The Five Best Biopics of Tech's Good, Bad and Factually Dubious

By Chris Mills on at

With yet another Steve Jobs biopic getting an A-list cast, and a documentary of Alan Turing getting rave reviews from us (and at the box office), it seems that the tech luminary biopic is very much in vogue these days. With that in mind, we've compiled the best of the genre here for you to get a highly dramatic Tech Biopic film night underway. Turtlenecks on, popcorn at the ready…

The Social Network

Well, let's get the most well-known out of the way first. The Social Network is probably the most famous of tech biopics as it's a) relatively recent, and b) talking about something most of the human population uses. But that doesn't stop it from being an excellent profile of one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs of this generation, and commensurately pretty damn funny to boot.

The film isn't without controversy, however. Anyone who's seen it will know that it doesn't paint Facebook, or Mark Zuckerberg, in the kindest of lights. It's basically the story of someone who steals an idea, before using someone's money to build a website, and then cons him out of his fair share. Zuckerberg, obviously, doesn't accept this version of events, calling The Social Network a work of "mostly fiction" that only managed to get his wardrobe right.

Who's telling the truth? Difficult to say: the two lawsuits depicted in the firm – filed by Eduardos Saverin and the Winklevoss twins – both ended with Facebook paying out money to the suitors, indicating that there's more than a grain of truth in their stories. On the other hand, numerous sources have said that the depiction of Zuckerberg as a person in the film is inaccurate.

The Aviator

Those of you who have had the good fortune to see The Aviator might be wondering about its inclusion in the list -- after all, it's the story of Howard Hughes, an aircraft pioneer rather than a tech luminary. But I feel that The Aviator merits a mention for a few reasons: they didn't have computers in the early 1900s, so biplanes and film cameras was as hi-tech as things got; Hughes' personality flaws are definitely up there with Silicon Valley's best; and it's a seriously good film.

In case you haven't seen The Aviator, and haven't read much on its happenings, Hughes started his career as a film director, picking up an early Oscar for best director, then moved into aviation, both as an engineer and pilot, helping design a plane that in 1935 set a landspeed record. Other notable Hughes-designed aircraft included the XF-11, a prototype reconnaissance aircraft, and the 'Spruce Goose', a giant amphibious plane made of wood.

Hughes' aircraft legacy lives on to this day -- the Apache attack helicopter, arguably the most advanced rotary-wing aircraft currently in service, started life as a Hughes prototype. Sadly, Hughes suffered with chronic pain and severe OCD throughout his life, and died in 1976.

The film itself certainly does justice to him. It's (understandably) centred around the parts of his life most involving aircraft, and in that sense only touch on one aspect of Hughes' life. But Leonardo DiCaprio's flawless performance, not to mention the actual story itself, make this extremely necessary viewing.

The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate is a look at Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, and in particular the major leak of US diplomatic cables and war documents. It's intended more as a balanced look at the events surrounding the leaks, rather than a more in-depth examination of Assange's character (reminder: he's the guy who's currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, so there's a whole separate film there).

It's based on two different books: one by Assange's co-leaker, Dominic Domscheit-Berg, and a second by two Guardian journalists. This is meant to put forwards a more balanced view -- which it does -- but it also makes the writing a little plot-based, and puts this firmly in the documentary side of a biopic, despite the grade-A dramatic acting from the stellar cast lead by Benedict Cumberbatch.

jOBS

The annoyingly monickered jOBS is, you guessed it, the first biopic looking at the life of Apple's co-founder. It stars Ashton Kutcher who, incidentally, fancies himself as a bit of a tech investor as well. Apparently, he got really into the role, not leaving character for weeks on end and going so far as to follow Jobs' bizarre diet. It shows -- and not just because Kutcher became oddly thin. If you can get past the beard, the acting is immensely convincing, if not particularly edgy or surprising.

The Imitation Game

Cumberbatch stars in his second film in this list, this time as Alan Turing, legendary but isolated codebreaker. The film's still recent, so I don't want to spoil it (if you do, our full review's here), but suffice to say that it's definitely worth seeing, even if it's been drinking a little too much of the Hollywood Kool-Aid.

But that's just us. What are tech films flick your switch? Let us know below, we have the popcorn ready…