Steve Jobs opened wide this past weekend, after two weeks of a very small introductory opening run to build up buzz, and grossing just over $7 million over the weekend probably puts it in the “minor flop” category. It didn’t cost a lot to make, comparatively speaking ($30 million) so it will probably end up breaking even at the least. But, despite massive hype and ton of media attention, Steve Jobs is definitely not a hit movie. (Which is not surprising really because a couple years ago they released Jobs, which was an awful movie starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, and that movie made about $16 million. Steve Jobs will end up making a little more than that, but not that much more. Probably because, come on, Ashton Kutcher? But I digress.)
I propose that the reason Steve Jobs did not do well at the box office is because – wait for it – most people do not particularly care about Steve Jobs. Because let’s be honest here: Steve Jobs was not nearly the revolutionary and populist figure that some people think him to be. Apple was for a very long time simply a hipster response to IBM and Microsoft. Sure, via management of his technology company, he popularized mobile computing. That’s fairly important, sure, but is it truly groundbreaking? He didn’t invent smartphones; he just streamlined them and made them a little more accessible. (And not that much more accessible, not really.) Less than a decade after the iPhone was introduced, Apple doesn’t even have half the market share of a market they more or less created. Steve Jobs hasn’t even been dead five years and already Tim Cook is getting at least 75% of the Jobs hype just because he’s keeping Apple profitable.
But most people, on an everyday basis, don’t care about Steve Jobs. Why should they? Whatever direct effect Jobs had in the creation of all those various Apple products (and that’s something that’s quite debateable) is minimized on people’s everyday lives. Most people use their iPhones for texting, Candy Crush and maybe email sometimes. That’s Jobs’ legacy for most people: the guy who let you spend money for Candy Crush powerups.
Now, on the other hand, to the upper class (and the people who worship the idea of upper class), Steve Jobs is really really important. Steve Jobs became a rich guy and then he became a richer guy.1 That’s why there’s a big fancy biography about Steve Jobs which sold almost a million copies worldwide, which is a lot of books.2 But one million books sold worldwide means about $15 million in movie ticket sales if everybody who bought the book also went to see the movie, and you will recall that Jobs made $16 million so maybe we’re starting to get a sense of exactly how big the market for Steve Jobs-related things in fact is. Which is not large.
But if it’s not large, then why is there a Steve Jobs book and an unauthorized Steve Jobs book and two Steve Jobs movies and two more Steve Jobs documentaries and lots of other things with Steve Jobs on them? Because rich people think Steve Jobs is important and that drives what our creative culture is willing to lionize. Hollywood doesn’t need to be convinced that a Hunger Games will make them a billion dollars, because they know what people actually want to see and usually they’ll do their best to satisfy that. But Hollywood is run mostly by rich white guys who like rich white guy things, and Steve Jobs is one of those things, just like fiftysomething leading men pairing off with twentysomething romantic lady interests. Which means that studio heads will push for a Steve Jobs movie even when a Steve Jobs movie already crapped the bed, because the first Steve Jobs movie didn’t do Steve Jobs right, you see, it just needed a better chance.
None of this is particularly original analysis, mind you. But it’s still right.
- Okay, and the tech industry considered him super-important too, but nerds are nerds. [↩]
- Of course, most of the Harry Potter books sold over 50 million copies per title, so that gives you an idea of the size of the Steve Jobs market: one-fiftieth that of the Harry Potter market, at least literarily speaking. The Harry Potter movies made way more than fifty times as much money as the Steve Jobs movies have made. [↩]