Real Steel is a 2011 American science fiction film starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Shawn Levy. The film is based on the 1956 short story "Steel" by Richard Matheson, though Levy placed the film in U.S. state fairs and other "old-fashioned" Americana settings. Real Steel was in development for several years before production began on June 11, 2010. Filming took place primarily in the U.S. state of Michigan. Animatronic robots were built for the film, and motion capture technology was used to depict the brawling of computer-generated robots and animatronics. Real Steel was publicly released in Australia on October 6, 2011 and in the United States and Canada on October 7, 2011 to mixed to positive reviews. It was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters.
In 2020, humans have been replaced by robots in boxing. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who owns such robot, Ambush, competing in unsanctioned matches and in exhibitions with it. At a rural fair, Ambush is destroyed by Black Thunder, a bull belonging to promoter Ricky (Kevin Durand). Having made a bet that Ambush would win, Charlie now owes Ricky $20,000, which he doesn't pay before leaving.
Charlie is informed his ex-girlfriend has died, and that he must attend a hearing to decide the fate of his preteen son Max (Dakota Goyo). Max's aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) want full custody, which Charlie gives them in exchange for $100,000, $50,000 of it in advance, on the condition that Charlie take care of Max for three months while the couple are away on a second honeymoon.
Charlie and Max meet with Charlie's childhood friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), who runs the boxing gym of her deceased father, Charlie's old coach. There, Charlie buys a secondhand WRB league robot, the once-famous Noisy Boy, and arranges for it to fight the illegal circuit's champion, Midas, at a venue belonging to his friend Finn (Anthony Mackie). Partly due to his inexperience with Noisy Boy's combinations and partly due to his overconfidence, Charlie ends up losing control of Noisy Boy and Midas destroys it.
Charlie breaks into a junkyard with Max to steal scraps that he can use to put a new robot together. There, Max falls over a ledge, where he is saved from doom after being snagged by a lodged and buried robot arm. After Charlie pulls him back up, Max uncovers the entire robot, called Atom. On Max's insistence, Charlie takes it back to Bailey's gym, where they discover Atom is an obsolete Generation-2 sparring bot built in 2014. Atom has been designed to sustain massive damage, but is unable to deal much damage itself. Partly due to Max's insistence and partly due to Charlie needing money, the duo takes Atom to fight an unsanctioned outdoor match against a robot called Metro, and Atom wins, earning back some of Charlie's money.
Max later upgrades it to take vocal commands using spare parts from Noisy Boy and Ambush and successfully convinces Charlie to train the robot. Atom's string of subsequent wins and high-speed maneuvers, which were rarely seen from a robot, attracts the attention of a promoter from the World Robot Boxing league (WRB), who offers Atom a professional fight against a robot called Twin Cities. Charlie accepts, and Atom wins again, thanks to Charlie's knowledge of boxing, which allows him to locate a design flaw in Twin Cities. Taking advantage of Atom's subsequent novelty attention, Max challenges WRB champion Zeus, designed by arrogant genius Tak Mashido (Karl Yune) and sponsored by rich Russian Farra Lemcova (Olga Fonda) who first tries to buy the upstart Atom.
As they leave the Twin Cities fight, Charlie is attacked by Ricky and his men, who beat him severely, assault Max, and steal their money. Feeling guilty, Charlie returns Max to his aunt and uncle so they can protect him, but Bailey convinces him he can be a better father to Max. Debra allows him one more chance, and Charlie takes Max to the Zeus-Atom match. Zeus severely damages Atom while also getting injured, a first for Zeus. Ricky, who had bet Finn $100,000 that Atom would not last the first round, tries to slip away, but is cornered by Finn and his colleagues. In the last round of the five-round match, Atom's vocal receptors are damaged, and Atom must fight in shadow-boxing mode, copying Charlie's moves from the aisle. Zeus, now controlled manually by a furious Mashido, expends energy on trashing the defensive Atom, running low on power and turns sluggish as a result. Atom then begins to pummel Zeus, even knocking the seemingly invincible champion down once, but not winning before the round ends. The judges declare a winner on points, favoring Zeus, but his reputation is tarnished, and Atom has become famous as "The People's Champion".
Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo as Max Kenton
Kevin Durand as Ricky
Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallet
Hope Davis as Debra
Anthony Mackie as Finn
Olga Fonda as Farra Lemcova
James Rebhorn as Uncle Marvin
Karl Yune as Mashido
Real Steel is directed by Shawn Levy and is based on the 1956 short story "Steel" by Richard Matheson. The film was produced by Touchstone Pictures, DreamWorks, 21 Laps, and Montford/Murphy Productions. The original screenplay was written by Dan Gilroy and was purchased by DreamWorks in 2005 for $850,000, or in 2003 (sources differ). The project was one of 17 that DreamWorks took from Paramount Pictures when they split in 2008. Director Peter Berg expressed interest in the project in mid-2009 but moved on. Levy was attached to the project in September 2009, and Jackman was cast in the starring role in November for a $9 million fee. In the same month, Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider at DreamWorks greenlit the project. Les Bohem and Jeremy Leven had worked on Gilroy's screenplay, but in 2009, John Gatins was working on a new draft. When Levy joined the project, he worked with Gatins to revise the screenplay.
With Real Steel having a production budget of $110 million, Levy chose to set the film in state fairs and other "old-fashioned" Americana settings that would exude nostalgia and create a warm tone for the film's father-son story. Filming began in June 2010, and ended by October 15, 2010. Locations include areas around Detroit, Michigan, and across the state, including at the Renaissance Center, the Cobo Arena, the Detroit Fire Department headquarters, the Ingham County Courthouse, the former Belle Isle Zoo, and the Highland Park Ford Plant.
