'Atlas' pic mapped

Ayn Rand’s most ambitious novel may finally be brought to the bigscreen after years of false starts.

Lionsgate has picked up worldwide distribution rights to “Atlas Shrugged” from Howard and Karen Baldwin (“Ray”), who will produce with John Aglialoro.

As for stars, book provides an ideal role for an actress in lead character Dagny Taggart, so it’s not a stretch to assume Rand enthusiast Angelina Jolie’s name has been brought up. Brad Pitt, also a fan, is rumored to be among the names suggested for lead male character John Galt.

“Atlas Shrugged,” which runs more than 1,100 pages, has faced a lengthy and circuitous journey to a film adaptation.

The Russian-born author’s seminal tome, published in 1957, revolves around the economic collapse of the U.S. sometime in the future and espouses her individualistic philosophy of objectivism. The violent, apocalyptic ending has always posed a challenge but could prove especially so in the post-9/11 climate.

Howard Baldwin said some people have pigeonholed “Atlas” as better suited for a miniseries. That’s why he sometimes pondered turning “Atlas” into two movies. In fact, a two-part script penned by James V. Hart (“Contact”) for the Baldwins envisions “Atlas” as two pics, although it’s likely to be reworked.

For years, producer Al Ruddy tried to make Rand’s definitive book into a movie, attracting the interest of Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway at one point.

But while Rand was still alive, she had script approval, complicating the process. After the author’s death in 1982, Ruddy continued his efforts and, in 1999, he inked a pact to produce “Atlas” as a miniseries for TNT. Ultimately, the deal faltered.

In 2003, the Baldwins acquired the film rights to the novel from Aglialoro, a New York businessman, after launching Crusader Entertainment with Philip Anschutz. Hart was hired at that time to adapt.

Anschutz, however, ultimately decided not to make the movie.

The Baldwins then took the project with them when they left Crusader and formed the Baldwin Entertainment Group.

“What we’ve always needed was a studio that had the same passion for this project that we and John have,” said Baldwin,

Generally speaking, Lionsgate keeps production budgets below $25 million. “Atlas” is likely to cost north of $30 million, but the studio will reduce its exposure through international pre-sales and co-financing partners. Actors would likely take less money upfront — a common practice for the indie.

Rand’s individualistic and character-driven stories have captured the imagination of Hollywood before. Warner Bros. made “The Fountainhead,” starring Gary Cooper as the maverick architect Howard Roark, in 1949.

Oliver Stone was attached to direct a remake of “Fountainhead” for Warner Bros. and Paramount, but the project has languished in development. Along the way, Pitt expressed interest in playing Roark.

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