The Box Office Shrugs at Atlas Shrugged

Way back in 2011, I wrote about the hilarious box-office trainwreck (see what I did there?) that was Atlas Shrugged: Part I. Inexplicably, Ayn Rand’s dense, multi-hour soliloquies in defense of capitalism failed to translate well into the medium of film. The last news I heard after the movie’s belly-flop was that its producer, heroic rich guy John Aglialoro, was threatening, John Galt-like, to turn his back on our society of ungrateful looters and parasites and not make a sequel.

But it appears that he had a change of heart. Even I, who normally keep a wry eye out for all things Rand, hadn’t heard about this, but it turns out that Atlas Shrugged Part II was made after all. It was shot in a rush, with a completely different cast, and was hurried into theaters late last year so that it would be out in time for Election Day. And apparently it bombed even more spectacularly than the first one, making back just $3 million of its $10 million budget. (It also failed to get Mitt Romney elected, which I imagine its backers view as the greater disappointment.)

Now you’d think that, by this point, a worshipper of capitalism would recognize that the free market has spoken. Clearly, people just aren’t very interested in paying to see these movies. Then again, all Randian heroes have contempt for a world that scorns the noble endeavors of productive men, and Aglialoro is no exception. Because he confirmed last week that yes, he intends to make a Part III:

Aglialoro says the third and final installment is gunning for a summer 2014 release, and he says this time, things will be different, namely because he won’t be under such a time crunch… so he’ll be able to create “something closer to the book.”

“I wanted to get some things in that Ayn Rand said of her characters,” Aglialoro told POLITICO. “I want to take the time so that the screenplay can say things, so that it’s a conversation.”

Normally I’d say that a rich man by definition is always right, but I fear that this comment proves Aglialoro hasn’t fully appreciated the message of Rand’s work. One of her themes is that you don’t have “conversations” – in fact, there’s a crucial scene in the book in which heroine Dagny Taggart refuses to debate a muckraking anti-capitalism journalist. According to Rand, all opinions other than her own are anti-reason and anti-life, so engaging with them is precisely what you shouldn’t do. Instead, you should have monologues where you explain your philosophical viewpoint in agonizing detail while other people sit in silence.

And what if the third movie bombs as well? Well, if that happens, John Aglialoro has already made up his mind about who’ll be to blame:

“We’re not going to get critics coming on board,” Aglialoro said. “The academic-media complex out there doesn’t want to like the work, doesn’t want to understand it, fears the lack of government in their lives, wants the presence of government taking care of us. … The MSNBC crowd doesn’t like us.”

“The academic-media complex” is new, but other than that, this is weak sauce as far as persecution fantasies go. Look, John, I see what you’re trying to do here. I get that you want to rile up the Tea Party crowd so that they’ll go see the movie as a way to stick it to liberals. But let’s be honest, if you want to get elderly white Republicans properly infuriated, “the MSNBC crowd” just isn’t going to cut it. Why not say that your critics are against you because they hate money and freedom? That ought to inspire the kind of blood-boiling rage you’ll need to make them shell out 10 bucks for a ticket!

Honestly, mocking these movies is easy sport. But I’ve got a bigger target in mind. I mentioned a while ago that I’d read Atlas Shrugged in its entirety and that I wanted to write a chapter-by-chapter review of it. I’ve let that promise go unfulfilled for a long time, but no longer. Starting next week, I plan to begin writing that review. Stay tuned!

Image credit: Mvornehm, released under CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Bob Jase

    The only way to attract crowds to see Rand’s work is to allow Michael Bey to make a free adaption of it.

  • CelticLight

    I look forward to your review of “Atlas Shrugged”. While not a big proponent, I found some parts of the book where there was significant collusion between big business and government interesting and not too far off the mark. The large established businesses with government connections would work to block smaller or more innovative companies (Henry Reardon). The established car companies worked to block Henry Ford initially. We also know GM, Goodyear, and Standard Oil, with government help, colluded to block mass transit. What I also found interesting is that the industrialists in the book who were portrayed as the good guys – never got involved in the political process. They complained about government, but did nothing as far as I could see – minimal, somewhat indifferent lobbying, did not support political candidates etc. I am interested in your take on the book.

  • CelticLight

    No edit button :(
    I should have said – Historically “The established car companies worked to block Henry Ford initially. We also know GM, Goodyear, and Standard Oil, with government help, colluded to block mass transit”. I know that these examples were not in the book.

  • Elizabeth

    A few years ago a couple of coworkers and I decided to read Atlas Shrugged. I was the only one who actually finished it! I can’t believe I did, especially once I hit the ~50-page (in my pb edition) radio broadcast speech. Are you going to re-read the book to do the review?

  • Jeff

    Ugh, that radio speech. I made it through the whole book, but had to skip it once I realized A) it wasn’t anything new, but simply a compiled summary of all the points that had already been made and B) it’s over 50 pages long.

    Overall, though, I actually enjoyed the book. And I’m a big ol’ socialist.

  • Adam Lee

    @Elizabeth: Yep! I’m doing that right now, making detailed notes for points I want to hit on. This is going to be a long review. :)

  • 2-D Man

    Looks like I picked the right time to re-start following this blog.

  • smrnda

    I find it funny that many proponents of Rand can still maintain their vital myth of the under-appreciated man of genius while at the same time arguing the market is the true arbiter of value – those are incompatible notions, if the market determines value, you suck if nobody wants to watch your movie.

