Truth is stranger than fiction — and the truth about technology is even stranger than that. Some of the stories behind our most cutting-edge, state-of-the-art innovations are beyond far-fetched; and they make ripe, fertile ground for dramatic films and television.
We’ve seen a recent influx of projects, with producers taking the tales of Theranos, Uber and WeWork and developing, updating and rebooting them for peak entertainment. There’s a limited series in development at HBO about the formation of Facebook, titled Doomsday Machine and starring Claire Foy as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Taron Egerton is even teeing up a biopic of Henk Rogers, the man who popularised the game Tetris, for Apple TV+.
In the meantime, there are plenty of tech start-up dramas already out there to sink your smartphones into. From Steve Jobs to The Social Network, here are some of our favourites…
The Dropout, Hulu
What’s it about? The ambitious, incredible — and ultimately criminal — enterprises of Elizabeth Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford University to create Theranos, a health-tech company that she alleged would revolutionise blood testing.
Who’s in it? Amanda Seyfried takes on the main role, in a performance that has been described as ‘disquieting’. But the real strength comes from the support, with actors including Stephen Fry and William H. Macy putting in riveting turns.
Why is it worth watching? If you have followed the story — and listened to the podcast — it’s a nice companion piece. If you don’t know the story of Theranos; buckle up. It’s a maddening, ludicrous, shout-at-the-television ride.
Super Pumped, Showtime
What’s it about? The first of a proposed anthology series focusing on tech start-ups (the second season will zero in on Facebook and go head-to-head with HBO’s upcoming drama). This inaugural instalment is subtitled The Battle For Uber, and tells the twisty tale of the ride-sharing app.
Who’s in it? The endlessly likeable Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes on the less-than-likeable role of Travis Kalanick, with Kyle Chandler playing Bill Gurley, one of Silicon Valley’s top dealmakers. But the most intriguing piece of casting? Quentin Tarantino, who has been brought on board to narrate the series.
Why is it worth watching? For Gordon-Levitt’s gripping, overly-shouty central performance. Expect exclamations of greed, backstabbing and wince-inducing nonsense like: “WE ARE IN THE WORLD-CHANGING BUSINESS!”
WeCrashed, Apple TV+
What’s it about? Not necessarily a tech start-up. However, when Adam Neumann co-founded flexible workspace company WeWork, it initially targeted technology start-ups as clients. And anyway, this series focuses less on the business, and more on Neumann’s delicate professional/personal relationship with his wife.
Who’s in it? Jared Leto once again reinvents himself to play Neumann, with long locks and dark contact lenses. His wife, Rebekah Neumann, is played with brio by Anne Hathaway. Also look out for Brit O-T Fagbenle as a partner at a powerful investment firm.
Why is it worth watching? For the narcissism. There’s a little dramatic license here — but nowhere near as much as you’d expect. As you take in all the excess, the greed and the opulence, mouth undoubtedly agape, know this; more than you’ll want to believe is true.
The Social Network, Apple TV+
What’s it about? Unlike the first three entries on this list, The Social Network is not new — and it’s not a television series. You’ve likely seen the Aaron Sorkin-penned, David Fincher-directed film; a Shakespearean retelling of the early days of Facebook.
Who’s in it? Famously, Jesse Eisenberg, in a career-making role. But the support here is equally strong, with Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Max Minghella all helping to actually imbue a film about social media with interest and enthralling drama.
Why is it worth watching? Because it’s a tale for our time. Zuckerberg was the youngest billionaire in the world when The Social Network was released 12 years ago — and it’s worthwhile to see how one of your most-used apps was coded to life.
Steve Jobs, Amazon Prime
What’s it about? Following the success of The Social Network, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was chosen to tackle the life and times of another tech titan; Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. And, while criticised for historical inaccuracies, the Danny Boyle-directed film pulls off the same magic trick as The Social Network; and manages to make tech dealings truly dramatic.
Who’s in it? Michael Fassbender landed the plum role of Jobs, after actors including George Clooney, Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio were all considered. Seth Rogen plays Steve Wozniak, and Kate Winslet plays marketing executive Joanna Hoffman.
Why is it worth watching? Because, unlike a normal biopic, this one plays out in three acts; a trio of potted sequences that scrub through the life of Jobs, skipping to the behind-the-scenes moments of his three biggest launches — the Macintosh, the NeXT computer and the iMac.
Jobs, Apple TV+
What’s it about? The same again, essentially. Released two years before Danny Boyle’s film, Jobs was directed by little-known director Joshua Michael Stern, and follows the eponymous magnate’s life from his student years at Portland’s Reed College to the introduction of the iPod in 2001. It’s available for a mere 99p on Apple’s own streaming service.
Who’s in it? Ashton Kutcher — who seemed like a strange choice at the time. And yet, Kutcher bears and uncanny resemblance to the young Jobs, and does a stand-up job of imitating him. Support comes from Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak and Dermot Mulroney as angle investor Mike Markkula.
Why is it worth watching? Because, unlike the Sorkin-penned story, this 2013 film is a more linear affair. It’s an easier watch, despite not having the same artistic flair — although we’d watch for the soundtrack alone, which features a fist-pumping jukebox of hits from Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and REO Speedwagon.
The Gamechangers, BBC
What’s it about? The rise and rise of the Grand Theft Auto video games. The feature-length TV film centres on the legal feud between Rockstar Games, the company that creates the games, and the Florida attorney who tried to link real-life criminal activity with the game’s glamorisation of violence.
Who’s in it? Would you believe Daniel Radcliffe? Under a baseball cap and beard, the Harry Potter star played Rockstar Games president Sam Houser opposite Bill Paxton, who took on the role of attorney Jack Thompson.
Why is it worth watching? Because it’s directed by Owen Harris, who went on to direct three of the best episodes of Black Mirror — ‘Be Right Back’, ‘San Junipero’ and the similarly video game-centric ‘Striking Vipers’. And, while it may not be a watertight retelling of the Grand Theft Auto story, it remains the only attempt made to date.
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