In the aftermath of the mediocre results in the box office for Agilardo adaption of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, writer David Hayes sets the record straight on the success of The Fountainhead (1949) movie:

It has become an article of faith among critics of Ayn Rand that the movie made from her screenplay adaptation of her novel The Fountainhead was a box-office failure. Such critics have either never examined the evidence or have willfully disregarded it.

Evidence has been available in research libraries for decades which dispel the myth. Respected industry trade papers in operation at the time of the release of the film provide comparative information on how The Fountainhead the majority of other American feature-film releases in 1949.

The American Film Institute catalog shows that there were 387 American feature films in 1949. […]

The film industry’s best-known trade paper, Variety, cut short the list of 1949 films at the 92 releases which met its threshold of achieving the minimum rental income it set to deem a film worthy of inclusion on its list. Even with this threshold, several releases from major studios which feature significant stars from the time, failed to make the list (see below). Despite not being major companies, Republic Pictures got in two releases, and Eagle-Lion and Film Classics had one each on the list. (Twelve films from 1949 were excluded from the list because they were released too late in the year to estimate how they would do. More on these later.)

The Fountainhead scored in the top half of the list compiled by Variety limited to releases earning the kind of money which only a major studio release would earn (a threshold that even some major studio releases didn’t meet). When one adds back in all releases for the year, The Fountainhead did better in ticket sales than nine out of ten films of the year.

For comparisons among competing releases, a better source of information is Box Office magazine. Releases in theaters at the time of publication of each weekly issue are compared to normal business for theaters in tracked cities, and in that way different films are compared. The Fountainhead did business consistently above average.

[…] The Fountainhead had its premiere engagements beginning June 26, 1949, and went into general release on July 2, 1949. [The Fountainhead movie success at the box office in 1949, David P. Hayes]

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