Dutch director Paul Verhoeven made his American directorial debut with 1987's RoboCop . Distributed by Orion Pictures and shot on a budget of $13 million, the film went on to make over four times its budget and spawned two sequels, a television
series, numerous video games and a remake in 2014. RoboCop and its two sequels, released in 1990 and 1993, all suffered various cuts across the years at the hands of either the MPAA in the United States or the BBFC in the UK. In this episode of Cutting
Edge, we'll be examining the censorship changes that were made to all three films in the original series, and taking a look at how the films fare on their current home video releases.
Heavily cut for an MPAA R rating
The first film in the series had arguably the toughest time at the behest of the censors. Verhoeven was contracted to deliver an R rated picture, but it took numerous attempts before that rating was granted by the MPAA. Famed for its scenes of bloody,
over-the-top violence, RoboCop was granted an R rating after the first eight submissions received an X rating from the censors for "excessively violent" content; an unusual turn of events as the X rating was generally awarded to films
containing graphic sexual content as opposed to violence. Various sources report that the film was rejected anywhere between 11 and 17 times, but Verhoeven himself set the record straight in an interview with Esquire in February 2014:
The MPAA's treatment of the film gets more and more mythological every year. It was rejected eight times, not 11. I had a hard time because in Holland, there were no restrictions. That was very difficult for me to deal with. It was very unusual that
people would tell me how to shoot my movie. So we went back to edit it. And each of those eight times we had to cut off a little more violence.
Living in occupied Holland during World War II had an effect on Verhoeven. As a filmmaker, his films are often noted for being particularly violent, and RoboCop is not the only film of his to receive cuts at the hands of the MPAA. This censorship was
something he found difficult to deal with, not only because film regulation is far more relaxed in his native country, but because Verhoeven saw the strength of violence in his films as a form of catharsis; a way of "getting even" with regards
to the violent and shocking images he witnessed as a youth, such as the sight of dead bodies lying in the streets following German bombings during the War. In the end, Verhoeven made almost 30 seconds of trims to various violent scenes in RoboCop before
his R rating was granted.
Cut Scenes: The Death of Mr. Kinney
The first scene altered was the death of the OCP board member Mr. Kinney, where the malfunctioning ED-209 is seen to blast Kinney to pieces. The scene was shot three times before Paul Verhoeven was happy with the amount of blood on show, and it was a
scene that the MPAA strongly objected to.
A vein of black humour runs throughout RoboCop, which is rather evident in this sequence, but it made no difference to the censors. The scene was cut by about five seconds, which removed some of the bloodier shots of Kinney being perforated, but
Verhoeven felt that the MPAA changes destroyed the original tone of the scene and removed the intended black comedy:
The extreme nature of the violence is comical. The idea of the machine shooting, and shooting well beyond reason is veering into Chaplin-style territory. I thought it was very funny, and the contemporary audiences laughed at it. But with the cut version,
nobody laughed because the joke wasn't as funny anymore. The MPAA forced me to take all that out. They made it worse for the public by making it impossible to laugh it off.
Cut Scenes: The Chase of Clarence Boddicker
The next change made for the MPAA occurs a few minutes later as Murphy and his new partner Lewis chase down the villainous Clarence Boddicker and his gang. A brief bloody close-up shot of Bobby being shot in the leg was replaced with a wider, less
explicit shot of the same event.
In isolation, this shot would have arguably been unproblematic, but the MPAA consider the cumulative effect of a film's violence as part of the classification process, and not individual violent occurrences. In the case of RoboCop, with other contentious
scenes taken into account, the alteration of this footage helped reduce the cumulative nature of the film's violence.
Censored 'R' version
Original 'X' version
Cut Scenes: The Gunning Down of Murphy
The most drastically altered scene in RoboCop was the gunning down of Murphy at the hands of Boddicker and his men. Verhoeven conceived it as a brutal and sadistic scene for a reason, as he later recounted in 1995:
We don't know Murphy that well [at this point in the film]. The guy's killed after a couple of very short scenes... There was no emotion attached to him, no involvement, nothing that would make him really memorable, so I felt people should really be able
to memorize him [and] connect with him, and I thought the only way to do that would be to make his death very memorable. And that's why the death is so gruesome; to implant this man forever in the brains of the audience.
Despite his reasonable intentions, Verhoeven was forced to cut the scene heavily to attain an R rating. Shots that were removed included Murphy holding the bloody stump of his arm after his hand is blown off; the gang of villains laughing at his
suffering; the sight of Murphy's right arm being blown off; Murphy screaming as he is riddled with bullets; and Murphy being shot in the head by Boddicker.
