Atlas Shrugged Movie Leaves Hollywood Scratching Its Head, Because It’s Succeeding Without Them

from the
shrugged dept
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Apr 22nd 2011

We’ve already talked about how Kevin Smith has been succeeding with his new movie, Red State, by defying much of the “conventional wisdom,” when it comes to how you have to market a Hollywood movie. He’s not the only one. Apparently the “conventional wisdom” folks in Hollywood are all in shock that the movie Atlas Shrugged is doing fantastically well at the box office, despite its “awful marketing plan,” of not buying TV ads.

Smith has actually talked about this issue as well, discussing how the major studios “buy” an opening weekend gross number, knowing that if you just spend $x million on TV advertising, you can pretty much guarantee a certain level of turnout for a film. However, in many cases, it’s really a waste of money, because the money spent on the TV advertising can actually outweigh the value of the people they bring to the theaters (Smith has a funny story about studios advertising some of his movies on Lifetime, the “women-focused” TV station, whose demographics don’t match at all with Smith’s standard audience).

In the case of Atlas Shrugged the filmmakers relied on Ayn Rand’s fans to build the buzz and apparently it worked. Word of mouth on Twitter and via various “like-minded” groups — including some libertarians and Tea Party folks — apparently drove interest in the movie. It’s making a lot of money per screen and there’s demand that it open on a bunch more screens. The filmmakers are apparently mainly limited by the fact that they didn’t make enough prints (no reason to, without knowing the real demand) and they’re trying to rectify that as quickly as possible.

Of course, some will claim that this is a one-off situation. And, certainly, some elements are unique. The fan base for this kind of thing is… well… somewhat fanatical. I read the book years ago and thought it was… well… pretty bad. Thought provoking — yes — but the core ideas don’t hold up to much scrutiny. But, I certainly know plenty of folks who are obsessive about the book, and are willing to promote it quite a bit. You can see it in the Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Only 7% of the critics liked the movie (I particularly liked Roger Ebert’s review). Yet 85% of the user reviews liked it.

But that’s the thing: it’s not a movie for the reviewers. It’s a movie for a specific audience, and it seems to have hit that audience head on. Once again, that’s a similarity with what Smith is doing. He’s made a movie for a specific audience, and he doesn’t need to try to market to people outside of that audience, because it’s just not worth it. And when you do that right — find an audience, have a connection with them, and make a movie for them, it can be quite profitable.

Separately, it appears that the producers of Atlas Shrugged are employing some smart alternative business models too, rather than just relying on box office take:

Merchandise, he said, is helping the cause. When Aglialoro obtained rights to the movie almost 19 years ago, he also got rights to sell such items as T-shirts, mugs, posters and even jewelry, though not dolls, video games and other “interesting exceptions.”

On Tuesday, the Website was sold out of its most expensive item: a $159 bracelet made of “Rearden Metal,” a replica of the one heroine Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) wears in the film.

“The merchandise has taken off like we couldn’t believe,” he said. “We’re shipping to every continent.”

So, while some will ignore both of these flicks and their success, claiming that they’re “exceptions” to the rule, I think more observant folks may notice some key lessons that can be pulled from both:

  • create for a specific audience and target them where they are, rather than casting a wide (but super expensive) net.
  • connect, connect, connect with that audience and let them help you spread the word
  • offer alternative business models that let people support you at much higher price points ($159 bracelet for AS, $60+ tickets for a movie and Q+A for Smith)

What other generalized lessons might people pull from these two examples?