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Atlas Shrugged: Part I Flops: Film Adaptation of Ayn Rand Novel Ruined by … Critics?

Atlas Shrugged Part I film Taylor Schilling Grant BowlerAtlas Shrugged: Part I with Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler: Who’s to blame for this critical and commercial disaster based on Ayn Rand’s “objectivist” novel?
  • Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the first segment in a proposed film trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s trash-classic, has turned out to be a critical and commercial bomb. Who’s to blame? According to one of the movie’s producers, critics and “the establishment” are the culprits.

Who’s to blame for the all-around failure of the initial big-screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged?

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

“The market” not only shrugged at but outright turned its back on Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the critically derided first installment in a planned big-screen film trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s critically derided 1957 novel about a couple of entrepreneurial free spirits fighting powerful, creativity-stifling unions and government forces.

In point of fact, Atlas Shrugged: Part I can already be called an unqualified box office bomb.

Directed by Paul Johansson, and featuring Taylor Schilling as the determined railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as the brilliant “innovator” Henry “Hank” Rearden, the sociopolitical drama targeting American right-wingers debuted with only $1.7 million from 299 theaters (April 15–17 weekend) while averaging a mediocre (for a movie at fewer than 300 venues) $5,608 per site.

From then on, it has been all downhill. Precipitously.

The following weekend (April 22–24), Atlas Shrugged: Part I lost nearly 50 percent of its business despite the addition of 166 locations, its per-venue average plummeting to a dismal $1,894. In the next couple of weeks or so, it’ll have disappeared without a trace.

And that means the proposed film trilogy – à la Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings or Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors – may never become a reality.

Critics and ‘the establishment’ gang up against Ayn Rand

On the right-wing website Big Hollywood, Atlas Shrugged: Part I cowriter/coproducer John Aglialoro claims he does want to make parts II and III but without betraying Ayn Rand’s “principles.” In other words, without losing money.

“This has to be a profitable venture,” Aglialoro explains. “The challenge is in finding a way to overcome the critics and the rest of the establishment, who are united against us.”

In the same piece, Atlas Shrugged coproducer Harmon Kaslow claims that CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC, for unspecified “editorial reasons,” refused to air a 15-second commercial for the movie, adding that “this unforeseen censorship effectively puts the brakes on our follow-up marketing efforts where we were trying to reach millions of people unaware of the movie being in theaters now.”

The weird thing, at least when it comes to complaints about film critics, is that we’re to understand that the United States’ (purported) millions of Tea Party members – i.e., Atlas Shrugged’s target audience – actually read and trust movie reviews written by bleeding-heart lefties.

And if that weren’t all…

Mercy, not malice

Also at Big Hollywood, quoting Rupert Murdoch’s Paper of Record, the New York Post, we learn that the New York Times failed to review Atlas Shrugged: Part I upon its release. And that such (willful?) omission may have resulted in far fewer ticket sales.

Be that as it may, below is the initial paragraph of Carina Chocano’s Times commentary, which was published on April 28:

Could anyone have guessed, way back when it was published in 1957, that Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s grandiloquent doorstop of a masterwork, would one day reach the big screen as high-camp comedy? Because stilted prose and silly plotting notwithstanding, Rand’s unrelentingly popular book has exerted a powerful ideological hold on the culture, an influence that has only intensified in recent years with the emergence of the Tea Party. Still, for unintentional yet somehow boring hilarity, the novel can’t touch the cinematic adaptation, which shifts the action to 2016 and presents Rand’s ham-fisted fable of laissez-faire capitalism as something C-Span might make if it ever set out to create a futuristic, proto-libertarian nighttime soap. In the 1980s.

Having read the paragraph above, surely you’ll agree with us that the Times‘ decision to ignore Atlas Shrugged: Part I on its debut weekend was an act of mercy, not malice.

Roger Ebert reacts

Lastly, here’s a Roger Ebert tweet following the announcement that Atlas Shrugged: Part I would become Atlas Shrugged: The Final Chapter.

Atlas Shrugged producer cancels Parts 2 and 3, blames critics, not his own lousy film.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I Flops” endnotes

Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler Atlas Shrugged: Part I movie image: Rocky Mountain Pictures.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I Flops: Film Adaptation of Ayn Rand Novel Ruined by … Critics?” last updated in January 2023.

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Steve Hegge -

It’s amazing to me how the “critics” rate this film so low, while review after review posted gives from favorable to “absolutely love it” acclaim. Oh, I forgot. Ayn did say that the media would become establishment “lapdogs”.

play2k -

Everyone I know wants to see it, but it’s not showing anywhere. Coming to a cardboard box under a bridge near you soon i guess… Admission paid for in peanut shells from hard working college grads who just couldn’t wake up on time.

