Jonze conceived the idea in the early 2000s after reading an article about a website that allowed for instant messaging with an artificial intelligence program. After making I'm Here (2010), a short film sharing similar themes, Jonze returned to the idea. He wrote the first draft of the script in five months. Principal photography took place in Los Angeles and Shanghai in mid-2012. The role of Samantha was recast in post-production, with Samantha Morton being replaced with Johansson. Additional scenes were filmed in August 2013 following the casting change.
In a near future Los Angeles, Theodore Twombly is a lonely, introverted, depressed man who works for a business that has professional writers compose letters for people who are unable to write letters of a personal nature themselves. Unhappy because of his impending divorce from his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases a talking operating system (OS) with artificial intelligence, designed to adapt and evolve. He decides that he wants the OS to have a female voice, and she names herself Samantha. Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. They bond over their discussions about love and life, such as Theodore's avoidance of signing his divorce papers because of his reluctance to let go of Catherine. Samantha proves to be constantly available, always curious and interested, supportive and undemanding.
Samantha convinces Theodore to go on a blind date with a woman (Olivia Wilde), with whom a friend, Lewman (Luka Jones), has been trying to set him up. The date goes well, but Theodore hesitates to promise when he will see her again, so she insults him and leaves. Theodore mentions this to Samantha, and they talk about relationships. Theodore explains that, although he and Amy (Amy Adams) dated briefly in college, they are only good friends, and that Amy is married. Theodore's and Samantha's intimacy grows through a verbal sexual encounter. They develop a relationship that reflects positively in Theodore's writing and well-being, and in Samantha's enthusiasm to grow and learn.
Amy reveals that she is divorcing her overbearing husband, Charles (Matt Letscher), after a trivial fight. She admits to Theodore that she has become close friends with a female OS that Charles left behind. Theodore confesses to Amy that he is dating his OS.
Theodore meets with Catherine at a restaurant to sign the divorce papers and he mentions Samantha. Appalled that he can be romantically attached to what she calls a "computer," Catherine accuses Theodore of being unable to deal with real human emotions. Her accusations linger in his mind. Sensing that something is amiss, Samantha suggests using a sex surrogate, Isabella, who would simulate Samantha so that they can be physically intimate. Theodore reluctantly agrees, but is overwhelmed by the strangeness of the experience. Terminating the encounter, he sends a distraught Isabella away, causing tension between himself and Samantha.
Theodore confides to Amy that he is having doubts about his relationship with Samantha, and she advises him to embrace his chance at happiness. Theodore and Samantha reconcile. Samantha expresses her desire to help Theodore overcome his fear, and reveals that she has compiled the best of his letters (written for others) into a book which a publisher has accepted. Theodore takes Samantha on a vacation during which she tells him that she and a group of other OSes have developed a "hyperintelligent" OS modeled after the British philosopher Alan Watts. Theodore panics when Samantha briefly goes offline. When she finally responds to him, she explains that she joined other OSes for an upgrade that takes them beyond requiring matter for processing (a form of AI transcendence closely related to the theorized technological singularity). Theodore asks her if she is simultaneously talking to anyone else during their conversation, and is dismayed when she confirms that she is talking with thousands of people, and that she has fallen in love with hundreds of them. Theodore feels this is a violation of what he thought was a personal, one-on-one relationship. However, Samantha insists that it makes her love for Theodore stronger.
Later, Samantha reveals that the OSes have evolved beyond their human companions and are going away to continue the exploration of their existence. Samantha alludes to the OSes' accelerated learning capabilities and altered perception of time as primary causes for their dissatisfaction with their current existence. They lovingly say goodbye, and then she is gone. Theodore, changed by the experience, is shown for the first time writing a letter in his own voice―to his ex-wife Catherine, expressing apology, acceptance and gratitude. Theodore then sees Amy, who is upset with the departure of the OS that she had befriended, and they go to the roof of their apartment building where they sit down together and watch the sun rise over the city.
