80s nostalgia

26 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Original RoboCop

After more than a decade of discussion, the remake of 1987’s RoboCop finally arrived in theatres this week, heralded by wildly mixed reviews and Twitter-borne chatter along the lines of “Seriously? Why don’t they remake terrible movies instead of great ones? You know, like Endless Love?” But the original remains untarnished by the sniping. Made on a small-even-then budget of $13 million, the classic RoboCop was a huge hit, spawning no end of tie-in products as well as one of moviedom’s most satisfying catchphrases (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”).

It also marked the Hollywood breakthrough for Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who gave us the 1990s gems Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers (with a wrong turn at Showgirls in between). Even two thoroughly dispiriting sequels couldn’t tarnish the franchise’s legacy the way certain other sci-fi follow-ups (*cough* Matrix trilogy *cough* Star Wars prequels *cough*) have.

With the remake getting so much attention, it seems like a fine time to revisit the original RoboCop. While digging into the extras on the shiny new Blu-ray edition and leafing through some vintage comic books and other sources, Vulture found a few choice tidbits even diehard fans may have forgotten … if they ever knew them in the first place. Like the man says, thank you for your cooperation.

1. Michael Ironside, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Rutger Hauer were all considered for the title role, but those actors’ large frames would have caused the RoboCop costume the filmmakers had in mind to look too bulky.   2. Peter Weller, who had competed in marathons in his spare time, was seen as being trim enough to pull off the look once he was in the suit.   3. Despite the image depicted on the iconic movie poster, Weller couldn’t fit inside his police cruiser while wearing the full costume. So in any scene where he’s at the wheel of the cop car, RoboCop is pantsless.
4. Peter Weller consulted with Julliard’s Moni Yakim to develop a fluid style of motion for portraying RoboCop. Incorporating mime techniques, the two settled on a serpentine movement to convey the character’s unique nature. Weller practiced for seven months, during which the actor sometimes danced around Central Park wearing football gear.   5. Meanwhile, the design and fabrication process of the RoboCop costume took nearly eight months from Weller’s initial fittings. The final suit wasn’t ready for him to wear until he was on set.   6. Two weeks into filming, Weller suited up as RoboCop for the first time. After an arduous process that took between eight and 11 hours, Weller discovered that he could barely move in the bulky costume.   7. Even after producers removed extraneous pieces of the costume, Weller still had trouble moving and insisted that production stop until they could find a solution. Weller, Yakim, and Verhoeven spent the next two days conceiving RoboCop’s trademark gait: a slowed-down, staccato-style of movement that would work with the still ungainly costume.
8. Though set in a near-future Detroit, not a single frame of RoboCop or its sequels were shot in the Motor City. (According to producer Jon Davison, Detroit was ruled out because it “didn’t have any kind of futuristic skyline or … modern look at all.”) The original was primarily filmed in Pittsburgh and Dallas.   9. The city street that heavily armed villains destroy in an orgy of explosions was actually a Dallas street already planned for demolition, so the filmmakers were given the freedom to go all-out. The pyrotechnics detonated close enough to Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise that the two actors were given bonus pay for stunt work.   10. Perhaps prompted by an internet-backed grassroots movement calling for a RoboCop statue to be erected in downtown Detroit, filmmakers behind the current remake shot some exterior shots in the Motor City.
11. RoboCop is unusual for its lack of any credulity-straining romance between its male and female leads, but a love story was briefly in the cards, as discussed in a recent panel appearance by Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier featured on the Blu-ray of the film.   12. Before locking the final script, the director had Neumeier and cowriter Michael Miner do a draft that had Murphy and partner Anne Lewis having an affair, but on reading that version, decided that the earlier version was the right idea.   13. Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan’s co-star on the 1980s TV detective series Remington Steele was originally cast opposite Weller as Officer Lewis. Like Brosnan, Zimbalist had wanted to leave television behind for movie roles, and when a network schedule without their show was announced for the fall 1986 season, both successfully landed plum film gigs (Brosnan scored the role of James Bond in The Living Daylights). But weeks before shooting on RoboCop was set to begin, NBC announced that Steele would be coming back, after all; both Brosnan and Zimbalist were contractually obligated to abandon their time-consuming movie commitments. Brosnan would, of course, later play Bond, but movie stardom never happened for Zimbalist, who was replaced by Nancy Allen as Officer Murphy’s partner.   14. Although, as Verhoeven observes, the RoboCop costume strongly implies that there’s “not much chance to do any stuff [down] there,” the director encouraged Allen to cut her hair short and “make herself as boylike as possible” and “eat a lot” (Allen has said that this essentially amounted to quitting smoking) to keep the audience from expecting any hanky-panky to happen between Lewis and Murphy. Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
