At the 83rd Academy Awards, the film received eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Fincher, and Best Actor for Eisenberg, and won three for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing. The film also received awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the 68th Golden Globe Awards.
In October 2003, 19-year-old Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright. Returning to his dorm, Zuckerberg writes an insulting entry about Albright on his LiveJournal blog and then creates a campus website called Facemash by hacking into college databases to steal photos of female students, then allowing site visitors to rate their attractiveness. After traffic to the site crashes parts of Harvard's computer network, Zuckerberg is given six months of academic probation. However, Facemash's popularity attracts the attention of Harvard upperclassmen and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra. The trio invites Zuckerberg to work on Harvard Connection, a social network featuring the exclusive nature of Harvard students and aimed at dating.
After agreeing to work on the Winklevoss twins' concept, Zuckerberg approaches his friend Eduardo Saverin with an idea for what he calls Thefacebook, an online social networking website that would be exclusive to Ivy League students. Saverin provides $1,000 in seed funding, allowing Mark to build the website, which quickly becomes popular. When they learn of Thefacebook, the Winklevoss twins and Narendra are incensed, believing that Zuckerberg stole their idea while keeping them deliberately in the dark by stalling on developing the Harvard Connection website. They raise their complaint with Harvard President Larry Summers, who is dismissive and sees no value in either disciplinary action or Thefacebook website itself.
Saverin and Zuckerberg meet fellow student Christy Lee, who asks them to "Facebook me", a phrase which impresses both of them. As Thefacebook grows in popularity, Zuckerberg extends the network to Yale University, Columbia University and Stanford University. Lee arranges for Saverin and Zuckerberg to meet Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who presents a "billion dollar" vision for the company that impresses Zuckerberg. He also suggests dropping "The" from Thefacebook, just calling it Facebook. At Parker's suggestion, the company moves to Palo Alto, with Saverin remaining in New York to work on business development. After Parker promises to expand Facebook to two continents, Zuckerberg invites him to live at the house he is using as company headquarters.
While competing in the Henley Royal Regatta for Harvard against the Hollandia Roeiclub, the Winklevoss twins discover that Facebook has expanded to Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE, and decide to sue the company for theft of intellectual property. Meanwhile, Saverin objects to Parker making business decisions for Facebook and freezes the company's bank account in the resulting dispute. He later relents when Zuckerberg reveals that they have secured $500,000 from angel investor Peter Thiel. However, Saverin becomes enraged when he discovers that the new investment deal allows his share of Facebook to be diluted from 34% to 0.03%, while maintaining the ownership percentage of all other parties. He confronts Zuckerberg and Parker, and Saverin vows to sue Zuckerberg for all the company's shares before being ejected from the building. Subsequently, Saverin's name is removed from the masthead as co-founder. Later, a cocaine possession incident involving Parker and his attempt to place the blame on Saverin finally convinces Zuckerberg to cut ties with him.
Throughout the film, the narrative is intercut with scenes from depositions taken in the Winklevoss twins' and Saverin's respective lawsuits against Zuckerberg and Facebook. The Winklevoss twins claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea, while Saverin claims his shares of Facebook were unfairly diluted when the company was incorporated. At the end, Marylin Delpy, a junior lawyer for the defense, informs Zuckerberg that they will settle with Saverin, since the sordid details of Facebook's founding and Zuckerberg's own callous attitude will make him highly unsympathetic to a jury. After everyone leaves, Zuckerberg is shown sending a friend request to Albright on Facebook and then refreshing the webpage every few seconds as he waits for her response.
The epilogue states that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss received a settlement of $65 million, signed a non-disclosure agreement, and rowed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, placing sixth; Eduardo Saverin received a settlement of an unknown amount and his name was restored to the Facebook masthead as a co-founder; the website has over 500 million members in 207 countries and is valued at 25 billion dollars; and Mark Zuckerberg is the world's youngest billionaire.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said, "What attracted me to [the film project] had nothing to do with Facebook. The invention itself is as modern as it gets, but the story is as old as storytelling; the themes of friendship, loyalty, jealousy, class and power. [...] I got a 14-page book proposal that Ben Mezrich had written for his publisher for a book he was going to call The Accidental Billionaires. The publisher was simultaneously shopping it around for a film sale. That's how it wound up in my hands. I was reading it and somewhere on page three I said yes. It was the fastest I said yes to anything. But Ben hadn't written the book yet, and I assumed that Sony was going to want me to wait for Ben to write the book, and I would start a year from now. They wanted me to start right away. Ben and I were kind of doing our research at the same time, sort of along parallel lines."
