Ben-Hur rounds off a summer of franchise fatigue with a highly underwhelming debut. Despite being made for $100 million, and opening in 3,084 theatres domestically, it managed to only earn a paltry $11 million dollars. As it stands, it could represent a massive loss for Paramount.
Maintaining its place at the top for the third weekend in the row is Suicide Squad with an impressive $20 million, bringing its domestic total up to $262 million. In second place is the Seth Rogen animation Sausage Party with $15 million, followed by War Dogs in third ($14 million) and Kubo And The Two Strings in fourth ($12 million). Compared with War Dogs and Kubo and The Two Strings, it doesn't initially look so bad until you factor in that War Dogs was made for $40 million and Kubo for $60 million and opened to mixed and positive reviews respectively. Ben-Hur cost a shed-ton of money and currently sports a Rotten Tomatoes score of 28%, making it one of the biggest flops in recent box office memory.
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Let's dive into some of the reasons Ben Hur trailed behind in the box office race.
1. Why Remake A Classic?
The original Ben-Hur won an incredible 11 oscars, grossed $74 million - which adjusted for inflation makes it the 14th highest grossing film ever - and is generally considered one of the greatest films ever made. What is there to possibly improve? This joins remakes such as Ghosbusters and The Legend Of Tarzan, of which there are classic precedents, which have failed to make any lasting box-office impression. It seems perhaps Ben-Hur can also be added to that list.
2. Wrong Director
The director of the 1959 Ben-Hur (there was a silent version in 1925) was William Wyler, otherwise known for beloved classics and complex films such as Roman Holiday, The Children's Hour and The Best Years of Our Lives. The director of the remake is Timur Bekmambetov, known for Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Although Bekmambetov is able to produce effective cartoonish action films with ease, he was an odd choice for a film that would clearly been judged alongside the classicism of the original.
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3. No Big Name Star
Ask yourself? Who plays Ben-Hur in the film? Don't be too ashamed if you do not know? The answer is Jack Huston, star of indie film, Kill Your Darlings, and TV epic Boardwalk Empire. Although, he is slowly rising in profile, it seems bizarre that for a huge blockbuster hit, a blockbuster star isn't used. A familiar face is an extremely obvious way of making sure that people turn up to the cinema. Think of Matt Damon in Jason Bourne, or Will Smith in Suicide Squad: actual movie stars are a key part in drawing large crowds. With the largely anonymous Huston in the main role, Ben-Hur might have crashed at the first corner.
4. No Nostalgia
Star Wars. Jurassic Park. These films have a huge nostalgia factor among people who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Therefore, when the sequels came out last year both films ended up breaking box office records. Ben-Hur, the last version of which was released in 1959, has little of the same nostalgia factor, those people who last saw the film in the cinema being either old or dead. Additionally, my guess is that young people without a strong religious upbringing are not particularly familiar with the movie. Choosing between either Ben-Hur or a film based on 1990s comics may have seemed like a no-brainer to most young people.
5. Messed Up The Vital Scene
The centrepiece of the 1959 film is an incredible chariot race that took five weeks to film, involved 78 horses, 200 total miles of racing, and seven thousand extras cheering in the crowds. The equivalent in the remake is an epic CGI-tussle where there is little use of master shots to establish characters in relation to one another. Possibly employing Oliver Wood, known best for his choppy cinematography in The Bourne Trilogy, wasn't the best idea. Redoing what is considered one of the most vital races in history as Ben-Hur: Tokyo Drift may have turned off audience members who respected the nature of the original.
With only $11 million in the bank, Ben-Hur might be hoping high interest overseas (a la Warcraft) in order to turn over any kind of profit. However, if that is not forthcoming, Ben-Hur could prove to be a misstep of epic proportions.
Will You Go See Ben-Hur?