‘Ben-Hur’: 5 Reasons the Biblical Epic is Summer’s Biggest Flop

Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Like “The Lone Ranger” or “Battleship,” “Ben-Hur” is one of those massive box office wipe-outs that defies easy comprehension. How could something go this disastrously wrong?

After all, 1959’s “Ben-Hur” was an Oscar-winning smash that remains beloved. Posters for the Charlton Heston epic proclaimed that the film offered “An entertainment experience of a lifetime,” and its chariot races are still considered to be a high-point in action choreography.

In contrast, the new “Ben-Hur” wasn’t even the “entertainment experience of the third weekend of August.” After debuting to a paltry $11.4 million, it is certain to go down as one of the summer’s biggest flops. “The BFG” just breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It’s not for lack of trying. When it came to “Ben-Hur,” Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer didn’t stint on spectacle. The partners shelled out $100 million to recreate the arena and bring viewers back in time to when the Roman Empire was at its zenith. However, the film failed to generate the same kind of excitement as the Heston epic. The filmmakers had some success attracting faith-based consumers, but couldn’t grow the audience beyond the devout. Kids stayed away, critics lobbed bombs, and secular consumers took a hard pass.



A Lesson of the ‘Ben-Hur’ Debacle: Movie Stars Still Matter

As always, there are lessons to be gleaned from the carnage. Here are five reasons that “Ben-Hur” crashed and burned.

1.) Critics Hated It

Reviewers remembered William Wyler’s 1959 version fondly and found Timur Bekmambetov’s attempts to “Fast & Furious”-ize the action to be ill-considered and poorly conceived.

The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan dismissed the latest “Ben-Hur” as a “dull and lethargic piece of work” that had little reason to exist. Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman labeled it “sludgy and plodding,” lamenting that star Jack Huston paled in comparison to Heston. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy asked simply, “what were they thinking?” And those were some of the nicer ones. It all amounted to a wretched 29% “rotten” rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a measly 37% on Metacritic.

Movies like this need good reviews to convert the curious into consumers — these kind of notices rang alarm bells, instead of serving as invitations.

2.) The Kids Didn’t Show Up

“Ben-Hur” is your grandparent’s epic. It’s a throwback to a time when “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments” and other stories from the Bible were the hottest things on movie screens. A simpler time, before Vietnam and Watergate, iPhones and eReaders, Zika and #Lochtegate.

Still, marketing materials for the time scrambled valiantly to find the aspects of the story that wouldn’t just thrill geriatrics. Television spots tried to play up “Ben-Hur’s” chariot races, boat crashes and battling armies. But warring legions and gladiatorial combat can’t match the comic-book movies and special-effects spectacles that appeal to younger moviegoers. It’s just not a movie that plays in the Instagram age. Indeed, “Ben-Hur” had a negligible presence on social media services such as Facebook and Twitter, evidence that it could not boil down its pitch in a way that translated into likes and retweets.

In the end, 94% of the opening weekend audience for the film was over the age of 25, a signal that the film failed to draw many Millennials. In contrast, 54% of the opening weekend for “Suicide Squad” was under 25, half of “Sausage Party’s” debut crowd clocked in under that threshold and even “Jason Bourne,” a film with older appeal, boasted an opening weekend audience that was 40% under the age of 35.

3.) Swords and Sandals Epics Are Falling Flat

The toga genre has reached its expiration date. It’s been 16 years since “Gladiator” stormed movie theaters, racking up $457.6 million globally and nabbing a best picture Oscar. At the time it seemed as though Maximus and company might trigger renewed interest in the costume epic, but attempts to recreate the magic of the Colosseum have failed to connect with audiences.

“It’s sort of like the Western,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “It has its fans, but it’s just too small a group of fans.”

“Kingdom of Heaven,” “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Noah,” “Seventh Son” and “The Immortals” are just a few of the historical action flicks or costumed fare that have landed with a thud or struggled to turn a profit. There have been a few hits, to be sure. Yet the likes of “300” or “Clash of the Titans” aren’t successful enough to paper over all that red ink. Plus, recreating the Ancient World doesn’t come cheap. Missing the mark can result in a big write-down.

4.) Muddled Marketing

“Ben-Hur” made a concerted effort to attract religious moviegoers, hosting taste-maker screenings for faith-based leaders and crafting commercials that talked up the film’s connection to Biblical teachings. Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer also leaned heavily on producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the team behind “Son of God” and “The Bible,” to make the case to the EWTN set.

