Ashton Kutcher is teaming with the upstart studio Open Road Films to beat bigger rival Sony Corp. (6758) to theaters with a biopic on Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) co-founder Steve Jobs.
Getting there first is no guarantee of success. “Jobs,” featuring Kutcher in the title role and made for an estimated $8.5 million, opens today amid criticism that its portrayal isn’t factual. Sony’s version, based on Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography and directed by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin, doesn’t have a release date.
“We made a movie, a broad entertainment offering, not a documentary,” Tom Ortenberg, chief executive officer of Open Road, said in an interview. “The important thing is to get the spirit right, and I believe we’ve done that with this film.”
“Jobs” is opening in about 2,400 theaters. The 122-minute film focuses on the computer pioneer’s early years as a college dropout and co-founder of Apple. It drew on public records and a vast catalog of television and print interviews with Jobs, Ortenberg said. The picture comes almost two years after the tech icon’s death and ahead of the planned Sony feature.
“For a man who could be very private, Steve’s life was also very public,” Ortenberg said. “There was a wealth of information to draw from.”
The film opens with Kutcher, clad in Jobs’s trademark black turtleneck, introducing the iPod in 2001. It then backtracks to the 1970s, when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) shows Jobs a prototype of a personal computer he built.
The movie, directed by Joshua Michael Stern, whose credits include the 2008 Kevin Costner film “Swing Vote,” chronicles the rise of Apple, the ouster of Jobs by the computer maker’s board, his life away from Apple and his eventual return as CEO, sparking one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of corporate America.
In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Wozniak criticized scenes from “Jobs” as being fictional, saying one was “absolutely the opposite” of what actually happened. Bloomberg News critic Greg Evans wrote that the movie is “pedestrian, inelegant.”
“Hollywood might someday design a sleek, prestige biopic worthy of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs,” Evans wrote. “For now, he’s gotten a Dell.”
Ortenberg said the filmmakers had to walk a tightrope between entertainment and true events.
Along with being out first, Ortenberg said Open Road is banking on audience interest in Jobs’s life and the star-power of Kutcher, a real-life venture investor and actor who plays a tech billionaire on CBS’s “Two and a Half Men.”
Weekend sales of $7 million to $8 million would be a success, Ortenberg said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Los Angeles office. Boxoffice.com, an industry forecaster, predicts revenue of about $10 million for the three days and $27 million over the film’s full domestic run.
The weekend tally would put “Jobs” behind two other new releases opening today. “Kick-Ass 2,” a Universal Pictures feature about a costumed high-school hero who joins a team of crime fighters, is forecast to lead the U.S. and Canadian box office with a weekend total of $24 million, according to Boxoffice.com.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” Weinstein Co.’s film about an African-American who served in the White House under eight U.S. presidents, is projected to open in second at $22.5 million.
Owned by AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment Group (RGC:US), Los Angeles-based Open Road distributes low-budget movies like “Jobs” that have the potential to draw a wide audience. They started the company in March 2011 to fill what they saw as a gap in the market.
Regal, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and controlled by billionaire Philip Anschutz, fell 2.3 percent to $18.48 yesterday in New York. AMC is owned by Dalian, China-based Dalian Wanda Group Corp., a closely held conglomerate.
As a tribute to Jobs, Ortenberg said, Open Road is releasing the film only in digital format, bypassing 35-millimeter prints. That limited the number of theaters where the movie could play to those with digital projectors, cutting out some smaller operators.
Open Road booked a slightly higher concentration of theaters than usual in technology hubs such as San Francisco, he said.
While Open Road holds only U.S. rights to “Jobs,” the movie also premieres this weekend in India and Singapore, according to Imdb.com. By Nov. 8, it will be released in countries including France, Australia, South Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, Italy, Brazil and Sweden.
After theaters, the film will have a home-video release before becoming available on Netflix Inc. (NFLX:US)’s streaming service for 18 months starting early next year, Ortenberg said.
“I’d like to think Steve Jobs would have been a fan of the film,” he said. “At the very least, I believe he would have been a fan of Ashton Kutcher.”
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