Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for RoboCop. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is RoboCop about?
RoboCop is a satire of society as it slowly becomes consumed more and more by technology and loses its humanity. This struggle to retain one’s humanity is explored through the character of Alex Murphy, who dies in the line of duty and is transformed into a RoboCop. As a robot, he loses his humanity and purely becomes an extension of Omni Consumer Products (OCP). He serves and protects just like he did before, but without any of the emotional drive that typically carries a human being. As RoboCop, he cannot love, he has no sensibility—he is pure machine. No humanity.
The film then follows Murphy as he attempts to reclaim his humanity. This struggle is reflected on a societal scale, as society is overwhelmed by media that trivializes violence and asserts a certain brand of “hero.” As technology and corporations increase their overarching reach, we see society becoming more and more unstable, less human. They are told what to care for and how to see the world by those who profit. Murphy confronts this sort of corporate control by battling both OCP and Clarence Boddicker, who is financed by Dick Jones of OCP. By ridding the city of these greedy entities, Murphy is able to both help society and himself—and, in the end, rediscover himself.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Peter Weller – Officer Alex J. Murphy / RoboCop
- Nancy Allen – Officer Anne Lewis
- Ronny Cox – Dick Jones
- Kurtwood Smith – Clarence Boddicker
- Miguel Ferrer – Bob Morton
- Dan O’Herlihy – The Old Man
- Robert DoQui – Sgt. Warren Reed
- Ray Wise – Leon Nash
- Felton Perry – Johnson
- Paul McCrane – Emil Antonowsky
- Jesse D. Goins – Joe Cox
- Del Zamora – Kaplan
- Calvin Jung – Steve Minh
- Edward Neumeier – Writer
- Michael Miner – Writer
- Paul Verhoeven – Director
The ending of RoboCop explained
A recap of RoboCop‘s ending
At the end of RoboCop, the city of Detroit is engulfed in chaos as the police force goes on strike. In an effort to destroy RoboCop and employ his own robo-policing invention, the ED-209 unit, Dick Jones equips Boddicker and his gang with high-powered weapons. A confrontation eventually culminates at a steel mill, where RoboCop and his partner Anne Lewis face Boddicker’s gang. Despite severe injuries, our heroes slowly take out the villains one by one, climaxing with RoboCop killing Boddicker in a brutal fashion by stabbing him in the throat.
RoboCop then enters OCP headquarters and confronts Jones, revealing the truth behind the murder of Bob Morton, the executive who created the RoboCop program. In a desperate move, Jones takes the OCP’s senior president (referred to as “the Old Man”) hostage. But once the boss fires Jones, it disables Directive 4, a secret protocol in RoboCop’s programming that prevented him from acting against an OCP executive. Freed from this constraint, RoboCop shoots Jones and sends him through the window to his death.
In the film’s final moments, the Old Man asks for RoboCop‘s name. In a moment that signifies the reclaiming of his humanity, RoboCop responds simply with, “Murphy.”
Murphy rediscovers his humanity
There’s a reason RoboCop ends with Murphy saying his own name. The movie is all about Murphy’s quest to rediscover his humanity in a world that’s increasingly trying to dehumanize him, to strip him of his autonomy. This narrative is fascinating from a character perspective, but really gains breadth when you consider RoboCop‘s satirical comments and social commentary (read more about the satire in the themes section). Ultimately, the film aims to explore the complex relationship between humans and technology, focusing on the loss of identity that inevitably consumes civilization and the ethical challenges posed by rapidly advancing technology. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of unchecked progress, especially when driven by corporate interests rather than humanistic values.
The central narrative of RoboCop revolves around Officer Alex Murphy, who is brutally killed and then resurrected as RoboCop, a cyborg cop. This is a stark contrast from the man we knew, who had quirks and personality and was dedicated to his job and loved his family. When Murphy first starts at the Metro West precinct, there’s a pointed shot of his name sitting above his locker. Moments later, Sergeant Reed removes Frederickson’s name from his locker. Frederickson, like several of the West Metro cops as of late, died of injuries while fighting crime. The continual depletion of the force is causing unrest in the department as policemen worry for their lives and question the humanity of their dire situation as crime gets more and more out of control.
The response to this unrest? From the corporate perspective, it’s to strip the police department of its humanity entirely: replace the policemen with robots. Because robots have nothing to fear. They cannot die. If they do “die,” they are simply rebooted or replaced. They have no cares, they cannot love. They are simply programmed to serve and protect, without any emotion. Thus, Murphy’s body being transformed into RoboCop is emblematic of the film’s exploration of dehumanization through technology, as his humanity is stripped away, both physically and metaphorically.
