'Ben-Hur' Flops With $11.4 Million, 'Suicide Squad' Still on Top

Sun Aug 21, 2016 5:32pm EDT
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By Brent Lang

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Ben-Hur" derailed spectacularly at the multiplexes this weekend, as the latest attempt to revive the chariot racing epic opened to an anemic $11.4 million. That's a disastrous result for the $100 million production, putting "Ben-Hur" in the ranks of the summer's biggest flops.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount co-produced the remake of Lew Wallace's novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ"; the book was the basis for the 1959 blockbuster that followed Charlton Heston into the arena. Here Jack Huston took the reins as a Jewish prince who must exact his revenge after his adopted brother (Toby Kebbell) betrays him.

"This is the bomb of the summer," said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "They went big and they went home."

Although MGM put up roughly 80% of the budget for the film, its failure will be felt at Paramount. The studio has had a bad streak at the box office of late, fielding duds such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" and "Zoolander 2." That's not the only source of strife. Its parent company, Viacom, has been engulfed in an epic corporate struggle pitting CEO Philippe Dauman over the Redstone family, the media conglomerate's controlling stakeholders. That issue, at least, is moving towards a resolution, as Viacom announced this weekend that Dauman was stepping down from atop the company and will be replaced on an interim basis by COO Thomas Dooley.

"Ben-Hur's" backers aggressively courted the Christian community, doing outreach to pastors and holding taste-maker screenings for religious leaders. The studios also hoped that producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who earned devout points with "Son of God" and the mini-series "The Bible," would help them turn out values audiences. Instead, "Ben-Hur" trailed the $47 million debut of "Noah" and the $24 million launch of "Exodus: Gods and Kings," two recent Biblical epics that lacked a heavenly touch.

"Ben-Hur" drew a crowd that was 51% female and 94% over the age of 25. It also did well in the South and Southwest, areas that are more religious, but did not do as well in more secular regions of the country such as the Northeast and the West Coast.

The film, it seems, could not expand beyond its core Christian audience. Paramount Vice-Chairman Rob Moore noted that "Ben-Hur" is the latest in a string of remakes and sequels such as "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "Ghostbusters" to have failed to draw crowds.

"It goes to a general trend," he said. "Audiences are saying, 'remakes or sequels have got to be great or original if you want us to show up.'"   Continued...

Cast member Sofia Black-D'Elia poses at the premiere for the movie "Ben-Hur" at TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California U.S., August 16, 2016.   REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni