‘Steve Jobs’ Film Disappoints as Moviegoers Skip Oscar Hopeful

  • Sony sold troubled production to Universal last year
  • Fassbender’s acclaimed portrayal doesn't attract an audience

Steve Wozniak Separates Fact, Fiction in 'Steve Jobs'

Moviegoers this weekend shunned Universal Pictures’ “Steve Jobs,” a sign that Sony Corp. executives may have been right to dump the biopic of the Apple Inc. co-founder.

The film generated $7.3 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, about a third of what BoxOffice.com analysts had estimated. Instead of dominating the box office as predicted, it limped in at No. 7.

Sony sold the “Steve Jobs” project late last year after rejecting the cast and budget the filmmakers wanted, a dispute that was revealed in e-mails leaked following a cyber attack. The e-mails were among a damaging lot that ultimately led to the dismissal of then-Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal.

Its troubled production was drawn out in public, with A-list actors including Leonardo DiCaprio passing on the role and senior Apple Inc. executives chastising filmmakers for their portrayal of Jobs. The hope for Universal Pictures, which acquired the film from Sony, is that it will win awards for Michael Fassbender’s critically acclaimed portrayal of the main character that may help boost ticket sales in the long run. 

Many Weeks

“We are going to be talking about Jobs for many weeks to come,” Nick Carpou, president of domestic distribution for Universal, said in an interview. “The story of ‘Steve Jobs’ hasn’t been written yet.”

He said Universal wasn’t wrong to pick up the film from Sony.

“It is a tremendous movie,” Carpou said. “We are just as proud today to be associated with this film as we were from the beginning.”

Sony declined to comment. A spokesman for Pascal didn’t respond for requests for comment.

The film cost $30 million to make, not including marketing costs, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. While the movie had the highest-grossing limited release of the year when it opened in four theaters earlier this month, that success didn’t continue when it added 2,433 theaters over this weekend, according to Rentrak Corp. The movie generated almost $10 million through Sunday, a sum the studio has to split with theaters. 

The film faced a lot of competition from new movies aimed at the same adult audience, such as “Bridge of Spies” from Steven Spielberg, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Rentrak.

Estimates Missed

Analysts at Boxoffice.com estimated “Steve Jobs” would top the box office with $21 million in ticket sales this weekend, while Gitesh Pandya, an analyst at Box Office Guru, predicted $17 million.

“Steve Jobs,” which premiered Sept. 5 at the Telluride, Colorado, film festival, tells the story behind the launch of three computers: the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and iMac in 1998. 

The red-haired Fassbender was cast to play Jobs after DiCaprio and then Christian Bale dropped out of the movie. Some of the filmmakers and writer Aaron Sorkin initially opposed the choice of director Danny Boyle. 

“I think Danny needs to rethink how he wants to do the movie,” Pascal wrote in a Nov. 13, 2014, e-mail to producer Scott Rudin. “We are not gonna get anyone to help us out here at this cost with this cast.”

Critics praised Fassbender’s portrayal even though movie fans noted that he didn’t resemble Jobs, who was of Syrian descent. 

Audience Burnout

The movie also may have turned off an audience that has already been offered two other films about Jobs, who died in 2011. In September, a documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” by Alex Gibney was released. In 2013, Ashton Kutcher starred in a critically panned movie “Jobs.”

“There is just general burnout about this story,” Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co, said in an interview. “Everybody feels like they know his story and don’t need to relive it again.”

Cook Criticism

The film received backlash from Apple chief executive Tim Cook as well as Jobs’s widow Laurene Powell Jobs. Cook described it as “opportunistic,” while Powell took to Twitter to praise Walt Mossberg’s review which said that it didn’t reflect the man he knew. Apple design chief Jony Ive called it a “heartbreaking” hijacking.

Moviegoers in Silicon Valley were drawn to the feature nonetheless, with three out of the top 10 grossing theaters nationwide being in the San Francisco Bay area, according to Universal.

Universal will concentrate on building audiences, Carpou said, and “the film will garner a lot of consideration for awards and that helps to incentivize moviegoers.”

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