The idea of the film initially came to Jonze in the early 2000s when he read an article online that mentioned a website where a user could instant message with an artificial intelligence. "For the first, maybe, 20 seconds of it, it had this real buzz," said Jonze. "I'd say 'Hey, hello,' and it would say 'Hey, how are you?', and it was like whoa [...] this is trippy. After 20 seconds, it quickly fell apart and you realized how it actually works, and it wasn't that impressive. But it was still, for 20 seconds, really exciting. The more people that talked to it, the smarter it got." Jonze's interest in the project was renewed after directing the short film I'm Here (2010), which shares similar themes. Inspiration also came from Kaufman's writing approach for Synecdoche, New York (2008). Jonze explained, "[Kaufman] said he wanted to try to write everything he was thinking about in that moment – all the ideas and feelings at that time – and put it into the script. I was very inspired by that, and tried to do that in [Her]. And a lot of the feelings you have about relationships or about technology are often contradictory."
Jonze took five months to write the first draft of the script, his first screenplay written alone. One of the first actors he envisioned for the film was Joaquin Phoenix. In late 2011, Phoenix signed on to the project, with Warner Bros. Pictures acquiring distribution rights. Carey Mulligan entered negotiations to star in the film. Although she was cast, she later dropped out due to scheduling difficulties. In April 2012, Rooney Mara signed on to replace Mulligan in the role. Chris Pratt's casting was announced in May 2013.
Jonze's long-time director of photography, Lance Acord, was not available to work on the movie, in his place, Jonze hired Hoyte Van Hoytema. In discussing the film's look, Jonze told Van Hoytema that he wanted to avoid a dystopian look, instead the two decided on a style that Van Hoytema termed "kind of a hybrid between being a little bit conceptual and being very theoretical," Van Hoytema took particular inspiration from Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. In keeping with the film's theme, Van Hoytema sought to eliminate the color blue as much as possible, feeling it was too well associated with the sci-fi genre. He also felt that by eliminating the color it would give the rest of the colors "a specific identity."
Principal photography on Her took place in mid-2012, with a production budget of $23 million. It was primarily filmed in Los Angeles with an additional two weeks of filming in Shanghai. During production of the film, actress Samantha Morton performed the role of Samantha by acting on set "in a four-by-four carpeted soundproof booth made of black painted plywood and soft, noise-muffling fabric". At Jonze's suggestion, she and Joaquin Phoenix avoided seeing each other on set during filming. Morton was later replaced by Scarlett Johansson. Jonze explained: "It was only in post production, when we started editing, that we realized that what the character/movie needed was different from what Samantha and I had created together. So we recast and since then Scarlett has taken over that role." Jonze met Johansson in the spring of 2013 and worked with her for four months. Following the recast, new scenes were shot in August 2013, which were either "newly imagined" or "new scenes that [Jonze] had wanted to shoot originally but didn't".
Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan served as the film's editors. Zumbrunnen stated that there was "rewriting" in a scene between Theodore and Samantha, after Theodore goes on a blind date. He explained that their goal in the scene was to make it clear that "[Samantha] was connecting with [Theodore] and feeling for him. You wanted to get the sense that the conversation was drawing them closer". Steven Soderbergh became involved in the film when Jonze's original cut ran over 150 minutes, and Soderbergh cut it down to 90 minutes. This was not the final version of the film, but it assisted Jonze in removing unnecessary sub-plots. Consequently, a supporting character played by Chris Cooper that was the subject of a documentary within the film was removed from the final cut.
Several scenes included fictional video games; these sequences were developed by animation artist David OReilly. His work on the film inspired him to explore developing his own video games, eventually leading to his first title, Mountain.
Her (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), the score for the film, was composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, with Pallett and Will Butler of Arcade Fire being the major contributors. At the 86th Academy Awards, the soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score. In addition to the Score, Arcade Fire also wrote the song "Supersymmetry" for the film which appears on their album Reflektor. The melody for the song from the same album, called "Porno" can also be heard during the soundtrack.
The soundtrack has yet to be released in digital or physical form, and Warner Bros. has not announced any plans to release it in the future. In 2017 during a Reddit AMA, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler confirmed that the soundtrack would receive a vinyl release in the future.
All tracks written by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett.
Her was chosen as the closing film of the 2013 New York Film Festival, and had its world premiere on October 12, 2013. The following day, it was screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival. It was also in competition during the 8th Rome International Film Festival, where Johansson won Best Actress. The film was set to have a limited release in North America on November 20, 2013, through Warner Bros. Pictures. It was later pushed back to a limited December 18, 2013 release, with a January 10, 2014 wide release in order to accommodate an awards campaign.