Murphy's head shot was still shown in the R rated version, but it was only present through the use of alternative, less graphic material. Whilst the impact itself is less bloody, the real loss is the utilisation of a brilliant animatronic puppet created
by special effects maestro Rob Bottin that allowed Verhoeven to start the camera on Murphy's face before tracking around behind him and showing the bullet impact to his head in one continuous shot. A final shot at the end of the scene, showing Lewis
kneeling beside Murphy's body, was also eliminated entirely.
Some examples of shots removed for the R rated version
Proposed cut later waived: The Melting of Emil
The MPAA left most of the the rest of RoboCop's violence intact, although they did initially object to the infamous "melting man" scene towards the end of the film. After Emil is covered in toxic waste, his skin begins to melt from his body,
and he stumbles into the path of Boddicker's approaching car. Boddicker fails to react quickly enough, and Emil is splattered into pieces as Boddicker rams into him. It was this brief but graphic image that the MPAA objected to, but the filmmakers
countered that the event was one of comic book excess. At test screenings, the melting man scene was the most popular scene with audiences and Orion relayed this to the ratings board. After numerous phone calls, the MPAA relented; allowing Verhoeven to
keep the death of Emil in the picture after other violent incidences had been trimmed.
Cut Scenes: The Stabbing of Boddicker
One final change was made to the film in its finale, when RoboCop stabs Boddicker in the neck with a spike. A close-up shot of Boddicker holding his neck as blood squirts from his wound was replaced by a wider shot where the bloodletting was less
Censored 'R' version
Original 'X' version
Cuts restored in the Director's Cut
Criterion's uncut DVD was initially replaced with the R rated version
RoboCop was initially released on VHS in its R rated form, with the later Criterion Collection releases containing Paul Verhoeven's original X-rated director's cut that restored all of the previous MPAA changes. After the Criterion DVD went out of print
at the end of March 2001, the initial DVD reissues which followed contained only the R rated version. However, later special edition releases in all major territories contained the full uncut version, and it is this version that is widely available on
both Blu-ray and DVD.
The unrated director's cut was re-mastered in 4K
and released in 2014
It is worth noting, however, that the X-rated footage in these editions is sourced from film elements of dubious quality, and the film itself is not presented in Verhoeven's preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1 -- all currently available home video versions
present the film in a slightly more matted aspect ratio of 1.85:1. In these two respects, the original Criterion Collection DVD beats the currently available home video versions; not to mention the fact that the disc features the original Dolby Surround
soundtrack, some exclusive extra features, and a film-to-tape transfer personally approved by Verhoeven himself.
Cut for an MPAA R rating
Orion Pictures released RoboCop 2 in 1990, which was directed by Irvin Kerschner from a script by Frank Miller. It opened as the second highest grossing film at the box office on its opening weekend, and made $45 million in the United States on a
$35 million budget -- but the film received mixed reviews from critics at the time. The film was once again a violent affair, and earned an R rating for its American release after at least one scene was cut to avoid an X rating.
Cut Scenes: The Killing of Duffy
The killing of Duffy, the corrupt police officer, was slightly reduced to remove the focus on his torso being sliced open with a scalpel.
RoboCop 2 was a troubled production, and is alleged to have been an unhappy experience for many of those involved, and neither a director's cut or the original X-rated version have at this time received a home video release anywhere in the world, with
all current editions of the film based on the R rated version.
Cut by the BBFC for cinema release
When the film came before the BBFC in this R rated form in 1990 for a theatrical release, the Board issued the film with an 18 rating after 31 seconds of cuts to various scenes of violence. Whilst the BBFC had passed the R rated version of the first film
uncut, RoboCop 2 lacked the tongue-in-cheek, comic book violence of its predecessor, and the Board took issue with some of the more sadistic violence on show in the sequel.
Cut Scenes: High-heeled shoes
The first cut occurred in reel 1, when a man is beaten up by two female thieves.
For this scene, the BBFC demanded:
Considerably reduce beating up of male thief by two female thieves, removing close-up of kick to his crotch and all sight of his face being kicked and stomped by high-heeled shoe.
Cut Scenes: Car shooting
Shortly afterwards, as the film's villain Cain makes his escape from a drugs bust, he shoots a female worker who is hiding in the back of a car. Despite the complete lack of graphic detail, the BBFC objected to this occurrence as well, demanding:
Remove shooting of woman inside car.
As a result, a rather awkward cut was present in the sequence after the edit had been made.
Cut Scenes: Video game
In reel 2, RoboCop beats up Duffy for information, thrusting Duffy's head into an arcade video game machine. The sequence is brief and far from bloody, particularly for a film aimed at grown adults, but the BBFC still took issue:
Reduce bashing of man's head on video game by cutting away on impact before his face is seen against broken glass, and remove subsequent sight of his face deliberately rubbed into broken glass.
