Brand Desperation Leads Us to Vin Diesel's 'Rock'em Sock'em Robots' Movie


I've long accepted movie studios will grab anything that may have the slightest name recognition or was once popular even if that thing doesn't actually have a story to tell like the Battleship board game or the emojis you use in drunken texts. It is so frequent that it barely registers as movie news for me and I tend to forget about the announcement until the trailer comes out to legitimize it as an actual movie.

The insanity that Vin Diesel will be bringing his all about the family ethos to that piping hot property in Rock'em Sock'em Robots was the type of movie news that grabs a raw trout and smacks it across my face to demand my attention. I may reek of the raw fish, but good golly do I have something to write about

In case you're under the age of 40, Rock'em Sock'em Robots was a super popular two-player fighting robots game that was invented in 1964. It is like Mortal Kombat except it isn't a video game, your choice of fighters are blue or red plastic molds of robots and your big special moves consist of punch and punch. It was such a hot phenomenon in 1964 because the only toy that existed before it was a rope tied to a stick.

Honestly, the game was a hot seller but even by the time I was stomping around as a kid that loved toys, I was aware the game existed, but it never made the top of my Christmas list or anything. I never owned the game, and I didn't know anybody that did, or at least they weren't running to school declaring they finally got one. No one was begging to be invited over to Jimmy's house just because he got a Rock'em Sock'em Robots or anything like that.

Now that was a hot toy!

We were more interested in Nintendo or Castle Grayskull or a ball tied to a rope attached to a stick. The more high-tech big item toys. I'm sure that I had a friend that got one from their grandparents because they were into the Star Wars, which has the robots and the fighting. If a friend of mine had it then it probably rested in the corner of the bedroom after a piece of the plastic got sucked up by the vacuum or we got distracted from playing it by a swinging ball tied to a stick.

The kids today are just as excited about molded plastic that has parts that can be eaten by the dog or lost in the couch cushions as they were in the 1960s, but I haven't heard them screaming about the awesomeness of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. I haven't seen the game in a Toys 'R' Us (yes, we have these in Canada still) or Walmart in the past several decades, and I admit the streaming era means a lot less advertising comes my way, but I haven't seen any marketing for the toy in decades upon decades (if I ever did).

Those kids are pretty excited about that plastic sculpture of two ugly men dancing

So, who exactly are the studio and filmmakers expecting to be slobbering and frothing over the chance for a big budget theatrical adaptation of something called Rock'em Sock'em Robots? I expect most people even my age would question what that was based off the title until the toy is explained as the smashing plastic sculpture game that shows up in TV shows set in past decades.

If there is any attempt to make a story and movie that is actually based on this toy/game concept, then it must be about robots that fight. Maybe in a competition. Likely following the beloved Rocky formula that is the template for 90% of all competition movies ever. 

This means we already got this movie. It was called Real Steel and starred Hugh Jackman. We even got punching robots against Godzilla with Pacific Rim. Even before that we got a post-apocalyptic version of this from the late B-movie maestro Stuart Gordon with Robot Jox. Is there anything that has really been left untapped that needs to be told again with robots that punch stuff?

Can any movie compare to Robot Jox?

There is a reason the movie sites haven't been flooded with talk about a Real Steel sequel or why even as someone who writes about movies that I haven't even seen it. It was Rocky with robots and the best response I've read is seeing robots smash is kind of fun sometimes. Which is also a thing that happens in Transformers, so battling robots doesn't seem to be something the cinemas are lacking.

Essentially, we're getting a remake to Real Steel but with an even stupider name. If one isn't aware of the toy, then they'd be baffled who thought a big budget event movie needed the title Rock'em Sock'em Robots: Family Forever. People were vaguely interested in Reel Steal and I don't think this title that is connected to a once popular toy is suddenly causing crowds demand their money be taken.

Man, is that Steel ever Real.

If anything, the title is kind of dated at best. Do people use 'sock' in the context that is being used in that title anymore? I'm pretty sure Everett would be wondering why there is a combating robot that throws wool footwear. There just isn't anything in here that screams that it is going to draw in the masses.

I don't really care if this is a flop or not. That really isn't what matters for me when it comes to writing about art. But I also don't really see the fresh and exciting story potential that comes from two plastic objects bashing against each other. If someone does come up with an exciting and original story then it likely has nothing to do with the toy, so why use a silly name that means almost nothing in 2021?

But Vin Diesel!!!!

Has he ever meant anything to a movie that doesn't have to do with cars going really fast and defying reality? Remember Bloodshot and The Last Witch Hunter? If you liked either of those movies, was it because Vin Diesel was bringing his special charisma to the role?

I think Vin Diesel does have a unique charm and my impression is that he is a geek, so we have stuff in common. But his tough macho man with a heart of gold has never really wowed me and I don't know if his style is a match to a movie that almost must be campy.

It is called Rock'em Sock'em Robots. You can't play that straight. It must be silly and goofy. Diesel always brings a kind of stern and deadpan performance to his movies that I feel has always been jarring when he has been in movies that have slid towards cheesy premises like the previously mentioned flicks. Would Real Steel really be better if Diesel replaced Hugh Jackman?

At least Diesel can totally strike that pose

I remember when Hasbro announced its plans for a cinematic universe with movies about all their popular board games and toys, but after the disappointment of Battleship, we were saved the planned Monopoly, Clue, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Candyland movies. I thought maybe companies that made their fortune from things that were not movies were ready to calm down on trying to adapt everything into a potential blockbuster, but Mattel has declared we must hold its beer.

Maybe there would be more money in a big screen Polly Pocket where she navigates the other side of the couch cushion looking for her tiny brush accessory? Or Uno where a blue seven dreams of being red instead while trying to avoid a dreaded Pick-up 2. At least, Everett and Danika know about those two things.

I feel studios at some point need to realize that being aware of something or a thing once being super duper cool doesn't mean it will work at all as a movie. I like Cheetos, but I am not hotly anticipating a big summer blockbuster based on that cool cat. I didn't even rent the game that was based off that snack during a time that I would rent anything at least once. Some things are fine just being what they are.

In the past two years we've seen things like Terminator: Dark Fate and The Predator flop despite hundreds of million being sunk into them and studios believing they'd relaunch them as hot franchises. I don't think name recognition is proving to be a sure-thing or really matter as much as studios have been led to believe. I also think both those movies mean a lot more than Rock'em Sock'em Robots in 2021.

But if this actually does get made, then that just means there is still hope for a live-action version of Snorks and Pogs or a ball tied to a stick. 

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