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The Hugh Jackman Sci-Fi Movie That's Killing It On Netflix

Ready for a fun, futuristic flick with plenty of action, heart, and Hugh Jackman? Time to head on over to Netflix.

Real Steel, the 2011 sci-fi flick featuring Jackman as a down-on-his-luck trainer of fighting robots, has broken into the streamer's Top Ten for movies in the U.S. A respectable hit during its theatrical run, streaming audiences are rediscovering its considerable charms during this, the year all the good movies got delayed, like, forever.

Real Steel was inspired by a story that was previously adapted into an episode of one of the most iconic television series of all time, which we'll get to shortly. The film was directed by Shawn Levy, a veteran director and producer who has worked on some of the more interesting sci-fi and fantasy properties of the last decade. His feature directorial credits include such films as Night at the Museum and its two sequels, and as a producer, he's worked on features like Arrival and The Darkest Minds, not to mention a little Netflix series of some note called Stranger ThingsReal Steel was written by John Gatins, who was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for 2014's excellent Nightcrawler.

Jackman benefits from an excellent supporting cast, several of whom would go on to significant roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, oddly enough. They include Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man and the Wasp), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Kevin Durand (Vikings), Hope Davis (Captain America: Civil War), and Dakota Goyo (Thor). 

What is Real Steel about?

In the far-flung year of 2020, battling robots have been substituted for human fighters in the sport of boxing. Charlie Kenton (Jackman), a trainer estranged from his young son Max (Goyo), loses his robot, Ambush, in a fight against a bull. He proceeds to welch on the $100,000 bet he made with the fight's promoter, Ricky (Durand). Shortly afterward, Charlie discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Max's mother, has died, so he enters into an agreement with the boy's Aunt Debra (Davis) and her rich husband: He will give up full custody for a $100,000 payment, but he must keep Max for three months while the couple head off for a vacation.

As it turns out, Max is a pretty big fan of boxing, and after Charlie's new fighter, Noisy Boy, is destroyed in a match, the boy helps his dad scavenge for a new machine at a local junkyard. They find one in Atom, a sparring robot designed to take absurd amounts of punishment, and which sports an interesting feature: a "shadow function," which enables it to mimic the movements of its trainer and store those movements in its memory.

Charlie, Max, and Atom suddenly begin winning matches, but there is trouble brewing. Ricky still wants his money, Debra wants Max back, and Charlie may have bitten off more than he can chew by accepting a match against Zeus, the World Robot Boxing champion. Will father and son stay together, and can Atom keep from getting pounded into spare parts by the champ?

Real Steel was inspired by a sci-fi legend

Real Steel was heavily inspired by the 1956 short story "Steel" by the legendary Richard Matheson, whose impact on the horror and sci-fi genres can't be overstated. His works have been the basis for such feature films as I Am LegendStir of Echoes, and What Dreams May Come. He has had not one, but two novels dedicated to him by the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King. Matheson wrote some of the most fondly-remembered episodes of the iconic anthology series The Twilight Zone, and he adapted "Steel" into a season 5 episode by the same title. 

Of course, the fighting robot action wasn't quite so futuristic in that episode — the robots looked more like regular people who had been dipped in plastic than anything else — but it is a well-regarded entry into the Twilight Zone canon, and even inspired episodes of The Simpsons (season 15's "I, Annoyed Grunt-Bot") and Futurama (season 2's "Raging Bender") decades after its airing. A nice nod to the episode can be found in the name of Goyo's character, Max; in "Steel," the old, obsolete robot which trainer and former boxer Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin) fixes up for a last shot at glory is named "Battling Maxo."

Real Steel is a heck of a lot of fun, and we can all enjoy its vision of an alternate-universe 2020 in which awesome-looking robots beat the oil out of each other and movie theaters across the land are open. You can fire it up on Netflix right now.