‘RoboCop’: Will you like it more if you don’t know the original?

Joel Kinnaman in "RoboCop."
(Kerry Hayes / Columbia Pictures)

With seemingly every other 1980s movie not only being remade but coming out this weekend, there’s been a lot of consternation, once again, about why Hollywood continues to reach into the wayback machine more than it does the original-script pile.

It’s a debate that one side -- usually an actor or someone associated with the film -- tries to end with “Well, there’s a whole new generation that’s not familiar with it.” That has always seemed like a bit of a weak justification, because if a movie is good or enduring, younger generations will know it too; you wouldn’t remake “Gone With the Wind” just because most people on the planet weren’t alive when it came out.

Then again, if a movie is less of an, er, classic, there may be something to that argument. One of the remakes hitting this weekend is “RoboCop,” a Detroit-set story of techno-futurism adapted from Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 pulp classic.

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The new film, directed by the Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha and starring Joel Kinnaman in the Peter Weller role, does not appear to be headed for a big weekend at the box office. After early tracking for a six-day opening period that began Tuesday put it at about $45 million, the figure now looks more likely to drift down to $25 million to $30 million. Interestingly, though, the people who like the movie seem to be coming from an especially young demographic, one that wasn’t around for the Verhoeven film -- while most of those lukewarm on it were old enough to be alive when it came out.

The overall CinemaScore on the film, as released this morning, is a B+. But that figure is skewed downward by viewers 25 and or older, who on average gave it no better than a B. Those under 25 were more kind, grading the new film an A-.

And those under 18? They were even more generous, giving it an A.

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There is, it seems, an inverse correlation between liking the new movie and remembering the original. An older generation is blasé. A new generation is more keen.

Some of that has to do with the particular shape of “RoboCop.” The film, from MGM and Sony, tracks very closely to the original. There’s a new political subplot and some fresh odds and ends, but the overwhelming majority of its plot points as well as its basic idea -- a critically wounded police officer is rebuilt as a crime-fighting machine by a nefarious corporation with Frankenstein-like results -- is identical.

Those of us, then, who were kicking around when the first movie came out are looking at this mulligan and saying “Um, why?” Those who weren’t don’t mind at all.

The question for the studio is whether there are enough people in the latter group to make it a hit. After all, it’s an idea that, if you never heard it before, can seem pretty intriguing, which is why a younger generation seems to be embracing it. An older group is wondering what this new film does that Netflix can’t.



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