In some respects, their efforts paid off. “Ben-Hur” performed better in the South and Southwest than in the Northeast and the West Coast, where communities are less church-oriented.

“They made this very expensive movie for a very small audience,” said a rival studio executive. “They were banking too heavily on that faith-based audience. It was big miss.”

Other analysts believe that “Ben-Hur” relied too heavily on out-dated forms of outreach. In 2004, “The Passion of the Christ” established a template for marketing to values audiences by earning the buy-in of mega-pastors. In the ensuing decade, however, that kind of endorsement may not be enough.

“Today’s values customer — one in every three moviegoers in the U.S. — is younger and more digitally savvy than the general audience,” said Matthew Faraci, president of Inspire Buzz, an agency that specializes in marketing to values-based consumers. “As such, they expect highly targeted, authentic marketing that speaks to who they are and what they care about.”

But “Ben-Hur’s” problems went beyond that. The film also had difficulty appealing to secular audiences. It hoped that the action scenes would be so propulsive that the film could attract the devout, the indifferent and the atheistic. Alas, it was not to be.

“Their first campaign was not that Christian-based,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Then in the last few weeks they went full bore after that group. But when you pull that Evangelical card, you turn off a lot of the audience.”

5.) Audiences Crave Something Fresh

After a summer where franchises and reboots have suffered diminishing returns, audiences in recent weeks have been embracing anything that seems new and original. To be sure, that doesn’t leave a lot of options. But “Suicide Squad,” based on a lesser-known comic-book; “Sausage Party,” a raunchy parody of children’s movies; and “The Secret Life of Pets,” a warm-hearted salute to furry companions, have all succeeded because they are a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere that is sequelfied to the point of stultification.

In contrast, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Jason Bourne,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and “Ghostbusters” are just a few of the recent follow-ups and re-imaginings that have failed to keep pace with their predecessors or spun out completely.

“The bar is just much higher now for consumers in terms of supporting sequels or remakes,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman. Audiences want something that is either “great” or “original,” he added. In the case of “Ben-Hur,” they got neither one of those things.

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  1. LOL To make “A Tale of the Christ” you actually have to BELIEVE in the idea behind the film . . . at least in the Christian ethic if not the theology. All these jerks believed in was parasitically cashing in on a classic. Like “The Lone Ranger,” there was no reason to make this movie . . . you have to figure out a thematic connection between the action in the movie and the times in which it’s made . . . the original was suited to comparing the glory of Rome with triumphal America after WW2 . . . both hollow without some greater concept of ethics and spirituality. The original movie knew that. The remake didn’t care.

  2. Wow. Poor directing. Poor acting. The original silent version and 1959 remake were mastepieces of acting , cinematography , and directing. Even the chariot race was pathetic compared to the earlier movies. None of the actors including Morgan Freeman were really convincing. I’m fact it was so bad that I stoped watching after the chariot race.

  3. JC Ning says:

    You don’t need five reasons -one suffices -movie is badly made.

  4. fooboo0 says:

    “Biblical epic”? not really. It’s not from the bible (it’d be a cooler bible if it was!).
    Christian and biblical aren’t the same thing…or people would be scouring the bible for “The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe” characters. They may be the same fantasy genre but it’s not the same book…lol

  5. The problem with the movie is that it in no way resembles the story in the book, or the one in the earlier movie. The naval battle is irrelevant to the story in the new movie, and yet pivotal in the story in the book. Why have a naval battle at all if the commodore is unimportant to the story? Why change a good story? Why add an attempted assassination? This makes Masalla’s actions seem reasonable. In the original story Masalla has Judah sent to the galley’s and his family imprisoned as a political move over an accident. Through this you can clearly identify with Judah’s desire for revenge. The movie was poor because the changes to the story removed all the key ingredients to the story which made it compelling and gave it a dramatic edge. In the end the new Ben Hur movie was boring.

  6. Nobody like this film because it doesn’t have graphic sex, language, and violence. Also nobody likes to hear about forgiveness in an age that “if someone hurts you, make sure you make them pay for what they did” (i.e. Deadpool)

    Oh, and it’s a story set in the time of Jesus Christ and nobody ain’t got time for that, right? They don’t want to be reminded that they are sinners in need of a Saviour.

  7. César M. says:

    One should not review it as a remake of the 1959 classic; even if William Wyler’s version did not exist, it is very simple : 2016′ Ben-Hur fails because, as a movie, it is a VERY BAD ONE.

