Looking back at the ’80s, it’s astounding how many geek franchises blossomed from this single decade, creating some of the most iconic figures in film that have endured in the successive decades. What’s notable about many of these is that they were “hard R” movies… that nevertheless spawned a rabid following among culture’s youth.
For example, RoboCop was a downright hyper-violent flick that still managed to create a figure that kids everywhere loved due to his awesome look and easy-to-imitate cadence. I don’t think it was every intentionally designed to appeal to kids, but boy did it take root with the culture of the time. And even as the RoboCop series went into another very bloody follow-up, the franchise also split off into a whole bunch of youth-friendly TV projects. Today, I want to look over the history of these.
RoboCop (1988 animated)
A year after the initial film, Marvel Productions snapped up the rights to make a RoboCop cartoon as part of its line-up. This was the same outfit that produced titles like Transformers, Jem, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
Sure, the series had to make some alterations, but it wasn’t really that much of a stretch to make Alex Murphy shoot lasers instead of bullets, shoehorn in a bunch more robots, and avoid showing fountains of gore. This animated series was remarkably faithful to the universe of the film. Unfortunately, its run was incredibly short; only 12 episodes were made and aired in the fall of 1988 before the series was axed.
RoboCop: The Series (1994 live-action)
The next stab at a TV spin-off came courtesy of Canada’s Skyvision Entertainment, which paid a half-million to Orion for the rights to make this and other titles. The company poured in a whole bunch of money to make this series, with each episode costing up to $1.5 million apiece due to the sets and special effects. It even kicked off with a discarded script for the second RoboCop movie, so the pilot is an interesting “what if?” perspective for fans.
This time around, RoboCop was played by Richard Eden (Peter Weller was asked to reprise his role from the first two movies but decided to sit this out). He was also given a kid sidekick named Gadget, because this was the 1990s and that was TV law. Clearly, it was very family-friendly.
RoboCop: The Series had — and continues to have — its fans, but the ratings weren’t high enough to overcome the budget, and it only made it through a single 23-episode season in 1994.
RoboCop: Alpha Commando (1998-1999 animated)
The third attempt at a RoboCop spin-off attempted to be a little daring and to take the series in a bold direction. Set years after the movies, RoboCop is reactivated and placed into an Alpha Division to combat a single specific terrorist organization. This animated show featured a new blue metal design for RoboCop (who was now voiced by David Sobolov) and a whole bunch of Inspector Gadget-like devices that could pop out of his frame.
To date, this has been the most successful RoboCop show yet, accumulating 40 half-hour episodes over a single season that ran from 1998 to 1999.
RoboCop: Prime Directives (2001 live-action)
Our bulky metal cop made one final try at establishing a foothold in the television market thanks to a four-episode miniseries produced by Canada’s Fireworks Entertainment.
Page Fletcher donned the helmet for this live-action run, which proved to be the darkest and grittiest of them all. It kind of ignored all RoboCop entries other than the first movie, electing to keep OCP around as a sinister organization. RoboCop isn’t doing so hot a decade after his creation, and now he’s got to contend with a fellow cyborg and a bio-weapon.
Since each episode runs an hour-and-a-half, Prime Directives is more like a movie series spin-off than anything else. Each entry is its own story, but collectively they contribute to an overarching narrative. Out of all four shows, this is the one that seems to have cultivated the strongest cult following in ensuing years.