Saturday, April 23, 2011

Atlas Sweats

While on Friday the Atlas Shrugged movie expanded from 299 to 425 theatres, helping to boost its overall gross a little, its crucial per-cinema returns fell by more than 70% - the most pronounced second Friday drop I could see in my quick skim of the Boxofficemojo charts. This is not a good sign for producers, and another indicator that the movie is simply running out of base. Quick, send round another mass email!


Neil Parille said...


Considering the long term popularity of the book, I think the series will ultimately make a lot of money (at least over several years). Of course I don't know anything about the movie business.


Anonymous said...

Does anybody know if at all (or to what degree) Rand's popularity/book sales is propped up artificially?

I read that the ARI purchases something crazy like 30,000 Rand books yearly to distribute in various ways, like to high schools, as donations (with the hope that the books would be integrated into the curriculum).

I've also read an article (though Rand was not specifically named) about how well-funded think tanks purchase certain books in huge numbers just to push them up onto bestseller lists. Given the push that right-wing media demagogues like Rush Limbaugh give to Rand's work, I've wondered if Rand's much-vaunted sales aren't padded somewhat to increase its cache as effective propaganda.

I guess this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but at the same time, Rand's novels are based on weird, abstract socio-economic topics and are written with a pedantic tone -- it's just hard, sometimes, to believe that it really has the mass appeal that gets claimed.

The movie's high turnout, followed by rapid dropoff, suggests that her success really is just with an enthusiastic minority cult following.


- Chris

stuart said...

Chris, I have wondered that also. It is in line with the favourite "second-most -influential=after the Bible" tag which is based on about 800 Book-of-the-Month-Club members in the 1990s. I have heard higher numbers of the book's free distribution than the ones you cite.
Other Societies have increased the readership of books through strenuous PR efforts, but I do not know of any that survived more than 50 years after the death of the author or the subject. Matthew Mark Luke and John excepted, I guess.

Michael Prescott said...

Definitely not looking good for the planned expansion to 1000 theaters.

Mr. Wonderful said...

For a completely hilarious parody takedown of Atlas Shrugged in the form of its "secret sequel," go here:

Daniel Barnes said...

@Mike P, at this stage it's a last roll of the dice. If it in fact even happens now - I don't think the phone's going to be running hot with theatre owners demanding prints after this weekend's take.

@Mr Wonderful, thanks, that's a rather well observed parody.

@Chris, I agree with your conclusion about the movie. As for Rand sales, I've always wondered but have never been able to discover whether the ARI's books in schools project actually counts in bestseller lists. How the ARI is funded is quite another question - obviously they can't give away too many Atlas Shruggeds if it is a big source of their funding; if they do, ergo Rand's work is not a big source of their funding. My wild guess is they mostly rely on the kindness of successful sympathisers, plus their substantial and overpriced mercho to the rubes.

Anonymous said...

Here's something on the movie with a bit harsh critique thrown in:

- Chris

Michael Prescott said...

It does look like AS Part 1 is fading fast, managing only $441 per screen on Sunday. This isn't awful - some bigger-budget movies (notably Scream 4) did the same or worse - but it bodes ill for efforts to expand to even more theaters. The AS movie needed to find a bigger audience, helped by word of mouth, but it appears that the audience remains pretty small, maybe because word of mouth isn't that great.

Daniel Barnes said...

Yes, Scream 4 has been a major flop; so if Atlas is doing the same per-theatre numbers it too is a flop. By comparison, a so-so movie like The Lincoln Lawyer was doing more than double Atlas' per-theatre on its second Sunday. Likewise the Christian themed sleeper hit Soul Surfer. Basically, unless there's some kind of miracle, it's going down. Expansion may help inch the producers closer to profit, but it also might sink them deeper - recall that each cinema will need a print, which costs $1500. If you're splitting 50/50 takings with the owner you might not even be able to pay for that...It's a tough call.