    It’s a very sad list of all the wrong choices made by an unfortunate director. Only the dialogues are worse than the wardrobe; and the acting (my Lord, the acting…) A powerful story reduced to rubble (THE Christ replaced by just “a Christ…”)

    Box office aside, recent epics have re-told known myths with cinema’s most basic formula : strong performances and likable characters (Aronofsky’s Noah & Scott’s Moses) and THAT should have been Ben-Hur’s producers’ main focus. Scott’s Gladiator not only entertained; it told a great tale.

    If the story is properly narrated with the correct use of CINEMA’S TOOLS it can surpass even the most cynical expectations (the Coen’s True Grit stands by itself; can’t be called a re-make) But this Ben-Hur’s dullness is embarrassing to watch no matter how many chariot races it boasts. The main characters pledge is non-existant, their conflict eludes us. Because its actors deliver poorly. And that’s the director’s fault.

    What a tragedy. It should not have happened with one of cinema’s most gripping dramas…

  8. Joe Bubar says:

    Certainly this is true in America: message is marginal and maybe meaningless. But, don’t listen to me. I’m almost 70. What do I know. While I agree that lesser-knowns find it harder to pull in the fans, the plot of Ben-Hur, now as then, is wonderful.

  9. WTHWTH says:

    Add the “The Magnificent Seven” remake to the list of upcoming underperformers. Hint: anytime a studio starts running trailers on MeTV, GetTV, and Comet for months before the movie’s release date, you know it’s going to be a stinker. Both “The Magnificent Seven” and “Ben-Hur” have been pushed for months on those channels. The stench of failure is all over “The Magnificent Seven”.

  10. hansolo007 says:

    Shouldn’t include Jason Bourne on the list of failures. It has done pretty well.

    • hansolo007 says:

      It has made $350M worldwide and may get up to $400M by the time it’s done. It has a production budget of $120M. Add in maybe $50M of promotion. If it gets roughly 50% of the box office take that’s $200M minus the $170M of costs. Plus they’ll make some on dvd and Netflix and tv-showings.

  11. Evan says:

    The author of this article is as clueless as the execs going for the cash grab:

    “After all, 1959’s “Ben-Hur” was an Oscar-winning smash that remains beloved.”

    Not “after all”, this is WHY these remakes are doomed for failure. Name a remake of one of these classics that actually improved upon the original. Has not happened.

    At best these are some form of masturbation for FX shops.

  12. Michael Walsh says:

    I went to see the movie Ben Hur yesterday and was terribly disappointed as compared to the original Ben Hur movie with Charlton Heston. The CGI factor was way overdone, and the chariot race was unrealistic to say the least !

  13. Wanda says:

    I saw Ben Hur last week and loved the movie so much that I went to see it, again, last night. I am 28 years old and will definitely buy the Blu-Ray DVD.

    The movie was action-packed, fast paced, powerful, memorable, and very enjoyable. I loved the actors, costumes and scenery.

    I have recommended it to my friends.

  14. Jaime says:

    Audiences are wising up on what classifies as good storytelling with well developed characters. Many of us are enjoying some of the best TV that we’ve ever seen. The bar for great storytelling has been raised by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, showtime, HBO and some of the networks. So the studios need to get with program. You can’t just throw anything in front of audiences anymore.

  15. ivor llewellyn-jones says:

    The original BEN-HUR is fondly remembered, and rightly so. It comes as little surprise then, that comparisons will be made with the 1959 version. But the continuity of the original was sadly wanting in many respects . By comparison, the chariot race in the latest version, is authentic…with the smaller and lighter chariots starting from gates, not all lined up in the circus. Carlton Heston, with blonde hair and blue eyes was an unlikely Ben Hur (albeit he gave an oscar winning performance. I must admit, I have only seen the trailer, but from what I have seen it looks magnificent.

  16. Frank says:

    I finally was thrilled to tears to see this beautifully structured film on a giant XD3D screen in Rancho Mirage California and was sooo happy that the Big Guy Movie Reviewers with all the bad hocum that I read, were smashingly WRONG! I remember the reviews for the 1959 version were very close to these modern day reviewers who seem to email each other to make sure any movie that mentions Jesus get dumpy remarks thrown forth.. like “let’s make sure this movie FAILS!” I realize that my need to see and love this movie was painted by the need for a Faith-Based historical sword and sandal flick that would not be schmaltzy, but perfect in filming, acting, solid historical costuming and sets…. I GOT IT TODAY with BEN HUR 2016. I think that the title might have been safer to win more public if it were something like THE BLOOD of ROME / HOUSE of HUR inspired by ….. so it would smooth you Critics down by not so daring a direct THREAT of outdoing an already respected title: BEN HUR. This one was a grand re-telling that, should have had a fabulous soundtrack like one as grand as Miklos Rozsa’s and left the Homo sexual hint in the script instead of the brother thing,….then,… it would have been a total rip-roaring, poetic gem for ME, a musician and artist.

