The original RoboCop is a blood-spattered masterpiece: a scathing look at looming social decay, rampant corporatism, and things we might end up buying for a dollar.
So when MGM and Sony announced that the Jos? Padilha-directed remake would be PG-13, fans were up in arms. “How dare they try to make Detroit’s finest family-friendly?! Who’s going to want that?”
Well, my excitable friend, Hollywood already tried its damnedest to make a RoboCop you could take home to grandma. Let’s look back at 7 significantly less-than-R-rated takes on our favorite splatter cop.
7. A RoboCop Ride-Along
Hey kids! Want to take a ride with your pal RoboCop through the decaying, crime-ridden ruins of Old Detroit?
That was the premise of RoboCop: The Ride, basically a Captain EO-style experience out of amusement developer SimEx-iWerks in late 1995. Fellow riders would strap in and glide through the city as a CG RoboCop zipped along on a mission to save the mayor of Detroit from the villain Cyberpunk ROM and his gang.
Since this was a family affair, this 4-minute ride sadly didn’t involve RoboCop capping some fools, instead relying on some early CG to allow kids young and old to enjoy a dash through the streets of Old Detroit before Robo’s bike converted to hover mode, taking you above the crumbling skyline.
But RoboCop’s strangest adventure would happen five years earlier. One that would have him attempting to save the most important person of all: his tag-team partner.
6. Half Cop, Half Professional Wrestler
Summer 1990. Wrestling fans are waiting for the next chapter in the epic battle between Sting and the Horsemen. What level of smack talk would make its way into the promos for the likely spectacular WCW match-up?
Well, besides standing up for all of the “little Stingers” out there, the face-painted one had a surprise: he’d be bringing a cyborg along to take down Sting’s then-nemeses.
The promotion was done in support of that summer’s release of the hyper-violent RoboCop 2, among whose contributions to society is what can only be assumed is the spark that has led to an entire fetish of tiny men in zoot suits choking out ladies in officer’s uniforms, and RoboCop participating in a wrestling match.
Now, the logistics of someone in bulky RoboCop costume attempting to wrestle was likely not lost on the promoters at the WCW, meaning Robo (and the not-Peter Weller wearing the suit) wouldn’t have to try to struggle up into the ring. Instead, it was a half-mad cage match where RoboCop’s role was to bend the very fake bars and free his tag team partner.
Now if it seems weird that someone would hit on the bright idea to put what – we should stress – is a brutally-murdered cop in a title match alongside the life-sized action figures of professional wrestling, then you haven’t contemplated the strangeness of giving RoboCop his own line of actual action figures.
5. Dead Cop Toy Story
Okay, we’ll admit that once upon a time, when we were just little Topless Robots, we would have killed for one of Kenner’s ED-209 (renamed ED-260 here) toys. Really, what kid wouldn’t have wanted any of the figures from the dangerous-even-for-the-’80s line of Kenner action figures which featured exploding caps for that real, in your face pow-pow action?
The toys were the company’s tie-in to the short-lived animated series (more on that later), which gave RoboCop a handful of colorful enemies to fight on the crime-ravaged streets of Old Detroit.
The future of (toy) law enforcement included a rocket-launching car, and an Officer Lewis wielding what probably wasn’t a standard-issue crossbow.
Don’t worry, though: everyone was shooting lasers so you didn’t have to worry about any playground scenarios involving bullet-riddled corpses of Detroit’s Ultra Force.
What you did have to worry about was playing with these ungainly, barrel-chested figures whose human characters appeared to have as much trouble walking as the cyborg made of a couple of hundred pounds of titanium.
But what’s better than an action figure for all of the little Robo-fans out there? How about an inaction figure for the entire city of Detroit?
4. All Hail the RoboCop Statue!
Back in 2011, someone got it into their heads that Detroit needed a statue of RoboCop. Because, you know, hipsters and not understanding that the last thing a bankrupt city needs is a statue celebrating a movie where a city on the verge of bankruptcy is about to be taken over by a massive, heartless conglomerate.
And yet the Kickstarter campaign for Detroit Needs a Statue of Robocop was able to nab $65,000 with an initial goal of $50,000, easily vaulting the character out of the territory of horrifying speculative fiction to pop-culture toy for the nostalgia set.