However, according to Sorkin, Mezrich did not send him material from his book as he wrote it: "Two or three times we'd get together. I'd go to Boston, or we'd meet in New York and kind of compare notes and share information, but I didn't see the book until he was done with it. By the time I saw the book, I was probably 80 percent done with the screenplay." Sorkin elaborated:
There's a lot of available research, and I also did a lot of first person research with a number of the people that were involved in the story. I can't go too deeply into that because most of the people did it on the condition of anonymity, but what I found was that two lawsuits were brought against Facebook at roughly the same time, that the defendant, plaintiffs, witnesses all came into a deposition room and swore under oath, and three different versions of the story were told. Instead of choosing one and deciding that's the truest one or choosing one and deciding that's the juiciest one, I decided to dramatize the idea that there were three different versions of the story being told. That's how I came up with the structure of the deposition room.
Casting began in early August 2009, with open auditions held in various states. Jesse Eisenberg was first announced to be attached to the project in September 2009. (Coincidentally, in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer, Zuckerberg revealed that Eisenberg's cousin, Eric Fisher, was a Facebook product designer.) Several days later, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield were confirmed to portray the roles of Sean Parker and Eduardo Saverin, respectively. In October 2009, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Shelby Young, and Josh Pence were cast. Max Minghella and Dakota Johnson were also confirmed to star in the film. In a 2009 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Eisenberg said, "Even though I've gotten to be in some wonderful movies, this character seems so much more overtly insensitive in so many ways that seem more real to me in the best way. I don't often get cast as insensitive people, so it feels very comfortable: fresh and exciting, as if you never have to worry about the audience. Not that I worry about the audience anyway – it should be just the furthest thing from your mind. The Social Network is the biggest relief I've ever had in a movie".
Principal photography began in October 2009 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Scenes were filmed around the campuses of two Massachusetts prep schools, Phillips Academy and Milton Academy. Additional scenes were filmed on the campus of Wheelock College, which was set up to be Harvard's campus. (Harvard has turned down most requests for on-location filming ever since the filming of Love Story (1970), which caused significant physical damage to the campus.) Filming took place on the Keyser and Wyman quadrangles in the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University from November 2–4, which also doubled for Harvard in the film. The first scene in the film, where Zuckerberg is with his girlfriend, took 99 takes to finish. The film was shot on the Red One digital cinema camera. The rowing scenes with the Winklevoss brothers were filmed at Community Rowing Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts and at the Henley Royal Regatta. Although a significant portion of the latter half of the film is set in Silicon Valley, the filmmakers opted to shoot those scenes in Los Angeles and Pasadena. Miniature faking process was used in a sequence showing a rowing event at the Henley Royal Regatta.
Armie Hammer, who portrayed the Winklevoss twins, acted alongside body double Josh Pence while his scenes were filmed. His face was later digitally grafted onto Pence's face during post-production, while other scenes used split-screen photography. Pence was concerned about having no face time during the role, but after consideration thought of the role as a "no-brainer". He also appears in a cameo role elsewhere in the film. Hammer states that director David Fincher "likes to push himself and likes to push technology" and is "one of the most technologically minded guys I've ever seen." This included sending the actors to "twin boot camp" for 10 months to learn everything about the Winklevosses.
Community Rowing Inc. held a casting call and a tryout for 20 rowing extras; some were graduates from Harvard, Northeastern University, Boston University, George Washington University, and Trinity College, as well as local club rowers from Union Boat Club and Riverside Boat Club. None of the cast rowing extras for the Henley Royal Regatta racing scene appeared in the film; filming for the race was originally planned to take place in Los Angeles, but Fincher decided to film in New England during production.
David Fincher hired Loyola Marymount coach Dawn Reagan to help train Josh Pence and Armie Hammer. While Hammer was new to the sport, Pence rowed previously at Dartmouth College.
The indoor rowing scene was filmed at Boston University's indoor rowing tanks. All of BU's blue oars in the scene were repainted to Harvard's crimson color for filming. Dan Boyne was the official rowing consultant for the film both in the US and the UK.
On June 1, 2010, it was announced that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would score the film. The soundtrack was released September 28 in various formats under the Null Corporation label. Leading up to the release of the soundtrack, a free five-track EP was made available for download. The White Stripes' song "Ball and Biscuit" can be heard in the opening of the film and The Beatles' song "Baby, You're a Rich Man" concludes the film. Neither song appears on the soundtrack.
Reznor and Ross won the award for Best Original Score at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, as well as the 2011 Academy Award for Best Original Score.