  17. MGM and Paramount would have done better to Re-release the original 1959 Ben Hur and insert computer generated enhanced series of the cutaway images of the galley scenes on the water as they were brief and originally done as models, and re matted some of the stadium backgrounds. (They did this stuff with the Star-trek series, and it looked great)( they also computer generated most of the heavy duty ship images in Titanic.) The 1959 version already had the 6 channel super sound and they could have saved 99 million and got a bigger audience that would have liked to see that on a Big screen. Plus they have the technology to make that in 3 D. The original was done with special lenses which made it as good as digital and it has been digitally remade

    DMFMD movie buff in Fort Mohave Az

    • Gary Flinn says:

      The 1959 Ben-Hur is controlled by Warner Bros. Remember when Ted Turner split up MGM in 1986? He kept the pre-1986 MGM film library. Turner Entertainment was later acquired by Time Warner with the Turner film library managed by Warner Bros.

  18. patty perkowski says:

    I am devote Roman Catholic, this film should have been right up my street. It wasn’t! It was bland, unexciting and if that is the best representation of Jesus that the film had to offer; God bless us all!

  19. Colin Vickery says:

    I would add a couple of other things. 1. The budget was way too high for a film aimed primarily at the Christian community. Once you’re in $100 million range you need masses of people from all segments of society to turn up on opening weekend. Most successful Christian-based films have had low budgets and have much more of a chance of being profitable. 2. Once you openly promote your film as being Christian as Roma Downey and Mark Burnett did, you disenfranchise a large section of the movie-going public that are non-Christian. They simply won’t turn up.

  20. Debra Bell says:

    I enjoyed this movie and thought it had a very good message. I hope this “flop” turns into a success!!!

  21. Jessica Choate says:

    I truly enjoyed this film. I never saw the original, but then again I do not like old movies. I do not agree with the critics and neither do other people. I am going to say that i was so surprised how much I loved it. I was moved to tears. I would recommend it to anyone to watch. Critical J

  22. John Moore says:

    We actually enjoyed this movie and caught a matinee that was showing it in 3D. Both the ship galley and the chariot race scenes were well worth the price of admission. I guess that it is reflective of society that other folks out there rather flop down $$$ to see a vulgar movie about talking food.

  23. HiHat says:

    There is no just no good reason to remake a great movie. The only reason to remake a property is if the original failed to deliver on a good premise. Why, for example, would anyone want to remake “The Wizard of Oz” or “Casablanca”? Because we have Technicolor or better effects? What we clearly don’t have are Garland, Bogey, and Bergman…

  24. jsm1963 says:

    Under a Trump presidency all third rate biblical epics will be successes. Yuuuge successes. The best!

  25. Ted C. Williams says:

    You forgot a sixth point: No one was even remotely interested in revisiting Ben-Hur. The draw of the original Ben-Hur was the amazing spectacle it was at the time. If the remake of an amazing spectacle ends up being just a middle of the road production, what is the draw for audiences to show up?

    If the film industry is so reliant on surefire success in order for projects to be greenlit (usually at the expense of original or new concepts), shouldn’t the first question that is first asked be, “is there anyone that would be interested in seeing this instead of catching the original film on TCM”?

  26. will McDonald says:

    This movie failed to make the people real. The actors never make us care about
    the characters. There was no high nor low moments of emotions, positive or negative.
    The actors seemed to wade through a mountain of words without infusing love, hate, anger or emotional passion.
    In other words, we were never drown into the story. I like most of the
    stars, but the director never got much out of them. Another problem was the sequencing and progress of the story line. For example, the awkward release and healing of mother and sister. It was like a “and one more thing..” In the 1959 movie, that moment was powerful when they were discovered alive.

    Perhaps the down turn in movie attendance played a big part in how badly the movie did, but
    when a movie moves the audience, the word gets around.

  27. Gary Flinn says:

    Another reason I think the movie flopped is because it’s being advertised on Rush Limbaugh and his advertisers are being boycotted continually after the Sandra Fluke fiasco of four years ago.

