Why ‘RoboCop’ Still Works 30 Years Later

Drew Dietsch

RoboCop turns thirty today. The sci-fi/action film has maintained an incredible legacy. Not even two poor sequels, countless weak TV shows, and a mediocre remake could tarnish such a seminal film. Why is that? Why does RoboCop continue to find new fans?

Characters You Love (and Love to Hate)

At the core of RoboCop is Alex J. Murphy, a good-hearted cop who gets murdered in the line of duty and reborn as a soulless corporate machine. We don’t spend a ton of time with Murphy before he becomes RoboCop, so it’s a testament to the script by Ed Neumeier & Michael Miner as well as Peter Weller’s charming performance that we love Murphy right from the outset. He’s a pure soul that wants nothing more than to do good, and he is cut down for his efforts in spectacularly brutal fashion. Watch his heartbreaking death, but know that it is NSFW for extreme violence.

Murphy’s journey to regain his humanity is one that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a classic tale of finding the man stuck inside the machine, and when he’s asked his name at the end of the film, his response of, “Murphy,” is triumphant. And Nancy Allen’s portrayal as Murphy’s partner, Lewis, is the kind of strong female character fans seem to be begging for in this day and age. Look no further than 1987 to find a female character who kicks ass and can handle herself as well as any of the male characters.

But we also have plenty of characters to despise. Clarence Boddicker (That ’70 Show‘s Kurtwood Smith) is the gold standard when it comes to malicious punks. He’s basically a chrome-dome version of the Joker. There’s also Dick Jones (the always awesome Ronny Cox), the greatest example of a corporate executive monster ever put to film. Even the late Miguel Ferrer‘s sleazy opportunist Bob Morton ends up being a scumbag that we can’t help but like. The stories that last are always anchored by excellent characters and RoboCop is chock full of ’em.

Effects That Still Look Great

RoboCop was a landmark in special effects filmmaking and those effects hold up today. Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping work in the movie goes a long way in getting the audience to buy into this not-too-distant future world. The design of RoboCop’s suit alone deserves immense praise, but it’s also important to take note of all the fantastic practical effects in the film. The horrific toxic waste transformation of gangster Emil gives us one of the most memorable movie monsters of the ’80s. Check out his insanely goopy (and, again, insanely NSFW) creation and death.

Another huge special effect that remains iconic to this day is the killer robot ED-209. ED-209 captures so much of what works about RoboCop: excellent effects work, a sly and even goofy sense of humor, and a commitment to over-the-top violence that stays stuck in your brain forever. The scene in which ED-209 is introduced is a masterful balance of horrifying and utterly hilarious. You gotta watch it to get the full effect, but if you think this clip isn’t also going to be NSFW, you probably haven’t seen RoboCop before.

Satire, Satire, Satire

Speaking of humor, one of RoboCop‘s most endearing qualities is how outright funny it is. Director Paul Verhoeven saw the inherent silliness present in the script and wasn’t afraid to embrace it. The numerous commercials that are interspersed throughout the film are not only good for a laugh, but they help paint a picture of the world that makes up RoboCop.

This all feeds into the biting satire of RoboCop and those criticisms reverberate to this day. As our world becomes more and more corporatized, it’s impossible not to see the parallels between Omni Consumer Products and the numerous companies that run every facet of our lives today. RoboCop wasn’t so much prescient as it was a scathingly funny takedown of what was going on in the world in 1987. The problem is that those issues haven’t gone away. If anything, they’ve become more pronounced. That makes RoboCop‘s satire even more effective.

It’s Just Plain Great

RoboCop is one of those few movies that might actually be perfect. It’s an insane juggling act of tone that never drops a single ball. There is something for everyone to enjoy in the film. Yes, it’s graphic and extreme, but it’s never mean-spirited or trying to make you feel awful for watching it. It’s fun, smart, exciting, emotionally sincere, full of superb characters, and pretty much everything you want out of a cinematic experience. It’s no wonder why RoboCop is still finding new fans thirty years later. The best movies always will, and RoboCop is definitely one of the best movies ever.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast, The Drew Reviews Podcast. He'll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him. www.thedrewreviews.com
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