‘Ben-Hur’ $100 million remake flops hard at the box-office: who is to blame?


Suicide Squad topped the box office for the third week in a row. But that’s not even the story at this point. The story is about the remake of Ben-Hur and how hard it flopped. I almost wrote about this last week, ahead of the release of Ben-Hur, because every trade paper was saying that the $100 million film was going to bomb. I still thought there was a chance it could do well though – the Evangelical/fundamentalist Christian “market” for Christian-themed films is surprisingly strong, and I thought Ben-Hur might be the one to surprise people. Not so much. Incidentally, Tom Hiddleston was originally approached to play the lead, Judah Ben-Hur, but he pulled out and the role went to Jack Huston (some of you will know him as “Who?”). On Saturday, Ben-Hur was on track to make $11-12 million in its opening weekend, which… to be fair, is better than some of the predictions that it would make just $5 million. Remember, this cost $100 million to make and probably tens of millions more to promote in targeted Christian demographics.

Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur is faring dismally at the North American box office, where it’s destined for an $11 million-$12 million debut despite a major push targeting faith-based moviegoers. The summer’s final big-budget title earned a meek $4.1 million on Friday. That’s a dismal start for a movie that cost just under $100 million to make. To boot, the MGM and Paramount release looks to lose the chariot race to a pair of smaller films, War Dogs and Kubo and the Two Strings.

Ben-Hur, which has been slammed by critics but earned an A- CinemaScore from audiences, has aggressively targeted Christian and faith-based audiences. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (the producing team behind the 2014 hit movie Son of God and the 2013 miniseries The Bible), are among the executive producers. MGM took the lead on the project and has a larger financial stake than Paramount.

As a way of comparison, Parmount’s Noah debuted to $47 million. Fox’s attempt to capture faith-based consumers with Exodus: Gods and Kings fared worse, opening to $24 million.

[From THR]

And now everyone is writing mean analysis pieces about how Ben-Hur is the biggest flop of the summer and that Hollywood can’t figure out how to market films to the faith-based crowd. Even worse, one takeaway was that “movie stars matter” and they never should have attached a $100 million project to Jack Huston. Which is mean… but true. The thing is, Hollywood has gotten a little bit better about how they market to the Christian demographic. Like, Jennifer Garner has been figuring it out – her churchy film, Miracles From Heaven, was a success earlier this year. You know why? Because it was made on the cheap for $13 million and they didn’t expect to make $100 million. That’s the model for so many of these church-crowd films: make something inexpensive and carefully market the film, then be happy when it takes in $60-70 million.


Photos courtesy of WENN, ‘Ben-Hur’.

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102 Responses to “‘Ben-Hur’ $100 million remake flops hard at the box-office: who is to blame?”

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  1. lilacflowers says:

    There was no need for or demand for this film. Jack Huston will survive; he is a good actor and he is Hollywood royalty.

    • Jellybean says:

      Yes, the Hollywood establishment will fall over backwards and wave their legs in the air for this guy, good actor or not.

    • Mata says:

      “There was no need for or demand for this film.” Yup, that’s it right there in a nutshell.

  2. freebunny says:

    Never heard about this movie before today, perhaps it’s the problem?

    • Mgsota says:

      That’s what I was going to say. I haven’t seen a trailer, no promotions, nothing.

    • Almondjoy says:

      Same here! I had no idea

    • Soror Bro says:

      I haven’t heard of him eitheir.

    • Myriam says:

      I don’t have regular television/cable so I don’t know whether they advertised heavily on that. I do have Apple TV and netflix/Hulu/etc accounts. I saw it a few times so I know they did something but I thought it was going to be a television show, not a movie. So they definitely didn’t promote this move as good as they should have for a $100 million movie. I did see the Jennifer Garner movie trailer though and even though I didn’t pay much attention to it (I just found out it was a churchy film via this article), I at least knew it was a movie

    • AtlLady says:

      I didn’t even hear any scuttle-butt that it was being made.

    • Cranberry says:

      I wonder if the investors pulled out of marketing it in any significant way because the film was not going to come close to breaking even and they were never going to recover the $100m they put into making it. They read the the writing on the wall and cut their loses before the movie could even attempt to get off the ground.

    • lucy2 says:

      I only saw ads for it this weekend on TV, nowhere else. I’m in the NYC market, usually lots of movie ads, but very little for this.

      Maybe it’s one of those deals where they will make more money on the insurance or write down?

