‘Atlas Shrugged, Part 1’ Opening Weekend Sees a Rocky Start

COMMENTARY | After being heavily pushed by a number of conservative outlets, including CATO and The Heritage Foundation, but especially by the non-profit organization FreedomWorks as having an important and timely pro-individual liberty message, did “Atlas Shrugged, Part 1” succeed in reaching its target conservative audience? And will that audience be enough to encourage Hollywood to create more “conservative-friendly” offerings in the future?

The results from its opening weekend 300-theater run have been mixed. According to boxofficemojo.com, “Atlas Shrugged” grossed $1.7 million, with box office dropping 6 percent from Friday to Saturday. Those may not be good enough numbers- especially when compared to its $10 million budget- to support the film expanding to 1,000 screens as the producers hope to do within the next couple of weeks.

For their part, the film’s producers are happy with the numbers they’ve seen. In The Wall Street Journal, producer Harmon Kaslow is quoted as saying, “We’re at the upper edge of our expectations. And we’re way above what the industry expected us to do.”

Mainstream critics have been almost universally scathing in their reviews. “Atlas Shrugged, Part 1” has just a 9 percent favorable rating on rottentomatoes.com. Roger Ebert has given it 1 star, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it 0 stars. Travers compared the film to a “bludgeoned seal.” Conservative commentators such as the popular blog RedState.com, while stating that it is important for the film to do well, are also conceding that it is perhaps not the best made film of all time.

On the other hand, and in a sign that may bode positive for “Atlas Shrugged” having legs, 85 percent of the just under 7,500 rottentomatoes.com users who have rated it so far have liked it. It could end up being the case that “Atlas Shrugged” will find more of its audience in the coming weeks, or later on when it is released on DVD.

By comparison, David Zucker’s 2008 “An American Carol,” perhaps the last high-profile “conservative” film to come out of Hollywood, while similarly panned across-the-board by the critics- 11 percent approval rating on rottontomatoes.com- also was favorably rated by only 48 percent of Rotten Tomato users. That combination is the kiss of death for the prospects of any film. Message doesn’t trump quality or entertainment value for any audience.

Considering the enduring 50+ year popularity of the source material, it seems a pretty solid bet that “Atlas Shrugged” will have as good a shot as any conservatives-targeted film of recent vintage of finding long-term success.