After his transformation, Murphy struggles with his lost identity. He has flashes of memory from his past life, but as RoboCop, he is programmed to follow directives without question. This struggle highlights the tension between human consciousness and technological control, a key concern (especially these days) as the presence of artificial intelligence and automation increase. Through Murphy, the film raises questions about what it means to be human and the ethical implications of merging human consciousness with machines.
Murphy’s personal struggle to reclaim his humanity is reflected in the larger world. Through the constant presence of the television—such as the news reports that detail savage acts of violence; the commercials that capitalize on an obsession with crime and war; the guy who repeatedly says “I’d buy that for a dollar!”—the film explores the theme of media saturation and its role in shaping and controlling public perception. Through constant exposure to media that trivializes violence and glorifies consumerism, society in RoboCop is depicted as desensitized and manipulated. This environment forms the backdrop of Murphy’s journey, highlighting the challenges of retaining humanity in a world dominated by corporate and media narratives.
This backdrop makes Murphy’s gradual rediscovery of his humanity all the more harrowing. Despite his mechanical body and programming, he experiences flashes of memory and emotion, hinting at the enduring nature of his human consciousness. His interactions with his former partner, Lewis, as well as his own investigations into his past life, play a crucial role in reawakening his human side. The film suggests that human identity and consciousness are resilient, capable of persisting even under layers of technological manipulation.
Thus, the ending of RoboCop is significant both narratively and thematically. When RoboCop declares his name to be “Murphy” in response to the Old Man, it marks the culmination of his journey to rediscover his humanity. By reclaiming the name at the end, he asserts his human identity over the corporate and mechanical identity imposed on him. This moment symbolizes his triumph over the dehumanizing forces that sought to control him and strip away his (as well as the rest of society’s) humanity.
The themes and meaning of RoboCop
The satire of RoboCop explained
At the time of release, many people—especially the critics—viewed RoboCop as a straightforward action/crime film with a futuristic hero as its lead. But there was a vocal minority that recognized the film’s satire. And these days, RoboCop‘s satirical elements are widely acknowledged and understood.
So what exactly makes RoboCop—much like Verhoeven’s other movies, like Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls were—a satire? First, let’s define satire, especially how satire has developed in movies. Then we’ll look at the different ways RoboCop employs satire.
A quick history of satire in movies
Satire is a genre that was at first heavily established in literature (perhaps most notably by Jonathan Swift with Gulliver’s Travels in 1726) but eventually graduated to plays and films. Satiric stories expose and ridicule the vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings of society, ideally with the intent of shaming individual people, corporations, and government into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular issues in society.
In my opinion, everything changed with film. Movies allowed artists to explore satire in a much more visceral and invigorating way—with RoboCop marking a moment where the genre reached new heights.
Since the early days of cinema, filmmakers have used satire to address serious topics in a manner that is approachable, often using humor as a means to discuss issues that might otherwise be too sensitive or complex for direct analysis. The early years of cinema saw satirical elements in films, though they were often subtle and embedded within other genres. Filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin in movies like The Great Dictator began using satire to critique political figures and ideologies, setting a precedent for using film as a medium for social commentary.
In the post-war era, particularly during the 1950s and 60s, satire in film became more pronounced, reflecting the societal changes and political tensions of the time. Films like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Stanley Kubrick used dark humor to comment on the absurdity of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
The period of the 1970s-80s saw an increase in films that used satire to comment on a range of social issues, from war and politics to consumerism and media. The 1970s, in particular, were marked by a more cynical and critical view of government and society, influenced by events such as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Movies like Network satirized the television industry’s influence on public opinion and the corruption within media corporations.
By the time RoboCop was released in 1987, the landscape of satire in film had evolved to be more bold and direct. RoboCop stood out for its unique take on satire, combining elements of science fiction, action, and dystopian fiction to critique corporate greed, privatization, media manipulation, and the impact of technological advancement on society. Its approach was distinct in its blending of over-the-top violence and dark humor with a serious commentary on contemporary issues. The film resonated with audiences who were increasingly aware of the issues it presented, such as the growing influence of corporations and the changing nature of media and communication in a technologically advancing world.
Let’s discuss a few of the topics explored by RoboCop‘s satire.
Media and consumerism
The news segments in RoboCop are characterized by a cheerful tone and glossy presentation, regardless of the gravity of the news being reported. This satirizes the way news media can trivialize serious events, focusing on entertainment value and sensationalism over insight that forces us to reflect on the state of civilization. The stark contrast between the news anchors’ demeanor and the disturbing content of the news highlights the disconnect between media presentation and reality.
The commercials within the film are exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Take the advertisement for a board game called “Nukem,” which satirizes the era’s anxieties about nuclear war and the commercialization of violence. These commercials are reflective of the rampant consumerism of the 1980s, where even the most serious issues could be commodified and sold as entertainment.