All this is no surprise. What *will* really amaze me is if the producers and their enablers (like David Kelley) actually take some personal responsibility for creating such a turkey out of Rand's most famous book. They'll probably just blame Hollywood, or the liberal press, or the preponderance of altruism in the culture, or...anyone or anything but themselves...;-)

Anonymous said...

Actually, according to NY Times The Ayn Rand Institute hands out 400.000 copies of AS each year. Only 150.000 copies are sold in bookstores. At least this was the case in 2007:

Oh, and here's a real funny review of AS part 1:


stuart said...

Armando, thanks for the ref to ginandtacos. The review was hilarious; that Ed guy is a terrific writer of the Barnesian school.


Michael Prescott said...

I thought that Gin & Tacos review was pretty lousy on all counts. For one thing, the reviewer gets nearly every factual claim wrong. (Example: he says the movie contains a lot of dialogue taken verbatim from the book, when in fact there is hardly any.) More important, he seems to have zero understanding of how movies get made. He blames everything on the director, not realizing that Paul Johansson was brought on at the eleventh hour, as the film was about to start shooting. Johansson had nothing to do with the script, and even the final editing was largely the work of the producers. The review also claims that the movie was made in the cynical hope of making a quick buck, when it's obvious that Aglialoro funded the risky project because he agrees with Rand's ideas and wants to popularize them. Finally, the critic brags about sneaking into the movie so he didn't have to pay for it, which, to me, is the equivalent of shoplifting.

I rate it a total Fail. YMMV.

Michael Prescott said...

On a lighter note, I really enjoyed the parody novel that Mr. Wonderful linked to. I ended up buying it and reading the whole thing (it's short enough to be read in an evening). The author, a former National Lampoon contributor named Ellis Weiner, has a very sharp ear for imitating Rand's stylistic contortions. Here's his description of one of the villains:

The question came from the man seated languidly to the right of Mr. Jenkins. He was Philip Sissyberger, the Minister of Equality, a thin, meticulous aesthete in a custom-made, purple silk suit and a florid green bow tie. He sported a pencil-thin mustache and affected the airy, condescending manner of an individual for whom the supreme achievement of life was to be a big know-it-all.

I also like the way he captures Rand's habit of describing highly technical details in terms of vague generalities. Here's an excerpt from a scene in which the heroes fly a rocketship to the moon (yes, the moon):

"Prepare for landing."
Regnad Daghammarskjold's voice echoed through the spaceship as, below, the mottled and dusty surface of their destination drew nearer. "Co-ordinate the rockets. Get ready to turn off the engines."
All around him, the crew flawlessly operated switches and, with cool efficiency, checked important readings preparatory to the craft's touchdown....
"Stabilize the gyroscopes," Regnad ordered. "Adjust the controls and line up the necessary components properly."
Finally the craft touched down on the surface. "Confirm that everything is pressurized," the pirate said. "Turn off the motors and turn on the lights. Assure that the cabin pressure is correct for human habitation."

It's good stuff. Weiner actually seems very familiar with the Objectivist subculture; he knows all about Rand's affair with Nathaniel Branden, and he even puts in a backhanded reference to Rand's infatuation with child killer Ed Hickman. In fact, the book offers a surprisingly trenchant criticism of Rand's worldview.

And it's only 99 cents, available in all ebook formats. Buy it today!

stuart said...

Michael, Well really, if you're going to be like that about it...

Of course as a proper or even improper review of this movie it fails. I was just commenting on the Funny. The guy also does standup after all, at least he says he does.


Xtra Laj said...


I agree. Michael took the review a little too seriously. A review is first and foremost, in my view, about how one feels. And if anything comes across in the review, it is that the reviewer did not enjoy the movie.

Moreover, I don't think it is as obvious to me as it is to Michael that all of the facts presented in the review are wrong. After all, it has been said elsewhere that the primary reason the movie was made was Aglialoro didn't lose the rights to make it - he could just as well have let them expire and pass on to a filmmaker with more resources.

