The film premiered at the SVA Theater on July 12, 2016 and was theatrically released on July 27, 2016, by Lionsgate. It received mixed reviews and grossed $85 million against its $19 million budget.
High school senior Venus "Vee" Delmonico longs to leave her home in Staten Island for college, but is afraid to tell her mother about being admitted to the California Institute of the Arts, as she is still grieving from the death of Vee's brother. Her friend Sydney becomes popular in Nerve: an online reality game where people either enlist online as "players" or pay to watch as "watchers". Players accept dares from watchers, receiving monetary rewards. Sydney and her other friends chastise Vee's unadventurous nature. When Vee refuses to talk to her crush J.P., Sydney approaches J.P. herself and reveals that Vee is interested in him. J.P. rebuffs her, and Vee walks away embarrassed.
Furious, Venus signs up as a player on Nerve. The game collects her personal data and explains the three rules: all dares must be recorded on the player's phone, earned money will be revoked if a player fails or "bails" a dare, and a player must not report the game to law enforcement. In addition, the top two most-watched players will compete in a highly sought-after final round. Her first dare is to kiss a stranger at a diner for five seconds. Vee kisses Ian, who is reading Vee's favorite book. He starts dancing around the diner and sings to her on a dare, revealing that he's another player. The watchers then dare Ian to take her into the New York City, believing they make a good couple.
In the city, Vee is dared to try on an expensive dress. Ian is also dared to try on formal attire. Vee and Ian find that their clothes have been stolen, and are dared by the watchers to leave the store. They do so in their underwear. They return to Ian's motorbike, where they find a bag of clothes paid for by watchers. Vee is then dared to get a tattoo chosen by Ian, who draws out a tattoo and refuses to show Vee. When Vee becomes impatient, he distracts her with Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M." on the radio, one of her brother's favorite songs. Vee raps along with the song until the finished tattoo is revealed to be a lighthouse. Ian's next dare is to ride his motorbike through the city blindfolded at 60 mph, using Vee to steer his body; once completed, the two kiss. Vee and Ian soon become among Nerve's top players.
Jealous at Vee's rise of popularity, Sydney accepts a dare to walk across a ladder suspended between two buildings. Whilst performing the dare, she drops her phone and becomes scared. Sydney bails out and loses the game. Ian takes Vee to Sydney's party and Vee catches her in bed with J.P. After arguing with Sydney, Vee receives and completes the dare on which Sydney bailed. Vee's friend Tommy reveals that he was watching Ian's profile; Ian had accepted a dare to make Vee and Sydney fight. Vee realizes how dangerous Nerve is and reports the game to the police, but they do nothing. As punishment, all of the money is depleted from Vee and her mother's bank accounts. She is then punched in the face by elite player Ty as a dare.
After waking up in an abandoned site, she finds Ian, who confesses that he and Ty were players whose friend, Robbie, was killed in a dare. When they tried to alert the authorities, their families' jobs, bank accounts, and identities were confiscated, trapping them in the secret third category of the game: "prisoners". Vee is now a prisoner too, and only the winner of the final round can regain their identity.
Vee, Tommy, and Sydney recruit Tommy's hacker friends to alter the game's online code, but it is impossible to shut down Nerve as all the watchers act as a server to the game. After hanging from a crane for five seconds - the same dare that killed Robbie - Ian earns a spot in the finals in order to protect Vee. During the finals, which take place at Battery Weed on Staten Island, Vee and Ian are each given a revolver: one must shoot the other to win. Ian offers to throw the competition, but Ty jumps from the audience and takes his place. Vee criticizes the watchers, whose identity are concealed behind masks and tells them to show "nerve" at who they are and reveal themselves. The watchers then cast a vote regarding if Ty should kill Vee. The majority vote is "yes", and Ty shoots Vee.
Tommy and his hackers modify Nerve's source code to decrypt the watcher's code names and send them a message: "You are an accessory to murder". All watchers immediately log out of Nerve, closing down the game's servers and effectively ending it once and for all. Vee is unharmed; she and Ty had staged her murder to scare the watchers into disbanding Nerve. Everyone's money and identities are restored. A few months later, Vee and Sydney have reconciled, Vee and Ian are a couple, and Vee is attending California Arts. Ian reveals that his real name is Sam.
Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost had previously dealt with similar themes in their documentary Catfish. On their attraction to a film based around the Internet, they stated, "Most things aren’t black and white. The Internet is neither good nor bad; it just depends on how you use it", giving the example that the Nerve game could be both "a really empowering game, and it’s also the most awful thing that you can possibly imagine". The directors strived for a PG-13 rating, with Schulman stating "we wanted to make sure that younger teenagers could see it. We think it has an important message and they’ll dig it", with Joost adding "We weren’t interested in making a gross torture movie". In trying to keep the rating down, the directors axed a "sex dare" that "was ultimately just too dark and weird". The film has also a lighter ending and theme than the book, as the novel deals with a much darker plot and ending. The team stated that the fast-changing nature of the Internet made it a tough subject to make a narrative feature about, with Joost noting that the app Periscope came out during the film development, which Joost called "like half-way to being Nerve".
In January 2015, it was announced that Emma Roberts and Dave Franco were set to star in the film. In April 2015, it was announced that Kimiko Glenn had joined the cast of the film, portraying the role of Emma Roberts' character's worried friend. The same day, it was announced that rapper Colson "Machine Gun Kelly" Baker had also joined the cast.
Principal photography on the film began in 2015, in New York City. Production on the film concluded on June 5, 2015.
The film premiered at the School of Visual Arts in New York City on July 12, where the cast attended. It was also screened on July 21 at Comic-Con. The film was originally scheduled for September 16, 2016, but was eventually theatrically released on July 27, 2016.
Nerve grossed $38.6 million in the United States and Canada and $46.5 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $85.2 million, against a budget of $19 million. It was projected to gross around $10 million in its opening weekend and $15 million over its first five days from 2,538 theaters. The film grossed $3.7 million on its opening day and ended up finishing 8th at the box office in its opening weekend, grossing $9.4 million (a five-day total of $15.5 million).
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 66% of 126 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Nerve's fast pace and charming leads help overcome a number of fundamental flaws, adding up to a teen-friendly thriller with enough energy to occasionally offset its muddled execution." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 58 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
Scott Tobias of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, writing: "Though the ending surrenders to a tsk-tsk-ing morality play that turns on the mob the game (and the film) has so smartly orchestrated, Nerve is the rare virtual thriller that understands how social media actually works and the addictive little subcultures that can spin out of it." Dave Palmer of The Reel Deal gave the film 7/10, saying, "It is a lot of fun, and not even in a turn-your-brain off kind of way. The film actually has some smart things to say about teenagers, their phones and what people will do to get internet famous and it is all delivered in a colorful little package."