Repost: The Box Office Shrugs at Atlas Shrugged

Repost: The Box Office Shrugs at Atlas Shrugged July 25, 2014

[Author’s Note: I’m reposting some old favorites while I’m away on vacation this week. This post was originally from March 2013.]

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 in 2012 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 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!

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

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  • Doug Langley

    Well, it’s not my favorite either. But I used it as an example of a film which pre 1990 was considered a huge money maker. And considering it won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, apparently somebody thought it was worth something.

  • Donalbain

    Whereas Star Wars was a well crafted, thoughtful piece of art?

  • Doug Langley

    Compared to episodes 1, 2, and 3, it looked like Citizen Kane.

  • Pacal

    Compared to The Sound of Music Yes Star Wars is indeed a well crafted thoughtful piece of art and not the sentimental glop, cliché fest that is The Sound of Music..

  • Pacal

    Respecting the Academy Awards as a mark of excellence is rather difficult when in 1942 they decided that the cloying, sentimental How Green Was My Valley was a better Film than Citizen Kane, they also decided that it was better than The Maltese Falcon. In the 1966 the Academy in its “wisdom” had 5 films nominated all 5 of which were seriously flawed and have not aged well. I would however rate Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns as easily better films than The Sound of Music.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    Advertizing, at least the way most of it works, proves that consumers are not fully rational. If advertizing doesn’t work, it’s the producers who are irrational for buying it. That’s obviously not something that Rand could accept.

  • Doug Langley

    The point I was trying to make: is box office correlated to quality, or not? Box office is relatively easy to quantify (although studios confuse the figures so that you’d actually think no film ever makes a profit). Quality is harder.

    Film is a collaborative art. There are many facets to any film, making it impossible to assign one value. A clever idea might be marred by awful acting. Great dialogue but insipid directing. Good photography, lousy music. Editing, sound, costume, fx, etc.

    In the first half century or so of film, it might seem that there was a connection. Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, etc. Birth of a Nation was definitely biased, but used revolutionary techniques, so it’s considered a classic.

    But from the ’70s or ’90s onward, there was a continual effort to maximum box office which tended to ignore content. Well, sort of – action films developed a checklist of chase scenes, fight scenes, spectacle, etc.

    Also confusing the issue is the numerous genres, different approaches, different styles through the years. Which is the better film: Superman or The Deer Hunter? Citizen Kane or Toy Story? Snow White or The Exorcist? And how did each one pull its box office?