During a weekend with three major new releases, holdovers “Suicide Squad,” from Warner Bros., and “Sausage Party,” from Sony, maintained their top spots at the box office. This means the big-budget reimagining of “Ben-Hur,” from Paramount Pictures and MGM, is one of the biggest flops of the summer.
The third version of Lew Wallace’s 19th century novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” took in an estimated $11.4 million in the U.S and Canada, which was only good enough for fifth place. It met analyst projections of $10 million to $15 million, though the studio was aiming for an opening of $20 million in ticket sales. Such a performance is an unequivocal poor result for a movie that cost about $100 million to make (after rebates). The film brought in $10.7 million internationally.
“Remaking a classic movie does put you under a microscope,” said Megan Colligan, the studio’s head of distribution. “You’re playing with something that is classic. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
One of the biggest challenges Paramount faced was how to top the 1959 Charlton Heston classic, which won 11 Oscars, was a huge financial success and is considered a landmark Hollywood epic. (There was also a 1925 silent film version of the tale.) The new project was directed by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted”) with Jack Huston ("American Hustle”) as the title character.
The film’s updated action sequences, including the climactic chariot race, and an uplifting faith-based message seem to have worked for folks who actually went to see the picture. Moviegoers gave it an A-minus on CinemaScore. Cities in Orange County, Texas and along the Bible belt over performed.
Critics, however, weren’t impressed, with only 29% on Rotten Tomatoes rating the picture favorably.
Colligan, however, has higher hopes for the film’s international run, which the studio is projecting to hit between $80 million and $100 million.
This major summer flop is another headache for Paramount, which is dealing with a mostly lackluster year at the box office. The Los Angeles-based, Viacom Inc.-owned company is ranked No. 5 out of the six major studios in terms of domestic box-office market share this year, ahead of Sony Pictures.
MGM, the company behind the original “Ben-Hur” movies, put up the majority of the production costs for the new film.
“Suicide Squad” added another estimated $20.7 million in its third week, landing in first place. Its domestic total to date is about $262.3 million. The $175-million film is on its way to the $600-million worldwide mark.
“Sausage Party,” last weekend’s surprise, R-rated animated hit, pulled in $15.3 million. Just a 55% week-to-week drop, the $19-million film has grossed $65.3 million to date.
Of the new releases, Warner Bros.’ “War Dogs” performed best, nabbing the No. 3 spot with $14.3 million. It met analyst projections of $12 million to $15 million and is a respectable start for a film that cost less than $50 million to make.
“It’s smart. It’s hip. It’s Todd [Phillips],” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ distribution chief. “It had a solid performance as we had anticipated.”
Based on a true story, "War Dogs” stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as a pair of twentysomething American hotshots who score a lucrative Pentagon contract to run guns for U.S. allies in Afghanistan. It’s directed by Phillips of “The Hangover.”
Audiences and critics appear split over the picture. Moviegoers gave “War Dogs” a B CinemaScore, while only 58% of Rotten Tomatoes reviews rated it positively.
Internationally, the film has grossed an estimated $6.5 million in 31 markets. Its debut in Russia and Australia were highlights for the studio as they look forward to premiering in the U.K. on Aug. 26 and Mexico on Sept. 2.
“Kubo and the Two Strings," the latest from stop-motion animation studio Laika Entertainment, landed in fourth with $12.6 million, barely meeting analyst expectations of $12 million to $15 million. Focus Features is releasing the picture for Laika, which is known for quirky family offerings such as “Coraline" and “The Boxtrolls.”
The animated tale follows a young boy as he fights off gods and monsters to solve the mystery of his father's death. It’s voiced by Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, among others.
Reception of the picture has been positive for audiences and critics. Moviegoers gave it an A CinemaScore and a massive 96% of Rotten Tomatoes critics, of a total 121 reviews, favored it.
Laika did not disclose the budget for “Kubo,” about a boy in Japan who embarks on an heroic quest, but the Portland, Ore.-based studio’s movies usually cost $55 million to $60 million to make.
In limited release, Focus World’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness” debuted in two theaters, at Los Angeles’ Landmark and New York City’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema, to $36,000. That’s a per screen average of $18,000 for the picture in which Natalie Portman stars opposite Amir Tessler in 1940s Jerusalem. Portman also serves as director.