The first theatrical poster was released on June 18, 2010. The film's first teaser trailer was released on June 25, 2010. The second teaser was released on July 8. The full length theatrical trailer debuted on July 16, 2010, which plays an edited version of the song "Creep", originally by Radiohead, covered by the Belgian choir group Scala & Kolacny Brothers. The trailer was then shown in theaters, prior to the films Inception, Dinner for Schmucks, Salt, Easy A, The Virginity Hit, and The Other Guys. The theatrical trailer, put together by Mark Woollen & Associates, won the Grand Key Art award at the 2011 Key Art Awards, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter, and was also featured on The Film Informant's Perfect 10 Trailers in 2010.
The script was leaked online in July 2009. In November 2009, executive producer Kevin Spacey said, "The Social Network is probably going to be a lot funnier than people might expect it to be." The Cardinal Courier stated that the film was about "greed, obsession, unpredictability and sex" and asked "although there are over 500 million Facebook users, does this mean Facebook can become a profitable blockbuster movie?"
At the D8 conference hosted by D: All Things Digital on June 2, 2010, host Kara Swisher told Zuckerberg she knew he was not happy with The Social Network being based on him, to which he replied, "I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive." Zuckerberg stated to Oprah Winfrey that the drama and partying of the film is mostly fiction, explaining "this is my life, so I know it's not so dramatic," and that he spent most of the past six years focusing, working hard, and coding Facebook. Speaking to an audience at Stanford University, Zuckerberg stated that the film portrayed his motivations for creating Facebook inaccurately; instead of an effort to "get girls", he says he created the site because he enjoys "building things". However, he added that the film accurately depicted his real-life wardrobe, saying, "It's interesting the stuff that they focused on getting right – like every single shirt and fleece they had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own."
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz called the film a "dramatization of history ... it is interesting to see my past rewritten in a way that emphasizes things that didn't matter, (like the Winklevosses, who I've still never even met and had no part in the work we did to create the site over the past 6 years) and leaves out things that really did (like the many other people in our lives at the time, who supported us in innumerable ways)". According to Moskovitz:
A lot of exciting things happened in 2004, but mostly we just worked a lot and stressed out about things; the version in the trailer seems a lot more exciting, so I'm just going to choose to remember that we drank ourselves silly and had a lot of sex with coeds.... The plot of the book/script unabashedly attacked [Zuckerberg], but I actually felt like a lot of his positive qualities come out truthfully in the trailer (soundtrack aside). At the end of the day, they cannot help but portray him as the driven, forward-thinking genius that he is.
Co-founder Eduardo Saverin said of the film, "[...] the movie was clearly intended to be entertainment and not a fact-based documentary."
Sorkin has stated that, "I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy's sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?"
Journalist Jeff Jarvis acknowledged the film was "well-crafted" but called it "the anti-social movie", objecting to Sorkin's decision to change various events and characters for dramatic effect, and dismissing it as "the story that those who resist the change society is undergoing want to see." Technology broadcaster Leo Laporte concurred, calling the film "anti-geek and misogynistic". Sorkin responded to these allegations by saying, "I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people".
Andrew Clark of The Guardian wrote that "there's something insidious about this genre of [docudrama] scriptwriting," wondering if "a 26-year-old businessman really deserves to have his name dragged through the mud in a murky mixture of fact and imagination for the general entertainment of the movie-viewing public?" Clark added, "I'm not sure whether Mark Zuckerberg is a punk, a genius or both. But I won't be seeing The Social Network to find out."
Several noteworthy tech journalists and bloggers voiced their opinions of how the film portrays its real-life characters. Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore, blogging for CNN, said: "If the Facebook founder [Zuckerberg] is concerned about being represented as anything but a genius with an industrious work ethic, he can breathe a sigh of relief." Jessi Hempel, a technology writer for Fortune who says she's known Zuckerberg "for a long time", wrote of the film:
The real-life Zuckerberg was maniacally focused on building a web site that could potentially connect everyone on the planet...By contrast, in the film he seems more obsessed with achieving the largesse that bad boy Sean Parker, an original Napster founder, portrays when he arrives to meet Zuckerberg at a New York restaurant.
Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig wrote in The New Republic that Sorkin's screenplay does not acknowledge the "real villain" of the story:
The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because "our idea was stolen!") of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can't know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other "property"? Absolutely not – the code for Facebook was his, and the "idea" of a social network is not a patent. It wasn't justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.
In an onstage discussion with The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, during Advertising Week 2010 in New York, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said she had seen the film and it was "very Hollywood" and mainly "fiction". "In real life, he [Zuckerberg] was just sitting around with his friends in front of his computer, ordering pizza," she declared. "Who wants to go see that for two hours?"
