RoboCop (1987)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

In a violent, near-apocalyptic Detroit, evil corporation Omni Consumer Products wins a contract from the city government to privatize the police force. To test their crime-eradicating cyborgs, the company leads street cop Alex Murphy into an armed confrontation with crime lord Boddicker so they can use his body to support their untested RoboCop prototype. But when RoboCop learns of the company's nefarious plans, he turns on his masters.

“F—— me!” cry the criminals, as RoboCop blasts them into the hereafter. Rapists, robbers, terrorists are minced before our eyes. Villains are blown apart, defenestrated, melted down into pools of toxic waste. “You have the right to an attorney,” the courteous robot voice reminds them, as he tosses them through plate glass. The pace is frenetic. The noise level is amazing. You absolutely cannot lose interest; every moment something explodes.

What to make of it? The film industry has never been sure about this director’s work. His 1975 film Turkish Delight was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign-language film, but was marketed in the UK as soft porn. He has done well, in his own terms, to leave Holland for Hollywood: he says “the whole cultural baggage of Europe is on our shoulders and it is pushing us down.” The ambiguity in his work remains. RoboCop is either a fascistic blood-ballet or clean satirical fun. Wimpish critics are muttering about the scene where Murphy—the human Murphy—is comprehensively shot; but you have seen worse in Vietnam films. Their violence is excused because of the directors’ intentions, which are often impeccably liberal; but these intentions seldom cut much ice with the ordinary cinema audience, who drool—if drooling is their bent—just the same. No yobs will be spurred to imitate violence by the film. They lack the hardware.


The film is energetic, visually brilliant and very funny, with a sharp script that is never allowed to hold up the carnage. Its violence is spectacular, totally unrealistic, and—who knows?—perhaps quite therapeutic. All in all, it provides a stimulating evening for those who can jettison the “cultural baggage”; and a pure delight for those of us who have never had any culture at all.

Hilary Mantel (1988)