    • Kimberly says:

      I saw a billboard for it (and thought it was coming on TNT) when I was on vacay in LA a few weeks ago. That was the first and last I’ve heard of it.

    • Bread and Circuses says:

      I had heard, very recently, that Ben Hur was going to have a remake.

      I had ZERO idea it was on the brink of being released.

  3. Nicole says:

    Didn’t even know this was a movie that was coming out

  4. silken_floss says:

    I knew the lead actor from Boardwalk Empire, but that’s pretty much it.

    • wood dragon says:

      And his character was one of the most compelling ones on that show. Fans grieved when his war vet. character died.

      • amilu says:

        Absolutely. He was AMAZING on Boardwalk Empire — easily the main reason I watched the show. Richard Harrow made me a forever fan of Jack Huston, but I’m still ambivalent about Ben-Hur.

    • holly hobby says:

      He played Alan Alda’s younger role in the Longest Ride (Scott Eastwood sob fest). He’s also related to Anjelica Huston (not sure how but I vaguely remembered he’s from that branch of the family.

      Other than that, I haven’t seen much of his work.

  5. Naya says:

    Roma Downey produced this so you know the Christian messaging wasn’t clever or subtle. Her association makes it an instant turn off for non religious audiences.

  6. magda says:

    Trailer was awful (not the main reason for poor numbers but still).

    • annaloo. says:

      The trailer was awful, I couldn’t believe Morgan Freeman was in this (That was him in the dreads, right?)

      And who knows. I feel like going to see movies is the same as shopping for clothes these days: no joy. It’s pricey and the quality is crap.

      And John Huston will be fine, he has that family name to rest on.

  7. Carmen says:

    What was even the point of making this movie? Somebody should have told the studio it’s not the 1950s any more.

    • Neelyo says:

      Seriously. What’s next, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

      • Carmen says:

        Or “The Silver Chalice” or “The Robe”. That biblical quatsch used to pack the theaters back in the day when people were terrified of the pernicious influence of Godless Communism.

      • Carmen says:

        I was never able to get into any of Heston’s movies. I just couldn’t get past all those teeth.

      • Cranberry says:

        Me either. Mr rugged leading man all the way, but that was it. Never found him appealing at all.

  8. Stella in NH says:

    Could it also be that the audience is tired of remakes? Where are the original ideas in Hollywood? Are they all gone?

    • Here's Wilson says:

      I, for one, am so over remakes. It’s as if hollyweird has run out of creativity. I’ve been saying this for a couple years and cannot say the last film I watched, mainly for this reason.

      And this ^^. I wasnt familiar with the story line. Not trying to sound offensive but you honestly could not give me money to watch a Christian based film.

      • vaultdweller101 says:

        I don’t think it’s run out of creativity. I think there are a lot of creative writers and story-makers in Hollywood. I tend to think it’s about money. The studios seem scared to take a chance on innovative, new ideas. Hence, all these garbage re-makes.

    • LAK says:

      Hollywood has been remaking films since the beginning. There is hardly a successful film that hasn’t been remade. It’s what hollywood has always done.

      This particular BEN-HUR remake is actually no 4 even though people tend to remember remake no 3 with Charlton Heston and forget the previous 2 outings which were pretty successful in their day.

      It’s a gamble. Some work and others do not.

      • Here's Wilson says:

        Maybe I should have considered saying remakes of movies to which I’m already somewhat familiar, plot, title, whatever. I’m completely pissed Petes Dragon was remade, a childhood – and even adulthood -favorite. They are ruining it! Stop!

        Everything is a play on something else I guess and I’m conditioned to my own experiences. I miss the surprise and awe of seeing something I haven’t seen before.

      • LAK says:

        It depends on how the remake. Not all are bad, and i tjink you miss out if you are going to abandon remakes altogether because some versions improve on the original whilst others update a story in entertaining ways.

        On a personal note, i love every version of A STAR IS BORN – there are 3 versions. Ditto THE KING AND I – 3 versions, a TV series and endless broadway revivals, not forgetting the novel that started it all.

        THE SEVEN SAMURAI being remade into THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN didn’t ruin the original and i’m looking forward to the new remake coming out later this year. Ditto THE INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy wasn’t ruined by being remade into THE DEPARTED. I enjoy every modern retelling of Shakespeare from WESTSIDE STORY (Romeo and Juliet) to 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU/KISS ME KATE (Taming of the shrew).

        What annoys is where the remake is a lazy money grab. Like the upcoming MUMMY series. This particular franchise reboot will be no 5. I hope it doesn’t lead to more films in the franchise as it did with the other 4 reboots because that would officially make the new film no 14 plus 4 Scorpion King spin offs!!!

