Paramount and MGM’s big-budget biblical-era epic “Ben-Hur” is expected to land in theaters this weekend with a Roman armor-plated thud.
Produced for a reported $100 million (which doesn’t count the presumed tens of millions of dollars spent on marketing), multiple trackers are currently setting its opening weekend gross at a paltry $12 million on average.
The studio has more faith, saying its estimates are closer to $20 million — still not great.
Timur Bekmambetov‘s remake of the 1959 hit starring Charlton Heston is the latest in a perplexingly large number of decades-old stories getting dusted off, repackaged and unleashed by Hollywood.
Some of the year’s biggest misfires include Fox’s “Independence Day: Resurgence,” out 20 years after the original; Disney’s six-years-later sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass” sequel; Sony’s “Ghostbusters,” a reboot of a 1980s franchise; and Warner Bros.’ new take on the oft remade “The Legend of Tarzan.”
“Reboots have been a dirty little trend in Hollywood of late and audiences have given them the boot at nearly every opportunity,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told TheWrap.
Of course there are outlier hits, like Disney-Pixar’s 13-years-later sequel “Finding Dory” and also Disney’s “The Jungle Book” — a CG-heavy live-action version released nearly 50 years after the studio’s animated classic.
“For years, sequels, remakes, reboots and movies based on nonoriginal intellectual property have been the bread and butter of the movie industry,” com Score senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “In any given year, the list of the Top 10 performing movies is always dominated by the comfortably familiar, the previously branded and the safest bets on the slate.”
But “Ben-Hur,” which is being released in both 2D and 3D, is widely seen as an odd choice to reboot. Not only is Heston’s version a classic to film buffs, but it’s not widely known to younger audiences. “It took a lot of guts to put that kind of money toward a movie like this, which, on the face of it, is not very commercial,” admitted Dergarabedian.
The opening estimates of “Ben-Hur” are worse than Universal’s “Warcraft,” which was widely considered one of the summer’s biggest bombs, opening to $24.2 million domestically against a hefty $160 million budget.
Of course, the video game-based movie went on to do bang-up business overseas, where it netted $386.3 million, nearly 90 percent of its global take.
The same may not happen for “Ben-Hur,” which stars Jack Huston as the prince Judah Ben-Hur who seeks revenge on his adopted brother, a Roman army officer played by Toby Kebbell, after being falsely accused of treason and forced to spend years at sea. Still, Paramount expects the movie to open strongly in Mexico and Brazil this weekend — two of the 19 markets overseas that will be releasing the movie.
“‘Ben-Hur’ enters the fray as one of the costlier reboots in recent history and doesn’t look to have much upside either,” Bock said. “Unless church groups somehow jump on board, this looks like it may crash and burn and end up being one of the biggest misfires of the summer season.”
The 1959 epic starring Heston was a remake of a 1925 silent film of the same name. Based on the 1880 novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” by Lew Wallace, it was first adapted for the screen in 1907.
In other words, the new movie is based on really old material.
The Heston remake was a huge hit for its time. Adjusted for inflation, 1959’s “Ben-Hur” is the 14th highest grossing film of all time. But what suited 1950s-era audiences does not reflect what moviegoers are flocking to now.
“Classic films are among the most challenging to remake and duplicate commercial success because they captured a rare magic to begin with,” said Shawn Robbins of BoxOffice.com.
With only 7.2 percent of the current market share among all studios, Paramount isn’t having the best year. The studio’s biggest hit this year, “Star Trek Beyond,” has grossed only $211.7 million worldwide on a whopping $185 million budget.
Although it still has more foreign markets to hit, including China, the movie needs to be a hit in each one in order to get into the black.
“After ‘Ben-Hur’ and what happened with ‘Ghostbusters’ this summer, hopefully studios will realize reboots are for the birds… namely the buzzards,” Bock said.
He points to Sony — not Paramount — as one of the most frequent offenders. “They scored decently with ‘Annie,’ but flailed with ‘Total Recall,’” he said. “Next summer they have ‘Flatliners.’ That title says it all.”