Divya Narendra said that he was "initially surprised" to see himself portrayed by the non-Indian actor Max Minghella, but also admitted that the actor did a "good job in pushing the dialogue forward and creating a sense of urgency in what was a very frustrating period."
The Social Network was released on DVD and Blu-ray January 11, 2011. In its first week of release, DVD sales totaled $13,470,305 and it was the number one sold DVD of the week. The DVD includes an audio commentary with director David Fincher, and a second commentary with writer Aaron Sorkin and the cast. The Blu-ray and 2-Disc DVD releases include the commentaries, along with a feature length documentary, How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?, featurettes, Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter and Ren Klyce on Post, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and David Fincher on the Score, In the Hall of the Mountain King: Reznor's First Draft, Swarmatron, Jeff Cronenweth and David Fincher on the Visuals, and a Ruby Skye VIP Room: Multi-Angle Scene Breakdown feature.
During its opening weekend in the United States, the film debuted at No. 1, grossing $22.4 million in 2,771 theaters. The film retained the top spot in its second weekend, dropping only 31.2%, breaking Inception's 32.0% record as the smallest second weekend drop for any number-one film of 2010, while being the third-smallest overall behind Secretariat's 25.1% drop and Tooth Fairy's 28.6% drop. At the end of its theatrical run, the film grossed $97 million in the United States and $128 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $224.9 million.
On review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96% based on 292 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Impeccably scripted, beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances, The Social Network is a riveting, ambitious example of modern filmmaking at its finest." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 95 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "universal acclaim" and making it one of the site's highest rated movies of all-time. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, giving it four stars and naming it the best film of the year, wrote: "David Fincher's film has the rare quality of being not only as smart as its brilliant hero, but in the same way. It is cocksure, impatient, cold, exciting and instinctively perceptive." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, gave the film his first full four star rating of the year and said: "The Social Network is the movie of the year. But Fincher and Sorkin triumph by taking it further. Lacing their scathing wit with an aching sadness, they define the dark irony of the past decade." The Harvard Crimson review called it "flawless" and gave it five stars. Quentin Tarantino listed The Social Network as one of his favorite 20 movies of the year, second to Toy Story 3.
Some reviewers pointed out that the film plays loosely, however, with the facts behind Facebook's founding. Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal praised the film as exhilarating but noted: "The biographical part takes liberties with its subject. Aaron Sorkin based his screenplay on a contentious book, Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, so everything that's seen isn't necessarily to be believed."
The film won Best Picture from the National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, making it only the third film in history – after Schindler's List (1993) and L.A. Confidential (1997) – to sweep the "Big Four" critics awards. The film also won the "Hollywood Ensemble Award" from the Hollywood Film Awards. The Social Network appeared on 78 critics' top 10 lists for 2010, of those critics 22 had the film in their number one spot.
In August 2016, The Social Network was voted the 27th best film of the 21st century by the BBC, as voted on by 177 film critics from around the world.
The Social Network appeared on over 70 critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2010. Over a dozen publications ranked the film first in their lists, including the British film magazine Sight & Sound.
The Social Network won the Best Motion Picture – Drama Golden Globe at the 68th Golden Globe Awards on January 16, 2011. The film also won the awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score, making it the film with the most wins of the night.
The film was nominated for seven British Academy Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jesse Eisenberg), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Andrew Garfield), and Rising Star Award (Andrew Garfield). It won three for Best Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Direction on February 13, 2011.
The Social Network received nominations for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won three for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing at the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, 2011.
Since its release, The Social Network has been cited as inspiring involvement in start-ups and social media. Bob Lefsetz has stated that: “watching this movie makes you want to run from the theatre, grab your laptop and build your own empire,” noting that The Social Network has helped fuel an emerging perception that “techies have become the new rock stars.” This has led Dave Knox to comment that: “fifteen years from now we might just look back and realize this movie inspired our next great generation of entrepreneurs.” After seeing the movie, Zuckerberg was quoted as saying he is "interested to see what effect The Social Network has on entrepreneurship", noting that he gets "lots of messages from people who claim that they have been very much inspired... to start their own company." Saverin echoed these sentiments, stating that the film may inspire "countless others to create and take that leap to start a new business." In one such instance, the co-founders of Wall Street Magnate confirmed that they were inspired to create the fantasy trading community after watching The Social Network.
Following his success with the film, Sorkin became attached to another project about a technology company, writing the script for the 2015 biopic Steve Jobs, which used a similar format. Another Facebook film may be produced, as the company's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, has signed a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to develop her new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, into a movie.