    • Belle Epoch says:

      What STELLA said!

  9. Miss Jupitero says:

    It was made specifically for the evangelical crowd– emphasizing the Jesus component in a ham-fisted way while erasing a gay subplot entirely.

    The producers completely over estimated how much box office draw this could have. They didn’t even try to give it broader appeal. I remember when they were casting and was astonished that TommyAnnE was even considering it, but hey.

    Jack Huston is about as well connected as they come. He’ll be fine.

    • freebunny says:

      Lol, I remember now.
      Sometimes (often) Thomas has the worst ideas for his career.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        I wouldn’t assume he has a whole lot of choices. He has to stay visible. When he took on Crimson Peak, he gushed about how terrifying the script was and how he cried when he read it. Well, I read that early draft and I think he cried for other reasons.

      • lilacflowers says:

        They pursued him; he did not pursue them. He turned it down.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Oh he did turn it down in the end, but I heard he did audition and was considering it. What did you hear?

      • freebunny says:

        I don’t know if he turn them or they turn him but I remember it was a bad project on paper at the time and I was quite relieved, even if I’m not a fan, that he didn’t get that role.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        He totally dodged a bullet. Can you imagine what this year would be like if he had THAT on top of ISTL, Crimson Peak, and Tiddlesbanging?

      • Cranberry says:

        I thought TH turned it down. I’m not sure he even auditioned. They seemed really hot on getting him though. They probably thought they could get him since he was freed up from the crow movie and the Atwell project falling through. Thank god he knew to pass.

    • lilacflowers says:

      But then the trailers and TV commercial didn’t mention the Jesus component at all so they weren’t reaching out to their intended audience. And Morgan Freeman looked like his Lego Movie God character.

      • I Choose Me says:

        And Morgan Freeman looked like his Lego Movie God character.

        Ha. Snort. I said the exact same thing to my husband. Then I rolled my eyes cause I can’t believe they’re still doing the wise old black man trope.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Oh but the trailer has a field day with the “evil, evil pagans,” and there is plenty of crucifix imagery in there. Every word in that trailer would resonate for the Evangelical crowd, including the emphasis on family.

        I haven’t seen the film, but the advanced press emphasized production’s interest in the Christian part of the story. It isn’t surprising– the original novel was one of the most influential Christian novels of the 19th century and was explicitly intended to evangelize. It’s a classic if you are part of that religious crowd. They may have done okay if they scaled back costs and recognized that this is a very small demographic.

      • Cranberry says:

        I read somewhere that they did not market hard enough and early enough to the evangelical audience.

      • amilu says:

        This. I had no idea they were marketing this to the evangelical crowd. I never planned on seeing this at the theater, but I’m not sure I would even watch it on cable after learning that. Roma Downey = Nope!

  10. Squiggisbig says:

    Maybe people are tired of seeing remakes?

  11. juice says:

    the problem isn’t attaching movies to unknowns or poor marketing. the problem is hollywood’s need to bloat budgets and spend a fortune on cgi and visual effects to make every movie over-the-top exciting to try and capture the audience’s ever-shorter attention span and interest.

    hollywood execs need to step back from their desire for every movie to be a several-hundred million dollar hit.

    • Miss Jupitero says:

      In publishing we call it the Harry Potter syndrome. Everything has to be a huge over the top blockbuster with seven volumes and movie rights. In film, it’s all about the teenage boy demographic. The results are pretty sad.

      • juice says:

        it’s frustrating and disappointing that that is what we’ve come to. i don’t understand why these execs (in publishing or in film) can’t let the truly special and remarkable fill the blockbuster role and not expect everything to be special and remarkable and a blockbuster. it’s not realistic. and it’s sad that the good, but not blockbuster, projects get shafted because they no longer fit the mould.

        it’s become a vicious circle.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        My cousin is a novelist who had her work accepted by a publisher– who then killed her book, and dozens of others, to make room for one of those seven-volume blockbuster projects. She spent years on the project and working with that particular editor. All of it, right down the crapper. Man, don’t get me started. It’s awful.

  12. amanda says:

    I wanted to go see a movie this weekend and considered this one. I got 1 min into the trailer and decided to binge watch Stranger Things instead. The lead actor in this was a complete miscast. He does not have the charm to overcome his supporting actor caliber face.

