Ayn Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED Box Office: Critically Lambasted Ideological Drama Does Middling Business

Taylor Schilling Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
Taylor Schilling in Paul Johansson's film adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

Russell Brand-Helen Mirren's ARTHUR Plummets on Friday: Box Office

Neither liberals nor libertarians (and the latter group's far-right cohorts) fared very well at the North American box office on Friday, April 15, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

As mentioned in my previous post, Robert Redford's period political drama The Conspirator, which revolves around the trial of accused co-conspirator Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright) following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, opened modestly with $1.09 million at 707 locations, averaging a just passable $1,542 per site despite a number of positive reviews (62 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics), the fact that Oscar-winning legend Robert Redford directed it, and the presence of prestigious actors such as James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Kevin Kline.

Opening at about the same level – despite a considerably higher per-theater average – was the Paul Johansson-directed, John Aglialoro-Brian Patrick O'Toole-scripted ode to anti-government ideology, Atlas Shrugged: Part I, based on Ayn Rand's 1957 novel in which a railroad tycoon discovers the wonders of self-determination. Taylor Schilling plays the central character (once “attached” to Angelina Jolie), while director Johansson, Jsu Garcia, Grant Bowler, Michael Marsden, and Academy Award nominees Michael O'Keefe (The Great Santini) and Michael Lerner (Barton Fink) have other key roles.

Atlas Shrugged scored $683,000 at 300 theaters; its per-theater average was $2,277 – or about 50 percent more than that of The Conspirator, but at about 40 percent fewer theaters. Remember: all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters the higher the per-theater average should be.

In other words, those variables considered, on opening day Atlas Shrugged performed just as modestly as The Conspirator. In a way, that's actually quite a feat for Johansson's film: the low-budgeted Atlas Shrugged, which cost a reported $10m, has a dismal 8 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics; compared to that, The Conspirator's 62 percent rating comes across as overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

Atlas Shrugged's middling (as opposed to dismal) box office performance is perhaps a result of the film's strong popularity among its target audience: the far-right members of the Republican party, the Tea Party crowd aka “Teabaggers,” who have a hate-love relationship with the US government (They hate it when it comes to taxes, environmental regulations, the separation of Christianity/the State, etc.; they love it when it comes to the military, the enforcement of “traditional family values,” etc.)

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