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Will Atlas Shrugged Be a Box Office Hit?

Updated on September 18, 2010

Can the movie version of Atlas Shrugged succeed at the box office? The famous line from Atlas Shrugged asks: Who is John Galt? While this remains one of the most famous of all literary questions, Hollywood is concerned with a different question: How much popcorn can John Galt sell? The much anticipated, much delayed big screen adaptation of Ayn Rand's epic dystopian tale Atlas Shrugged is expected to reach theaters as early as 2011. Will it be a box office smash or a flop? That remains to be seen. Success can be based on several factors and is still open for much interpretation. What is success at the box office? Money? Or is it the wide-ranging influence a film can cast over society? Success means different things to different people. Irregardless, an examination of why the film may or may not be successful is worth a closer inspection.

Why Atlas Shrugged Can Succeed

The most substantial of the many 'pros' the adaptation brings to the movie audience is simply the prose. Atlas Shrugged is a powerhouse of a novel and could explode across the screen as well. This well-crafted tale blends economics, philosophy, romance, politics, betrayal and redemption. The screenplay is ready to be gleaned in broad strokes directly from the pages. With the proper focus and condensing, Rand's message can reach the audience and create internal dialogue for the viewer in ways that the book might fail to deliver to the average person.

The timing for this movie could probably not be better. Many of the issues raised by Rand are instantly recognizable: the turning away from laissez-faire economic practices, the continued stresses placed on individuals in support of a collective, and the general role of government as a bloated mass of red tape and incompetence. Under these conditions, the true innovators of society start to 'disappear' and seek to change the world under their own terms. Many Americans are feeling pressured and as the country continues to shift to a more conservative slant, more people are becoming Rand disciples and ready to embrace the world she has created. If the movie can properly express Rand's philosophy of objectivism to a disgruntled movie audience, the box office potential is truly great.

Why Atlas Shrugged Can Fail

As well written as Atlas Shrugged is and as many thought provoking concepts that can arise from its pages, at the end of the day it is a long book and will make a long movie. One of the key things that can cause this movie to fail is the inability to hold true to Rand's vision and philosophy while still holding the mind and full attention of an audience. This is one of the principal reasons behind the continuing delay of adapting Atlas Shrugged to either the big or small screen. The earliest attempts were always proposed as a mini-series. This would really be the ideal treatment. Even something as simple but lengthy as a Harry Potter book gets lost in the celluloid translation and this is without a complicated belief system that is integral to the plot. The speech by John Galt explaining the scope of objectivism is said to have taken Rand two years to write and comprises 35,000 words. This must be very carefully presented with the right balance of information and an awareness of running time. The length and scope of the movie will be of paramount importance. The Fountainhead screen adaptation managed to tread the line between story, time and plot. However, at this point in her career Rand was just planting the seeds of objectivism and did not have to deliver the entire fruit. Atlas Shrugged will be the cinematic crop.

The casting is also of concern. Among the diehard Rand followers (especially "the Collective"), the characters are so complex it is almost impossible to imagine an actor or actress being able to approach the nuances of the literary beings. Dagny Taggart alone has been rumored to have been offered to several of the top actresses of this generation with little enthusiasm on the part of the fanbase. Throw in Hank Rearden and the ever-important John Galt into the casting mix and hope for an Oscar winner to be chosen. The mental images of these characters that have settled into the minds of readers during the last 50 years will be a hard thing from which to break free.

In current society, literary movies are generally small budget and released on a small scale. This movie will be a grand, sweeping epic and needs to be presented in such a way. Just as easily as the plot can be complicated and lose viewers, if the material is dumbed down then it might as well have never been made.

What do you think?

Will Atlas Shrugged be a box office success?

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What the future holds

Will this movie lead to more people embracing Rand's system of beliefs?  Will more viewers clamor to read more of her ideas?  The fallout and box office attendance will speak volumes about what society feels and thinks of these notions more than a half century after the fact.


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    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      I dare say, just can't imagine "Atlas Shrugged, the Movie!" I read it in the '70's. I think seeing a current day movie version would be somewhat of a disaster...or, at best, a box office flop. People are different. They wish to be entertained!