Jason Matthews of Legacy Effects, successor to Stan Winston Studios, was hired to turn production designer Tom Meyer's robot designs into practical animatronic props. He said, "We have 26-and-a-half total live-action robots that were made for this film. They all have hydraulic neck controls. Atom has RC [radio-controlled] hands as well.” Star Jackman said executive producer Spielberg "actually said to Shawn, 'You should really have real elements where you can.' ... Basically if they're not walking or fighting, that's a real robot." For scenes when computer-generated robots brawl, "simulcam" motion capture technology, developed for the film Avatar, was used. As Levy described the process, "[Y]ou're not only capturing the fighting of live human fighters, but you're able to take that and see it converted to [CGI] robots on a screen instantaneously. Simulcam puts the robots in the ring in real time, so you are operating your shots to the fight, whereas even three, four years ago, you used to operate to empty frames, just guessing at what stuff was going to look like." Boxing hall-of-famer Sugar Ray Leonard was an adviser for these scenes.
Shawn Levy – director, producer
Susan Montford – producer
Don Murphy – producer
John Gatins – screenplay
Sheldon Turner – screenplay
Dan Gilroy – story
Jeremy Leven – story
Danny Elfman – composer
Mauro Fiore – cinematographer
Dean Zimmerman – editor
Tom Meyer – production designer
John Rosengrant – animatronic robots
Erik Nash – visual effects supervisor
Marlene Stewart – costume designer
Ann Lee Masterson – makeup department head
David Rubin, Richard Hicks -- casting
DreamWorks released the first trailer for Real Steel in December 2010. In May 2011, the studio released a second trailer. While the film features boxing robots, Levy said he wanted to show in the trailer "the father-son drama, the emotion, the kind of rousing sports movie, the Americana of it". He said, "We are very much the robo-boxing movie, but that’s one piece of a broader spectrum." In addition to marketing trailers and posters, DreamWorks enlisted the British advertising company Five33 to build large physical displays representing the film as it had done for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The studio also collaborated with Virgin America to name one of their Airbus A320s after the film, and one of the film's robots is pictured on its fuselage. On September 19, Jackman appeared on the weekly sports entertainment program WWE Raw to promote the film.
A toyline has been released with action figures based on Atom, Zeus, Noisy Boy, Midas and Twin Cities.
The video game company Jump Games released a fighting game based on the film for Android and iOS devices.
Real Steel had its world premiere on September 6, 2011 in Paris at the Le Grand Rex. The film had its United States premiere on October 2, 2011 in Los Angeles at the Gibson Amphitheatre. It was commercially released in Australia on October 6, 2011, followed by the United States and Canada on October 7, 2011. For the U.S. release, it was originally scheduled for release on November 18, 2011, but it was moved earlier to avoid competition with the first part of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. The film was released in 3,440 theaters in the United States and Canada, including 270 IMAX screenings. There will also be over 100 IMAX screenings in territories outside the United States and Canada, with 62 screening on October 7.
Real Steel gained mixed to positive reviews from critics, with the aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes listing 60% of 189 critics giving a positive review, with a rating average of 5.9 out of 10. The website's consensus is, "Silly premise notwithstanding, this is a well-made Hollywood movie: Thrilling and exciting action with just enough characterization". Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a rating score of 56, based on 34 reviews. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was an A on an A plus to F scale.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film three out of four stars, saying, "Real Steel is a real movie. It has characters, it matters who they are, it makes sense of its action, it has a compelling plot. Sometimes you go into a movie with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised." Conversely, Claudia Puig of USA Today said that, "Though the premise of fighting robots does seem a plausible and intriguing extension of the contemporary WWE world, Real Steel is hampered by leaden, clichéd moments in which a stubborn boy teaches his childish father a valuable lesson." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an A-, saying director Levy "makes good use of his specialized skill in blending people and computer-made imaginary things into one lively, emotionally satisfying story." James White of the UK magazine Empire gave the film 3 of 5 stars, saying, "Rocky with robots? It's not quite in Balboa's weight class, but Real Steel at least has some heft. There's barely a story beat among the beat-downs that you won't expect, and sometimes the saccharine gets in the way of the spectacle, but on the whole this is enjoyable family entertainment."
Real Steel has earned $51,731,456 in North America, and $56,600,000 in other territories as of October 16, 2011, for a worldwide total of $108,331,456. It had a worldwide opening of $49.4 million and scored the highest IMAX debut for an October release ($4.4 million worldwide). In North America, it topped the box office with $8.5 million on its opening day and $27.3 million in total on its opening weekend, claiming the number one spot, ahead of the other new nationwide release (The Ides of March) and all holdovers. This was the highest-grossing debut for a boxing film and the second-highest for a sports drama film. It managed first-place debuts in 11 countries including Russia ($7.4 million), Hugh Jackman's native Australia ($4.2 million), Mexico ($3.0 million).
In April 2011, DreamWorks announced it was developing a sequel to Real Steel. John Gatins, who contributed to the screenplay for the first film, was hired to write the screenplay for the second. Director Shawn Levy said in September 2011 a sequel depended on the success of the first film and that he would also direct it. The key actors—Jackman, Lilly, and Goyo—would reprise their roles if the studio proceeded with a sequel, though the production schedule would need to match Jackman's crowded schedule.
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