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Box Office: ‘Ben-Hur’ Trailing Rivals With Dismal $12 Million U.S. Weekend

Paramount-MGM’s costly remake of “Ben-Hur” is headed for a dismal fourth place domestic launch at about $12 million at 3,084 locations, early estimates showed Friday.

Warner Bros. third weekend of “Suicide Squad” will probably win a tight race for the top spot with as much as $20 million, followed by Warner Bros. launch of dark comedy “War Dogs” at $18 million and Sony’s second weekend of “Sausage Party” at $16 million.

Ben-Hur” is battling Focus’ launch of Laika’s animated adventure “Kubo and the Two Strings” for fourth.

Suicide Squad” is declining by about 59% and will wind up the weekend with about $260 million at the domestic box office. Warner Bros. announced earlier in the week that the supervillain tentpole had crossed the $500 million mark in worldwide box office.

It’s a decent start for “War Dogs,” starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as a pair of unlikely arms dealers in a project with a $45 million budget. The film had been forecast to take in around $12 million to $14 million at 3,258 locations amid mixed reviews with a 60% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

“War Dogs,” helmed by “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips, carries an R rating and is based on the Guy Lawson book “Arms and the Dudes” about two young contractors obtaining a government contract to supply weapons for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It’s competing for the same demographic that supported Sony’s animated comedy “Sausage Party,” which will have hit $65 million by the end of the weekend.

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“War Dogs” is heading for a $6.5 million opening day for Friday, while “Ben-Hur” is projected to trail badly with about $4.5 million on its first day — confirming fears that the $100 million Biblical epic will struggle to generate business this weekend. Paramount and MGM, which co-financed the film, had been hoping for a $20 million launch at 3,084 locations by appealing to faith-based customers but other trackers were accurate in forecasting a debut in the $10 million to $15 million range.

The reboot of the 1959 epic “Ben-Hur” — a box office sensation that won 11 Oscars — has been blistered by critics and carries a 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The remake is directed by Timur Bekmambetov and stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Haluk Bilginer and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus.

“Ben-Hur” producers include Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who have ties to Christian groups and saw strong ratings from their 2013 mini-series “The Bible.”

“‘Ben-Hur’ is a unique property from the standpoint that you don’t see very many faith-based tentpole movies,” said Chris Stone of marketing specialist Faith Driven Entertainment. “We think that they did a good job of delivering a movie that appeals to both faith-based and secular audiences, which should lead to good word of mouth. But you have to get people into theaters in the first place.”

Paramount has seen a rough year so far with “Zoolander 2” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” both faltering and “Star Trek Beyond” under-performing. Studio parent Viacom has been distracted by a protracted battle for control between CEO Philippe Dauman (who wanted to sell a stake in Paramount) and majority stakeholder Sumner Redstone — a fight that appeared to conclude Thursday night with a preliminary legal settlement that ousted Dauman.

Paramount is opening “Ben-Hur” in 19 international markets this weekend, including Brazil and Mexico,  representing 30% of the film’s ultimate international footprint.

Kubo and the Two Strings,” which is opening at 3,260 locations, carries a $55 million budget, is set in ancient Japan and centered on a boy’s quest to reassemble a magical suit of armor. Reviewers have been strongly supportive of “Kubo” with a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore, said the current summer to date is nearly 3% ahead of last year’s summer at the same point with $3.92 billion.

“The good news is that despite a crop of films that have not been the most well-reviewed this summer (to put it kindly), the box office has been up 10 of the past 15 weekends and 7 of the last 8 weekends,” he added. “Depending on how you slice and dice the calendar, we are nearly neck and neck with last summer’s overall box office at this point in a squeaker that will give 2016 an unexpected and to many a surprising shot at surpassing last year’s season total.

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