The film opens in 2001 with a middle-aged Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) introducing the iPod at an Apple Town Hall meeting.
It then flashes back to Reed College in 1974. Jobs had already dropped out due to the high expense of tuition, but was still attending classes with the approval of Dean Jack Dudman (James Woods) who took him under his wing. Jobs is particularly interested in a course on calligraphy. He meets up with his friend Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas) who is excited to see that Jobs is holding a copy of Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass. Influenced by this book and his experiences with LSD, Jobs and Kottke spend time in India.
Two years later, Jobs is back in Los Altos, California living at home with his adoptive parents Paul (John Getz) and Clara (Lesley Ann Warren). He is working for Atari and develops a partnership with his friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) after he sees that Wozniak has built a personal computer (the Apple I). They name their new company Apple Computer, though there already is a company called Apple Records that is owned by The Beatles (Wozniak then teases Jobs that this is symbolic of his preference for Bob Dylan). Wozniak gives a demonstration of the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club. Jobs is later approached by Paul Terrell (Brad William Henke) who shows interest in the Apple I. Knowing that he and Wozniak will need a studio in which to build them, Jobs convinces his father Paul to allow them to use the family garage (set up as a carpentry/tool center) for his new company. Realizing that they cannot build these computers alone, Jobs also recruits Kottke, Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk), and Chris Espinosa (Eddie Hassell) to the Apple team.
Terrell, however, is disappointed by the Apple I, a reaction which inspires Jobs to start again with a second model. He hires Rod Holt (Ron Eldard) to reconceptualize the power supply for what would be called the Apple II. In addition, after many failed attempts, Jobs finally wins the interest of a venture capitalist, Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), who also joins Apple. They release the Apple II at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire where it is a remarkable success. Suddenly Jobs and the company are very successful.
The success also causes Jobs to distance himself from his friends and his high school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Ahna O'Reilly). When Brennan tells him she is pregnant with their child, he promptly ends their relationship. Brennan eventually gives birth to Lisa Brennan whom Jobs continues to deny as his daughter. He also brings in John Sculley (Matthew Modine) to become the CEO of the company. As his behavior becomes more erratic (for example firing an employee for not appreciating his investment in using fonts), Jobs is moved away from The Lisa to the Macintosh Group where he works with Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith (Lenny Jacobson), Chris Espinosa, and Andy Hertzfeld (Elden Henson). He also forces the original team leader of the Macintosh group, Jef Raskin, out of it. Though the Macintosh is introduced with a great deal of fanfare in 1984, Jobs is forced out of the company by Sculley in 1985.
The film jumps forward to 1996. Jobs is married to Laurene Powell Jobs (Abby Brammell) and has accepted Lisa (Annika Bertea) as his daughter (she now lives with them). He has a son, Reed (Paul Baretto) and is also running the company NeXT which Apple decides to buy. He is asked by then-CEO Gil Amelio to return to Apple as a consultant. Jobs does so and soon he is named the new CEO, ultimately firing Amelio and his ex-friend Markkula (who refused to support him when he was forced out of Apple 11 years prior). Jobs becomes interested in the work of Jonathan Ive (Giles Matthey) and works to reinvent Apple. The film ends with Jobs recording the dialogue for the Think Different commercial in 1997. Before the credits, there are original photos of all the main characters paired with clips from the film of the actor playing the part, plus a dedication to Steve Jobs.Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs
Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak
Lukas Haas as Daniel Kottke
Victor Rasuk as Bill Fernandez
Eddie Hassell as Chris Espinosa
Ron Eldard as Rod Holt
Nelson Franklin as Bill Atkinson
Elden Henson as Andy Hertzfeld
Lenny Jacobson as Burrell Smith
Giles Matthey as Jonathan Ive
Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula
Matthew Modine as John Sculley
J. K. Simmons as Arthur Rock
Kevin Dunn as Gil Amelio
Brett Gelman as Jef Raskin
John Getz as Paul Jobs
Lesley Ann Warren as Clara Jobs
Abby Brammell as Laurene Powell Jobs
Annika Bertea as Lisa Brennan-Jobs (adult)
Ava Acres as Lisa Brennan (child)
Ahna O'Reilly as Chrisann Brennan
James Woods as Jack Dudman
David Denman as Al Alcorn
Brad William Henke as Paul Terrell
Robert Pine as Edgar S. Woolard, Jr.
