Atlas Sells: Why the New Ayn Rand Movie Is Popular

Critics can’t stand “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.” Insiders think it should be a flop. But a cursory look at the numbers suggests that the film is bulletproof, just like a certain epic about taxation.

Atlas Shrugged Movie Dagny Taggart

No sooner did I finish arguing that the uniformly bad critical response to Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 wouldn’t make a bit of difference to the film’s box office success than some Hollywood insider person expressed wonderment at its healthy ticket take:

“Shocking,” one executive said about the healthy business the low-budget film has been doing, considering its “awful” marketing plan.

That’s under the headline “Box-office power of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ baffles insiders.” If that’s anywhere near the truth, we’re all doomed and I’m going Galt. Let’s turn to the historical record:

“Meanwhile, sales of Ayn Rand titles have tripled since the early 1990s–in fact, more are being sold now than at any time in history. Atlas Shrugged sales on Amazon in the first nine months of this year are already almost double the total for 2006.” (9/28/07)

“Tellingly, the spikes in the novel’s sales coincide with the news (see chart). The first jump, in September 2007, followed dramatic interest-rate cuts by central banks, and the Bank of England’s bail-out of Northern Rock, a troubled mortgage lender. The October 2007 rise happened two days after the Bush Administration announced an initiative to coax banks to assist subprime borrowers. A year later, sales of the book rose after America’s Treasury said that it would use a big chunk of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Programme to buy stakes in nine large banks.” (2/26/09)

“When people started talking about President Obama and the return of reading, they probably didn’t mean Ayn Rand. But the Obama presidency has been a boon to Rand’s publishers. Buried in George Will’s upcoming column is the nugget that sales of Atlas Shrugged have tripled since Obama took office.” (5/26/10)

“All signs point to the fact that the mere existence of the movie is causing interest in the book to spike to new heights.” (4/17/11)

Etc. Surprised? Ask movie critic Michael Phillips, who is getting his virtual ear talked off by the movie’s fans.

I recall that back in 1999 a political fantasy/thriller about taxation and government repression of a select class opened to scathing reviews. It was boring, they said: the dialog was wooden and clumsy, the plot line was confusing and mired in incomprehensible political arcana, the characters were broad and shallow. Fortunately for its producers, it was tied to a revered franchise, its fans eagerly awaiting the movie’s long-overdue release, and they were damned if the fact that it wasn’t very good stop them. (What? I went too, the movie was bad, I had a fine time.) Quality control issues aside, The Phantom Menace did fine at the box office.

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3 years ago
Posted by MTR

This is just a theory, but perhaps some of the Atlas audience consists of people who have been told about the influence of the book, and would like to see what the big deal is, but have no desire to slog through a 1,000-plus page novel. This isn't a critique on people being too lazy to read, nor a critique on the book being too many pages for its own good. I just can't believe true Objectivists would watch a movie about a book they already read. Seems like a pretty inefficient use of time for people intent on conquering the world.

3 years ago
Posted by SamLowry

Phantom Menace may have done fine, but then so did the Transformers movies, which are similarly reviled by the fan community.

3 years ago
Posted by HenryTheNinth

The Box-office power of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ baffled insiders much in the same way that the box office power of Battlefield Earth did.

You want proof that professional critics are atheistic statist liberals? They uniformly hated Battlefield Earth while studies showed that over 91% of Scientologists thought that it was a terrific movie.

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