Hollywood Hills2

…and who do you think should be next for the Hollywood treatment?

Back in the old days movies were fairly straightforward – the “goodies” fought the “baddies”. The hero(s) would overcome adversity, triumph against the odds in the pursuit of some noble cause (and usually get the girl as part of the bargain too).

Nowadays we seem to expect a bit more subtlety from our entertainment. Storylines need to be more believable and characters possess a higher degree of complexity. This has led to a surprising number of biopics over the last few years that focus on the technology arena. Nerds are suddenly cooler than Superman.

Some of these biopics are more memorable than others – here are just some of the people to have their lives scrutinized on the big screen:.

John Nash – Russell Crowe received an Oscar nomination for ‘A Beautiful Mind’, one of the first of this current wave of techie biopics. In it he plays the brilliant mathematician John Nash as he fights to hold on to his sanity.

Ashton Kutcher in his pedestrian take on Steve Jobs [courtesy of Open Road Films]

Ashton Kutcher in his pedestrian take on Steve Jobs [courtesy of Open Road Films]

Steve Jobs – it wasn’t long after his death that the first biography of Steve Jobs hit the big screen – with Ashton Kutcher taking the lead role. The reasoning behind this rather quirky choice of actor seems to have mainly been down solely to a degree of similarity between in the physical appearance of Mr Kutcher and a young Mr Jobs (rather than the former’s acting merit). The film flopped – reviewers saying that it failed to capture the Machiavellian nature of the Apple founder. Kutcher was universally panned by the press for being too lightweight for such a complex role. The new film, which casts the considerably more celebrated acting talent of Michael Fassbender (and directed by Danny Boyle), should have greater substance to it – though US audiences have actually been somewhat indifferent to it.

Marc Zuckerberg – Brian Singer’s ‘The Social Network’ (which starred Jesse Eisenberg) covered the controversy surrounding the founding of Facebook and the ownership of the original idea being contested.

Benedict Cumberbatch exudes pure nerd in ‘The Imitation Game’ [courtesy of Studio Canal]

Benedict Cumberbatch exudes pure nerd in ‘The Imitation Game’ [courtesy of Studio Canal]

Alan Turing – 2014 film ‘The Imitation Game’ saw Benedict Cumberbatch narrowly miss out on an academy award for his portrayal of the persecuted code breaker and war hero Alan Turing.  It must be said that certain aspects of the story were exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Stephen Hawking – Eddie Redmayne, the man who beat Cumberbatch to the Oscar for best actor, gives a compelling performance in ‘Theory of Everything’ as he enacts Professor Stephen Hawking’s struggle with debilitation from motor neuron disease.

Output in this area is continuing – spurred on by the box office success of many of the film projects already mentioned. Supposedly now in pre-production is ‘Atari’, where Leonardo di Caprio is cast as Nolan Bushnell, the man who was highly instrumental in establishing the multimillion dollar gaming industry.

So what is it that is so appealing about science and computing all of a sudden? Why the move away from conventional subject matter? Well genius (whether it’s artists composers, or sportspeople) usually proves to be a rich seam to mine for screenplays. Gifted but equally troubled individuals make good copy – whether you’re writing a newspaper article or a film script.

Gifted techies/scientists that make it to the top are often loners, which is always a character type that screenwriters love. If not they are sociopaths – which is even better source material. People who are driven by unbridled ambition and are willing to screw anyone over to get what they want will appeal to movie goers (‘Steve Jobs’ being a case in point, but films like ‘Wall Street’ and ‘The Player’ also being good examples).

To ensure qualification for film immortalization, techies generally need to have some element of brilliance, but usually in a fundamentally flawed way (similarly to how ‘Shine’ or ‘Lust for Life’ dealt with the genius and mental frailties of artists and musicians. Also they should have achieved something (whether it’s a scientific discovery or commercial success) that is beyond what traditional Hollywood scripts can offer (cop films, war films, gangster films, etc.), all of which have been done ad nauseum.

So who do you think should be next to get their life story depicted on the silver screen?