‘Ben-Hur’ Remake Stumbles to Sixth Place in Box-Office Debut

  • Some of this year’s biggest flops have been remakes, sequels
  • Warner Bros.’ ‘Suicide Squad’ Holds onto No. 1 for third week

Even an epic chariot race made with today’s computer technology couldn’t redeem “Ben-Hur.”

Paramount Pictures’ resurrection of the 1959 biblical epic opened in sixth place with weekend sales of $11.2 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, researcher ComScore Inc. said Monday in a statement. Warner Bros.’ DC Comics feature “Suicide Squad” led the box office for a third weekend with $20.9 million, while two other new movies -- “War Dogs,” an R-rated comedy starring Jonah Hill, and the animated “Kubo and the Two Strings” placed third and fourth.

The thin take for “Ben-Hur” highlights the challenge producers face bringing back old stories -- let alone a classic that captured 11 Academy Awards. While sequels and remakes rank among the year’s top hits, they are also among the worst flops. That shows movie-making remains a big risk even when the subjects are familiar -- especially as budgets can reach $250 million and marketing runs many tens of millions more.

ComScore originally reported the film opened in fifth place.

“With ‘Ben-Hur,’ there was never a large amount of interest to begin with,” said Gitesh Pandya, chief executive officer of the Boxofficeguru website. Many of the summer’s sequels and remakes have had only moderate sales because people simply weren’t excited about seeing a new version, he said.

Still, it’s too early to pass judgment on ‘Ben-Hur,’ Pandya said. Such a film is made more for international audiences, he said, whose home markets don’t produce big-action spectacles. Some of the movies this summer have gotten as much as 90 percent of their global box office totals from abroad, he said.

Viacom Inc.’s Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios spent about $100 million making “Ben Hur,” according to researcher Box Office Mojo. Paramount was expecting domestic weekend sales of about $20 million, while estimates from forecasters such as Hollywood Stock Exchange and BoxOfficePro.com ranged as high as $13 million. Critics’ notices ran about 30 percent positive at RottenTomatoes.com, while the group Faith Driven Consumer gave it four stars out of a possible five.

The film follows roughly the same story as previous versions dating back to 1907. They’re all based on the 1880 book by General Lew Wallace about a Jewish prince who is imprisoned by the Romans, seeks revenge and ultimately finds redemption after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion. The Oscars for William Wyler’s 1959 classic with Charlton Heston included awards for best picture, best actor and best director.

Jack Huston stars as Judah Ben-Hur in the new release, which also features Toby Kebbell as his adopted brother and nemesis Messala and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus. The film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, whose credits include “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

The film is one of two big summer releases for Paramount, which has struggled at the box office. Its parent company has been weighing whether to sell a minority stake in the studio to raise money for debt reduction and investments in new films and TV shows.

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