    • Labwarrior says:

      That might be, but more likely the political stance taken by Morgan Freeman turned off half of the potential audience.

      • cadavra says:

        Seriously? You’re blaming this on one of the most beloved actors of our time, who’s probably the only big name in the show AND is only in a supporting role? Is there anything you wingnuts can’t blame liberals for?

  28. Geralyn Bennett says:

    I actually enjoyed the film and will and have recommended it to my friends. I think it was expertly made in that it wasn’t another cheaply made religious based film. Very good quality. Was amazing to me are all the expedient negative connotations by this article and the comments here. The movie has only been out a few days but it seemed like this article was pre-written. My point is, give it some time, and it will be seen. Ben-Hur (1959) was my all time favorite movie and still this one did not disappoint.

  29. SpartaCross says:

    Ben-Hur failed for the same reason that Prince of Egypt and Independence Day 2 failed: heavy-handed Zionist propaganda. The audience is not as stupid as Hollywood moguls like to think.

    The Passion of the Christ sold more tickets than all three combined. And as to sand-and-sandals movies being out of touch, both 300 movies racked in tons of cash.

  30. Ed Vaira says:

    Noah actually did well….$375 million worldwide on a $110 million budget equals pretty strong hit in most articles…

    • Cap'n Tightpants says:

      How was Independence Day Resurgence “Zionist propaganda?” It’s just sci-fi.

    • DirkD says:

      not really… $110mil production budget with print and advertising probably around the same price so let’s say $200mil total cash spend. so all they need to do is earn $200mil. nope. theater owners get about half of the earnings. so in order to BREAK EVEN, they needed to make at least $400mil. as much money as $375mil is, considering that, it’s still lost money and therefore, still a flop.

      • Evan says:

        Theater owners get about half?! Lol. Theater owners get concession. That is why you pay $20 for a popcorn and soda combo. Clueless.

      • Malcolm says:

        Numbers + Logic + Explanation = …

        “Lol at you thinking a movie has to make 4x its production budget to break even.”

        You tried, DirkD, you tried. Maybe one of these days people will grasp that numbers on their own don’t tell the whole story…

        Jamiroquai – If a fruit costs a customer 50c, does the store get all of that as profit? Or do they have to pay something to their supplier, pay salarie and pay other store-related (heat/light/rent) costs that eat up potential profit?

        So, too, with movies. Raw production costs (salaries, sets, cameras) are referred to – usually – as the “cost/budget” make a film. But that outlay doesn’t include marketing, cast deals for profit percentages and a variety of other costs. Ticket sales totals are usually the number used for “money made” – which doesn’t cover WHO gets that money (studio, theater, stars). So making X on a Y budget movie does not tell the whole story.

        Certainly not if X is immediately halved (theaters take a cut of ticket sales) and Y doesn’t include multiple-millions of markeying dollars.

        Any clearer?

      • Jamiroquai says:

        Lol at you thinking a movie has to make 4x its production budget to break even. Delusional loudmouths like you ruin informative topics. And NO, I have no affiliation to the movie or producers.

  31. Dylan says:

    Mr. Lang, could you please share your writing with your colleague, Mr. Gleiberman? He could learn a few things from your example.

  32. Matthew says:

    Maybe they should have turned it into a musical. With M-G-M’s other 1950s remakes of earlier properties, at least they had Cole Porter around to do it for them.

    • Zontar says:

      The 1959 BEN-HUR grossed over ten times its production costs. Most likely, a large part of that was due to the fact that it was around literally for years. Movies today are like stage shows. This months megabucks movie has to be out of the auditoriums in time for the megabucks movie coming in next month. That version of BEN-HUR was playing somewhere around pretty all the while I was in high school (class of 1964). There was lots of buzz about it. I remember seeing it three times.

  33. Bella says:

    In my opinion, recent “successful” movies find popularity in large cult-followings instead of in genuine caliber of film-making. Time and time again, movies like “The Hunger Games” have won awards while good films (like Ben Hur) are criticized and mocked. It’s incredibly ironic, because when compared to “Suicide Squad” in regard to overall message, filmography, and acting, Ben Hur wins all around. Yet Suicide Squad blew up the box office- not because of the quality of the film, but because of the large (and rather obsessed) fanbase in love with the comics. In the end, it seems the excellence of a film can no longer be determined by box office sales, as the common audience has lost all appreciation for the art of film. Critics claim Ben-Hur is simply a remake of a remake, but fail to identify that the general population thrives on regurgitated plotlines, forced acting, and nonsensical writing. In a world where these attributes in a movie lead to an Oscar, the harsh backlash against Ben Hur may be more of a compliment than an insult.