By interspersing these media segments, RoboCop suggests the pervasive influence of media in shaping public opinion and social norms. The film implies that in a media-saturated society, the distinction between reality and entertainment becomes blurred, leading to a desensitization to violence and a skewed understanding of world events.
Corporate greed and privatization
The fictional corporation OCP embodies the extreme of corporate greed and overreach. It is depicted as a mega-corporation with ambitions to build Delta City in order to gain public trust and privatize the Detroit Police Department, showcasing a world where public services like law enforcement can be owned and operated for profit. This comments on the trend of increasing privatization and the influence of corporations in public life, suggesting a dystopian future where corporate interests override public welfare. The film portrays OCP executives as manipulative and corrupt, willing to go to great lengths, including criminal activity, to achieve their goals. This satirizes the real-world fears of corporate corruption and the lack of accountability in large corporations, particularly in sectors intertwined with public services.
The creation of RoboCop is a clear metaphor for how corporations prioritize profits over ethical considerations or public service. The transformation of Murphy into a RoboCop is driven by OCP’s desire to create a product that can be controlled and used to enforce law in a way that benefits the corporation. This transformation is treated as a business venture—an extreme but telling example of the dehumanization that can occur when corporate logic overtakes human values. The treatment of Murphy as a mere asset to be used and discarded reflects a broader critique of how employees and consumers are often treated by large corporations: as a means to an end rather than as individuals with rights and dignity.
The portrayal of violence in movies
The over-the-top nature of the violence in RoboCop, especially in law enforcement contexts, specifically critiques the glamorization of violence in 1980s cinema. As an extension, the film satirizes masculinity and how it was portrayed in action films. This approach can be seen as a commentary on how society, and particularly the media, desensitizes people to violence, and how men were viewed as the carriers of justice and vengeance.
In the 1980s, action films often featured a rugged, infallible male hero who used violence to achieve justice. RoboCop, however, is a subversion of this archetype. While he is physically powerful and capable of extreme violence, his journey is as much about regaining his humanity as it is about enforcing the law. This contrasts with the one-dimensional action heroes of the time, offering a more complex and flawed protagonist. Thus, the film critiques the notion of vigilantism and the simplistic view of heroism often portrayed in action movies. RoboCop, despite being a police officer, operates in a way that blurs the lines between justice and revenge, order, and chaos. This serves as a commentary on the dangers of endorsing vigilantism as a form of justice.
Important motifs in RoboCop
The gun flip
Early in the movie, we see Murphy practicing a gun flip. He tells Lewis that his son Jimmy is obsessed with a cop show where “DJ Laser” flips his gun every time he takes down a bad guy. We then see RoboCop do the same gun flip at the police station shooting range, which is when Lewis suspects that Murphy’s body was transformed into RoboCop. It’s a small but telling moment that shows how Murphy’s humanity has been stripped. Before, he practiced the gun flip to impress his son. But as RoboCop, he can he programmed to do a gun flip. Without his humanity, Murphy becomes nothing more than a glorified version of a police officer that’s been commercialized to gain trust from the public.
The act of flipping the gun, however, triggers memories for RoboCop, suggesting that certain physical actions or habits are deeply ingrained in his psyche. This motif underscores the theme of identity and the persistence of memory, even after drastic changes to one’s physical being. It’s a visual cue to the audience that Murphy’s human side is still present within the robotic exterior. So, in a broader sense, the gun flip can be seen as a symbol of the kind of justice and heroism only capable by a human being. The gun flip is rooted in his former self, his human dedication to upholding the law and protecting the innocent, to showing his son that he can be just as cool and powerful as the crime-stoppers on television.
“I’d buy that for a dollar!”
As we discussed in the themes section, RoboCop is a biting satire of consumerism and media control. And perhaps the most prevalent example of this commentary is a character on a crass, low-brow television show who repeatedly says, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” On a broader scale, the presence of media is used to highlight an increasingly desensitized society that’s losing its sense of humanity and driven by superficial entertainment. The catchphrase, with its emphasis on buying and its lack of substance, highlights the materialistic and morally bankrupt state of the society.
The repeated use of this seemingly light-hearted and humorous phrase contrasts starkly with the film’s darker and more violent scenes. This juxtaposition serves to enhance the impact of the film’s commentary on issues like corporate greed, corruption, and the dehumanization brought about by technological advancement. Thus, the phrase mirrors the ethos of the fictional mega-corporation OCP, which prioritizes profit over ethical considerations and human life. The catchphrase, in its simplistic and consumerist tone, echoes the corporation’s approach to its business and its treatment of society.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about RoboCop? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!