Box Office: ‘Ben-Hur’ Flops With $11.4 Million, ‘Suicide Squad’ Still on Top

BEN-HUR
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

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 against 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.

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“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 miniseries “The Bible,” would help them turn out 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.'”

The film could get a lift from overseas crowds. “Ben-Hur” picked up $10.7 million in roughly a third of the global markets. Sources believe it could ultimately gross $100 million in foreign territories, which wouldn’t be enough to make its investors whole, but should stop some of the bleeding.

With “Ben-Hur” faltering, “Suicide Squad” managed to snag first place for the third consecutive weekend. The story of a band of super villains netted $20.7 million, pushing the Warner Bros. release’s domestic total to $262.3 million. Not adjusted for inflation, the film is the second-highest grossing stateside release of Will Smith’s career, behind “Independence Day’s” $306.2 million haul.

“We’re in great shape,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “We’re well on our way to $300 million domestically.”

The weekend also marked the launch of “War Dogs,” an off-beat comedy about weapons dealers, which picked up a modest $14.3 million for a third-place finish. Warner Bros. backed the project, partly as a show of appreciation for all the money director Todd Phillips minted from “The Hangover” trilogy. It cost north of $45 million to produce, and teams Jonah Hill with Miles Teller. The duo was tapped to star in roles originally intended for Shia LaBeouf and Jesse Eisenberg. Ticket buyers were 56% male and 51% under the age of 35.

“We’re proud of Todd Phillips,” said Goldstein. “He made a fun, smart movie that will leg out over the next few weeks.”

With “Ben-Hur” making a bid for religious crowds and “War Dogs” trying to grab adults, Focus Features went after family audiences. The indie label debuted “Kubo and the Two Strings,” an animated story about a boy and a monkey who try to find a magical suit of armor in Ancient Japan. It’s the latest offering from Laika, the makers of “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.” The film cost between $55 million and $60 million, and brought in $12.6 million in its first weekend for a fourth-place finish. That’s on the lighter end of openings for the studio, but the film could be helped by its strong reviews.

“[Laika CEO] Travis Knight and his team crafted an extraordinary film and it’s rightly deserving of the tremendous reviews,” said Jim Orr, distribution chief at Focus Features.

In its second weekend, Sony’s “Sausage Party” held strong, taking in $15.3 million, a drop of 55% from its debut. That was good enough for runner-up status on the box office charts and pushes the foul-mouthed animated comedy’s domestic haul to $65.3 million.

Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” is currently neck-in-neck with “Ben-Hur” for fifth place. The remake of the 1977 children’s film earned $11.3 million, bringing its stateside total to $42.9 million after two weeks of release.

The continued success of “Suicide Squad” and “Sausage Party” lifted overall receipts nearly 25% from the same weekend last year — a period that saw the release of “Sinister 2” and “Hitman: Agent 47.” Critics have slammed this year’s crop of blockbusters as dull and unimaginative, but ticket sales are closing in on last summer’s results and August receipts should set a record.

“This has been a monumental August,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “Normally, summers end with whimper and not a bang.”

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  1. Commentary is valued by Variety.com as much as its industry content. These comments proffer a 360-degree insightful perspective not found in any single authorship.

  2. Diane says:

    Hi-tech dreck.

  3. Charles Volcher says:

    Glad it flop YOU DON’T MONKEY AROUND WITH THE ORIGINAL VERSION CHARLTIN HESTON RULES

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Charles Vulture, well the original would be the 20’s silent with Mexican-American star Ramon Novarro, who was murdered after a gay tryst in 1968. It very good on its own.

  4. Berke Zane says:

    They tried to market the movie then wrote the script. Put a religious movie up with chops like Passion Of Christ and it will sell. But trying to “secure” an audience by calling it a religious tale and chasing their audience down in the heartland is weak to say the least. 2016 Ben-Hur should have had sizzle and gore and chariot crashes galore. Throw some sword fights and sexual gusto of the times and the audiences would show up. In between the horse spins there’s posturing of actors worthy of a soap opera with neatly alligned crowds as backdrops.

    It all seemed contrived. We got this mega piece of film history to make and we’re pandering for guarantees. Any of the movie-going audience that saw this in its original form probably saw it on TV as kids. They had an opportunity to lustily swagger some blood-thirsty material a’ la’ The Fast And The Furious circa 50 BC. Instead the Hollywood noodle necks without a set of balls between them thought they could do a quick hustle on the Bible Belt and call them a “built in” audience for showing glimpses and shadows of Christ. Maybe it kept their parking spaces through the year but they need to make room for the less lily-livered that can actually crank some heat. They throw in Morgan Freeman like some star-powered narrator of credibility that simply wastes his time and falls flat.

    I guess if you were to give a Reality TV God a vehicle into producing big screens it would be…Ben Hur? Would make more dough putting people in those chariots and racing to see who survives. Run it every Monday Night during halftime of football.