  34. Eric Kane says:

    Surely there are more than 5, LOL!

  35. samalabear says:

    I have to tell you, I was 4 when the 1959 “Ben-Hur” came out, so i saw it in the theater on its re-release, so I was probably around 9 and I read the book by Lew Wallce a couple of years later. I credit “Ben-Hur” with the only reason why I, born and raised Catholic, did not lose my faith in God. I do not consider “Ben-Hur” religious, and General Lew Wallace was not religious, became a believer in Christ as a result of writing “Ben-Hur” and still didn’t subscribe to “churchianity.” I, myself, have left religion to follow Christ and so “Ben-Hur” rings even more true to me today.

    I am 60 years old, I am not geriatric, and, for the record, I keep discovering old movies on YouTube. There’s a ton now in the public domain. Guess what? There’s an incredible number of young and older people of all ages doing the same thing.

    I would also say that “The Robe” in a league with “Titanic.” It’s a beautiful movie, first movie in Cinemascope, the costuming, sets and cinematography was beautiful. The script for “The Robe” is beyond embarrassing, and I’m not sure why, as it did have a very talented screen writer. Maybe it got lost in all the spectable, who knows. The script for “Titanic” was not quite as cringe-worthy, but close. The few lines that were spouted in the trailers were inane, and some just downright stupid, but here’s a classic — and with $100 million you would think these folks had some understanding of names back in the day, especially a couple supposedly versed in the Bible. Here we go:

    Charleton Heston: “I am Judah Ben-Hur.” Translated, “I am Judah of the House of Hur.”
    Jack Huston: “My name is Ben-Hur.” Translated “I am the House of Hur.”

    I know, it’s all semantics. And the audience they’re catering to wouldn’t understand this, either. But the folks commenting on YouTube on the trailers clearly did, and they absolutely howled. And the person on YouTube who coined the phrase “Fast and Furious with Chariots” deserves a paycheck. This comment went viral on the internet.

    The 1959 “Ben-Hur” has a background story that is beyond stunning. So many of those involved, including Wyler, had been involved in the 1925 silent version. Everything came together. And the thing that “Ben-Hur” needed the most was Wyler. Wyler’s film credits, numerous nominations and awards speak for themselves. They are beyond well-deserved. Just about all of his films are just as relevant today as when they were made. Some of Wyler’s films I’ve only seen in the past 20 years and they are just amazing. The man was a master storyteller, period.

    One of the biggest pluses in the 1959 “Ben-Hur” was the fact that the face of Jesus is never seen. I mean, seriously, who can forget the scene in the dessert? It’s simply brilliant. And that was always the intent of Lew Wallace. And mention has often been made of the chemistry between Haya Harareet and Charleton Heston on screen. Pure gold. These things don’t happen by accident. And I read some of the truly funny reviews of this 2016 nightmare on how the person of Jesus was used, spouting lines of scripture here and there, sort of like the top ten hits.

    In short, I don’t know why this film was made, although Downey said in an interview that one day she and hubby Mike mentioned “Ben-Hur” and their son asked Ben who? I do kind of find it amazing that this super-Christian duo had never introduced their son to Ben-Hur? It’s not like it’s ever been unavailable and not even expensive. But, in any case, the light bulb went off — let’s do a “re-imagine” and re-introduce for a new generation. And they were off and running.

    Finally, I think folks are really, really tired of seeing really re-makes, re-hashes, re-imaginings. Maybe folks are really, really tried of the overblown CGI. CGI was a big topic on the YouTube trailers. Looking at box office receipts domestic v. international if interesting. I did this the other day. It is clear that Americans are not interested in the garbage that is being dumped in the theaters — or at least not interested in paying a hefty price to do so. Not many folks have money to burn and these days you can even get a decent nap during a rotten film — thanks to ear-splitting sound systems. I’m 60 now and one reason I don’t wish to go to movie theaters is that I have excellent hearing and I would like to keep it that way.

    I don’t think Variety is hitting the mark here on why “Ben-Hur” 2016 and so many other films have flopped, especially so-called Biblical ones. How about they simply are not good?

