Alex Murphy has had a rough life, and it can’t be easy when your sequels keep going downhill… Check out our lineup of the RoboCop movies, ranked worst to best to see what we mean.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of RoboCop. It was made possible by trials and tribulations. The film almost ran out of money. Many who worked on it laughed at the title. The movie delivered sci-fi action like none other and remained steadfast. The story of Alex Murphy, a good cop in a sea rife with corruption who became part man, part machine and dealt all the justice. This is the origin of the legend.
This series was about a dystopian future. It showed the cost of big business and unchecked capitalistic wealth. It also featured satire, violence, and balanced the themes of good against evil, corruption of power, man against machine. RoboCop was a hero that deserved better over time.
His legacy was about toys, action figures and cartoons, as well as video games and cameo appearances on wrestling shows. The moReRoboCop was weaker than the message. Even though the stories and characters felt stale, fans still wanted more of their chrome-plated hero. We’re so eager to discuss his movies, in fact, that we’re counting the televised mini-series as one, just so we have more than four entries to discuss some of Robo’s work.
Let’s now look at the RoboCop movies ranked from worst-to-best. Or you’ll get in trouble.
5. RoboCop: Prime Directives (2001)
- Release date July 16, 2001
- Cast: Page Fletcher, Maurice Dean Wint, Maria del Mar
Prime Directives never received a theatrical release and it wasn’t deserving of one, but this little expedition into Delta City gave fans a collected extra six plus hours of RoboCop. The television mini-series was aired as four films. While it ignored the main sequels, it tried to keep some of the same grit back that fans loved from the original. Robo must deal now with new enemies and corrupt businessmen, an AI that is evil, his son being part of OCP, as well as an upgraded model with two guns that wants to put him out of the woods. It’s an ambitious journey for the character that attempts to capture some of that old spark while adding new thematic layers, but it’s a project that doesn’t stick the landing.
It’s odd to say that a story and characters needed more time to breathe, and then also point out that a series meanders, but both things are true here. These ideas and new additions aren’t bad, but they should have focused more and trimmed the unneeded scenes in weaker areas. Acting-wise, there are good moments and bad moments.
Page Fletcher, who portrays Robo this time around, does a decent job, but he feels like someone else’s shorter, stranger version of the hero. He shines the most while playing Alex Murphy in flashbacks, however, and some of the sillier moments aren’t his fault, but have to do with the budget and costuming decisions. At times, the action and visuals are good, but it isn’t too consistent where quality is concerned.
Most fans will ignore this entry. Prime Directives is probably worse than the 1994 live-action television program, but it’s still worth seeing. The four films are almost a must for those who want more RoboCop. It tried to give Murphy a happier end.
4. RoboCop 3 (1993).
- Release date November 5, 1993
- Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Mario Machado
It’s usually not fair to point at a single movie as the one that ruined a franchise, but it’s understandable in the case of RoboCop 3. The studio hired Fred Dekker, a solid director, and Frank Miller, a comics legend, to help with the script. However, the studio fell apart financially.
RoboCop was becoming more popular with younger audiences and his cartoons and merchandising most likely made those calling the shots believe they needed to get more families in the theaters watching their metal-clad hero, which led to the franchise’s first PG-13 rating. A younger, more innocent sidekick character was added to the cast, which removed the familiar violence and nudity.
Robert Burke would replace the original actor who played RoboCop, on top of the major tonal issue. It wasn’t so much that the rookie was bad in the role, but he had some bulky metal boots to fill, and Murphy’s longtime partner, Officer Anne Lewis, once again played by Nancy Allen, is killed off in a lackluster fashion early in the movie. It feels like his partner’s death was supposed to be an incredible motivator within the story, but comes across as more of a robotic whimper.
The plot centers around OCP trying forcefully relocate citizens, resistance groups, and a child hackers who make dispatching major foes seem a little too easy. RoboCop 3 did add two things that every young viewer should love, robot ninja foes and a Jetpack, but those were not enough to help this third installment move forward. This one is only slightly better that Prime Directives. This is mostly due to the shorter length.
