`Social Network' Fans Ignore Unflattering Zuckerberg Portrait

“The Social Network,” Hollywood’s unflattering portrait of Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg, pulled in moviegoers eager to see an account of the social-networking website’s early days and driven founder.

Fans attending opening-weekend showings in Los Angeles and San Francisco said they understood why some events were fictionalized in the movie, which chronicles the acrimonious beginnings of the world’s largest virtual gathering place.

“I know they took a lot of liberties,” Dylan Kellogg, 16 and seeing the movie for a second time, said at an AMC theater in Glendora, California. Zuckerberg is “really smart,” he said. “The movie portrays him as a person who’s driven by his own goals, but I think what he made was something that’s pretty cool for a lot of people.”

“The Social Network,” among the year’s most praised movies by critics, follows Zuckerberg, now 26, as he rises from social outcast at Harvard to billionaire. By the time the movie ends, he’s become alienated from his friends by lawsuits and squabbles over control of the company.

Made for $50 million, the Sony Corp. film generated $23 million in its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

“For a picture like this to hit $23 million is quite solid,” Brandon Gray, president of the Sherman Oaks, California-based researcher, said in an interview.

Sales fell short of the $26 million forecast of Box Office Guru editor Gitesh Pandya. The film, directed by David Fincher, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay, drawing from Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires.”

Feuding Founders

In the movie, Zuckerberg creates Facebook after being hired by three other students to help them build a social-networking site for Harvard students. The trio, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra, settled their lawsuit for $65 million in 2008. They subsequently have contested the settlement, seeking more money.

Zuckerberg also was sued by friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield. Saverin settled his lawsuit for an undisclosed amount. (A New York man, Paul Ceglia, separately claims an ownership stake in Facebook.)

The movie raised questions about Zuckerberg’s role, said Anthony Gardner, who saw it in San Francisco. Gardner, who uses Facebook at least three times a day, said he’ll continue to do so because it helps him stay in touch with friends.

“It did make me think about his ethical intentions,” Gardner said.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Sorkin said he also drew from depositions and interviews with participants, although Zuckerberg and Facebook refused to cooperate. He said he offered multiple viewpoints because the truth was in dispute.

Classic Themes

“It’s not a movie about Facebook,” Sorkin said. “At the center of this is a very modern invention, but the themes in it and the story are as old as storytelling itself -- of friendship and loyalty and betrayal and power and class.”

By its close, the movie portrayed Zuckerberg in a positive light, said Patrick Tran, 21, after seeing it in San Francisco.

“I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg did anything wrong based on the movie,” Tran said. “I like Facebook more after watching.”

At Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, employees went on an outing to watch “The Social Network,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

“To celebrate a period of intense activity at Facebook, we decided to go to the movies,” the company said. “We thought this particular movie might be amusing.”

Reviews

The film had a 97 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com. As of Oct. 3, 162 of 167 reviews posted were positive. The only widely released films with a higher rating this year were Walt Disney Co.’s “Toy Story 3,” with 99 percent, and DreamWorks Animation SKG’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” with 98 percent, according to the website.

Facebook lets users post photos, share information and send greetings via electronic “pokes.” The company was valued at $26.3 billion, according to SharesPost Inc., a private exchange. Facebook has more than 500 million users, according to the company’s website.

Dylan Kellogg’s mother, Dawn, 46, said she wanted to see “The Social Network” after watching Zuckerberg’s appearance on “Oprah” to announce a $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey, schools. She said she didn’t expect a completely accurate portrayal of Zuckerberg or his motives in creating Facebook.

Her bigger concern is that Facebook has hampered traditional forms of communication among teenagers.

“It’s almost like they don’t talk to each other,” Dawn Kellogg said. “The art of conversation, it’s not there. It’s a step back.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael White in Los Angeles at mwhite8@bloomberg.net; Brian Womack in San Francisco at Bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net; Tom Giles at tgiles1@bloomberg.net

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