Really surprising. Most reviews are bad but audience reaction has been good, and Randians have been waiting long enough to see it onscreen that I figured they’d turn out in droves on principle, just to signal Hollywood that there’s a market for libertarianism. Maybe not:

After a middling performance during its opening weekend that was hyped in some quarters (i.e., The Hollywood Reporter), the per-screen average for this amateurish Ayn Rand adaptation … plunged to an alarming $1,890 from $5,640 during its opening frame. Overall, the weekend’s take was a scant $879,000 — a whopping 48 percent drop despite adding 166 locations. Which certainly suggest they’re running out of audience quick.

That means that at some locations, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures will be writing checks to theaters to cover the difference between receipts and operating expenses. The only way they’re likely to get the 1,000 screens the producers say they want next weekend is to rent them. And, as Kyle put it at his personal blog, “Whether the sequels get made is purely a matter of how much desire the producers have for losing money.”

Surely rubbing salt in the producers’ wounds is the performance of Robert Redford’s left-leaning “The Conspirator,” which also added screens in its second weekend and managed a decent hold and a $2,696 per location average. Its current cumulative gross is $6.9 million vs. a hair over $3 million for “Atlas Shrugged.”

It made $1.68 million in its first three days; seven days after that, it still hasn’t yet doubled its take and it needs to recoup $20 million to be profitable. Normally I’d dismiss this as evidence that moviegoers just aren’t into political polemics (see, e.g., basically every anti-war film made about Iraq), especially one as talky as AS, but the producers should have had a built-in audience with so many devoted Rand fans out there. The book sold 500,000 copies in 2009 alone; its ideas have never been more current on the right. Why, we’ve got not one but two libertarians running for president this year. What happened?

Now that Gary Johnson’s been bigfooted in the primary by Ron Paul, maybe his supporters can spend their money on “Atlas Shrugged” tickets instead. Who’s more deserving of a moneybomb than Ayn Rand?