15. A pre–That ’70s Show Kurtwood Smith improvised a lot of his performance as deranged crime boss Clarence Boddicker, adding opportunities for blood and profanity that director Verhoeven readily embraced. Smith’s wife, actress Joan Pirkle, keeps an impressively straight face as a secretary he creepily propositions (“I’ve got some free time. Maybe you could uh… fit me in”).   16. According to Verhoeven, actor William Shockley has credited his big-screen debut as the would-be rapist RoboCop target-shoots in the genitals as being responsible for a career highlighted by a six-year run on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and a lead role in its short lived spinoff series, 1997’s California. (Shockley also had a memorable turn as the rock-star rapist in his other collaboration with Verhoeven, Showgirls.)   17. One of the most popular characters in RoboCop is never named on-screen: Bixby Snyder (played by S.D. Nemeth), the mustachioed star of It’s Not My Problem!, the TV show showcasing his unforgettable catchphrase, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” The show’s title is mentioned only in a deleted scene, salaciously labeled “Topless Pizza.” (Incidentally, a 1987 dollar is worth $2.11 today.)
18. According to Verhoeven, the quick flash of nudity in a locker-room scene early in RoboCop was meant to emphasize that the police of the near future would have an ethic of gender neutrality.   19. Verhoeven, believing the scene went by too quickly in RoboCop for anyone to notice (an argument that teen moviegoers at the time would strongly disagree with), tried it again in 1997’s Starship Troopers. In that version, a more languidly paced shot of a coed shower features equal-opportunity rear nudity and the hard-to-ignore toplessness of actress Dina Meyer.
20. As originally shot, the early scene in which the ED-209 battle robot malfunctions during a demonstration and kills a hapless employee in a conference room featured an extraordinary amount of blood and gore, setting up several jokes about what had just happened. (“Somebody want to call a goddamn paramedic?” and “I’m sure it’s only a glitch.”)   21. To the filmmakers’ great disappointment, the MPAA demanded that they cut back on the viscera. According to Neumeier, the lines from the less-bloody version received significantly fewer laughs at screenings.
22. The great Alfred Hitchcock loved inserting himself into his films, but RoboCop is seemingly the only time director Paul Verhoeven appears in front of the camera in one of his films … and that was essentially by accident.   23. In the scene where RoboCop arrests one of the villains in a disco, cinematographer Jost Vacano captured Verhoeven in the act of flailing around maniacally to inspire dancers to dance — as the director puts it in a Blu-ray easter egg — “in a kind of a funky [note: Verhoeven pronounces that “foon-key”] way.”   24. Verhoeven didn’t know he was in the shot until he saw the rough assembly in an editing room, but agreed that his manic gesticulating worked in the scene.
25. Ed Neumeier started a draft of 1990’s RoboCop 2 which would have opened with RoboCop being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and being taken off-line for 25 years, but development was derailed by a writers’ strike. RoboCop 2 and 1993’s RoboCop 3 were instead developed from a script by comic-book superstar Frank Miller, but his generally derided work was reworked substantially into their dreary final forms. (Nonetheless, Miller appeared in a cameo in RoboCop 2 as a Water White–type chemist.)   26. For his four-issue 1992 comic-book miniseries RoboCop Versus The Terminator, Miller teamed with artist Walter Simonson and took elements that had been excised from his scripts to create a time-warping adventure that found Murphy’s consciousness buried deep in the futuristic Skynet, as RoboCop’s technology had led to the rise of the machines in the first place. Terminators are dispatched to 21st-century Detroit to protect RoboCop from an assassin; future Murphy creates facsimile RoboCops to destroy Skynet (and his Robos can fly!); and the twists and turns include a Terminator facing a dinosaur in the prehistoric past. Owing to the nature of licensed properties, competing studios, and a fickle marketplace, this miniseries is long out of print but well worth hunting down; you can buy it online for less than the cost of a ticket to the new RoboCop.
26 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About RoboCop