Amanda Crew as Julie
Screenwriter Matt Whiteley began work on the screenplay around the time Steve Jobs took medical leave from Apple to battle pancreatic cancer. Director Joshua Michael Stern stated in an interview that all material for the screenplay was collected via research and interviews:
Mark Hulme, our producer, had an expert team of researchers to comb through all public records and interviews that had anything to do with Steve Jobs. Mark, the screenwriter and the research team, also took it upon themselves to interview quite a large pool of people who either worked at Apple or worked with Steve to make sure we portrayed as accurate a portrait and telling of the events possible within the constraints of the film's length.
Production began in June 2012 at Jobs' childhood home in Los Altos, California, with the help of Jobs' stepmother, Marilyn Jobs (who still lives there). It was also observed by his sister Patty. UCLA was used as the backdrop for Jobs' time at Reed College. The majority of the film was shot in the Los Angeles region. Russell Carpenter was the cinematographer.
In August 2012, production moved to New Delhi and Vrindavan in order to provide the setting for Jobs' 1974 trek to India. Locations include "Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the Hauz Khas Complex, Safdarjung Tomb and Humayun’s Tomb." Aseem Bajaj (Bandit Queen, Chameli, and Khoya Khoya Chand) served as cinematographer for scenes shot in India, though cinematographer Russell Carpenter went to India as well. Bajaj notes that they "shot guerrilla style in the crazy and mad by-lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. We shot near the Red Fort and the famous Jama Masjid for two full days with multiple cameras spread across everywhere. Ashton stood frozen with the chaos staring right in his face which helped us capture what Steve Jobs must have felt on his visit to India."
The Business Insider described the film's opening as a box office flop, earning $6.7 million in its first weekend and placed seventh overall.
It had a worldwide gross of $35.9 million against its $12 million budget, making the film a modest box office success.
E! Online said, "Critics have taken the film to task for a reach that falls far short of its ambition, marred by its superficial and unsatisfying portrait of an icon who deserved better." Forbes reported that the consensus among critics was "mixed positives for Kutcher's performance" and a "thumbs down for Joshua Michael Stern's film." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 27% rating, based on 124 reviews, with a weighted average of 4.9/10. The site's consensus reads, "An ambitious but skin-deep portrait of an influential, complex figure, Jobs often has the feel of an over-sentimentalized made-for-TV biopic." Review aggregator Metacritic gave the film a score of 44 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Robert X. Cringely, author of Accidental Empires and creator of the documentaries Triumph of the Nerds and Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, argues that "the film is beautifully shot and Kutcher's portrayal of Jobs, while not spot-on, is pretty darned good. He certainly has the look down and the walk. But Ashton Kutcher also produced this film and he's definitely a better actor than producer. There are a lot of historical inaccuracies that just don't have to be there. [...] The great failing of this film is the same failing as with Walter Isaacson's book: something happened during Steve's NeXT years (which occupy less than 60 seconds of this 122 minute film) that turned Jobs from a brat into a leader, but they don't bother to cover that." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle states that "at its best, it's a good picture, and at its worst, it's almost good." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone suggests that "Kutcher nails the genius and narcissism. It's a quietly dazzling performance" but also notes that "Jobs is a one-man show that needed to go for broke and doesn't. My guess is that Jobs would give it a swat." Contributor for rogerebert.com, Susan Wloszczyna, gave the movie 2/4 stars, saying that, "Rather than attempting a deeper plunge behind the whys and wherefores of the elite business-model gospel according to Apple Inc. guru Steve Jobs and – more importantly – what it says about our culture, the filmmakers follow the easy rise-fall-rise-again blueprint familiar to anyone who has seen an episode of VH1's Behind the Music." She further discusses how Kutcher's performance and the overall movie failed to portray Jobs in iconic manner that current pop culture suggests even after Jobs' passing. In a movie review for The New York Times, writer Manohla Dargis writes that Jobs was "inevitably unsatisfying" and a result of a poor performance of the filmmakers rather than the actors themselves.
In a January 2013 interview with The Verge, Steve Wozniak notes that he was approached by the crew of Jobs and given an early script to read. He read it as far as he "could stomach it and felt it was crap. The Sony people got in contact with me too and in the end I went with them. You can't do both [films] and be paid." At around the same time, he responded to the first promotional clip for the film on Gizmodo by stating that the "personalities are very wrong, although mine is closer... our relationship was so different than what was portrayed."