  36. Lindsay says:

    We saw it opening night. True, not a lot of people there. BUT it was AWESOME!!! It was produced by the people who made the Bible series, that is what I was told. EVERYONE that was there was sitting in their seats through the credits sobbing. It was awesome and I don’t care what any liberal says, I would rather watch a movie based on historical biblical facts rather than trash that keeps getting produced by hollywood idiots, talking produce?? Hotdogs and a head of lettuce? Yeah…ok!

  37. It is very simple – WE ARE SICK OF REBOOTS OF CLASSIC FILMS. This is why it failed. This is why Ghostbusters failed. This is why The Magnificent Seven will fail. Hollywood is having a difficult time grasping this – but we, as movie goers, are sick of cheap cash grabs by recycling great films. We won’t stand for it anymore.

  38. Umm what? says:

    It’s not a biblical epic. It’s not even remotely faith/based. It’s got nothing to do with the Bible. Why would it attract Christians specifically?

    You experts aren’t very bright.

    • L. A. Julian says:

      The book it’s based on? Is subtitled “A Tale of the Christ.” (I’ve read it – it’s in the same genre of “stories about ancient Rome as a backdrop for early Christianity” as Quo Vadis and Last Days of Pompeii.) It takes place contemporaneously with the events of the Gospels constantly crossing over into it. The climax is the crucifixion of Jesus, which is why it’s always shown at Easter on American television. The new one has even MORE Jesus than the 1959 version.

      “Not very bright” is you.

      • Malcolm says:

        Few would lump Quo Vadis and Last Days of Pompeii in with “religion” either. Which is rather the point.

      • Cj says:

        So, a fictionalized account of a time period that is said to be contemporary with Jesus somehow has something to do with the Bible that Christians read and revere.

        As he said, it has nothing on to do with the Bible or Christianity.

  39. Jpe says:

    People sure are dumb. While some CGI was necessarily used, much of the Chariot race was done for real. This was a damned fine movie and deserve better. ( and this is coming from an admitted sinner.)

    Also, Star Trek was probably one of the best movies of the summer. Hell of a lot better than that Suicide Squad train wreck of bad CGI, Studio meddling and music videos. The movie going audience gets what they deserve.

  40. David Sauers says:

    Targeting the faith based market with twisted storylines that are biblical inaccurate; or if the Christian market feels they’re being buttered up and schmoozed; stop treating it as a stand alone genre. The film will always fail. Also story matters more than star talent. #exodus #noah #leftbehind

  41. Noel Robinson says:

    It’s very hard to impress me with any remake. The best anyone can do is to stick as close to the original as possible. Like attempting to remake a classic Eagle’s tune can only result in discust. Trying to remake Ben Hur by adding the stupid man with the ridiculous gray locks was totally off track. I wish they wouldn’t try to use affirmative action to improve on perfection

  42. Wildflower says:

    Look at the timing…
    Faith-based films are more likely to be interesting…during “faith-based” times of the the year…Christmas…Easter…
    I know…I know…your faith is 365 days… year round!
    But people are more apt to watch a film like this…during those times.
    (Even though Hollyweird has released horror films…during said times…which I have NEVER understood…and refuse to watch..:during what’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”…and NEVER will.)

  43. Sword and sandal movies tend to come out looking cheesy to modern viewers, unless it has a story that will grab their attention, like Gladiator did. Plus religious themes are the kiss of death with a lot of people, especially if they think you’re trying trying to sneak it in dressed up as something else.

  44. Jack says:

    This movie just looked plain. The trailer was badly produced. The effects and cinematography were very unspectacular looking. NOAH made $44 million on opening weekend because it looked interesting, and grossed $365 million globally because it was well made.

    • Lindsay says:

      Yeah and NOAH was stupid and FAKE and nothing close to what actually happened.

      • Dynnik says:

        “Noah” is fake (cos’ an allegory is beyond reasonable), but “Ben-Hur” is «based on historical biblical facts». What DID actually happen in the Bible, Lindsay? I detect stupidity… and not from the movies. —Regards from a liberal Christian. ;)

  45. Would it have helped if they cast the leads with more star power? Just asking. (All I’m saying is that neither Jack Huston nor Toby Kebbell made any impression on me in the early trailers.) As it happens my wife and I attended a local showing of the ’59 version on the big screen just last week. Still brings goose bumps. I’m not against remakes and I plan to see this version, but I just think an epic like this needs more than just an appearance by Morgan Freeman to put people in the seats.