  13. Bridget says:

    Faith based movies can do really well, but tend to have smaller budgets and get more bang for your buck. A $100 million biblical epic re-make that no one was asking for wasn’t a good investment.

    • Bonzo says:

      Exactly. Case in point: War Room. 3 mill budget that was a huge hit with faith-based audiences and went on to gross 67 mill domestically.

      • Bridget says:

        That’s like whatever idiot thought Ghostbusters should have been a $140 million movie. Budgets, folks.

  14. Margo S. says:

    The original Ben Hur is a classic. If they were going to remake it and wanted it to be a success then needed to have famous actor in the title role, not Angelica Hustons nephew. It would be the same as re making like Citizen Cane with a nobody playing Cane. People arent going to see it. Can’t even believe they spend so much on this film.

    • Carebare says:

      Which “original”? The one in 1907, 1925, or 1959?

      • Margo S. says:

        Obviously the 1959 one with Charlton Heston. Incredible for the time. Didn’t even know there were others but I guess if it’s a Christian bible thing makes sense that there would be others.

      • Sam says:

        The 1925 version is worth watching. The chariot race isn’t quite as good as the 1959 version (no wide screen Technicolor) , but it’s still pretty impressive. The 1925 sea battle scene actually much better (although sadly several extras drowned during the filming).

        A remake needs to bring something new and fresh to the table, and by that measure, this latest remake is completely unnecessary. Its stunts cannot rival those of classic Hollywood, given modern safety concerns, and we’ve seen more than enough CG ancient Rome.

        @Margo S. – Ben-Hur was a very popular novel written by a Civil War general.

    • Beatrice says:

      True! The studio would have been better off re-mastering and re-releasing the Charlton Heston version!

    • Bonzo says:

      It was doomed from the start since the younger audience won’t be interested in it and the older audience sees the original as sacrosanct.

      • SusanneToo says:

        I saw the ’59 version when it was first released(as a young movie mad teen). I hated it. I thought it was just another cheesy, overblown, poorly acted DeMille epic. Hardly a classic. I still hold that opinion.

      • SusanneToo says:

        Let me revise that to “DeMille-style epic” as he didn’t direct it, but my dislike of it still stands.

  15. Prairiegirl says:

    Who’s to blame? The idiot(s) who greenlit a remake that no one asked for, wasn’t artistically necessary, and of a genre that is no longer popular. I mean, come ON.

    Hollywood: new content please!

  16. grabbyhands says:

    Re: Jack Huston.

    I feel like I still haven’t gotten over Richard Harrow’s death in Boardwalk Empire. That’s all I got.

    • lilacflowers says:

      He was so heartbreaking as that character, despite the fact that he was playing a hit man.

    • Maire3 says:

      Same here. ::wipes tear::

    • Hodgekiss says:

      Yeah that’s what I came here to say. I rewatched the whole of Boardwalk Empire recently and for all the sudden, violent and shocking deaths in the show, Harrow’s was the one that seemed needlessly cruel. Would it have been so bad to let him have a happy ending? They gave him what he always wanted – a family who loved him – and then STABBED US ALL THROUGH THE HEART.

      I was so distraught by it the first time around, I couldn’t watch the final season when it aired. I only watched it maybe a year ago.

      ANYWAY. This film does look pretty bad, but it’s not like terrible films never make any money, likewise films without huge stars can and do do well. The marketing was awful; I knew of the film’s existence but didn’t realise it was coming out until I saw a TV ad for it last week. You don’t make a $100 million action epic and then market it to one very specific audience, surely? The Christian films that succeed have tiny budgets and wind up being profitable because they were cheap…

  17. Bohemianmartini says:

    Wait… They remade this movie…why? And with who? Some publicist just lost her wings.

  18. Moxie Remon says:

    You know who I really feel sorry for? Toby Kebbell. He’s a fine actor, but in box office, it seems to be flop after flop. Maybe he has a problem to choose projects, so I hope Kong delivers, for his sake.

    • LAK says:

      Toby is the new Taylor Kitsch!!!

      • Ji-yun says:

        Ha! I love him but he’s really got to get some proper roles and not these ones that make me really, really hate forking over my cash because I may have a slight crush on him.

    • Cranberry says:

      Aw, I didn’t know he is in KSI. He and Hiddles get to work with each other again. Although I don’t think they had any scenes together in War Horse.

    • Anna L says:

      That’s what I was thinking! Jack Huston will be fine, but poor Toby Kebbell–this is the third massive flop he’s been in, and it’s not his fault! He’s a good actor who deserves a lot better. I hope this doesn’t kill his career.

