The films take place in a dystopian United States, wherein many of society's most prominent and successful industrialists abandon their fortunes as the government shifts towards making aggressive new regulations and taking control of industries. In Part I, railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government; in Part II, Taggart and Rearden search desperately for the inventor of a revolutionary motor as the U.S. government continues to spread its control over the national economy; and in Part III, Taggart and Rearden come into contact with the man responsible for the strike whose effects is the focus of much of the series.
Each film was critically and commercially lambasted to the point where parts II and III' each had an entirely new cast and crew behind it.
These films provide examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Jim Taggart, notably slovenly and unattractive in the novel, is well-dressed, well-groomed and played by actors who are fairly good-looking. III's Greg Germann does display some nervous tics that detract from his appearance, though.
- Big "NO!": Dagny, after seeing Wyatt's oil fields in flame beyond a sign reading, "I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It's yours."
- The Cameo:
- Teller, Sean Hannity, Juan Williams, Bob Beckel and Tamara Holder make brief appearances in II.
- Hannity returns in III along with Glenn Beck and Ron Paul. For a totalitarian dictatorship, the film's United States is amazingly tolerant of dissenting media...though Thompson does rumble ominously about needing to "do something about those commentators."
- Casting Gag: One of Dagny's enemies is played by Armin Shimerman, who was both Quark, an alien whose "Hat" is greed and business prowess, and Andrew Ryan, a parody of Ayn Rand.
- Coincidental Broadcast: Subverted. Eddie calls Dagny and tells her to turn on the TV for a report on a train wreck, but the first channel she turns to is just giving the stock report.
- Days of Future Past: Hinted at in I, where it's stated that the decline of automobile and commercial airlines have led to a resurgence in train travel. Then there's the fact that characters often get their news from the paper, despite the fact that one would think that papers would go down even faster in a modern depression...
- Demoted to Extra: Hank Rearden in III, where his role is reduced to a handful of lines. Also the Wet Nurse, who appears in a small role in II and is not seen at all in III. (He was never a pivotal character in the novel, but had some plot significance there, which he loses.)
- Divided for Adaptation: Rather than try to compress one of the longest novels in the English language into a couple hours, it's adapted as a trilogy.
- In Medias Res: II opens with Dagny chasing Quentin Daniels in her plane and then spends most of the remainder of the film showing how things got there.
- Manly Tears: Eddie cries in his relief that Dagny is alive.
- Missed Moment of Awesome: We never see how Rearden is finally recruited.
- The Mountains of Illinois: Or rather the lack of hills at Pittsburgh Municipal Airport in II.
- Race Lift: Movie Eddie is African-American. So is Gwen Ives in I, though not in II.
- Schizo Tech: Set in 2016, trains reign supreme due to Galt's plan exacerbating the 2011 economic troubles, resulting in oil shortages.
- Sequel Hook: Invoked, as it's supposed to be a trilogy.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Eddie Willers. In Francisco and Hank's last lines in the film, they declare their intent to rescue him. Also possibly Robert Stadler, as the situation where he dies in the novel does not take place in the film.
- Who Are You?: Midas Mulligan's last words before he vanishes.