The best films about Apple to watch while stuck at home
From the very funny to the occasionally accurate, there are some excellent movies for Apple fans to catch up on during our self-isolation.
If there is a movie or feature-length documentary about Apple that is entirely, completely accurate, then still someone depicted will say it isn't. There's a lot of ego involved in the history of Apple, but then that's part of why there is so much drama in it. Maybe you could make a drama out of any company's history, but it has to be a very special corporation before anyone would watch it.
Since movie makers are as aware of the interest in Apple as anyone else, though, there are a lot — a lot — of very poor documentary films attempting to catch your eye. We watched so you don't have to: here are the movies about Apple that are more than worth your time.
Dramas about Apple
Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography is a very long wasted opportunity, but it did give us one excellent thing. That book was the start for Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs movie and — bear with us for a second — that is easily the best drama about Apple to date.
No, really, it is. The trouble with biopics is that they either have to chart a whole life, or they pick one big incident in it. Sorkin chose instead to portray Jobs through concentrating on three of his most famous keynote speeches.
To do it, he did contrive to have incidents happen around those events which in reality took much longer. And he did leave out details, he does skip over people. Plus there's a famous scene in the film where Jobs shouts at Andy Hertzfeld that the universe was made in seven days. "Well," replies Hertzfeld, "someday you'll have to tell us how you did it."
That never happened. But we know it didn't because Sorkin has been upfront about how and why he wrote what he did. And in his Masterclass series about writing, he explains that this scene came about because he asked Hertzfeld what Steve Jobs would say in that scene. It's genuine, personal insight — not a Hollywood invention.
Speaking in Masterclass about his partly related film, The Social Network (2010), Sorkin explains that he will never portray someone doing something they didn't or wouldn't. And he reveals that there are people who wouldn't speak to Walter Isaacson who did to him.
Watch Steve Jobs, the movie, for how it captures the man few of us knew, and the whole world of Apple that has meant so much to us all.
And then, if you can track it down, watch "Pirates of Silicon Valley." Screenwriter and director Martyn Burke had a background in documentaries, but this is a drama and if it's very of its time, it has at least one very big merit. Noah Wyle is startling good as a young Steve Jobs in it.
So good that Steve Jobs, who shunned Burke after it, hired Wyle to portray him at Macworld in 1999.
According to Wyle, Steve Jobs took him shopping before the presentation and bought him jeans, round glasses, and a turtleneck sweater.
"The first few rows [of the Macworld audience], I think, could obviously tell it wasn't him, but most others didn't know at all," said Wyle. "And there was this growing ripple of laughter throughout the auditorium when people got what was happening. I honestly had had no idea what to expect: I thought the whole thing might be an ambush — that he'd get me to his event and that what he said we were going to do in fact wasn't what we were going to do, and I would somehow be humiliated. But he stayed on script and was very kind to me."
Pirates of Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs are the two key dramas about Apple, but for capturing how the industry was in the early days, do watch the TV series Halt and Catch Fire. It's more about PCs, but even those of us who lived and worked through this time couldn't have expected that a drama about it would be this good — and this accurate.
Films about the Apple community
These are two documentary films that came out close on each other's heels and are both about us, people who use and, frankly, love Apple. It's not as if we're blind to its faults, but once you start using Apple gear, something does happen and you do get immersed in this community.
Both of these documentaries have insight from people within Apple, and both of them have historical detail that's interesting. Welcome to Macintosh has much more from Apple staff, but you can probably best gauge the differences between these movies by two quotes from them.
Welcome to Macintosh features quite sour ex-Apple people, including Jim Reekes. "People on the outside think that it's like this wonderful world of Oz or Disney going on, and all of us are just all these brilliant, amazing, happy people," says Reekes, "and it's not, it's like a sausage factory. You really don't want to know how this stuff happens."
Whereas Macheads includes an interview with an Apple user who explains just how much this ecosystem means to her. "I have never knowingly slept with a Windows user," she says. "That would never ever happen."
Considering that actually both films feature some quite dour people, the two are equally joyous. Even if you will recognize yourself in both of them.
Films about Apple and related products
It's a curious thing that these two documentaries about topics that hugely overlap, came out so close together — and their subjects came out at the same time too. In reality, the Newton's launch, and its failure, destroyed the work of rival General Magic, but these two movies are superb companion pieces.
They're about the 1990s time in Apple's history when it spun off a firm called General Magic which was, basically, inventing the future that we live in today. And when Apple CEO John Sculley, having had Apple spin off this new firm, simultaneously decided Apple should develop a product to destroy it.
Sculley is interviewed in these films and you won't come away fathoming why he did it. That's one of the weaker parts of the General Magic documentary, in that it's as hard to believe the people in that firm knew nothing of Newton, as it is that Sculley would do this. You'll wish it delved more into what happened on this.
But otherwise, it and Love Notes to Newton are both utterly engrossing films that are ostensibly about products and companies, but are really about the people involved.
Films about the industry
Among the sea of Steve Jobs documentaries that were rushed out after his death in 2011, there is one that stands apart. Released in 2012, Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, is a 70-minute interview with Steve Jobs that was filmed in 1995.
It was filmed for a documentary called Triumph of the Nerds, which is a short series by PBS and the UK's Channel 4, about the development of the PC. That series is worth looking out for, but the Lost Interview is much more fascinating because it was filmed during the time Jobs was away from Apple.
Jobs is asked about this then-current project, NeXT, but he also reflects on the origins of Apple. It's not his usual bluster about how great things are, it's a more reflective piece where he displays that famous prescient awareness of what people need from technology.
There's a similar sense to how Jony Ive speaks in Gary Hustwit's 2009 documentary about design, Objectified. Ive is filmed inside Apple and just as interesting as his thoughts about design and people, is his own body language as he cleans the screen of his own iPhone before showing it to us.
Ive is a major part of Objectified and so is one of his design heroes, Dieter Rams, who was later the sole subject of Hustwit's 2018 documentary, Rams. At the time of writing, Rams is available to stream for free on Hustwit's website where he's been releasing one of his films every week during the coronavirus outbreak.
Whenever you can, do check out which of his documentary films is streaming, but also take a deep dive into all of the movies about Apple. The ones we've picked are tremendous examples of filmmaking, they are intensely dramatic — whether they're dramas or documentaries — and they are all-absorbing.