Alibaba, STX Take Robot Fighters to the Big Screen

From assembling cell phones to fixing the hard-to-reach parts of your cars to performing surgical procedures, robots serve humans well. But a lingering question remains: what happens when robots develop a personality of their own?

That’s a question Alibaba Pictures and STX Entertainment will tackle in their upcoming collaboration – “Steel Soldiers,” a feature film that explores a futuristic world where humans and androids fight side-by-side.

STX said the movie features a disgraced Special Forces officer who is forced to train a new cadre of high-tech, but imperfect, android soldiers, turning them into elite military officers and leading them in a deadly mission to rescue the robots’ creator. STX didn’t offer details about cast members or release date.

“As a global media company with strong ties to China, STX is thrilled to collaborate with Alibaba Pictures, a trailblazer in today’s global tech and direct-to-consumer market, to bring audiences around the world smart, engaging and entertaining content,” said the Burbank-based media company. “Together, we will unlock the unparalleled ecosystems of both of our companies and brands to build this franchise across all platforms.”

The movie, produced by Robert Zemeckis, whose past works includes “Cast Away” (2000) and “Flight” (2012), will be co-produced and co-developed by both parties. STX will handle U.S. and international distribution, while Alibaba Pictures will retain rights in Greater China. Alibaba is also working closely with STX to co-create the story.

The project aims to leverage STX’s multi-platform content-making, marketing and distribution capabilities and expertise, as well as Alibaba Pictures’ access to cutting-edge technology, innovative e-commerce approach and consumer insights from being part of Alibaba Group’s ecosystem, said both in a joint statement.

Alibaba Pictures is the flagship film studio of Alibaba Entertainment. Alibaba Entertainment is part of the Alibaba Group, which operates China’s largest and most-comprehensive online shopping platforms, with over 580 million monthly active users. The Hangzhou-headquartered technology juggernaut is also a leading player in artificial intelligence and machine-learning research in China.

The tie-up with STX is the latest step in Alibaba’s push into movies. Earlier this week, Alibaba agreed to acquire a 7.66% stake in Wanda Film for RMB 4.68 billion ($744 million). In October 2016, Alibaba Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners forged a “comprehensive strategic partnership” to joint-produce and finance films for international and Chinese audiences. As part of the deal, Alibaba also required a minor stake and took a seat on the board of directors in the content company.

Other international film projects that Alibaba Pictures invested in includes “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”, “Star Trek Beyond”, and action thriller “Mission Impossible- Rogue Nation” starring Tom Cruise.