  46. Albert Shumate says:

    Why try to remake a classic. It’s only worked a couple of times that I’m aware of. The first remake I enjoyed was “The Miracle on 34th Street” and the second was “The Parent Trap” and these remakes worked because the updated the time. I’ve seen where someone referenced “The Lone Ranger” and as everyone knows this is the second attempt to remake that. The first failed because the powers that be dumped on Clayton Moore who kept “The Lone Ranger” story alive and had they not dumped on him they’d had showed up at the theaters in droves to see the new movie. The second “Lone Ranger” was so far out there. Tonto dressed as I don’t know what. Plains Indians did not ride around dressed like Depp was dressed.
    Remaking movies is tricky and what approach can you take to remake. “Ben Hur” is one of those stories that if you read the book and see the original movie what are you going to see in a new movie that wasn’t in the original.
    This is like trying to do “Star Trek” with Kirk, Spock and the rest of the original crew. That’s why “Star Trek” in different eras of the future work.

  47. Rick Paulson, San Diego, CA says:

    Sorry guys, I disagree. I’ve seen the original on TV and the 1959 remake in the theater and they are both really great movies. This 2016 remake was exciting, historically and fictionally accurate and I enjoyed it thoroughly, even tearing up a bit at the end.

  48. You left out #6: It stinks.

    • Actually it is an excellent film Steve. I don’t think you even saw it.It held my interest form the very start. the acting was excellent Jack Huston as Judah Ben Hur was real good. I would highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed.Just another case of the so called critics being dead wrong.

      • Mistah Cole says:

        You say Jack Huston as Judah Ben Hur was real good. Was he better than Heston as Ben-Hur though?

        Personallyi believe if it aint broke or you can’t top it, dont try to fix/repalce it.

  49. L. A. Julian says:

    No, this doesn’t “defy easy comprehension.” From 2014, when it was first reported that they were trying to get Tom Huddleston for the lead role of Judah, comments were full of people wondering “Who asked for this?” and groaning at the idea of yet another bland, CGI-and-3D heavy action film in the cynical mold of the Clash/Wrath of the Titans remakes and 300 Deux, even before the similarly wan remake of Ten Commandments, Exodus: Gods and Kings, crashed and burned.

    If you’re going to sell a new generation on a remake of a classic, you HAVE to bring more to the table than dodgy, weightless, CGI stunts. 1959’s remake of the 1927 version brought sound and colour, with not just a massive budget but also spare-no-expense quality. The fact that all these recent “Roman” and “Egyptian” movies are filmed on sound stages, when the old epics built gigantic sets, shows; the fact that they are supposed to be set in the Mediterranean but are mostly filmed, when location filming happens, in Northern Europe, shows in the horrible, horrible, ugly AND inaccurate costumes!

    Why is Huston wearing a henley for Heaven’s sake, instead of a tunic? It’s ridiculous that archaeological detail from 1950’s Hollywood is more realistic than in 2016, when audiences and filmmakers alike have more access to historical trivia and virtual museums than ever.

    And if you’re going to try to sell a sword-and-sandal pic, and there are fewer bare chests, bare legs, and oiled-up heroes than in the Fifties versions of the same — to say nothing of dancing girls and sultry sirens! — don’t be surprised when everyone looks at the mumblecore bros in their J. Crew costumes and goes “Meh! Pollice verso!”

    CGI chariots pinwheeling like Formula One racers in what looks like video game footage (the Formula One base is actually very obvious in the free video game that accompanies this film) are no substitute for classically-trained ACTORS gnawing the scenery like so many banged grains.

    • EricJ says:

      “Why is Huston wearing a henley for Heaven’s sake, instead of a tunic?”

      And yeah, I know:
      “What’s a henley?”
      “Eggs, mostly.” ;)

      • L. A. Julian says:


        I do think my favourite still is the one where he’s wearing leather trousers(!) and a dark henley top, in the chariot, against a lush green background — my first thought was “Did they put in a detour to Roman Britain for tax breaks (he trained with the Iceni!) or is Croatia doubling for Dalmatia for some reason? Is he having lunch with Asterix the Gaul?”

        The worst part is, that I don’t think any of the people involved in making this movie would understand any of that.

  50. willowdiamond says:

    I didn’t even see ads until a few days before it came out, and those ads were terrible. Also, as was the case with The Lone Ranger, anyone my age or younger isn’t familiar with the original and thus they don’t care. And as you said, originality is key, even if it’s an original way of re-telling an old story, and they apparently didn’t do that (I also haven’t seen the film nor do I plan to). There are so many wonderful books that could be adapted for the screen but instead they do this.

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