Johnh2o -

The movie was mediocre at best. I am an ardent Ayn Rand lover and capitalist in the definition that Ayn Rand states in all of her works. The movie did a decent job of prompting people I have been suggesting the book to finally sit down and read it. They, like me and others, believe that the book is a 1000 times better than the movie but will say that at least they were prompted to start the journey thru the 1000+ pages because of seeing the movie. Whether the media stumped its sales or not, I hope that the producers will spend more time and effort filming the next part. The music was horrible and the actors did not transmit the roles as well as they could have. It was as if they had never read the book. Did they? That would be a great question to have answered. I can’t tell if they did.

Cassandra251 -

It is really too bad that the professional critics didn’t like this movie, but not surprising since it probably doesn’t fit with their political agenda. The cinematography, locations, costumes, editing were all impressive. The acting was not Oscar-calibre, but still good. “Atlas Shrugged” is a difficult book to read, and it was clear that the screenwriters struggled with some of the dense, slightly archaic dialogue. Even so, it was an enjoyable, suspenseful telling of an important story. It was certainly better than any film Michael Moore ever made! I hope that there is some way that Parts II and III can be made.

Pete -

Ayn Rand’s works and her philosophy impact my life enormously to the good, but I will not follow the pollyannish who want this movie to be a true condensed reflection of her masterpiece. It is not. The music is mediocre, the actors are mediocre, hard to believe, because they do not seem to understand their characters and the main theme, nor do screenwriter and producer.
This bad movie is not a good tool to market Ayn Rand’s ideas. It misrepresents those and does therefore discourage reading her works by the people for whom ideas matter.

Tand -

I am not political just an independent who loves the free market compared to where I moved from. The movie was good and the message was good. All the makers, in my mind, came here to America. Well.. all the takers.. you can find them anywhere outside America. But the last 3 year, I have seen how the Democrats have acted and I’m against most of what their ideas for this country are. Even though I read all the liberal leaning critic’s article, I still found the movie to be enjoyable.

bassboat -

Sorry you did not enjoy the movie. Could you name a movie espousing the ideas of Ayn Rand? Of course not, so on that fact alone it is the best movie ever made celebrating the individual, capitalism, and the evils of government. Will part 2 be better? Yes.

DeAnn -

I have been a major fan of Rand’s works for 40 some years. Like many in that category, I was anxious at the first viewing hoping you would get it right. You did. I think Rand would be very pleased with getting her message across. When all the readers of Atlas Shrugged around the world get to see this film you will get the support you deserve. Perfect casting (not sure about Galt based on his promo photos).

When you think about it, Roger Ebert and other critics mentality and slant is exactly the message in her work.

Dan -

Letter the John Aglialoro,

I am a huge fan of Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged for me is the most important book I have ever read. However we have to be honest with ourselves here. Listen John. Part 1, isn’t the world’s Readen Metal. These people aren’t saying to not see the movie because it’s dangerous to society. It’s not being legally censored, so there is no censorship. You are complaining about the very system that the book espouses the virtues of, the free market. If a film cannot cut it in the market, usually there is a reason and in the case of Part 1, it’s because the movie is awful.

If you cared you should have done a better job in the first place.


bassboat -

Interesting the overwhelming approval that the people gave the show of those who attended. Dan of course has the right to pan the movie but he is in the minority. I think John’s complaint was the bias of the critics in panning the movie. It was a done deal before they came to see the movie because of their collectivism bent. This bent resulted in people not coming. The critics were not doing their job.

Amarsir -

To my mind, Ebert’s review damaged his own credibility more than anything. It sums up as “I predicted I’d hate it, didn’t understand it, and then decided I’d hate it.” But the fact that he’s able to make a career of reviews does indicate that people actually listen do them.

I was predisposed favorably since I liked the book, but didn’t expect much for a “Part 1” that doesn’t contain much action. When I finally saw it (having to travel an hour to do so) I was overwhelmed. It was quite moving. But I’m not a typical moviegoer either since I never see movies opening weekend and that’s apparently the only one matters.

I do doubt that MSNBC commercials would have boosted the audience significantly. But I also suspect that reviewers like Ebert have a non-specific effect once it turns into “oh I heard it wasn’t very good” word-of-mouth. Even friends I saw it with, who liked it (though perhaps not as much as I), were given this expectation.

So yes, you can probably argue that died-in-the-wool Objectivists would know better than to listen to Liberal media. But that’s nothing compared to the number that could like it, if given the chance, but weren’t so convinced they’d pass 5 nearby theaters to get to the one showing it.

(That said, the director did linger too long on the champagne-pouring scenes, I did chuckle to myself at how they were overemphasized.)

jeremy richter -

Please finish this series. I loved the book and always wished it to be on the big screen even as I was reading it for the first time. Even if it went straght to d.v.d. I would buy it. Stupid critics and the morons who believe them ruin it for the rest of us… not unlike the novel eh? although the theater that I saw it in did not even have a poster of the film and I saw not one advertisment for it either. Maybe that might need to change to get the people in the theater.



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