Real Steel is a 2011 American science fiction action film starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Shawn Levy. The film is based in part on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson, though screenwriter John Gatins 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 reviews. It was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters.
In 2020, human boxers have been replaced by robot boxers. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who owns such a 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 wealthy aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) want full custody, which Charlie gives them in exchange for $100,000, half 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 World Robot Boxing league (WRB) 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 both his inexperience with Noisy Boy’s combinations and his own 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 by getting snagged on the arm of a buried robot. After Charlie pulls Max back up, Max digs out 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 both Max’s insistence and 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 the spin frame from 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 WRB, who offers Atom a professional fight against a robot called Twin Cities. Charlie accepts, and Atom wins again, thanks to Charlie’s boxing experience allowing him to locate and take advantage of a small tell in Twin Cities’ punch. Revelling in their subsequent novelty attention, Max challenges WRB champion Zeus, designed by genius Tak Mashido (Karl Yune) and sponsored by wealthy Farra Lemcova (Olga Fonda), who before the match tried to buy the upstart Atom.
As Max and Charlie leave after the Twin Cities fight, Ricky and his men attack them, and steal their winnings. Feeling guilty, Charlie returns Max to his aunt and uncle, feeling Max will be safer with them and refusing the second half of the money he was promised. Bailey convinces him that he can be a better father. Debra allows Charlie to take Max out for one last night, 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 fourth round of the five-round match, Atom’s vocal receptors are damaged, and Atom must fight the last round 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 turning sluggish as a result. The fight swings in Atom’s favor as he overwhelms the weakened Zeus, even knocking the seemingly invincible champion down once, but Atom is unable to win before the round ends. The judges declare Zeus the winner on points, but the near-defeat leaves the Zeus team humiliated. Atom is labeled the “People’s Champion” as he, Charlie, and Max celebrate their success.
Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo as Max Kenton
Kevin Durand as Ricky
Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallet
Hope Davis as Debra
James Rebhorn as Marvin
Anthony Mackie as Finn
Olga Fonda as Farra Lemcova
Karl Yune as Tak Mashido