    If the director is angry about the media crowd that ‘fears the lack of government’ in their lives, he ought to ask them why they fear this – there’s some pretty good reasons, but no Randoid would ever ask a question about any other point of view.

  • The Letter D

    “Starting next week, I plan to begin writing that review.”



  • Jeff Akston

    Odd subject to discuss. Rand was an Atheist. Rand’s “hero” characters were atheists. They actively discussed why religion is wrong in Atlas Shrugged a lot

    This seems like a weird subject to discuss negatively on an atheist. Surely being an atheist doesn’t make you agree with her philosophies, but this just seems like a pointless topic to discuss here.

    How does this relate to atheism at all? Or are you just posting negatively about someone that represents policies counter to the Democrat Party?

  • Lagerbaer

    Isn’t Iron Man basically Atlas Shurgged on steroids? That did pretty well at the box office, IMHO. Although probably not for the Randian message.

  • J. James

    I’m sure libertarians are fairly unperturbed by the spectacular failure of “Atlas Shrugged.” It has no bearing whatsoever on the success of the book; and the Libertarians are a rather disparate bunch, not naturally inclined to sentimental idolatry. Not the same kind of reaction you’d find Scientologists having if one of their films flopped spectacularly.

  • J. James


    It’s hardly a weird subject to discuss. Being an atheist is rather like being in a particular racial category, inasmuch as the amount of agreement and loyalty is very minimal. The question itself is like saying, “hey, the British and French are both white Christian peoples, why were they warring for centuries?” Disagreements can go much deeper than superficial definitions and misplaced allegiance.

    In this instance, Adam implies from his atheism a certain worldview that wars with that of Libertarians. He views their economic and governmental theories as callous, inhumane, greedy and detrimental to the future of the species. Adam’s atheism is different from Rand’s atheism, in other words, which renders it relevant for discussion here(and even if it wasn’t, he is perfectly at liberty to discuss what he damn well pleases here without consulting your opinion first).

  • Azkyroth

    and the Libertarians are a rather disparate bunch, not naturally inclined to sentimental idolatry.


  • Paul S

    You may remember the number of people who were giving the first film favorable reviews on various movie sites before the damn thing even came out. It reminded me of how you’ll see glowing reviews of Christian films on such sites, despite the utter lack of quality these films exhibit in every aspect of filmmaking. True Believers will gladly put on blinders and support anything that will carry their “message.”

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    Hey, it still made more money then “Delgo” and “The Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure” COMBINED. And those movies set box-office records.

  • Silentsanta

    Funny, today I was already asked about the literary merits of Ayn Rand, and I said this:

    I dislike Paulo Coelho because he’s an odious, talentless hack who wraps an awkward, patronising veneer of narrative around an insultingly obvious -and oblivious- narcissistic pseudo-philosophy.
    I imagine you see where I am going with this…

  • Elizabeth

    @Adam: Oh dear, you may have inspired me to re-read the book too, to go along with your review. Damn you!!!!

  • Bdole

    I’d sooner re-read the Bible. Less preachy. And a bit shorter too.

  • Rieux


    Or are you just posting negatively about someone that represents policies counter to the Democrat Party?

    What is it about a certain class of wingnut that aggressively refuses to recognize the difference between the adjective “Democratic” and the noun “Democrat”? It is a bit of a tell.

  • Adam Lee

    Oh dear, you may have inspired me to re-read the book too, to go along with your review. Damn you!!!!

    Do it! I’ll try my best to make the reviews funny enough to make it less painful. :)

  • Nonnie

    Yay! I’m excited for your book review. I confess- it happened to me. I was so young, only 16; I spent the summer reading Atlas Shrugged while listening to Tool on my discman and feeling superior to everyone. It took me a couple years to fully grow out of it. I nervously re-read it a few years later and found it (with much relief) totally unconvincing. But, you know, it was probably the first book I ever read that really made me question how I was living my life. So, there’s that.

  • Alejandro

    I for once found it refreshing to finally see a different viewpoint portrayed in a movie. How many times do you see a movie in which the guys who just want to make money are the heroes? Its great to see something other than the “money is bad, bussiness men are villains, profit is bad, rich people are greedy bastards willing to do anything for money” message often repeated by hollywood (Avatar, annyone?)

    smrnda: Atlas Shrugged is very long, complex, hard to get, and has a million characters to keep track of. Reading a book like this takes a lot of effort and is not for everyone. In addition, the book is very wordy and dialog full, which doesnt translate well into a movie. Add this to the fact that it had a low budget ( liberal hollywood would never make this) so it is not surprising to see that the movie did not do well financially. Like J James said, we dont really care.

  • Jrod

    @Alejandro: How many times do you see a movie in which the guys who just want to make money are the heroes?

    The Aviator? Citizen Kain? The Social Network? Three Kings? Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams? A big chunk of Forrest Gump? Every movie that ever featured a character running a small business, like damn near every romcom?

    Seems like I see it a lot. Of course, in none of these movies are the money seekers portrayed as perfect paragons of selfish virtue, making them the betters to the moochers and looters of the world who will be justly snuffed out when their superiors withdraw their largess, but that’s because movies are better when they are about people who could plausibly exist. And the Atlas Shrugged movies are booooooooooring. Not even amusingly bad. Just dull. They’re both badly acted with snore inducing direction, and the second was worse than the first.

    (Admittedly, in none of these movies does anyone “just want to make money” but that’s true for flesh and blood human beings as well, so I don’t know why anyone would want a movie with such characters.)

  • JohnE_o

    “… The other, of course, involves orcs.”