A temporary setback
After years of fan-fuelled hearsay, an MGM press release in 2008 indicated that a Robocop reboot was imminent.
Sure enough, at that year's Comic-Con, it was confirmed that the tantalising choice of Darren Aronofsky would direct from a script by Road to Perdition screenwriter David Self.
However, with no news by the following summer's event, there were warning signs that things weren't as far advanced as anybody had hoped...
...and when Avatar redefined the concept of success, rumours circulated of bust-ups between Aronofsky and MGM over shooting in 3D.
Those issues, allied to the same financial chaos at the studio that halted Bond 23 , led to an official cancellation of the project in July.
But if Robocop could be resurrected, how would things pan out? Here's one possible outcome.
You have 20 seconds to comply
It's not hard to see why Paul Verhoeven's classic sci-fi satire might be ripe for an upgrade.
Made in 1987, it satirised Reaganite America's unfettered greed and sadism, but its story (revolving around the outsourcing of policing to Omni Consumer Products, with Robocop created as part of the down-sizing) remains startlingly topical.
Private finance initiatives, law & order, recession, the incessant din of the media... Robocop might have been made yesterday, so tomorrow should be no trouble once they can get the financing in place.
All it needs is a director capable of balancing action and intellect...
Serve the public trust
Verhoeven brought a rare blend of action and satirical savvy, so we're looking for a name who can think as he thrills.
Independently-minded, gut-punching in style, Aronofsky would have been an astute choice, but we have to assume he's out for the count.
The obvious candidate to replace him? Paul Greengrass, not least because he came this close to making Watchmen , a tale whose politically-nuanced ultraviolence isn't a million miles away from Robocop .
Of course, with Greengrass in play, the plot would need a couple of tweaks to suit his mindset...
Dead or alive, you're coming with me!
In the original, Patrolman Murphy (Peter Weller) is chosen to become Robocop at random. Specifically, because he's been blasted to bits and left for dead by vile crim Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith).
But there's plenty of narrative scope to make the 'volunteer' a deliberate target of OCP, something that would chime with contemporary fears of identity theft and surveillance.
Given the success of TV shows like The Shield in examining the ambiguous morality of corrupt cops, how's about the hero actually starts out as a villain, selected for robotisation against his will precisely to keep tabs on him?
But who could play such a conflicted hero?
Nice shooting, son - what's your name?
Odd part to play, Robocop. The stiff posture and monotone delivery makes it very hard to render the personality - although Peter Weller brought a sly knowingness to his automaton before bailing on the franchise due to its limited opportunities.
With a reluctant Robocop, there's a double-whammy acting-wise: the chance to essay a charismatic crook being stripped of his humanity a la A Clockwork Orange , and the heighted anticipation of waiting for him to rebel against his newfound programming.
Enter Cillian Murphy, a guy who can do shifty in his sleep and could easily capture the conflict of a man trapped in metal. And, judging from Inception , he has untapped likeability that could make him a charismatic anti-hero.
You're gonna be a bad motherfucker!
Did you not pick up on the earlier hints? The director of Bourne ? The star of 28 Weeks Later ? This reboot is going to be fast if it's to police the crims in today's nonstop world.
In the original, Robocop's bulky suit was titanium, laminated with Kevlar, with one hell of a grip. That tactile look won't fly with Greengrass' guerilla style, plus it would run the risk of aping Iron Man .
So the bods at OCD's Security Divisions are gonna have to come up with something lithe and lightweight for Robocop. Please, though, avoid CGI.
Suited and booted, all he needs now is a story...
The cancer is crime
The big twist in the original (spoiler alert!) is that Boddicker's criminal gang is in cahoots with OCP's #2, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).
The idea is that Boddicker's reign of terror gets Jones' cop-replacement programme greenlit, but the goods - namely stair-wary robot killer ED209 - are so shoddy Boddicker will still have free reign in the new order.
With Murphy dodgy from the off, the plotline here is that Jones and Boddicker want a rival out of the way. Murphy's underworld links are maintaining the status quo and preventing Boddicker from prospering; by getting Murphy out of the way, their path is clear.
And if we're going to be rooting for Cillian Murphy, we want full-on nastiness in the villains proper...
Your move, creep
As Clarence Boddicker, an unreconstructed psychopath who thinks nothing of destroying his victims limb-by-limb, we need somebody who can take crazy off the chart.
At the same time, it would be nice to keep some of the accountant-gone-insane vibe of Kurtwood Smith's performance. That line of thinking leads to Sam Rockwell, a still-underrated actor capable of taking us by surprise.
Speaking of surprises, Dick Jones' reveal as the big bad has to be the mother of all rug-pulls, so it depends on finding an actor - like Ronny Cox in the original - better known for playing good guys.
So let's go out on a limb and lose the Dick. Instead, OCP's corporate scumbag is now a woman...and played by Julia Roberts with the cold steel she showed in Closer .
Uphold the law
If the original film has a flaw, it's the underwritten, thankless role of Murphy's partner Lewis, given plenty of pluck by Nancy Allen but still more of a spare part than any of Robocop's prosthetic limbs.
With Murphy now a deeply problematic character, it falls on Lewis to be the film's moral centre. As one of the precinct's rare righteous cops, she has to overcome her dislike of Murphy to work with Robocop.
Plus, of course, she has to convince as an action lead in Greengrass' turbo-charged style. Decent actress, can kick ass, good looks optional but always a bonus. How about Charlize Theron?
Give us three minutes and we'll give you the world
One of Robocop 's biggest innovations is its post-modern use of television as a deranged Greek chorus on the moral murk of the film's story.
Back then, it was tongue-in-cheek news reports about the Star Wars defence system malufunctioning, adverts for armageddon board game Nukem, and idiotic comedian Bixby Snyder - the "I'd buy that for a dollar guy!" - whose lecherous antics everybody sniggered at.
Plenty of scope to update things, with anti-terrorist ops making the headlines (a Greengrass speciality, of course), adverts for OCP plastic surgery, and mainstream torture-porn reality shows being lapped up by the public.
Welcome to hell
The biggest stumbling block as far as Robocop fans are concerned is how a reboot will match the unrestrained mayhem of Paul Verhoeven's vision.
This is one graphic movie. Bodies are strafed to shreds by machine-gun fire, the hero's hand is blown off by shotgun, and a toxic mutant gets decapitated by a passing car.
Arguably, that WYSIWYG approach is at odds with Greengrass' impressionistic blur. Then again, since Verhoeven's film the Robocop franchise has been sanitised by cartoons and action figures, so it's doubtful the studio would allow a likely cash-cow to be R-rated.
Which is why Greengrass might be the perfect choice. He can make us feel the visceral impact, without us needing to dwell on the gory details.
Greengrass directing. Murphy and Theron, versus Rockwell and Roberts. The satirical core undisturbed, as much violence as the modern blockbuster will allow, and some weighty dramatic reversals from the original to keep things fresh.
A hit? Almost certainly - but, crucially, here's a team with the talent and ambition to make a Robocop for the modern age that's as barking mad as Paul Verhoeven's film was.
And with it, there's plenty of sequel potential. New, improved Robocops - a la 1990's flawed Robocop 2 - or even weirder inventions from OCP's Security Divisions? A struggle for Robocop's soul, as Murphy slips back into bad habits? Or that Greengrass speciality: Robocop goes on the run?
The only way we'll ever know is if MGM sorts itself out and gets on the phone to Greengrass pronto. Comply or die.