Improvisation also took place at the larger script level. The story was originally supposed to end with Otto joining a bunch of Latin American revolutionaries who are actually seen in their base (with their stash of weapons) about a third of the way into the movie. Another alternate ending had the entire city being annihilated in a nuclear explosion. However, Wacks and Nesmith were intrigued by the direction being taken by the character of Miller, who was fast becoming one of the key figures in the film — especially with the addition of the 'plate of shrimp' monologue. They suggested that Miller's mysticism be made to define the conclusion by having the car actually turn out to be a time machine and that Cox have Miller be the only one worthy of operating it upon that revelation. The final scene was supposed to be filmed in Lancaster, but smoggy conditions there made helicopter use risky, necessitating the moving of the scene back to the repo lot. While setting up, Cox heard that Muhammad Ali was at a nearby Gold's Gym and wanted to put him amongst the many worthies (priests, rabbis etc) who attempt to approach the Malibu in the end and fail to overcome its protective aura. Ali listened very politely to Cox's request and, equally politely, turned him down.



The film is known for its superb soundtrack, featuring seminal American punk bands like Fear, the Circle Jerks, Plugz and Black Flag, as well as a specially commissioned "Repo Man" theme by Iggy Pop. Cox visited Iggy Pop personally at his apartment, to explain the movie to him and request that he do a song for the soundtrack. Iggy's career was going through a rough patch at that point — prompted in part by the singer's 'wild lifestyle' — and he needed some money and breathing space. It also helped that Cox gave Iggy carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the song. "It was like a gift from God to express myself," said Iggy of the opportunity.

Not that Iggy actually put a whole lot of prep into the song. According to Chas Ferry, assistant to an engineer at the recording session, Iggy wrote the song a few minutes before recording started:

We began setting up with the engineer, Bev Jones, and the musicians started to arrive. Clem Burk from Blondie arrived to Play Drums. Then Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and Nigel Harrisson of Blondie arrived. I couldn't believe I was going to be involved in this. Iggy arrived. He came up to me and said, "Hi I'm Jim, nice to meet you". Then he started talking with the band. He asked the guys to play some chords (I was watching this as I plugged in mics and helped build a plywood wall around the drum kit). He said, "no I really don't like that, try something else". Steve Jones came up with a guitar run that Iggy appeared to like. At that moment I realized Iggy hadn't written the song yet, and we were going record it in about 20 minutes (later Tony Sales told me that Iggy always worked this way, and had written all the songs on Lust For Life 1 minute before they were recorded). Steve ran through the soon to be famous lick again. This time Iggy nodded his approval. "Okay thats great, now I need something for the chorus." Steve quickly came up with another part that Iggy liked.


Some of the other bands (eg. The Circle Jerks) had a previous acquaintance with Cox and agreed to appear in the film. Zander Schloss, a fan at the time, introduced himself to the Jerks and received a very unenthusiastic response ("Hi, I play Kevin the nerd." "So?"). However, he actually went on to join the band, and played with them for twelve years.


Repo Man's release strategy was comprehensively botched by the new regime at Universal. After an extremely truncated run in theaters, the film was dumped unceremoniously into video.


Cox talks a bit about this on his website:

It is, we quickly discovered, the primary task of a new boss to make an old boss look bad, and so as much of Rehme's product as possible was quickly junked. That which was already made, or almost complete - REPO MAN and RUMBLEFISH, for instance - was swiftly consigned to the Chute of No Return.

We took out an ad in Variety, reprinting a good review we got there (we also got a very bad one - in the weekly edition - but we didn't reprint that) as a challenge to Universal to get the picture out into the theatres.

The studio's response was to lean on the head of public relations at Pan American World Airlines, Dick Barkle, to condemn the film. Mr Barkle declared himself shocked by REPO MAN, adding, "I hope they don't show this film in Russia." It is the world of DILBERT there.

The theatrical life of the film was prolonged by Kelly Neal at Universal, who went out of his way to support both REPO MAN and RUMBLEFISH. And, even more, the record was a major element in promoting the film; it was popular with the punk rock community and that got the word around.


The movie did, however, meet with strong critical acclaim. Roger Ebert loved the movie, saying that it gave him "one of the biggest laughs I'd had at the movies in a long time."

It was the success of the Repo Man soundtrack that gave the film its initial sparks of commercial life. Alex Cox says on the commentary that he believes that the success of the soundtrack was key to renewed interest in the film's video release, and that it was instrumental to the film's emergence as an object of cult affection. Box Office Mojo lists the initial theatrical box office as $129,000 (on a budget of about 1.6 million) but Cox has noted that Universal ended up making a healthy profit off of video and foreign markets (particularly the UK).


When Universal realized that the film was doing better than they anticipated, they wanted to put together a cleaned up broadcast version, free of profanity or other family-unfriendly elements. The result was a hilariously sanitized cut, that barely hit feature length and remains a popular example of edgy movies defanged for TV. It features an early use of the censorious term "melon farmer". Universal even made the mistake of trying to simplify the narrative with trite explanations, creating one shot of the Malibu's license plate cut together with a dissolve into the face of the devil. Finally, their efforts proved so disastrous that they called in Cox himself to help put together the TV cut.

The design elements (pine tree car fresheners, happy face badges, the blue and white generic packaging) that make up what Cox refers to as 'the lattice of coincidence' went on – according to the director – to cross over into wider media culture. The happy-face badge enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, further boosted by its use in Alan Moore's Watchmen. The blue-striped packaging attracted the interest of John Lydon and Public Image Limited (PiL).

The film probably has more than its share of unlikely/illustrious fans. One such personage was Sam Cohen, inventor of the neutron bomb, whose favorite movies were – ironically enough – Repo Man and Dr. Strangelove. He called Alex Cox 14 years after the film came out, asking to have lunch.


Cox recalls Cohen's words:

"My daughter took me to see this film, and here was this nutcake, our hero, lobotomized, head bobbing. A cop stops him, opens the trunk, and — voila! He's neutronized!" Sam had no doubt there was a Neutron Bomb in Otto's trunk.

"It was the quintessential neutron bomb in the trunk... what we call a SADM - a Strategic Area Denial Munition." He and the Russian politician General Lebed gave press conferences a couple of years ago to draw attention to the number of ex-Soviet SADMs which had gone missing — hundreds of them, sold on the black market to whoever was buying. He thinks a SADM may have levelled the Federal Building in Oklahoma. ..later he reconsidered, and called me again. "It wasn't a Neutron Bomb in the trunk - it was an enormous concentration of nuclear material - it was gamma rays that killed the cop."


Cohen believed that the neutron bomb was the most moral weapon ever developed, one that spared innocent lives and stopped short of causing unnecessary devastation. "The Neutron Bomb totally conformed to the so-called Christian principles of a Just War. I got a medal from the Pope in Rome, in 1979."

Sources, as linked and cited in the article, plus the following primary sources used throughout:

Criterion DVD Commentary + extras

X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker by Alex Cox. (Soft Skull Press 2008)