11 must-watch movies about Facebook, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Theranos, and more
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The Great Hack
This 2019 documentary released by Netflix is a behind-the-scenes look at the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hacking scandal. The Great Hack covers the aftermath of how the London-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used data mining and analysis of millions of Facebook profiles to influence various political campaigns around the world–notably, the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.
The documentary primarily follows whistleblower and former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser as she attempts to reveal the truth behind the scandal. Clips from the congressional hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the British parliament hearing with Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix are also featured. If you’ve ever wondered how the personal data companies collect about you is being used, The Great Hack can offer some insight–at least when it comes to Facebook.
SEE: This Cambridge Analytica movie will make you think before sharing on Facebook (CNET)
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
The Theranos scandal, one of the most compelling fraud cases in Silicon Valley history, is outlined in the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. The documentary features commentary from former Theranos employees, various journalists who covered the rise and fall of the company, and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes herself. The Inventor explains how the company began as an idea to make a cheaper and more efficient method to test blood samples for myriad diseases using only a few drops of blood from a finger prick. Unfortunately, this proved to be impossible, even with access to the best technology, so Holmes and Theranos president and COO (and Holmes’ boyfriend) Ramesh Balwani allegedly faked it, even during their partnership with healthcare provider Walgreens.
Like her idol Steve Jobs, Holmes was no doubt driven by ambition, but unlike Jobs, her product fell very short of matching it. What may be most striking about the documentary–and the case in general–is Holmes’ unwillingness to admit defeat. Even when faced with hard evidence, failed inspections, whistleblowing from former employees, and scathing reports from investigative journalists (including John Carreyrou from The Wall Street Journal who first reported the fraud), Holmes maintained that her product worked. The Inventor does a great job explaining the complexities of the Theranos scandal and provides an inside look at the woman who masterminded it.
SEE: Theranos documentary The Inventor diagnoses Silicon Valley schadenfreude (CNET)
Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates
Everyone knows the name Bill Gates–it’s synonymous with technology and, more specifically, Microsoft and personal computers. But who is the man behind the tech? In the three-part Netflix docuseries, viewers get an inside look at what makes Gates tick. The series focuses on his childhood and learning to code, his well-known competitive nature, his passion for reading and knowledge, his philanthropic efforts with wife Melinda, and much more. Inside Bill’s Brain offers a unique and intimate look at the brilliant, sometimes erratic, mind of one of the most influential people of our time.
SEE: Trailer for Netflix documentary on Bill Gates reveals his worst fear (CNET)
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
In her heyday, Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr was best known as a talented Hollywood actress and was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world. But, as Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story depicts, Lamarr was so much more than just a pretty face–she had a brilliant mind as well, particularly when it came to inventing. Bombshell provides an overview of Lamarr’s life including her escape from the Nazi invasion of her homeland before landing in Hollywood.
Lamarr worked on various inventions in her spare time and offered her help to America during World War II with her (and pianist George Antheil’s) invention of a patented frequency hopping radio guidance system that would prevent radio controlled torpedo signals from being jammed. Lamarr and Antheil’s invention was eventually used by the US Navy in the 1960s and was later incorporated into Bluetooth technology, GPS, and some versions of Wi-Fi. Underestimated for most of her life, Lamarr was not recognized for her intellectual contributions until much later in her life, but Bombshell does an impressive job of honoring both her legacy and her brilliance.
SEE: ‘Bombshell’ shatters myth around Wi-Fi inventor Hedy Lamarr (CNET)
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
The Internet’s Own Boy examines the liberties we lose through the use of technology. The documentary follows the life of Aaron Swartz, a programming prodigy, entrepreneur, and hacktivist best known for helping develop the web feed format RSS, the nonprofit organization Creative Commons, and co-founding Reddit, among other things. The documentary about the (posthumous) Internet Hall of Fame inductee explores his work as an activist for social justice, legal battle with the government, and suicide at age 26.
SEE: Remembering Aaron Swartz: “The Idealist” examines the context behind his quest for online freedom (TechRepublic)
From humble beginnings that started with a dinner conversation between three friends in the early 1980s, Compaq was born. Silicon Cowboys is a documentary about how former Texas Instruments engineers Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto sought to create a portable computer, taking on powerful tech company IBM in the process. The Texas-based startup was the first reach the $100 million mark in its first year of sales and the first to legally reverse-engineer IBM PCs.
In this David vs. Goliath-esque tale, three engineers started with a simple idea that took off, and they fought to keep it afloat, which they did until it merged with Hewlett-Packard in 2002. Though not exactly household names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Cowboys shows how Canion, Harris, and Murto revolutionized the PC industry in the 1980s and 90s, the effect of which can still be felt in the tech world today.
SEE: ‘Silicon Cowboys’: How Compaq cowpokes brought down IBM (CNET)
The Startup Kids
The Startup Kids is a 2012 documentary about young entrepreneurs in the US and Europe who found success on the web. Featured interviews include: Co-founder of Vimeo and DIY, Zach Klein; best-selling author and entrepreneur Ben Way, who started his first web company at age 15 and is one of the first dot com millionaires; CTO and founder of Breaker Inc. Leah Culver, and several other wunderkinds. Also included is commentary from renowned venture capitalist Tim Draper and general partner at Google Ventures M.G. Siegler. The documentary focuses on how these young moguls got their companies off the ground and how their lives were affected as a result.
SEE: Entrepreneurs’ Guide: Tips, tricks, and mistakes when bringing new tech to market (ZDNet)
This biopic about the Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs features Michael Fassbender in the lead role and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, a surprising departure from Rogen’s usual funny guy roles. Unlike the 2013 Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, Steve Jobs focuses on a specific time in Jobs’ career, beginning backstage with the launch of the Mac in 1984 and ending with the launch of the iMac in 1998. The film also paints a more detailed picture of his complicated relationship with his daughter Lisa and her mother, and his up-and-down relationship with Wozniak.
Also delivering an admirable performance as Jobs’ “right-hand woman” Joanna Hoffman is Kate Winslet, who acts as confidant, advisor, and his “work wife.” Praised by Wozniak for its accuracy (he was a consultant for the film), this biopic shows Jobs in all his complex glory, as a man whose ambition, passion, and ingenuity made him one of the most iconic figures in the 20th (and 21st) century.
SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The Social Network
This biopic, directed by David Fincher, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and follows his career trajectory, starting with his early days at Harvard before delving into how he created the social network used by millions today. From programming with Harvard roommates Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes to his legal battle with the Winklevoss twins for ownership rights to his involvement with Napster co-founder Sean Parker and expanding the company into the behemoth it has become, The Social Network offers a bit of history about Zuckerberg and the platform that changed the social media game forever.
SEE: Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Pirates of Silicon Valley
Before Apple or Microsoft existed, its founders were just college dropouts working out of garages with a dream and a passion for technology. Partly based on the Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, Pirates of Silicon Valley looks at the early lives of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, et al., and explores the infamous rivalry between Jobs and Gates. Noah Wyle takes on the role of Jobs with Anthony Michael Hall as Gates in this story about the battle for the top in the world of personal computing.
SEE: Revisiting ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’, the original Steve Jobs movie (CNET)