Must watch movies about Apple and Steve Jobs

With the new movie Steve Jobs due in October we take a look at the best - and only - fictional portrayals of Steve Jobs and the origins of Apple. Are any worth a few hours of your time?

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iSteve

When iSteve was announced in 2013 nobody was entirely sure if it was the real deal. It claimed to the first biopic of Jobs and the fact it was from online humourists Funny or Die – it was their first feature-length movie, in fact – didn’t provide a warning. The trailer played it straight too. And then there’s the fact it stars Justin Long as Jobs. He’s the guy who appeared in Apple’s Mac vs PC commercials, essentially playing Jobs against John Hodgman’s Bill Gates-like PC.

Watching the movie removes any ambiguity. It’s a parody. Oh yeah, it’s a parody. But iSteve games the audience by indeed mirroring a typical biopic for the first segment even if small fissures of absurdity hint at what’s to come – a Tibetan monk handing Jobs LSD, for example, or Jobs and Woz talking drunkenly about jetpacks.

This is a movie clever enough to realise we all know the Jobs story and have likely bought into the personality cult too. It’s also clear the scriptwriter was somewhat aware of the largely accurate Pirates of Silicon Valley – although when Jack Tramiel at Commodore sends John Sculley as a secret agent to infiltrate Apple, and a love triangle is setup between Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Jobs, it’s absolutely clear facts aren’t that important. And that’s before Jobs is revealed to be a robot, and the Smashing Pumpkins invent the iMac, and Michael Dell appears as a underage-drinking surfer dude…

iSteve is a movie that celebrates its bad reviews but is it actually any good? Well, we couldn’t turn it off once it’d started, in the same way we can’t turn away while watching the worst bits of horror movies.

iSteve is only available for steaming in the US and not the UK, although there are many ways around this limitation. Occasional bad language, drug use and a virtual reality sex scene (yes, really) mean it’s only for mature audiences.

Best line: “Get me a coffee. Black. And a turtleneck. Black.”
Worst line: Pretty much every one in the movie but how about Bill Gates describing his friendship with Jobs: “Gigabuddies forever! It would take some gnarly malware to tear us apart!”
Woz factor: 2/10
Bonus points for… the casting of John Ross Bowie, who plays the underrated Barry Kripke in The Big Bang Theory.
How to get it: Amazon (US; $2.99) or Netflix (US). Available on DVD in the US.

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Next Prev isteve box

When iSteve was announced in 2013 nobody was entirely sure if it was the real deal. It claimed to the first biopic of Jobs and the fact it was from online humourists Funny or Die – it was their first feature-length movie, in fact – didn’t provide a warning. The trailer played it straight too. And then there’s the fact it stars Justin Long as Jobs. He’s the guy who appeared in Apple’s Mac vs PC commercials, essentially playing Jobs against John Hodgman’s Bill Gates-like PC.

Watching the movie removes any ambiguity. It’s a parody. Oh yeah, it’s a parody. But iSteve games the audience by indeed mirroring a typical biopic for the first segment even if small fissures of absurdity hint at what’s to come – a Tibetan monk handing Jobs LSD, for example, or Jobs and Woz talking drunkenly about jetpacks.

This is a movie clever enough to realise we all know the Jobs story and have likely bought into the personality cult too. It’s also clear the scriptwriter was somewhat aware of the largely accurate Pirates of Silicon Valley – although when Jack Tramiel at Commodore sends John Sculley as a secret agent to infiltrate Apple, and a love triangle is setup between Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Jobs, it’s absolutely clear facts aren’t that important. And that’s before Jobs is revealed to be a robot, and the Smashing Pumpkins invent the iMac, and Michael Dell appears as a underage-drinking surfer dude…

iSteve is a movie that celebrates its bad reviews but is it actually any good? Well, we couldn’t turn it off once it’d started, in the same way we can’t turn away while watching the worst bits of horror movies.

iSteve is only available for steaming in the US and not the UK, although there are many ways around this limitation. Occasional bad language, drug use and a virtual reality sex scene (yes, really) mean it’s only for mature audiences.

Best line: “Get me a coffee. Black. And a turtleneck. Black.”
Worst line: Pretty much every one in the movie but how about Bill Gates describing his friendship with Jobs: “Gigabuddies forever! It would take some gnarly malware to tear us apart!”
Woz factor: 2/10
Bonus points for… the casting of John Ross Bowie, who plays the underrated Barry Kripke in The Big Bang Theory.
How to get it: Amazon (US; $2.99) or Netflix (US). Available on DVD in the US.

 

Pirates of Silicon Valley

This offering from satellite mainstay TNT might be a TV movie but its production values, big budget, and award wins has seen it rightly acknowledged as a classic. Ostensibly concerning itself with the rivalry between 1970s/80s Apple and Microsoft, it focuses largely on Jobs, played by ER star Noah Wyle.