In August 2013, before the wide release of the film, Kutcher responded to these critiques in a few interviews. In an interview with the Associated Press, Kutcher stated that: "Steve Wozniak is being paid by another company to support their Steve Jobs film. It's personal for him, but it's also business. We have to keep that in mind. He was also extremely unavailable to us when producing this film. He's a brilliant man and I respect his work, but he wasn't available to us as a resource, so his account isn't going to be our account because we don't know exactly what it was. We did the best job we could. Nobody really knows what happened in the rooms." He reiterated this point in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter by stating that Wozniak "is being paid by another movie studio to help support their Steve Jobs film, so he's gonna have an opinion that is connected to that, somewhat." Wozniak responded to Kutcher's comments as well as to the film itself on Gizmodo by stating that "either film would have paid me to consult, but the Jobs one already had a script written. I can't take that creative leadership from someone else. And I was turned off by the Jobs script. But I still hoped for a great movie." He also believed several individuals portrayed in the film were inaccurately and/or unfairly portrayed including himself and Steve Jobs. Wozniak reiterated these points in an interview with Bloomberg Television adding that he is "really easy to get a hold of, [Kutcher] could have called me and consulted over the phone any time." The Verge noted that "Wozniak was in fact invited to consult on the film, but declined after reading the script, saying he and his wife were 'abhorred' by it. Wozniak was a consultant on Aaron Sorkin's 2015 Steve Jobs film. When asked why he did not at least correct the inaccuracies he saw, Wozniak said, 'I have a very busy life, and it came at a very busy time in my life.'"
In an interview with Slashdot, Daniel Kottke states that he consulted on early versions of the screenplay and notes that "Ashton's very good. I have no complaints with him at all, no complaints with his portrayal of Jobs. The complaint that people would rightly have about the film is that it portrays Woz as not having the same vision as Steve Jobs, which is really unfair." He also said that the early versions of the screenplay "were painful. Really painful. I forwarded the first draft to Mike Markkula because they wanted his feedback, and Mike took such a bad reaction to it, he wouldn't have anything more to do with the project. By the time it got to the fourth draft, it was okay. It wasn't making me cringe." Kottke also outlines various areas that were both accurate and inaccurate in the film. Bill Fernandez was part of the same interview but states that he didn't see the film because "the whole thing is a work of fiction, and I don't want to be upset by all the things that the screenwriter has invented and don't represent the truth." Kottke responded that he didn't think of the film as fiction because "I was involved early on in the film, and they really, sincerely tried to make it as accurate as they could."
In the same interview, Fernandez and Kottke commented on the characterization of Rod Holt (portrayed by actor Ron Eldard). Kottke disputed the characterization, noting that: "What completely cracked us all up is the scene where Rod arrives for the first time. Rod comes up wearing leathers, riding up on a motorcycle with long hair [...] he's like this motorcycle dude. It just cracked us all up." Fernandez, who had not seen the film at the time of the interview, was also surprised by this portrayal. Holt, however, (according to Kottke), "thought it was hilarious." As for why he may have been characterized this way, Kottke states that, "Rod was really into dirt bikes. And I never saw him riding one, but he talked about it all the time. So the author just had him riding up on a motorcycle. I liked that guy. I met him on the set. I had no idea who he was when I met him because he doesn't look at all like Rod, he has long straight hair and he's wearing leathers." Fernandez, who was equally amused by this vision of Holt responded by asking, "Who could this possibly be in the Apple universe? [...] It seems to me that there's a lot of fan fiction about Apple Computer and about Steve Jobs, and I think that this is the biggest, flashiest piece of fan fiction that there's been to date.
Chris Espinosa stated on Twitter, "FYI My position at Apple precludes my commenting on the #JobsMovie with the press or public. But I can say that I enjoyed watching the film."
The TV show John Wants Answers took Wozniak, Kottke, and Andy Hertzfeld through the film scene by scene and discussed how the events actually occurred.
A number of classic rock, classical music, and contemporary works appeared in the film. The commercial film soundtrack focuses on an original score by John Debney and includes some but not all of the classical and classic rock works.