Steve Jobs: All the movies covering the Apple founder’s iconic legacy
The problem with making a Steve Jobs biopic is you’re saddled with an intrinsically unsympathetic protagonist. By most accounts, Jobs was an arrogant genius with little care for social graces and even less patience for people who didn’t measure up to him intellectually. Audiences generally like rooting for the main character in the films they watch – an obstacle all four Steve Jobs movies made so far had to deal with.
How did the filmmakers who decided to tackle the tech giant’s life fare? Let’s take a closer look at their Steve Jobs movies and see if they were able to make the man’s personality work for their films instead of against them.
Pirates of Silicon Valley
The first attempt at a Steve Jobs biopic wasn’t really a Steve Jobs biopic. Pirates of Silicon Valley was more of a two-hander, splitting its attention between Jobs and his Microsoft rival, Bill Gates. The TNT production, written & directed by Martyn Burke, also has the distinction of being the only Steve Jobs movie to come out before the legendary creator of Apple passed away. The film premiered in 1999.
Considering it’s a TV movie from the 90s, Pirates of Silicon Valley sports a pretty decent cast and production values. Noah Wyle, of ER fame, makes for a pretty convincing Steve Jobs, while his counterpart, Bill Gates, is played by Anthony Michael Hall – an actor who’s left his John Hughes years waaaaay behind, but still can’t avoid being thought of as the nerdy kid from The Breakfast Club sometimes.
Critical reception to Pirates of Silicon Valley was generally positive, if limited. The solid lead performances and the intriguing juxtaposition of Steve Jobs & Bill Gates’s competitive influence in the development of personal computers made for a compelling watch. Basically, as far as Steve Jobs movies go, we could do a lot worse. And we would, a little over a decade later.
We’re listing iSteve among these other Steve Jobs movies mainly to be thorough. However, most people would agree this 2013 Funny or Die production is less of an actual film and more like an over-extended Saturday Night Live sketch. Mind you, this is by design: iSteve’s writer & director, Ryan Perez, wrote the entire thing in three days and shot it in five.
Perez, incidentally, is a former Saturday Night Live writer, so the comparison to a sketch from the perennial comedy show is apt. iSteve is a parody film more concerned with making fun of biopics than with exploring Steve Jobs as a character. In case you didn’t know you’re not supposed to take it seriously, Jobs is played by Justin Long, who used to be known for being the face of Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign.
2013 also saw the release of a more serious take on Steve Jobs’s life. You might have heard of this one: it’s the film where Ashton Kutcher plays the Apple creator. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern from a screenplay by Matt Whiteley, Jobs actually closed the 2013 Sundance Film Festival – an honor that was probably the high point of the independent movie’s run.
Jobs covers the life of Steve Jobs from his time as a Reed College student in 1974 until the introduction of the iPod in 2001. The film hits the expected beats of a Jobs biopic: his difficult relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, his estranged relationship with his daughter Lisa, his contentious exit, and eventual return to Apple . . . it’s all there. But somehow, none of it really coalesces into a great movie.
Critics seemed to appreciate Kutcher’s performance as Jobs, but most of them wrote the film off as an ambitious project that failed to truly explore what made its subject matter interesting. Wozniak, by the way, was played by Josh Gad in this version of the story – a bold casting choice that, unfortunately, doesn’t pay off in any noticeable way. The next Steve Jobs biopic wouldn’t make that mistake.
Before we get into anything else: Seth Rogen is Steve Wozniak in this movie and he kills it. Known primarily for comedies, Rogen plays against type in Danny Boyle’s 2015 Steve Jobs biopic, and his depiction of Jobs’s long-suffering collaborator is a pleasure to behold. Considering how much of Boyle’s movie – written by Aaron Sorkin – hangs on the Jobs/Wozniak relationship, Rogen’s performance is key to the film’s success.
All that said, this is Steve Jobs’s movie, and the actor playing him is up to the challenge. Michael Fassbender uses Sorkin’s script to give us an acting class, taking the audience to three very specific, very intense times in Jobs’s life. Along the way, the film explores not just Jobs’s relationship with Wozniak, but also with other people in his inner circle like Joanna Hoffman, Chrisann Brennan, John Sculley, and Andy Herzfeld.
All these characters are played by an all-star cast including Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston, Jeff Daniels, and Michael Stuhlbarg. They clash against Fassbender’s Jobs over and over throughout the movie, underscoring the absolute nightmare that it was to work with the guy, even as you knew you were creating something that would probably change the world forever.
Unsurprisingly, Steve Jobs was the best received out of all the Steve Jobs movies released so far. You could thank the higher budget, the stronger cast, the unique Sorkin dialogue, Boyle’s memorable visual flair, or perhaps the fact that the project doubled down on portraying Jobs as an extremely difficult individual to deal with. Fassbender’s Jobs is a genius, but he’s also a major pain in the @ss.
Have you seen any of these Steve Jobs movies? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!