First broadcast in 1999 the movie not only came out when Jobs was still alive -- unlike the other offerings here -- but also, obliquely, received his blessing: at the Macworld Expo in 1999 Noah Wyle took to the stage pretending to be Jobs, after which the real Jobs appeared and claimed Wyle was a “better me than me”.

Throughout his Macworld appearance Wyle looks like he can’t believe he’s been invited, perhaps because the movie is unflinching in its portrayal of Jobs. This was the first hint of a borderline sociopathic Jobs, who pushes Apple employees to breaking point. At one point one of the original Mac engineers – an unidentified Burrell Smith? – physically attacks Jobs because of relentless criticism and imposed work ethic. The movie also isn’t shy about Jobs’ refusal to accept the paternity of his daughter, Lisa, and difficult relationship with former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan. However, the Jobs here is ultimately misguided – and therefore redeemable.

Of all the movies here Pirates of Silicon Valley is the most historically accurate, just about. It’s based on the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine, and mostly narrated by the character of Woz, played by Joey Slotnick. The Microsoft scenes are narrated by Steve Ballmer, played with convincing bombast by John DiMaggio, who went on to voice Bender in Futurama. Bill Gates is portrayed with creepy verisimilitude by Anthony Michael Hall. At one point Hall poses for a portrait photo and perfectly captures Gates’ unintentionally sardonic smile.

The movie’s littered with terrific moments: HP turning down its automatic rights to Woz’s Apple I, for example, claiming nobody would want a computer in their home. And the soundtrack is pretty great, switching from prog rock to synth pop to indicate time moving on.

For those into the history of computing or who have worshipped at the altar of Jobs, Pirates of Silicon Valley is compulsive viewing. It’s a decent movie, to boot.

Best line: “This is better than [Playboy’s] Miss October. This is a computer!”
Worst line: “Maybe fun is just fragments of existence with better packaging.”
Woz factor: 9/10
Bonus points for… getting lookalike actors even for the early Mac team, as later detailed in Andy Hertzfeld’s superb Revolution in the Valley.
How to get it: iTunes (rent, £2.59), iTunes (buy £9.99), Amazon (£2.49), available on DVD.

 

Jobs

Apple’s single most important lesson is that it’s not necessarily best to be first. After all, the first iPod followed a slew of mediocre MP3 players from other companies. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet computer.

What matters is getting it right. After Steve Jobs’ death there was a rush to produce biopics of his life, no doubt inspired by the huge success of Walter Isaacson’s biography. Staring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs was the first to make it onto cinema screens -- and that remains the case thanks to production difficulties with the hotter ticket Steve Jobs .

By now you might’ve guessed the problem here. While Jobs looks great, the haste for market dominance left the story and script half-baked. In fact, Jobs feels like a remake of Pirates of Silicon Valley bur without the interesting Microsoft antagonism and with only a taster of the paternity issues with Jobs’ girlfriend Chrisann Brennan.

This might not matter if the film was historically accurate, but it isn’t. As in iSteve, Woz is portrayed as socially inept with a 50-inch waistband -- something that’s unfair, and indeed the real-life and typically sanguine Woz has been critical of this movie. At one point Jobs is depicted as hating The Beatles, which is the complete opposite of the truth. The presentation of the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club goes down badly, which again is the opposite of what actually happened. Playing fast and loose with the truth, when people watching the movie already know what that is, is surely dangerous.

Jobs is also relentlessly po-faced, without the slightest smile. Ashton Kutcher acts largely via his eyebrows, while the camera zooms in yet again for a closeup. There’s no mention of Jobs’ fascination with phone phreaking, which would at least help humanise the portrayal. His dalliance with 60s counter culture is shown as part of his mission for first-class product design. The only real drama happens in the boardroom. Even for fans of Jobs and Apple, the result is tiresome -- something not helped by a two-hour runtime.

Best line: “Steve! You’re good. You’re damn good. But you’re an asshole.”
Worst line: “[The iPod] is a tool for the heart. And when you can touch someone’s heart -- that’s limitless.”
Woz factor: 3/10
Bonus points for… the scene where Jobs loses his rag over the lack of fonts in the Lisa operating system, which is sillier than all of iSteve.
Watch on: iTunes (£6.49 to buy), Amazon (£6.49). Available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

 

Steve Jobs

Of course there is one film we are all looking forward to watching - but it won't be in cinemas until October!

The new Steve Jobs film, directed by Danny “Trainspotting” Boyle, writen by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men and The West Wing) and staring Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, is apparenlty akin to Hamlet. Not because Jobs demonstrates an Oedipus complex, but because the film is mainly one long monologue.

You can read all about that film here: 21 facts about the new Steve Jobs movie

Tell us about your favouite Steve Jobs or Apple related film in the comments!

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