There’s something vaguely depressing about the concept of the statue, which currently has a completion date of Fall 2014: there’s something vaguely creepy about the conceptual disconnect between what the character and that first film meant, and the gleeful rush to canonize him in the real world. RoboCop is a grim film – even if Murphy technically takes down the bad guy in the end, he’s still an emotionless creature trapped in a mechanical body owned by what is, at best, a lawful-evil entity.
Yet, in the annals of “missing the point of RoboCop – you know, for the kids” – very little has our next entry beat.
3. Kid Sidekicks, Ninjas, and Jetpacks
By all rights, 1990’s RoboCop 2 should have been the final nail in the film franchise, but somehow Orion was able to wrest one last indignity out of its cyborg lead in a movie so unwanted, that co-star Nancy Allen demanded that her character be killed off so she wouldn’t have to do any more of them.
The third entry in the series was a series of bizarro compromises, attempts to make the series more appealing and toyetic in an effort that ended up rotting for years on the shelf before getting dumped on home video.
Directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad), with a story-by credit for Frank Miller, it involved a martial law crackdown on Detroit led by a now Japanese-led OCP and the ragtag group of rebels that drafts Officer Murphy to help them strike back.
In the attempts at humanizing a Lewis-less RoboCop, the film saddled him with kid hacker/sidekick Nikko (Remy Ryan) who helps him take down the nefarious mega-corporation and its ninja droid assassins with the finest technology no budget at all can allow.
Somehow, between the friendly, joking cast (which included Stephen Root and Rip Torn), Orion pooped out what felt like a “cuddly” RoboCop film.
If RoboCop 3 was “the one where they put a buncha accessories on him,” then there was precedent thanks to a short-lived cartoon.
2. Old Detroit: The Animated Series
First off, kudos to this 12-episode series for not shying away from the violent fate of Officer Alex J. Murphy. But yeah, there was totally an animated series about a “mortally wounded” cop rebuilt by his corporate overlords to take down the criminal element in future Detroit.
The 1988-1989 series came out of Marvel Productions. At the time, the animation studio was cranking out feature-length movies based on G.I. Joe and Transformers, and would later become New World Animation.
And you know what? Dubious animation quality aside, a RoboCop cartoon wasn’t exactly the weirdest idea in a decade that gave us short-lived animated series based on PTSD-suffering Vietnam vets (Rambo: The Force of Freedom) or mutated Troma heroes just trying to sex up their blind lady friends (Toxic Avenger).
No, if we’re really going to scrape the bottom of the barrel for RoboCop’s strange flirtation with going legit, look no further than December, 1987.
1. RoboCop’s Other Dick
What better way to herald the home video release of your tale of corruption and overreach by the military industrial complex than by having Richard M. Nixon attend the video release?
The story behind this oft-shared image has been murky for a while, but a 2013 Mental Floss piece was finally able to connect some of the dots for this weird meeting, crediting the image to rock photographer Chuck Pulin:
Richard M. Nixon is escorted by RoboCop at a national board meeting of the Boys Club of America. The RoboCop character was on hand to call attention to Orion Home Video’s RoboCop RubOut promotion. Sweepstakes tickets, packaged with each “RoboCop” cassette, offer a number of instant prizes for retailers as well as $25,000 in donations to the Boys Club. The sweepstakes is part of a $3 million promotional effort launched by Orion in conjunction with the action-adventure film’s video release. The cassette will be available in video stores beginning Jan. 28 for a suggested list price of $89.98.
Keep in mind, at this point, Nixon was experiencing something of a resurgence among the then-current generation of Republicans, his Watergate legacy softened by time out of office and the spotlight. Somewhere up the Orion PR food chain, someone either sincerely thought pairing an off-model, non-Peter Weller RoboCop with Nixon would be synergistic gold, or someone was having a bit of slyly ironic fun matching the face of political corruption alongside an undead super cop who ends up killing sinister old men in suits.
We’d like to think that at some point during the meeting, someone said “Dick…you’re fired!” but it’s really unlikely we could get that kind of perfect slice of history.
Previously by Charles Webb
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