EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar race just came to Silicon Valley. And leave it to Harvey Weinstein to make it happen. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hosted a private screening, along with Weinstein and Digital Sky Technologies billionaire Yuri Milner (he’s a big technology investor in Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants, and pictured below with star Keira Knightley and Zuckerberg), of The Imitation Game. The film, which opens Nov. 28, was screened for about 100 of the tech industry’s top names, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Linkedin’s Reid Hoffman, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk and new “it person” in this world, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
The screening was held Saturday at a Los Altos Hills mansion. The film has been acclaimed on the festival circuit, winning the Toronto International Film Festival Audience Award. It reportedly played very well with this crowd, perhaps not a surprise given its subject matter, a biopic about pioneering computer scientist and cryptologist Alan Turing who was hounded into suicide by the British government in the 1950s over his closeted homosexuality.
The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the mathematical genius Turing, whose work broke Germany’s supposedly unbreakable Enigma military code machine, work widely credited with shortening World War II. His work also led to further research into what were called “Turing machines,” As the film’s end credits state, “today we call them computers.” Co-star Knightley, director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore trekked to Silicon Valley for the screening, then returned south in time to join Weinstein at last night’s Governors Awards in Hollywood.
Master campaigner Weinstein provided the sneak geek peek, enlisting Zuckerberg and the other techies who were all in town for today’s Breakthrough Prizes, shorthanded as the “Oscars of Science.” Star Benedict Cumberbatch (who was also at the Governors Awards) is getting more face(book) time for the movie by flying north today to present – with Zuckerberg – the Breakthrough Prizes in mathematics, which are given in recognition of Turing.
Lest you think The Imitation Game is geek-centric, it’s actually a powerful and moving human story of a true, yet largely unsung hero. It’s got Oscar nominations written all over it and TWC is launching it in the same late-November “good luck” week in which they opened such awards magnets as The King’s Speech, The Artist and Silver Linings Playbook in recent years. The former two won Best Picture, while Silver Linings received eight nominations, including Jennifer Lawrence’s winning Best Actress role.
But it’s a been a big weekend overall at the box office for movie geeks, and geeks in general. Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, a movie with lots of science (and advised by physicist Kip Thorne), has plenty of appeal I would think for the Silicon Valley crowd. It opened like a rocket, with an estimated $52.2 million domestically, just behind the robot-themed animated feature Big Hero 6. Interstellar also led overall internationally with another $80 million.
Big Hero 6 pulled in $56.2 million, and also has a strong science component as its young protagonist is a budding genius dealing with the robot created by his late brother.
And then there’s the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything that also opened this weekend, snaring the year’s fourth-best specialty debut, with per-theater average at $41,000 per screen. Will any of these imitate Weinstein’s Imitation strategy and go for that implied geek endorsement? It’s not a bad strategy. Could a Silicon Valley Film Festival be far behind? These tech wizards could buy and sell the Oscars if they put their minds to it. This Game is on.