Moreover, some Objectivists have complained that this movie did not get the LOTR treatment. Of course, anybody who is not an Objectivist knows that Atlas Shrugged is not LOTR, but let's leave that aside for a moment. The production values of this movie were not great and the reviewer is allowed to mock that - you might call the efforts heroic given constraints faced, or something like that, but I almost feel that this movie was Atlas Shrugged the Play, not Atlas Shrugged the Movie, and I think that this movie will inspire some efforts in that direction, maybe even some animation.

Finally, the mix of humor and review allows the author to get away with creative license. Whether he actually paid for the movie or not, he is obviously using it to get an extra laugh out of people. However, he did make it clear really early and very strongly what his position on the movie was.

gregnyquist said...

More bad news for Atlas. According to NY Post article linked by Drudge:

"Overall, [last] weekend's take was a scant $879,000 -- a whopping 48 percent drop despite adding 166 locations. Which certainly suggest they're running out of audience quick.

"That means that at some locations, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures will be writing checks to theaters to cover the difference between receipts and operating expenses. The only way they're likely to get the 1,000 screens the producers say they want next weekend is to rent them. And, as [NY Post critic] Kyle put it at his personal blog, 'Whether the sequels get made is purely a matter of how much desire the producers have for losing money.'"

Michael Prescott said...

Yeah, okay, I overreacted to the review. The guy's attitude just irritated me. Plus, I don't like it when people treat the director as the sole creative force behind a movie. This is rarely true, and definitely not in this case, given that Johnansson was a last-minute replacement for the director they originally hired.

What I really wanted to focus on was Ellis Weiner's parody, which is much more entertaining than the AS movie.

Anonymous said...

Actually, according to NY Times The Ayn Rand Institute hands out 400.000 copies of AS each year. Only 150.000 copies are sold in bookstores.

It says "400,000 copies of Rand’s novels" to high schools, not just Atlas. Since there is a Fountainhead scholarship contest, my guess is that is more commonly distributed.

Neil Parille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Parille said...

Twelve days after opening "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," the producer of the Ayn Rand adaptation said Tuesday that he is reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3 because of scathing reviews and flagging box office returns for the film.

"Critics, you won," said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," which covers the first third of Rand's dystopian novel. "I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."

Xtra Laj said...

Here is one positive review. It does seem that ideology and age play a significant part in one's appreciation of the movie.

Aglialoro should consider remaking part 1, IMNSHO... but maybe its true that you only get one first shot to make a good impression.

Michael Prescott said...

Neil, that LA Times post sounds like the death knell for the AS movie, at least as far as theatrical distribution is concerned.

Funny that Aglialoro blames "the critics," as if critically panned movies always fail. Transformers 2 was one of the most critically reviled movies ever, and it made a fortune. I think the harshly negative reviews of AS were over the top, but the producers should have expected rough treatment from the critical community.

And naturally he announces he may just "go on strike," which seems to be another way of saying he'll take his ball and go home. I'll show you! So there!

He should listen to Kipling:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss ...

Anonymous said...

Rand probably thought Kipling was anti-life.

Michael Prescott said...

Actually Rand listed Kipling's poem "If" (which I quoted) and his poem "When Earth's Last Picture Is painted" as two of her favorites.

The second poem was an odd choice for her, since it's quite religious.

She also thought very highly of Dali's painting of the crucifixion, so apparently Christian imagery did not repel her as much as one might think.

Kipling poems:

Dali painting:

Michael Prescott said...

Dali link didn't work, so here it is in shorter form:

Neil Parille said...

Kipling (my favorite author):


They'll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They'll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.

Can't people see the death premises in every line he wrote?

-Neil Parille

Michael Prescott said...

Aglialoro seems to be walking back from his earlier comments about not completing the trilogy. At the same time he isn't promising to complete it, only saying he'd like to find a way to do so.

Neil Parille said...

Here is a lecture by ARIan Andrew Bernstein which he calls AS and The Fountainhead the "two greatest novels of all time."

I watched only the first 30 minutes or so. He doesn't seem to know anything about what religious people believe and why.

Neil Parille said...

Here's the link --