The great cinematic experiment in pro-objectivism looks to have collapsed.
"Atlas Shrugged: Part One", the independently-produced first film in a trilogy adaptation of Ayn Rand‘s 1957 magnum opus, hit theaters in limited release the other week. Reviews were laughable, the film scoring just 6% and a 3.4/10 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Nevertheless supporters and right-wing bloggers were cheering it on, especially when the box-office results came in with opening weekend numbers of $1.7 million on 299 screens, yielding a not too shabby $5,640 per screen average. Comment boards about the film lit up with feuds and wild claims of this potentially building an audience to become the next "Star Wars".
Now the second weekend numbers are in and the facts can't be denied even by the zealots. Audiences have taken a page from Rand's own objectivist teachings and, acting in their own self-rational interest, have stayed away from the film in droves. Despite a jump to 450 screens, the film dropped 50% in its second weekend and posted a decidedly underwhelming $1,858 screen average.
Self-financed and distributed by millionaire businessman John Aglialoro, the CEO of exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex, the film cost a fairly economical $20 million to produce along with relatively small marketing and advertising costs. As it stands, the film has $3.1 million at the box-office and will struggle to get past $5 million. The cold, hard numbers don't lie - financially the film is a dud, and this isn't one of those studio franchises where a disappointment can be absorbed.
Now, almost two weeks after opening, Aglialoro tells 24 Frames that he is seriously reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3. "Critics, you won. I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2" says Aglialoro who blames the film's box-office drop-off on the poor reviews. Only one major critic, Kyle Smith of the New York Post, gave the film a non-negative review and even that was hesitant.
Aglialoro believes he'll recoup his investment after TV, DVD and other ancillary rights are sold. Plans to expand "Atlas" to 1,000 screens though are dead and buried while production on a second film this Fall seems very much in jeopardy. "Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?. I’ll make my money back and I'll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike" he tells the paper.
Aglialoro scored the film rights to the work back in 1992 but attempts to adapt the 1100-page property have encountered numerous problems and false starts over the years, forcing him to take the indie route. The project was ultimately one of necessity, raced into production with little money to meet a rights expiry deadline, and populated with mostly little known TV actors. Is it any wonder the resulting film was a dud?
Rand's work will always hold a candle in the hearts of staunch conservatives with its passionate belief in unrestrained capitalism at the cost of destructive moralism. This failed experiment won't have any impact on its appeal, reputation or ability to incite debate. To some of the most powerful people in the world her teachings are gospel, to others her objectivist ideology is up there with fellow sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology belief system in the book of crazy.
Like Aglialoro, fingers will no doubt be pointed at the critics and the grand left-wing media elite conspiracy at work which keeps them supported - when we're not writing reviews, we're giving each other hand jobs while we rally behind crazy causes like universal healthcare and restrictions on CEO salaries.
Yet ironically the film's failure was one of free-market economics, 'Atlas' simply didn't cater to an audience beyond the select and rather small demographic it was targeting. Even that demographic didn't turn up in the numbers the producers had been hoping for, though now the 'birther' issue is resolved maybe some of them will have the time.
Update: Well that lasted all of a day. Less than 24 hours after that LA Times piece, Aglialoro tellsThe Hollywood Reporter that he's vowing to "go through with his plans to make the next two installments" as the critics are "revitalizing me with their outrageousness".
Aglialoro says he's considering partnering with a major studio for the next two installments and will likely have to spend millions on TV advertising for the next film. He's sticking to his plan to release Part 2 on April 15th 2012, and Part 3 on April 15th 2013, however it sounds like he didn't sign his cast to multiple films as he says "The critics killed it so badly that agents may tell their clients they shouldn't be associated with this thing".
Does this change anything? No. If one man is willing to throw his money down the drain, I'm sure there'll be plenty of people around who're happy to try and collect it. The makers of "Battlefield Earth" promised sequels as well, we all know how that went down.