Friday, April 22, 2011

A few words (and some pictures) about objective reality.

A week ago Friday, the first film version of the 1957 Ayn Rand best-selling novel Atlas Shrugged opened in 300 theaters. The movie was made for $10 million and pulled in about $1.7 million in its first weekend.

People who love Rand allegedly love objective reality, even after all the cruel things objective reality has done to them. Here are some simple statements based on math.

$10 million is a tiny budget for a film these days and this movie is Atlas Shrugged Part 1. The filmmakers rushed the film into production because their rights were about to revert to Rand's estate, so they decided to make a trilogy and shoot the first third of the book. The second and third parts are not yet in production because they don't have the cash.

300 theaters is a very limited release and there's no way to massage these numbers into a positive thing. Sometimes a movie will get a prestige opening in Los Angeles and New York and then open wide across the country to great numbers. Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino opened in 6 theaters in December so it could be eligible for the Oscars, did land office business in those first few weeks ($45,000 per screen), then opened wide in January 2009 to be the #1 movie in America.

This will NOT be repeated by this film. Opening in 300 theaters in April is due to the movie having a weak company backing it and no stars in the cast. It averaged about $5,000 per screen, not awful per screen but definitely not special, and given there were only 300 screens, the net result is awful. The movie has to make six times its opening weekend numbers to make the initial investment back. That's not easy.

The producer postulated this week that is would be in 1,000 theaters this weekend, which is still a puny number compared to major film which open is 3,000 to 4,000 theaters. The weekend theater counts came out yesterday. Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (and probably part Omega as well) will be in 465 theaters.

Unless a right wing fatcat comes in and buys multiple boatloads of the DVD and gives them away, this turd is following a well understood pattern known as the downward spiral.

Enthusiasts of Rand are happy to tell you that Atlas Shrugged is still the #4 book on Amazon, and over the past fifty years has been second in popularity only to the Bible.

By the same argument, we can say that the New York Mets are the second best baseball team in New York over the past fifty years. Sometimes second place is a distant second place.

Cruel people on left wing websites are comparing Atlas Shrugged to another popular 20th Century book turned into a film by its zealous fans, Battlefield Earth.

This comparison is unfair. Battlefield Earth was one of the worst reviewed films of all time, but it did sell $20 million worth of tickets in 2000 in the U.S. and about $30 million worldwide. The newer movie would love to have those numbers.

Of course, Battlefield Earth was made for about $80 million, so it was a financial turkey as well as a critical disaster. So far, Atlas Shrugged has been panned by reviewers (2 good reviews out of the first 29 for 6%) and loved by audiences (85% favorable), but these are small audiences filled with cult members.

Still, making a profit on that $10 million investment is looking harder and harder, because the split on ticket sales starts in the producers' favor on opening weekend and slowly shifts in the favor of the theater owners.

Since I brought up two movies based on books revered by two 20th Century cults, let's talk about a self-financed, low budget film based on the favorite book of a First Century Mediterranean resurrection cult.

I am of course talking about Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.

If we are talking numbers, this is clearly one of the great success stories in movie history. 15th on the all time list, 26th when adjusted for inflation, supporters of the First Century Mediterranean resurrection cult went to the theaters in droves to support this film in 2004.

But since then... crickets.

When I googled TV listings for Passion of the Christ, I got zilch. when I wrote that nobody shows it, my dear friend and fellow nerd Abu Scooter sent me an e-mail saying it is being shown on TV by the third rate Trinity Broadcasting Network, the dessicated corpse of what Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker left behind.

This is why I love nerds. We really are deep into a cult of information. Either get it right or shut the fuck up. We are honest not because God commands us, but because when we are wrong and someone else is right, we know we lose in our hearts and no god has to tell us that.

Given that it is shown such pathetically lowly status even on cable, it is fair to say Passion of the Christ not a beloved holiday classic. It may be that now Mel Gibson is thought of as a stupid, violent middle aged racist who follows his prick around all day and beats up women when they disobey his prick, not as many of the cultists are thinking his movie was a wonderful uplifting experience, but instead seeing it for what it is, torture porn.

Because it is torture porn, it's not going to do well on commercial TV. It's hard to sell auto insurance on a new cell provider right after a scene where a guy is flayed to within an inch of his life.

Trinity Broadcasting Network shows it. Do you know the channel number of TBN on your cable box? I didn't think so.

So if you want to make a lot of money with a movie that will be attended by members of a fanatical cult, here are some handy rules of thumb.

Jesus cult, you've got a chance.

Ayn Rand cult, L. Ron Hubbard cult... save your money.

J.K. Rowling cult, J.R.R. Tolkien cult... money in the bank.

And, oh yeah. They might have made money if somebody sang and cashed in on a short-lived 21st Century cult. If Ayn Rand met Hannah Montana or L. Ron Hubbard was sung by Justin Bieber, you might be able to make a dollar on that.


Padre Mickey said...

Er, Christianity isn't Iron Age, it's closer to the era known as Antiquity.

Great post, otherwise.

Matty Boy said...

Oops, my bad. I looked on Wikipedia and pulled out the number for Iron Age Europe. The Iron Age is over in the Middle East much earlier.

Obviously, my confusion stems from the fact that Jesus was a blue eyed blond who spoke English.

I will fix the post post haste.

Thanks, Padre. Don't work too hard this weekend.

Padre Mickey said...

I will admit that saying Iron-age Resurrection Cult is lotsa fun!

Just finished the Service of Three Hours. I'm laying low until tomorrow night.

Dr. Zaius said...

If only Atlas Shrugged could become as significant a part of our culture as Battlefield Earth. If only...

Abu Scooter said...

Gibson's Passion got a TV home this year -- Paul and Jan Crouch's Trinity Broadcasting Network (also co-founded by the infamous Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker). TBN's only broadcast affiliate in California is in Santa Ana, but it infests cable systems in the rest of the country.

TBN is airing the movie as I type this.

Matty Boy said...

Dr. Z: It's a lot easier to get active members in a cult based on goofy sci-fi than it is in a cult filled with people who believe "I've got mine so fuck you!"

Such are the odd ways of humanity.

Abu S.: Thanks for the heads up! This is exactly why nerd pals are better than the Google. I will fix the post post haste.

Anne said...

The Passion of the Christ is showing in UK on Easter Monday on More4, a minority interest channel that often shows art house films. The Independent's listings comment is as follows: "If you can overlook the peculiar logic of making the film in Latin and Aramaic but casting white actors, the anti-Semitic undercurrent, and the sado-masochistic tenor of Mel Gibson's brand of Catholicism, then you have to admit that his Passion play is an impressively put together piece of horror cinema, which makes most other such exercises in torture porn look lame."

You didn't write that by any chance? It all bears out what you were saying, anyway.

Matty Boy said...

Dear Anne: Happy Easter! I did not write it, but I'm happy now to have read it.