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Why Real Steel 2 Hasn't Happened Yet

The 2011 film Real Steel, helmed by future Stranger Things director-producer Shawn Levy, was an odd genre mashup of sci-fi, sports thriller, and family drama that probably shouldn't have worked anywhere near as well as it did. Based on an episode of the original Twilight Zone series entitled "Steel," and adapted by legendary author and screenwriter Richard Matheson from his own short story, the flick told the tale of Charlie (Hugh Jackman), an ex-boxer navigating a near-future in which boxing matches between actual humans have been made illegal. Instead, hulking robots designed specifically for the sport go toe-to-toe in the ring, and Charlie is a down-on-his-luck manager of one such machine dubbed Ambush, which he loses on a bet as the film opens.

To make matters worse for the poor guy, he's in the middle of a custody battle over his son Max (Dakota Goyo, whose character's name is a clever homage to the name of the robot boxer in that old Twilight Zone episode). Charlie's ex-girlfriend, the boy's mother, has recently died, and Charlie — not exactly a big family guy — works out a deal with Max's rich aunt and uncle to grant them full custody in exchange for $100,000. First, though, Charlie must keep Max for three months while the couple go off on a planned vacation. As it turns out, the lad happens to be a big fan of robot boxing, and the two begin to bond over Atom, a sparring machine with a unique "shadow" feature found by Max in a junkyard. Its ability to mimic opponents' movements makes it an unlikely contender — and what kind of sports movie would this be if Atom didn't get a shot at the undefeated world champion, Zeus?

Real Steel was a surprise hit, raking in nearly $300 million at the worldwide box office according to Box Office Mojo, and earning an Academy Award nomination for its visual effects. It was a heck of a rock 'em, sock 'em crowd pleaser — so, over a decade later, why has a sequel failed to materialize?

Real Steel's director and star are waiting for the right script

According to Levy, the answer is refreshingly simple: quality control. During a 2016 Q&A at an IMAX screening of Real Steel hosted by Collider, the director revealed that he, Jackman, and one of the flick's executive producers (some guy named Steven Spielberg) had begun kicking ideas around for a sequel before the first film was even released. After Real Steel became a box office success, several different screenwriters took cracks at the project — but none could make all of the elements that Levy, Spielberg, and Jackman required come together. Specifically, the trio are determined to not just make the same movie again.

"The simple truth, the most concise truth I can express, is that [...] it has proven really hard to come up with a sequel that doesn't feel like a re-hash of the first movie," Levy explained. "Yeah, people wanted to see Atom beat Zeus, I would love to see Atom beat Zeus, but you don't want to retell the story of kind of an alienation between Charlie and Max because that is really the plot of the first movie."

Levy went on to say that while each draft of the Real Steel 2 script that had been commissioned had come close, none managed to stick the landing. "We've attempted it a few times with a number of writers, and no draft got me, Hugh, and Steven all there to a yes in the same moment," the director said. "It all felt like it wasn't quite enough to promise a new story and a new movie. [...] I had a weird experience watching it tonight because on one hand it felt really good to revisit an old friend, but it also weirdly cemented my conviction that I just shouldn't make a sequel unless I'm sure it will be better."

Real Steel 2 could answer a burning question from the first movie

It's hard to deny that this is a pretty refreshing attitude. However, Levy couldn't resist teasing fans with what he obviously feels should be a key element of any Real Steel sequel: the question of whether or not Atom is, in some way, sentient. In the world of the film, the battling robots are pure automatons, with zero self-awareness — but Levy revealed that in the original draft of the script, and even the first cut of the film, it was implied that Atom might be different in this respect.

"You know that scene where it's pre-fight [...] and Atom sees himself in the mirror? [...] I've never actually shared this, but when the movie first came out, people were like, 'I saw Atom move! Atom moved! He definitely moved, right? He has consciousness?' And I kind of fell back into this stock answer of, 'I don't know. It's whatever you want to decide for yourself.' But when we shot that scene, he absolutely moved. He recognizes himself."

Further, a scene that was scripted but not shot made it plain that Atom had a degree of self-awareness. "There's a moment where, before the fifth round of the final fight, they're like, 'We're throwing in the towel, it's over,' and Max and Charlie are arguing, and we see Atom in the background raise his finger and give like a 'one more time' gesture. In script, you're like, 'That's f***ing awesome! That's gonna be goosebumps! It confirms the sentient nature of Atom.' But when we put the movie together, it felt like [...] that was one degree too fairy tale for that movie."

Exploring this angle could certainly make for a much richer story, and one quite unique from its predecessor — but until some determined writer can bring it home, Real Steel 2 will remain in the realm of speculation. Of course, we'll be keeping an eye out for any news, and we'll keep you informed.