Why 'Ben-Hur' couldn't win box office race against 'Suicide Squad'

The 2016 remake of the classic story 'Ben-Hur' wasn't a big draw for audiences this past weekend, with the new film opening in fifth place, below films such as the DC Comics movie 'Suicide Squad.'

Philippe Antonello/Paramount Pictures/AP
'Ben-Hur' stars Jack Huston (l.) and Toby Kebbell (r.).

The classic film “Ben-Hur” may be famous for its action-packed chariot race, but it couldn’t summon the same sense of excitement at the box office this past weekend, where the new movie struggled, opening in fifth place below holdovers like “Suicide Squad.”

The DC Comics superhero film “Suicide Squad” came in first place at the domestic box office for the third weekend in a row, grossing more than $20 million this past weekend. The animated comedy “Sausage Party,” which originally opened on Aug. 12, came in second, taking in more than $15 million. 

The new movie “War Dogs,” which stars Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as arms dealers, came in third, grossing more than $14 million, while the new animated movie “Kubo and the Two Strings” placed fourth, grossing more than $12 million. 

“Ben-Hur” ended up in fifth, taking in more than $11 million.

The 2016 remake of the famous “Ben-Hur” story, which stars Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, is most likely familiar to audiences because of the classic 1959 film. What made moviegoers stay away from this new version of the story? 

Hollywood Reporter writer Pamela McClintock writes that studios MGM and Paramount weren’t able to reach out to younger moviegoers who wouldn’t have been born when the 1959 film first came out. Ms. McClintock notes that 95 percent of those who went to see the movie were over 25.

“Younger moviegoers had virtually no interest in seeing ‘Ben-Hur,’” McClintock writes. 

The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Rainer described the film as a "tepid 3-D extravaganza." 

A general rule of thumb has emerged: Movies in 3-D almost always feature dimensionless people. “Ben-Hur” is a striking example of this rule. Despite all the strain and suffering, it’s difficult to get worked up about anybody.

In addition, Variety writer Brent Lang writes that the problems “Ben-Hur” is having are the same difficulties that recent films set in ancient times have also faced. 

“The toga genre has reached its expiration date,” Mr. Lang writes. The 2000 movie “Gladiator” won the Best Picture and became a box office hit, “but attempts to recreate the magic of the Colosseum have failed to connect with audiences … ‘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 … the likes of ‘300’ or ‘Clash of the Titans’ aren’t successful enough to paper over all that red ink,” opines Lang.

And this can be an expensive genre to take a chance on. “Recreating the Ancient World doesn’t come cheap,” Lang writes. “Missing the mark can result in a big write-down.”

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