Here’s Why It’s Not Too Soon For A Good Steve Jobs Biopic [Infographic]


Ashton Kutcher (left) plays the late great Apple leader in new biopic Jobs.
Ashton Kutcher (left) plays the late great Apple leader in new biopic Jobs.

You might think it’s too soon for a movie about Steve Jobs. After all, the Apple co-founder walked off the world stage just 676 days before Friday’s premiere of Jobs, the movie about him that stars Ashton Kutcher.

I had that same uneasy feeling sitting through the interminable 122-minute Jobs, a PG-13 movie that frequently stalls like a spinning beach ball.

Somewhere between hagiography and infomercial, there’s no fresh insight to be gained from the familiar scenes of Jobs experimenting with drugs and calligraphy or staging a comeback at Apple.

Those fleeting moments when Kutcher lurches down the hall with that irregular gait Jobs had or the few times he nails the accent can’t evoke a man who can still be seen — living, breathing, walking across the stage at Moscone Center — 24 hours a day on YouTube.

A sample of 330 biography movies from the Internet Movie Database.
A sample of 330 biography movies from the Internet Movie Database.

Too Soon?

Though I’m not Nate Silver in a skirt, I was curious to see whether there was any link between time elapsed since the death of a biopic’s subject and the quality (or rating) of the film. (As a TV entertainment reporter, I once did a story on the relationship between whether Julia Roberts wore curls and the success of her films. Result: The curls have it.)

So I looked at 800 of the 2,900 or so most popular biography feature films at the Internet Movie Database. After weeding out the ones released when the subject was still alive as well as those with historical subjects stretching back more than 1,500 years, I came up with a sample of 330 movies. (The Excel file is available in Google Docs, in case you want to play around with it.)

Charting Che Guevara biopics.
Charting Che Guevara biopics.

It turns out there’s no correlation (0.008089967) between years elapsed since the death of the biopic’s subject and the movie’s ratings, which you can see from the blobby cluster above.

There were some great movies made the same year the person died (Ray and The Story of G.I. Joe) as well as some very mediocre ones (Anna Nicole, for instance, or The Babe Ruth Story). The lack of connection also seems to hold true if you look at subjects with multiple movies made — Che Guevara, Queen Elizabeth, Abraham Lincoln.

Which brings me to the conclusion that although it’s just 1 year, 10 months, 6 days since his death, it’s not too soon for a movie about the iconic Apple co-founder.

Charting Queen Elizabeth biopics.
Charting Queen Elizabeth biopics.

It’s just too soon for such a bad movie.

Jobs was only 56 when pancreatic cancer stopped him from delighting people around the world with “just one more thing.” To make his premature exit even more bewildering, he left us with an authorized biography that, unlike the flawless products Apple sells from Helsinki to Harare, showed just how impossible his personality was to fit into one of those sleek white boxes.

For a brain refresh before the Jobs screening, I watched Pirates of Silicon Valley.  It’s a 1999 made-for-TV kitschfest — bad hair extensions, cheesy music, hammy acting — but it was made when Jobs was still alive. Both he and Steve Wozniak chuckled along with it, believing there were many years of battles and triumphs to come. Woz earnestly answered trivia questions about it on his blog and Jobs even played along, letting Noah Wyle, the actor who played him in Pirates, take the stage during Macworld.

Steve Jobs meets Mike Markkula in Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Steve Jobs meets Mike Markkula in Pirates of Silicon Valley.

Now, though, anyone who admired, despised or had even a passing interest in the man called the Edison of our times expects something more from a biopic about Jobs.

It’s not enough for Kutcher to look like him and do a passable impersonation. It takes insight and story crafting; you’re going to have to tell us something we don’t already know or find a way to make sense out of a complicated, brief life.

If you’re at all like the readers of Rotten Tomatoes (nearly 90 percent say they will darken movie theaters to see it), you will go see Jobs, hoping to see the late Apple leader again. There may be fleeting moments when you catch a glimpse of him — in the backyard with Laurene and the kids, presenting the iPod at Apple headquarters — but it will probably leave you with more uneasy nostalgia than anything else.

  • daov2a

    The issue is how filled this movie is with melodrama and falsehoods for the sake of expediency. Boring meetings that were normal, suddenly become magnetized and blown out of proportion. There is no Jony Ive anywhere in the movie, which is just absolutely shameful and unforgiveable. Xerox is left out; it’s just horribly horrid in every conceivable way as a movie meant to be a biographical representation of one of the most important figures in recent tech history. Just awful. Every review I have read states practically the same. The only way to do Steve Jobs justice is to really dig into him and show the dark times as well and to truly show how vulnerable he was in many situations and how prone to egotism and greatness at the same time he was. Pirates of Silicon Valley does this and that is why it remains such a popular movie for techies when re-treading through the history of computing. It gives a much more realistic feel to the growth of consumer computing and how that happened. It is not 100% truthful and is sorely in need of updating but it does a good job nonetheless.

    In any case, this movie will be adored by Apple fanatics as it glosses over Jobs and puts a glowing aura around him at all times. But as is clearly visible already, it will be panned FOREVER by anyone with a semi-working memory of what actually happened from about 1999 onward or the early 80’s and late 70’s. This movie is a complete waste of a fascinating subject. All I can say is: David Fincher and Sam Rockwell (or just about anyone else really!!). That will make a good movie.

  • BBest

    Have you even seen the movie?? Giles Matthey plays Jonathon Ive.

    Yes Xerox was left out. I understand your disappointment about that, but every film version of a person’s life does that. They even often blend two or more people into one character.

    Most of the reviews get a hell of a lot wrong. I watched the film last night. It’s aggravating as heck to see what’s being written. It’s like the reviewers must have had seizures during the film and wrote what they managed to see, not what was on the screen.

    The dark side of most events around Steve tends to be overblown or outright BS. Egoism? It’s easy to focus on Steve saying “what I’ve created” when he presented at a fair, but it’s also reality that he gave hundreds of interviews over years, that all said plain as day, “You’re missing it. This isn’t about me. I’m one man. The whole team did this.” He also said, “I’m just a symbol. It’s easier for people to point to that.” When he walked out to applause from the iMac engineering teams, he told them all, “That’s an awful lot of applause, considering you did all the work!” He then applauded them and led them in rounds of applause for each other. Doesn’t sound egotistical to me.

    The movie missed one vital scene. Steve had that entire Mac team sign their names on the inside of the first Mac’s mold. He placed his own name in lowercase, in the center. He told them, “Artists sign their work.”
    That’s absolutely not a guy who ‘stole credit’. That’s a man who put the names of every engineer who worked on that Mac on the inside of every computer they shipped to consumers.
    You couldn’t be more off-base about Steve.

  • Jakaya

    I was looking forward to this movie, albeit with reservations because of the lead cast, and obviously my reservations were correct. What an absolute shambles of a movie, on many fronts. I turned it off after 30 mins, I just can’t bear to watch a shambles of great man (call me fanboy, thats fine, but the man was a genius, time will show more to those who can’t see).

    It tried too hard to get with the Millennials, and what made it worse was the fact that it was a poor version of a made-for-TV movie, the great Pirates of Silicon Valley. That movie should be resurrected, one of the best movies of late, even Jobs got Noah Wyle (who played him so perfectly) to come on stage as him, and respected him. I doubt he would’ve done the same for Kutcher. Any film of SJ needs Wyle to be him, it’s so fucking obvious.