Is Steve Jobs’ ‘1984’ Apple spot an underrated film influence?


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Steve Jobs, as news reports have been reminding us for the last 18 hours, has been a titan of technology and design. He also is a key figure behind Pixar, acquiring the platinum-caliber animation company 25 years ago.

But the recently resigned Apple CEO also may have had a subtle hand in shaping a different part of pop culture: live-action movies.


During the 1984 Super Bowl, it was Jobs’ Apple that commissioned and ran the now-famous George Orwell-inspired spot for the newly created MacIntosh.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the dystopian commercial features a room populated by baldheaded drones who sit transfixed as a propagandist leader brainwashes them from a giant screen. Into their room runs a woman, some jackbooted guards hot on her heels, who hurls a javelin at the screen, while a voiceover suggests that the Mac can help turn 1984 into something other than Orwell’s (read: IBM’s) dark vision.

Created by ad agency Chiat/Day, the spot became a sensation, helping to put Apple on the cultural map and launching the modern Super Bowl ad. (You can watch the commercial above; below, check out Jobs introducing the spot at a technology conference, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with ‘Was George Orwell right about 1984?’)

The spot’s cinematic influences were vast -- the drones were a clear nod to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and the ad came as part of a larger culture of cinematic dystopia that had already produced movies such as ‘Blade Runner,’ which was, of course, also directed by Scott.

But the commercial also would go on to influence a number of movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Ben Richards in ‘The Running Man’ would contain shades of the javelin thrower, and it’s hard not to think of the ad when watching Alex Proyas’ 1998 cult hit ‘Dark City.’

Over the last decade, Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Children of Men’ and James McTeigue’s ‘V for Vendetta’ would take cues from the spot. Perhaps not concidentally, all three of these directors were in their impressionable late teens or early 20s when the Apple commercial hit.


The spot, which lasts only one minute, cost nearly a million dollars, an extremely large amount of money for a commercial at the time and a kind of precursor to the $100-million (and then the $200-million and $250-million) movie.

Jobs continued to reinvent personal computing and mobile devices in the decades that followed, and many current tech executives say they were inspired to join the digital revolution by that commercial. But a few film directors might have been watching too.


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Photos: Steve Jobs and Apple’s influence

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--Steven Zeitchik