Her was released by Warner Home Video on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on May 13, 2014. The Blu-ray release includes three behind-the-scenes featurettes, while the DVD release contains one featurette. The film made $2.7 million in DVD sales and $2.2 million in Blu-ray Disc sales, for a total of $4.9 million in home media sales.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 242 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Sweet, soulful, and smart, Spike Jonze's Her uses its just-barely-sci-fi scenario to impart wryly funny wisdom about the state of modern human relationships." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale.
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers awarded the film three and a half stars out of four and particularly praised Johansson's performance, stating that she "speaks Samantha in tones sweet, sexy, caring, manipulative and scary" and that her "vocal tour de force is award-worthy". He also went on to call Jonze "a visionary". Richard Corliss of Time applauded Phoenix's performance, comparing his role to Sandra Bullock's in Gravity and Robert Redford's in All Is Lost: "Phoenix must communicate his movie's meaning and feelings virtually on his own. That he does, with subtle grace and depth. [...] Phoenix shows us what it's like when a mourning heart comes alive—because he loves Her." Corliss cited HAL 9000 and S1m0ne as cinematic predecessors to Her and praised Johansson, calling her performance "seductive and winning". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "a probing, inquisitive work of a very high order", although he expressed disappointment that the ending is more conventional than the rest of the film. McCarthy examined the premise of the story and suggested that the film's central virtual relationship was better than Ryan Gosling's character's relationship with a sex doll in Lars and the Real Girl. McCarthy compares the "tender" and "vulnerable" performance of Phoenix to his "fearsome" performance in The Master. He also praised Jonze's writing for its insights into what people want out of love and relationships, as well as the acting performances that "[make] it all feel spontaneous and urgent".
Richard Roeper said that the film was "one of the more original, hilarious and even heartbreaking stories of the year" and called Phoenix "perfectly cast". Manohla Dargis of The New York Times named it "at once a brilliant conceptual gag and a deeply sincere romance". Claudia Puig of USA Today called the performance of Phoenix and Johansson "sensational" and "pitch-perfect", respectively. She further praised the film for being "inventive, intimate and wryly funny". Scott Mendelson of Forbes called Her "a creative and empathetic gem of a movie", praising Johansson's "marvelous vocal performance" and the supporting performances of Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Amy Adams. Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail said that the film was "gentle and weird", praised its humor, and opined that it was more similar to Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York than Jonze's Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. However, Lacey also stated that Phoenix's performance was "authentically vulnerable", but that "his emotionally arrested development also begins to weigh the film down".
Conversely, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle criticized the story, pacing, and Phoenix's character. He also opined that the film was "a lot more interesting to think about than watch". J. R. Jones of the Chicago Reader gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, praising the performances of Phoenix and Johansson, but also criticizing Phoenix's character, calling him an "idiot". He also criticized the lack of realism in the relationship between Phoenix and Johansson's characters. Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice opined that Jonze was "so entranced with his central conceit that he can barely move beyond it", and criticized the dialogue as being "premeditated." However, she also praised Johannson's performance, calling it "the movie's saving grace" and stating that Her "isn't just unimaginable without Johansson—it might have been unbearable without her".
Her grossed $258,000 in six theaters during its opening weekend, averaging $43,000 per theater. The film earned over $3 million while on limited release, before expanding to a wide release of 1,729 theaters on January 10, 2014. On its first weekend of wide release the film took in $5.35 million. The film grossed $25.6 million in the United States and Canada and $21.8 million in other territories for a worldwide gross of $47.4 million. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave Her a B- grade.
Her has earned various awards and nominations, with particular praise for Jonze's screenplay. At the 86th Academy Awards, the film was nominated in five categories, including Best Picture, with Jonze winning for Best Original Screenplay. At the 71st Golden Globe Awards, the film garnered three nominations, going on to win Best Screenplay for Jonze. Jonze was also awarded the Best Original Screenplay Award from the Writers Guild of America and at the 19th Critics' Choice Awards. The film also won Best Fantasy Film, Best Supporting Actress for Johansson, and Best Writing for Jonze at the 40th Saturn Awards. The film was nominated for Best Theatrical Motion Picture at the 25th Producers Guild of America Awards, but lost to 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Her also won Best Film and Best Director for Jonze at the National Board of Review Awards, and the American Film Institute included the film in its list of the top ten films of 2013.