Five films to watch if you love RoboCop – 30th anniversary

It’s 30 years since Paul Verhoeven’s satirical vision of a near-future Detroit hit cinemas. Any of these five films would make for a perfect celebratory double bill.

Lou Thomas

RoboCop (1987)

RoboCop (1987)

Thirty years ago, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven hit commercial paydirt with RoboCop (1987) by bringing a blend of bloody violence and satirical bite to a wide audience.

The eponymous cyborg is a reanimated version of murdered cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), brought back to life by Omni Consumer Products to help make the dangerous streets of a crime-plagued near-future Detroit safe. Murphy tracks down the gang of merciless drug dealers who killed him and is disturbed by memories of his once-happy family.

Corporate life is lampooned throughout, with the Omni hierarchy shown to be as immoral as deliciously sleazy crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). There are many other reasons to love the film, from its ridiculous prototype robot trials and stunning shootouts to its gloriously exaggerated performances.

Each one of Boddicker’s destructive cronies is as maniacal as he is menacing, while Ronny Cox has great fun as villainous Omni senior president Dick Jones. RoboCop also boasts spoof commercials, wacky TV personalities and a particularly gruesome scene involving toxic waste.

If you like what you see in RoboCop, here are five more knockout features to get your pulse racing.

Blade Runner (1982)

Director Ridley Scott

Blade Runner (1982)

Seeing a poster for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece and hearing it was about “a cop that hunts robots” inspired RoboCop co-writer Edward Neumeier to develop the inverse: a story focusing on a robot cop.

This isn’t the only connection the films share. Both are set in a dystopian city of the future. Robocop’s crime-ridden future Detroit is probably about as liveable as Blade Runner’s overcrowded, polluted and soggy Los Angeles of 2019.

Aside from the tumult of urban living, both explore the psychological implications of uncertain memories and confused identities. RoboCop is haunted by flashbacks of familial bliss. Blade Runner’s Rachael (Sean Young) is tortured by what she thinks are fond recollections of her upbringing. There is also the fundamental question of protagonist Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) own identity.

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

Director John Woo

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

Fans of RoboCop’s terrific OTT action and humour will find plenty of both in A Better Tomorrow. John Woo’s breakout film is a fast, vital and influential Hong Kong crime movie that introduced the world to Chow Yun-Fat, here starring as Mark, the sharp-shooting best friend of Ti Lung’s Triad gangster Ho.

Like RoboCop, crippled Mark and post-prison Ho are haunted by their past. They too have to deal with a mob threat, as well as Ho’s angry cop brother Kit.

Woo’s short scenes keep the film ticking along at pace, even when the director drops into balletic slo-mo. The set pieces in the Fung-Soi restaurant and the dockyard at the film’s climax are particularly impressive. They helped cement Woo’s reputation as one of world cinema’s greatest action directors.

Total Recall (1990)

Director Paul Verhoeven

Total Recall (1990)

Starship Troopers (1997) is also massively entertaining, but Total Recall pips it to the post as the ideal mid-period-Verhoeven RoboCop partner. After Blade Runner it’s the second Philip K. Dick adaptation on this list. The short story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ is its source material.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who is actually a secret agent who has had his memory erased. He has to fight for the rights of mutants on Mars to save the planet. If this sounds more baffling than filling in a tax return, it is. But the mind-melting loop of memory, dreams and reality is played out to thrilling effect with exagerrated violence, grotesque makeup effects and killer one-liners. Sharon Stone and RoboCop’s Ronny Cox supply accomplished villainy in support.

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Director Jason Reitman

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Jason Reitman’s grimly funny feature debut stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, a morally questionable tobacco lobbyist. One may wonder if there is any other kind, but the company he keeps is just as ripe. Naylor and his two friends who lobby for the firearms and alcohol industries call themselves the “Ministry of Death” for giggles but know the harm the products they promote cause.

If the narrative is somewhat episodic, viewers can expect consistent laughs and just as many sighs of recognition. Nefarious business practices and the way they are spun are front and centre, in common with the executive activities of Omni Corp’s top echelons.

Dredd (2012)

Director Peter Travis

Dredd (2012)

RoboCop was partly based on 2000 AD comic character Judge Dredd, and the similarities are easy to spot. Physically, both have an imposing, fearsome bulk crowned by a helmet that includes an eye-hiding visor. Both share the same resolute professional attitude and work ethic. If you’re a criminal, prepare to face some tough justice.

Pete Travis’s crunching comic-book adaptation sees the eponymous judge (Karl Urban) navigate his way up a a 200-storey tower block to bring down drug boss Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Shades of equally excellent tower tear-up The Raid (2011) abound, while Alex Garland’s smart script paved the way for his thoughtful robot identity crisis smash Ex Machina (2014).

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