A film adaptation of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, opened this past Friday. The release of the film has coincided with a resurgence of popularity for Rand on the American Right. The trailer for Atlas Shrugged had its world premier at this year’s CPAC conference, the Tea Party group FreedomWorks has rolled out a massive campaign to promote the film, and the story’s opening line — “Who is John Galt?” — has appeared on numerous signs at Tea Party rallies.
At the same time, some of the right’s leading political and media lights have heaped praise upon Rand. The author of the Republicans’ new budget plan to gut Medicare and Medicaid, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), has said Rand is the reason he entered politics, and requires his staff to read her work. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) have both declared themselves devotees of her writing. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has his law clerks watch the film adaptation of Rand’s book The Fountainhead. She’s also received accolades from right-wing pundits Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, John Stossel, and Andrew Napolitano.
During her lifetime, Rand advocated “the virtue of selfishness,” declared altruism to be “evil,” opposed Medicare and all forms of government support for the middle-class and the poor, and condemned Christianity for advocating love and compassion for the less fortunate:
Rand also dismissed the feminist movement as a “false” and “phony” issue, said a female commander in chief would be “unspeakable,” characterized Arabs as “almost totally primitive savages,” and called government efforts to aid the handicapped and educate “subnormal children” an attempt to “bring everybody to the level of the handicapped.”
As for the new Atlas Shrugged film, it made $1.7 million in its first three days in theaters, reasonable but unspectacular numbers for a limited release on 299 screens. The movie scored a paltry 8% on the leading film critic site Rotten Tomatoes. But box-office watchers looking to see if the Tea Party represents a discrete market would have been disappointed. The movie grossed just $5,608 per theater over that time period, hardly a sign that groups were buying out theaters or that the movie was a pop culture phenomenon.
By contrast, An Inconvenient Truth took in $70,333 per theater during its first five days on screens. That number fell to $17,615 per theater in its second week, but that number is still higher than Atlas Shrugged’s more widely-available debut. And Atlas Shrugged’s numbers look positively puny next to another culture-war adaptation of a popular book, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which raked in $125,185,971 over its first five days in theaters.