Cut Scenes: Tortured with knife
Duffy's torture in reel 3 was also edited, with the BBFC insisting on reductions to its sadism, which resulted in footage being removed of Cain taking pleasure in watching Duffy being cut up. Cain's child apprentice, Hob, is present during this event,
and whilst the BBFC demanded cuts to the violence, they seemed keen for the scene to retain some moral viewpoint:
Considerably reduce torture with knife, removing much of the screaming, but retaining boy looking away and then being forced to watch.
Cut Scenes: Killed by RoboCop
Later on, the factory shootout in reel 4 was also slightly trimmed, removing bloody impact shots on two thugs who are shot by Murphy and Lewis.
Cut Scenes: Killed by RoboCop II
The final BBFC cut occurred in reel 5, when Cain -- now in cyborg form -- kills his girlfriend, Angie:
Reduce breaking of girl's neck by Robocop II so action is indistinct.
Following these changes, RoboCop 2 was passed with an 18 rating on September 13th 1990.
Further cut by the BBFC for video release
It was resubmitted a short while later for a video release by Virgin Vision in its pre-cut UK cinema version, and the BBFC insisted on one more cut at the very start of the picture on the grounds of imitable behaviour.
Cut Scenes: Car Breaking
Reduce imitable criminal technique of breaking into car by removing detailed sight of metal blade in window being used to lever up door lock, cutting away after it is inserted and resuming on click of door opening from inside car.
This cut amounted to four seconds on PAL video, and following this additional change, the BBFC passed RoboCop 2 with an 18 rating for a video release on February 28th 1991.
BBFC cuts waived for DVD
This cut version was the only version available to UK buyers for the next decade, until MGM resubmitted the film in its R rated form for a DVD release. It was passed with all of its previous BBFC cuts waived with an 18 rating on August 1st 2001, and this
version of the film debuted in the RoboCop Trilogy DVD box set.
This version is now the standard version available in the UK, with the cut UK cinema version having never received a DVD or Blu-ray release.
Cut by the BBFC for cinema and home video
By the time RoboCop 3 came around in 1993, the spirit of the original film had long since been exorcised. RoboCop as a character now had huge appeal to children, and Orion Pictures sought to make the second sequel more appealing to a wider
audience. Gone was the clever and satirical socio-political commentary, the coarse language, drug use and graphic violence, and RoboCop 3 was released with a PG-13 rating in the United States. This version was submitted to the BBFC in the UK for a
theatrical certificate in 1994.
Cut Scenes: Nunchaku
Due to the BBFC's unusual policy on martial arts weapons, cuts were made to remove the sight of one member of the Splatterpunks gang brandishing a pair of nunchaku.
With these cuts made, the film was passed with a 15 rating on April 12th 1994.
Columbia Tristar later resubmitted the film twice to the BBFC for a video rating. Their first submission was the pre-cut UK cinema version, which was again passed with a 15 rating on October 7th 1994. The following year, the uncut version was submitted,
but the original UK cinema cuts were upheld and the film was classified on May 31st 1995 after three seconds of cuts. Columbia Tristar later released this cut version on DVD in the UK on January 24th 2000, but it has long since been out of print.
The original censored UK DVD
BBFC cuts waived for DVD
MGM resubmitted the uncut version of RoboCop 3 for release in the aforementioned RoboCop Trilogy DVD set some six years later, and with the BBFC's policy on martial arts weapons now quietly withdrawn, the Board waived the previous cinema cuts and passed
the film uncut with a 15 rating on October 29th 2001. This has since become the standard version available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray.
To summarize, both RoboCop and RoboCop 3 are available on Blu-ray in their uncut versions in both the United States and the UK, whilst RoboCop 2 is still only available in its censored R rated version.
The Criterion Collection were the benchmark for quality with their unrated Laserdisc and DVD releases of RoboCop, and by the time MGM brought out their own special edition, they had little choice but to satisfy fans by giving them the same uncut version
of the film. But if Paul Verhoeven is still unable to get the original uncut version of his 1990 film Total Recall released by a major Hollywood studio, what chance is there for an uncut release of RoboCop 2; a sequel made 25 years ago that is not held
in as high regard as the original film? It is perhaps fair to say that any potential profits to be made from such a release are probably not worth the initial investment by the studio. As it stands, fans can purchase the three RoboCop films on Blu-ray,
knowing they are getting the most complete versions of all three pictures that have been released to date.
Cutting Edge Video Episode 20: RoboCop Special Edition
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.