Halt, Citizen! 15 Facts About RoboCop
By Jake Rossen
People walking into Paul Verhoeven's bombastic action film RoboCop expecting an opera of exaggerated violence were not disappointed. But that’s not all audiences got: A sharp observation on militarized law enforcement and corporate excess, RoboCop—which hit theaters 30 years ago today—executed satire with as much skill as it had explosions. Check out these 15 facts (or there will be trouble).
1. ROBOCOP EXISTS BECAUSE A GUY NAMED ED HATED HIS JOB.
Ed Neumeier was so restless as a Universal Pictures story editor that he began to toy with an idea of his own about a robot police officer. Film student Michael Miner had a similar notion that he called SuperCop; the two brought their ideas together on a script, RoboCop: The Future of Law Enforcement. Despite its satirical bent, the title was so ludicrous they had trouble garnering interest until Orion Pictures—which had just had a hit with The Terminator in 1984—decided to run with it.
2. JUDGE DREDD WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE.
While Neumeier has said that being on the set of Blade Runner gave him inspiration for the idea of robots in law enforcement, RoboCop’s stoic mannerisms and single-minded action owes a considerable debt to Judge Dredd, the British comic book cop who presides over a diseased urban landscape. Production artists even borrowed heavily from Dredd’s helmet (above) before settling on the sleek suit seen in the film.
3. STAN LEE TURNED IT DOWN.
In 1984, Neumeier decided to see if he could spin the RoboCop script into a comic book to use as a launching pad for a feature. He ran the idea by Stan Lee; before Lee could commit one way or the other, he and Neumeier attended an early screening of The Terminator, which also had a humanoid as the main character. An impressed Lee told the writer, “Boy, you’re never going to top that!” and passed.
4. PETER WELLER BECAME A MIME FOR THE ROLE.
Knowing the suit (which was still being fabricated) would limit his facial expressions, Orion Pictures head Mike Medavoy suggested to lead actor Peter Weller that he seek out a mime coach in order to become more physically expressive. After interviewing several in what amounted to a mime-off, Weller settled on Moni Yakim, a performer who taught at Juilliard. The two worked for months on fluid, balletic movements that incorporated dance training; Weller even suited up in football gear and walked around Central Park to get a feel for moving with added bulk. Unfortunately …
5. WELLER COULD BARELY MOVE IN THE ROBOCOP SUIT.
After protracted design debates with director Paul Verhoeven, effects artist Rob Bottin was unable to deliver the suit until the day they were to begin shooting with it. It took Weller nearly 11 hours to squeeze himself into it, at which point he spent an hour trying to catch a set of car keys for a fleeting shot. Cumbersome beyond his expectations, all of Weller’s mime work had gone out the window; Yakim took the frustrated actor aside and told him to begin thinking of himself as a "beast." Production was halted for several days so that Weller could grow comfortable with his movements.
6. THE HEAT ON THE SET WAS EXCRUCIATING.
While the film was set in Detroit, Michigan to reflect the industrial collapse of the city’s automobile industry, it didn’t do much shooting there, as location scouts determined the Motor City's skyline didn’t look appropriately futuristic. Instead, the production was based primarily in Dallas, where summer temperatures regularly exceeded 100 degrees. Weller could lose eight pounds in a day; much of his time between takes was spent re-hydrating or having cool air hoses stuffed into the suit.
7. WELLER REFUSED TO ANSWER TO HIS REAL NAME.
According to co-star Miguel Ferrer, Weller instructed the producers to issue a memo to the cast and crew advising that no one should refer to him by his real name; he preferred to be called by his character’s name, Murphy, or “Robo.” Ferrer went on to say that, having known Weller for years prior to the film, he enjoyed greeting him with “Hey, Pete.” Weller ignored him.
8. ROBOCOP'S GUN NEEDED FBI APPROVAL.
According to Weller, the modified 9 millimeter Beretta automatic sidearm that RoboCop keeps in his thigh had to be approved by the FBI for entry into the United States. The actor, who had handled weapons as a teenager and was able to twirl handguns, said trying to spin the piece was like “trying to twirl half of a baseball bat.”
9. WELLER WAS WEARING A WALKMAN UNDER THE ROBO-HELMET.
In addition to having a very narrow field of vision and practically sautéing in his own sweat, Weller also had trouble hearing in the suit. For a shootout with drug dealers, Weller decided to set the mood by putting on headphones attached to a Walkman and playing Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain.” Weller called the moment “wildly, psychotically enjoyable.”
10. IT RECEIVED AN X-RATING—EIGHT TIMES.
Verhoeven thought he had sensationalized the violence to a comedic degree, particularly in a scene where an office executive is the victim of a “glitch” in law enforcement machine ED-209. The robot essentially tears him to shreds by firing high-caliber ballistics, at which point someone asks for a medic. The MPAA did not find this as amusing as Verhoeven did and asked him to cut down the scene, as well as the murder of Weller’s Officer Murphy. In all, Verhoeven submitted the film eight times before finally receiving an R rating.
11. SOME OF THE ACTORS GOT UNSOLICITED STUNT PAY.
Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise had been standing in such close proximity to a building explosion that the production—without any sense of humor—paid both men for “stunt work,” which amounted to roughly $400 apiece for the scene. But the actors didn’t feel their pay justified the risk to their lives; neither was aware the explosion would be that big, and Smith’s coat ended up catching on fire.
12. IT BESTED SNOW WHITE AND JAWS AT THE BOX OFFICE. BARELY.
RoboCop opened in theaters on July 17, 1987, with the only other new release being Jaws: The Revenge, the fourth entry in the shark franchise. RoboCop won the weekend with just over $8 million, slightly more than third-place Jaws and Disney’s reissue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When all tickets were counted, the film made roughly $53 million—enough to crack the top 20 for the year, coming in at number 16, but still not enough to topple the 15th highest-grossing movie of the year: La Bamba.
13. ROBOCOP SOLD FRIED CHICKEN IN KOREA.
While he may not actually possess a stomach, there’s just no killing RoboCop's appetite for chicken: RoboCop shilled for a Korean frozen food company in the 1980s, terrorizing a housewife before making off with the entire refrigerator. In a noodle commercial, RoboCop can be seen exercising his nonexistent abdominal muscles on a beach.
14. ROBOCOP ALSO DID A LITTLE PRO WRESTLING.
As the years went on, RoboCop’s place as social satirist gave way to a more one-dimensional portrayal of the character as a shellacked action hero in sequels, animation, and television. His nadir probably came in 1990, when an actor in the outfit emerged from backstage to assist professional wrestler Sting for a World Championship Wrestling pay per view event. Fortunately, he was able to restore order without opening fire.
15. A ROBOCOP STATUE WILL BE ERECTED IN DETROIT. SOMEDAY.
In 2012, word began to spread about a campaign to erect a RoboCop statue in Detroit—this despite the fact that the city was not exactly portrayed in the most flattering way in the films. A Kickstarter campaign was successful, and work on the statue has begun, but there’s still no ETA for the unveiling.
“On the Beat with RoboCop,” Starlog #117; “RoboCop: The Strong Arm of the Law,” Starlog #123; Flesh + Steel: The Making of RoboCop.