3. RoboCop (2014)
- Release date February 12, 2014
- Cast: Joel Kinnaman and Gary Oldman. Michael Keaton
There’s no way that this film ever gets away from the extra baggage of being a reboot of a beloved classic. Regardless of how much it did, this fact will always weigh it down. RoboCop is a reimagining that takes so many elements from the original but can’t seem to reproduce it in a similar way. The reimagining also doesn’t fully realize the new ideas or concepts it wants to bring to the man-versus-machine scenario.
The movie could have added layers to the story and updated the story, but instead it backs down from pushing boundaries and stifles the movie’s own evolution. RoboCop (2014) could have been more daring, or narrowed its focus. Instead, the movie made RoboCop seem bland and forgettable.
The real crime was the amount of wasted potential. Most of that comes from the cast, all of whom were fantastic with what they were given, when the actors weren’t forced to squeeze in key lines from the first film. Even the new Robo, Joel Kinnaman, has a few moments where he seems like a solid choice to play the cyborg, but his Alex Murphy is almost completely emotionless and unmoved before the accident, so that’s no surprise. Although there are some excellent visuals and a few entertaining action sequences, the film takes its time.
The remake was already out of date when it came off the production line. It couldn’t find the same soul in the original machine. It couldn’t match the satire, sadistic humor, or even the gore with its PG-13 rating, all while being unable to reach out and do something new or different enough to truly separate the movie and gain a new audience. It is possible to be boring and safe, which is worse than being offensively awful.
2. RoboCop 2 (1990).
- Release date June 22, 1990
- Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Belinda Bauer
It’s always hard for the sequel to surpass an original, and many times when it does happen it takes years to be noticed. RoboCop 2 may not be a better film, but it is so close to being that. At the end of the day, it isn’t as tight of a story, there are some odd pacing choices, and a little studio interference(opens new tab)Most people don’t realize how much it can hurt.
For some viewers, however, much like Aliens is the more exciting version of Alien, RoboCop 2 isn’t weighed down by its need for an origin story and jumps right into the already established playground. Some viewers might prefer RoboCop 2, while others may be nostalgic or simply prefer the original. However, RoboCop fans still love this entry, and it is not without reason.
The corruption of OCP continues as they plan to take control of Detroit and build the city that is the future. The story does a good job of showing why RoboCop hasn’t just been able to clean up the streets the way he wants to and introduces the war on drugs, with Nuke. Part 2 introduces a new secondary villain, and the violence and solid action are maintained for the most of the story. Tom Noonan is incredibly entertaining as Cain and his transformation helps build to an exciting final battle, but maybe the company shouldn’t have called him RoboCop 2. The series’ smaller side characters, including Hob, the kid crime lord and actor, are well explored here.
On top of all those elements, we also get more scenes showing the chemistry between Robo and Anne Lewis, as well as diving deeper into Murphy’s character while he still contends with his former humanity, as well as his wants and needs, showing that Weller seems more comfortable in the role this time around. Although the sequel didn’t match the tone exactly, what it develops is fantastic, keeping hold of the biting satire and delivering jarring commercials, like the Sun Block 5000. It isn’t better, but the argument is there for RoboCop 2 being just as good.
1. RoboCop (1987).
- Release date July 17, 1987
- Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy
It’d be tough to put anything else at the top of this list. While this iconic movie is the the origin story for our cyborg hero, it’s almost a miracle that RoboCop was even made. It is almost impossible to believe how many times this classic movie nearly died due to the difficulties the production crew went through with locations and actors, props, finances, and stunts. It was even deemed too violent at first – one of its shining attributes – and risked the dreaded X-rating before a few key bits were removed, and thankfully, added back in later. RoboCop’s momentum couldn’t be slowed once it was off the assembly line.
Paul Verhoeven, the director, deserves a lot of the credit. The creative side of the project was plagued by scheduling conflicts and other juggling maneuvers. The actor who helped define Robo was Peter Weller was a difficult person to work with, but he gave the character life that no one else has been able.
It also featured some memorable villains, brutal violence, and scathing commentary. Many of the effects and action scenes are still outstanding. There may be some signs of aging, but it isn’t hard to see why so many claim that the original still holds up and stands above all the imitators.
RoboCop left an indelible legacy that is hard to match. He remains the same, no matter what happens in his various incarnations. While companies try to duplicate his greatness, fans wait patiently for Murphy’s return to the streets. This icon may be a little old and tarnished in the eyes of some, but as long as there is a desire for stories about justice in a dystopian world, there’s a place for RoboCop.