A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged was in "development hell" for nearly 40 years. In 1972, Albert S. Ruddy approached Rand to produce a cinematic adaptation. Rand insisted on having final script approval, which Ruddy refused to give her, thus preventing a deal. In 1978, Henry and Michael Jaffe negotiated a deal for an eight-hour Atlas Shrugged television miniseries on NBC. Michael Jaffe hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to adapt the novel and he obtained approval from Rand on the final script. However, when Fred Silverman became president of NBC in 1979, the project was scrapped.
Rand, a former Hollywood screenwriter herself, began writing her own screenplay, but died in 1982 with only one-third of it finished. She left her estate, including the film rights to Atlas, to her student Leonard Peikoff, who sold an option to Michael Jaffe and Ed Snider. Peikoff would not approve the script they wrote, and the deal fell through. In 1992, investor John Aglialoro bought an option to produce the film, paying Peikoff over $1 million for full creative control.
In 1999, under Aglialoro's sponsorship, Ruddy negotiated a deal with Turner Network Television (TNT) for a four-hour miniseries, but the project was killed after the AOL Time Warner merger. After the TNT deal fell through, Howard and Karen Baldwin obtained the rights while running Phillip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment. The Baldwins left Crusader and formed Baldwin Entertainment Group in 2004, taking the rights to Atlas Shrugged with them. Michael Burns of Lions Gate Entertainment approached the Baldwins to fund and distribute Atlas Shrugged. A draft screenplay was written by James V. Hart and rewritten by Randall Wallace, but was never produced.
In May 2010, Brian Patrick O'Toole and Aglialoro wrote a screenplay, intent on filming in June 2010. Stephen Polk was set to direct. However, Polk was fired and principal photography began on June 13, 2010, under the direction of Paul Johansson and produced by Harmon Kaslow and Aglialoro. This resulted in Aglialoro's retention of his rights to the property, which were set to expire on June 15, 2010. Filming was completed on July 20, 2010, and the movie was released on April 15, 2011. Dagny Taggart was played by Taylor Schilling and Hank Rearden by Grant Bowler.
The film was met with a generally negative reception from professional critics, getting an 11% (rotten) rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and had less than $5 million in total box office receipts. The film earned an additional $5M in DVD and Blu-ray sales, for a total of about half of its $20M budget. The producer and screenwriter John Aglialoro blamed critics for the film's paltry box office take and said he might go on strike, but ultimately went on to make the next two installments.
On February 2, 2012, Kaslow and Aglialoro announced Atlas Shrugged: Part II was fully funded and that principal photography was tentatively scheduled to commence in early April 2012. The film was released on October 12, 2012, without a special screening for critics. It suffered one of the worst openings ever, 98th worst according to Box Office Mojo, among films in wide release. Final box office take was $3.3 million, well under that of Part I despite the doubling of the budget to $20 million according to The Daily Caller. Those figures should be treated as tentative as the Internet Movie Database estimates Part 1 budget at $20 million and the Part II budget at $10 million, while Box Office Mojo says Part 1 cost $20 million and Part 2 data are "NA". Critics gave the film a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.
The third part in the series, Atlas Shrugged: Part III, was released on September 12, 2014. The movie opened on 242 screens and grossed $461,197 its opening weekend. It was widely panned by critics, holding a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on ten reviews.