  5. PARAMOUNT BEN-HUR 4D LAST TIME says:

    Let BEN-HUR stand as a lasting image of the failed leadership of its now ousted EX-CEO. He ushered in an era of bungling incompetence as a decision maker, greenlighting low energy, low concept productions, that cost a lot of money, unoriginality of thought as many releases were uninspired copycats of highly successful releases from other studios, unparalleled failure and inept leadership at PARAMOUNT, and VIACOM. If he knew anything about making a blockbuster BIBLICAL based film, he would have known the reason MEL GIBSON’S PASSION was a success was because of its honest depiction of JESUS’ story according to scripture. You’re never going to win over Christian audiences with half baked, world conforming stories meant to satisfy the PC elites. This project had failure written all over it when they announced that it was being greenlighted based on the backing of Burnett and Downey, two “Christians” whose product always expect Christ and the BIBLE to conform to society rather than the other way around. Paramount, if you want to make a true Christian film based on Men of the Bible, talk to Mel Gibson. If you just want to make an honest and worthy Christian film, talk to the powerhouse brother producing/directing team from NORTH Carolina that roll off mega blockbusters on the cheap like an automotive assembly line. Last year their, WAR ROOM, made +/_ $80M domestically on a budget of less than 10 million. Christians, unlike everyday moviegoers, expect substance, truth, quality, decency, and a valuable message in their films. That’s how thus small film starring African American Christian actors was able to set the box office on fire. Real Christians unlike Hollywood folk and everyday people, know real Christians when they see them and there’s no bigotry or bias in real Christians. Fake Christianity only inspires the lost and that’s not necessarily a goid thing. Christian folk are not trying to conform to the filthy mindset of the world and when you make a “Christian ” film that compromises on the truth in any fashion, you lose.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      PARAMOUR BEN-HUR 4D LAST TIME, WHAT “PC elites”???

      This is a MOVIE, not a blanking sermon by some right wing fundie preach!!! Yeah, it’s not the 1959 Wiliam Wyler movie, nor is it the Bible on film. It’s not trying to be either!

  6. Michael S. says:

    There was a “Zoolander 2?”

  7. “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.’” – Rob Moore, Paramount Vice Chairman

    Perhaps Mr. Moore should re-think his statement. Remakes rarely if ever succeed. It’s a lesson Hollywood has never wrapped its head around. How can you duplicate the chemistry, cast and crew of another time and era Sequels are a whole other discussion.

    • Rowan G. says:

      I don’t know that that’s really true. I can think of a lot of remakes that were very successful–The Italian Job, Ocean’s 11, The Parent Trap, Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen, His Girl Friday, the rebooting of the Star Trek franchise with the younger characters, come to mind… and sequels such as the Godfather 2, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, or Aliens.. I think the problem is that no one wanted to see a remake of Ben Hur, and they cast a lead who can’t carry a movie (it would certainly have done better with Brad Pitt or Will Smith in the lead, and a better script). They also fell victim to Roma Downey and Mark Burnett insisting they could bring in the “faith” audience, and didn’t make a movie that had general appeal. (To me, the most offensive thing is one of the “faith” spokesmen referring to his audience as “values viewers”– as though the rest of us don’t have values or morals? How judgmental can you get!) The key is that people actually have to WANT to see the remake, or the sequel.

  8. Andrew says:

    All the “artistry” in the world can’t help overcome travis knight ‘s inability to tell a story or create believable, relatable characters. kubo and the 2 strings is yet another laika flop.

    • AllWiledUp says:

      You Disney or Pixar? You mean corny or hackneyed characters?

      Kubo’s a masterpiece.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      So true.

    • EricJ says:

      Laika basically promotes their movies as “Come see it because WE MADE IT!…By HAND!”, and then reminds us that “they” made Coraline.
      No, Henry Selick made Coraline, with a little help from Neil Gaiman. Anyone who believed Laika’s excuse enough to go see The Boxtrolls deserved what they got.

      • Nick says:

        No one cares if it was made by hand or not. They care to be emotionally connected and entertained. If they wanted to see art, they’d go to a museum.

  9. JOE S HILL says:

    “BEN-HUR” is just another,in the latest examples of extremely BAD remakes in Hollywood today,that has put a strain on the very idea of trying to remake classic and past Academy award winning movies-extremely futile! if people really want to enjoy a movie,then they can buy the original 1959 MGM classic,now owned by Warner Bros.Entertainment,and relive the amazing film works of William Wyler,,but moviemakers today,who have abused the remake and reboot thing,are both futile and inferior-and i hope that Paramount Pictures will think twice,the next time they try co-financing anymore MGM disasters,when that once famous studio used to be the superior on the block-now it’s a privately owned business of financial investors,run by Gary Barber,who was the previous partner of Roger Birbuam,or whatever his name was,when these two guys went and formed Spyglass Entertainment in 1997,they should’ve stuck with their own company,,it would’ve been better! MGM is just such a huge disaster today,doing nothing but remakes from their own movie library,now owned by Warner Bros.,and that’s just so pathetic!

  10. Rudy Mario says:

    Also gross ticket sales in dollars is no indication of the true bo performance for the season or year. Ticket prices keep going up almost every quarter and the 3D crap also inflates it.

    It is the number of tickets sold that is the best indicator of performance. An even better way to normalizing the data would be to tie ticket sales to the population numbers for each country.

  11. Rudy Mario says:

    The most stupid and unoriginal statement by this Paramount guy Mr. MOORE. No wonder Paramount is on its death bed.

  12. Jonnythec says:

    I laugh at anyone who brings up RT scores. See the score for boyhood, the worst piece of crap I have ever seen.

  13. Juan Perez says:

    But rotten tomatoes and variety says Ben Hur is better than Suicide Squad. Im so dumb, please variety thell what to watch this weekend.

    • Cass says:

      You’re comparing the story of Ben Hur to Suicide Squad? You MUST be dumb.

      • me says:

        You couldn’t follow that simple sentence? Now that really IS dumb.

      • Juan Perez says:

        NO. A “good” movie and a “bad” movie.

      • MikeS says:

        I think all American movie audiences are dumb. I went into Ben-Hur with low expectations and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The ending was terrible but everything before that was very entertaining. It was better than most of the so-called blockbusters being released in theaters. The chariot race was better than anything in Suicide Squad that’s for sure.

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