‘Atlas’ Shrugs Because of Bad Reviews?

Atlas Shrugged movie producer John Aglialoro said recently, according to an article in the LA Times, that it’s now unlikely he’ll make parts 2 and 3 of Ayn Rand’s epic novel.  And, even though Aglialoro expects the picture to make a profit, the main reason he cites for abandoning the project is because of poor reviews.

The LA Times pieces reads like his motivations for making the picture were mainly to get good reviews by the press.  But why should that matter?  Sure, the picture isn’t great, but given its low budget and rushed production schedule, I highly doubt a cinematic masterpiece was thought possible.

Could the picture have been better, even given these constraints?  Yes.  But it’s also very easy to Monday-morning quarterback the whole endeavor, and the “I could have done it better,” attitude amongst critics and even Objectivists is easier said than done.

That’s not to say that that we the audience—movie reviewer or not—aren’t entitled to our opinions.  Even if the reviews are bad, Aglialoro should be cashing in on this fact, embrace Rand’s individualist philosophy and say: “Judge for yourself: see the movie.”

Still, to blame the Atlas’s modest success at the box office on poor reviews is a cop-out.  The fact that the movie was reviewed as widely as it was only helped gain exposure for the movie, regardless of what those reviews said. Algialoro implicitly knows this, as he cites The New York Times’ decision not to review the movie as the biggest blow by the media at large.  Further, given that the movie received almost no marketing beyond press reviews and grass-roots efforts, that Atlas posted box office results in the millions of dollars is pretty good.

And, anyway, reviews in and of themselves do not make or break a picture, and there are countless examples at the box office to demonstrate this.  Even if one believes reviews do have an impact, their biggest impact would be on the movie’s first weekend at the box office.  Yet Atlas Shrugged earned a modest taking in its opening weekend.  After that, it’s mostly up to word of mouth and marketing.

I believe Atlas Shrugged’s box office earnings is directly correlated to the quality of the movie: not terrible, but not great.

If Aglialoro didn’t want to venture on to Part 2 and 3 because he was not able to make the kind of movie he wanted to, then fine.  Or if his investment will not earn the kind of returns he wants to get with his money, that is certainly understandable.  But to blame it on reviewers is not only a red herring: it also implies a second-handed motivation to making the movie to begin with.

Making a martyr of oneself to the mainstream media certainly isn’t going to garner any sympathy with audiences—and will only hurt his chances in selling his movie to those ancillary markets he so desperately needs.