It’s October, and that means one thing: It’s Oscar season. The end of the year is when most studios release their strongest films, hoping to generate enough buzz and momentum leading into Academy Award nominations. Universal’s latest Oscar hopeful came in the form of Steve Jobs, getting its wide release just this last weekend. An 85% Rotten Tomatoes score, an A-list cast, and a proven creative team in director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin set it up to be an easy sell for audiences. Instead, Steve Jobs fell flat on its face, much to the surprise of just about everyone in Hollywood.
Should we be surprised? Well, yes and no. Yes, because of all the reasons listed above. For all intents and purposes, Steve Jobs had the star power to make a whole lot of money in a very short amount of time. All the same, we’re not entirely shocked due to a variety of factors. A limited release two weeks prior certainly didn’t help, along with the fact that the film’s titular subject already got a biopic two years ago. Slate opines that “the modern moviegoer is a wee bit exhausted by anything to do with Jobs,” and it’s hard to argue based on the results we’re seeing.
So let’s dig into the numbers. The Ashton Kutcher-led Jobs from 2013 earned $6.7 million in its opening weekend, and was generally considered to be a subpar effort. Two years later, a far superior film in Steve Jobs only barely managed to beat out its predecessor, scoring just $7.2 million. A studio that was expecting the next The Social Network found out the hard way that not every tech giant biopic written by Aaron Sorkin is a slam dunk.
It’s almost unprecedented to see a movie with Oscar consideration do so poorly at the box office. Critically, the consensus seems to be that Boyle and Sorkin delivered a stellar product. The tragedy of the situation though is that it came two years too late, in a time when people feel Steve Jobs’ tale is done being told.
The Social Network was a biopic about a story still in progress today, about a subject that for the most part we all knew very little about. Steve Jobs still has time to make back its $30 million budget once it gets a foreign release, but for now we’re all left to wonder why no one in the U.S. wants to see this movie.
In terms of the release schedule, Steve Jobs could very well have been doomed by its limited release. It’s a strategy usually employed by studios to build a small critical buzz before a movie hits theaters nationwide, but in this case, it backfired horribly. Instead, what ended up occurring was a two-week lull, where people were fully aware that the film had released in some capacity. By the time it went wide though, the buzz had worn off and Steve Jobs was decidedly off of our collective radar.
As Oscar consideration starts to ramp up, Universal will have some marketing ammo for a second push in the coming weeks. Even so, the fall release schedule is packed with competition, including offerings such as Spectre (November 6), Trumbo (November 6), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (November 20). The avalanche of box office hits makes it an uphill climb for Steve Jobs, and serves as a lesson for future biopics in the tech industry: If you’re going to tell someone’s story, make sure it hasn’t already been told.
All box office data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest