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What weird distinction links the Rambo movies and the RoboCop movies?
No, they’re not just incredibly violent, good guy-kills-all-the-bad guy movies from the ‘80s that start with the letter R. (Although, not so ironically, all films in both series deserved their “R” rating from the MPAA.) And no, we’re not looking for “’80s action movies rebooted in the 2010s with middling results. The thing that these two movie franchises have in common is that both are R-rated film series—ones in which children weren’t admitted to see without a parent—that spawned cartoon series for an audience of children.
The original RoboCop (1987), which is about a murdered police officer in a futuristic, crime-infested Detroit who is brought back to life via robotics, and who then kills dozens of criminals, was so violent that the Motion Picture Association of America initially gave it an X rating, a designation almost always reserved for pornography. An X is also box office poison, so to get it down to R (and to get the movie into cineplexes), director Paul Verhoeven took out little of the violence, but cut out a lot of the blood and gore from those violent scenes. It took him 11 viewings by the MPAA, and subsequent cuts, to get the R. RoboCop 2 (1990) got an R straightaway, while RoboCop 3 (1993) got a PG-13.
The first film starring Sylvester Stallone as Rambo was called First Blood (1982). It was a stark, violent drama about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Rambo plays a homeless Vietnam War vet who suffers flashbacks to war and torture and goes on a rampage. In the original cut of the film, Rambo kills himself, but in the released theatrical version, he surrenders. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988) are much more conventional action hero movies in that they’re very bloody and not very political. All were R-rated.
But due to the explosion in popularity of cable TV and home video, millions of kids saw RoboCop and the Rambo movies. And they loved them. And why wouldn’t they? One was about a killer robot, and the other was about a good guy shooting bad guys while uttering humorous quips. So, despite both source films not being something that the MPAA thought children should watch, both got animated TV spinoffs.
Rambo: The Force of Freedom ran in afterschool syndication in the 1986-87 season. It was about Rambo leading a counter-terrorism task force who fights an evil group called SAVAGE (Specialist Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy, and Global Extortion). RoboCop: The Animated Series aired just 12 times on Saturday mornings in the fall of 1988. To make it less violent and more child-friendly, RoboCop shot lasers instead of bullets.
Both shows, of course, led to toy lines.
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