  19. QQ says:

    Jack Huston is SO GODDAMN FINE!! its a damned shame they covered him in all manner of DesertTales costumey garbage… well and that he got talked into redoing Ben -Hur ffs

  20. justme says:

    It flopped because it’s another unnecessary remake. What’s next? Remake of The Godfather? Goodfella? Casablanca?

    • vaultdweller101 says:

      I just read an article a few days ago that said some studio had just greenlit a Casablanca remake. They asked that guy who directed the latest Ghostbusters movie to helm the project.

      Not sure how true it is, or if it will come to fruition, but damn. What a joke. Leave the classics alone.

      • justme says:

        sweet jeebus I hope that’s a joke. there is NO ONE today who can compare to Bogart and Bergman and Raines. NO ONE.

      • Betsy says:

        @justme – there could be, but you’d never know it because they keep shoving the same twelve actors at us, and unless you’re one of the anointed, you’re relegated to bit parts and weird tv shows. Enjoyable, but with none of the excitement as “the movies.”

      • Cranberry says:

        What about Ralph Fiennes? He’s not particularly like Bogart, but he’s a good actor that can fill the role and bring some weight to it. It can’t be anyone that’s too pop-culture or too young. Maybe Russel Crow 10 yrs ago.

  21. Josefina says:

    I know remakes have always been made, but I try to think of all the big summer movies released this year and all the non-remakes are superhero films. Maybe that’s the problem?

    Shocked to see Suicide Squad do so well. I don’t think the film was as bad as the critics put it, but it was NOT good. It’s definitely not a film worth paying to watch, imo.

    • Cranberry says:

      I think it’s disgusting all the underage kids that were taken to see it cause god forbid they miss out on the latest hyped-up action movie and be left out of the social discourse at school.

  22. Veronica says:

    Well, considering none of the three adults in my house had even heard about it, promotion likely had to do a lot with it.

  23. Madpoe says:

    If Hollywood would STOP with remakes or “re-imagining’ sh*t that was done already (and some never truly needed to be redone)- that could be a big step in saving some money (face) for them.

  24. A movie that no one wanted flopped because no one went to see it.

    How could the studio not have seen it coming?!

    • CoolNewName says:

      Somehow they never quite get this concept……

    • Caz says:

      this x 1000%

      A focus group of 10 or so people with an hour’s discussion would have told them it was a bad idea.

      At least the actors & crew got paid for their work.

  25. Bridget says:

    What’s with a ton of money being put into movies that sound utterly unappealing? This, Gods of Egypt (or whatever that Ridley Scott/Christian Bale debacle was), Heart Of The Ocean – these are incredibly expensive movies that sound like ideas that people go with because they can’t come up with anything else.

    • Josefina says:

      It makes me furious when I see obviously expensive films flopping. You could build a hospital here with the production costs of some of those movies. It’s already questionable so much money is being used on mindless entertainment, let alone be wasted on bad, obvious failures.

  26. lunchcoma says:

    Leave it to Hollywood to conclude the lesson here is that movie stars matter (something that lets them avoid change in so many ways).

    Modern movie watchers don’t care about Biblical sword and sandal epics, even if some filmmakers think it would be fun to make one and some studio executives like anything that reminds them of the good old days. Fundamentalis Christians are part of that broad modern audience – just because they’ll pay to see a contemporary film that caters to their worldview doesn’t mean they’re any more interested in this material than anyone else. They can watch the original on Turner Classic Movies too.

  27. Kate says:

    The studio execs that thought it would be a good idea to destroy a timeless classic are to blame. No one else.

  28. Bee says:

    Saw an online ad for this (against my wishes) but tapped out when the angsty “I will have my revenge” quotes started. I’ve already seen Gladiator.

  29. Ellis says:

    Dear Hollywood,
    The 1959 version of Ben Hur was perfect. Perfect. You can’t improve on it. It was a “period piece”, see, so once perfection was achieved, it has no expiration date. What’s more, back then, writers knew how to write so you were transported to the time and place. Understand? That’s why people used to enjoy going to movies, to get away for a while. Now, when modern writers write, they used modern vernacular in period movies so they become comedies, i.e.: Noah, God & Kings, Gods of Egypt, etc. If you want to remake a movie, try one that has not stood the test of time and could benefit from modern technology. Or one that was a really good idea, but really badly done. They call it “revamping”. Stay away from New or Old Testament movies for which, very obviously, you have no one who can write them properly. Please stop. By all that is holy, please stop.