking bastard.
16. Kurtwood Smith originally auditioned for the role of Dick Jones. Smith went in to audition for corporate sleaze Dick Jones, but Verhoeven cast him as Detroit crime lord Clarence Boddicker because he felt Smith had a resemblance to Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler.
17. The film gives a nod to another iron giant of justice. RoboCop’s first bust is the machine gun maniac in the convenience store who takes an Iron Man comic book off the shelf. Verhoeven felt an Iron Man comic book was an appropriate tribute since both he and RoboCop wore metal suits in their pursuit of justice.
18. Detroit will be getting its own RoboCop statue. It’s a bit depressing that present-day Detroit is looking more like the dystopian Detroit of the film, and while the city may not have a RoboCop patrolling the streets yet, they will have a statue of him. When word of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s “New Detroit” proposal began to circulate the internet in 2011 several fundraising campaigns for a RoboCop statue were put into action and said statue is currently planned to be unveiled in the city this spring.
19. Director Paul Verhoeven and costumer designer Rob Bottin had a brief falling out while filming. Verhoeven and Bottin clashed while filming the movie over the scene where Murphy removes his helmet. Bottin was concerned that Verhoeven would use too much light and expose the makeup work, while Verhoeven was confident that nothing would be exposed. Bottin refused to speak to Verhoeven for the rest of the film and vowed never to work with him again. It wasn’t until seeing a final screening of the movie that Bottin forgave Verhoeven and agreed to work with him on Total Recall.
20. Verhoeven initially threw the script in the garbage. The script was passed on by numerous directors before finally landing on Paul Verhoeven’s desk. Verhoeven only glanced at a few pages and decided to pass, believing it to be just another “dumb action movie.” It wasn’t until his wife read the script and convinced him that it was a unique story worthy directing that he decided to do the project.
*Bonus* The Melting Man. The MFAA wanted this scene cut from the movie, and the producers had to fight like crazy to have it kept in, citing it as the favorite screen among test audiences (though it was rated as least liked scene also). The concept was done as an homage to a previous film that makeup and costume director Rob Bottin had done called, The Incredible Melting Man, and was intended to give the illusion of someone’s muscles literally melting off their bones.