The 1959 cinematic masterpiece Ben-Hur was a Hollywood achievement that was utterly unrivaled by any other film of its time. It took home a staggering 11 Academy Awards, a record that would go unmatched until Titanic in 1998. Its litany of awards and achievements make it easily one of the most decorated pieces of art in human history, and is universally considered one of the greatest films ever made.
And now, in 2016, its remake is hoping to avoid a disastrous calamity of, well, Ben-Hur sized proportions.
The Paramount/MGM joint financed picture starring Morgan Freeman, Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, and Nazanin Boniadi is set to open this weekend, but executives have their expectation level set incredibly low. The film cost $100 million to make; some of the most positive estimates for a successful opening weekend put the box office numbers at $20 million when it debuts across 3,100 theaters. Though as Variety points out, “Outside tracking agencies are less bullish, pegging a debut in the $10 million to $15 million range, a disastrous result considering the film’s steep budget.”
A box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations said, “That would qualify it as possibly the bomb of the summer. A hundred million dollar film opening in the teens is unacceptable.”
Many of the films producers are hoping to draw in the “faith-based crowds” to the theaters to help propel some of those bleakest estimates, a maneuver that has led the studios to highlight the religiosity of Ben-Hur. Variety says:
Unlike the 1959 version of Lew Wallace’s tale, which never showed the face of Jesus, depicting him as a peripheral force in the narrative, this version puts the messiah front and center. The changes appear to be resonating with members of the faith-based community, who the studios have been courting with a series of tastemaker-screenings.
Competing against Ben-Hur will be the highly-anticipated War Dogs from Todd Phillips starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. Though the gritty arms dealer flick is expected to bring in about $12 million on its opening weekend, it only cost about $45 million to produce.
But as for Ben-Hur, the producers likely have their eyes firmly locked on its target demographic.
“It’s a movie that’s going to be inspiring to people of faith,” said film blogger Brian Godawa. “It’s a movie that portrays faith in an honest, positive way without being triumphalist.”
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