Ben-Hur

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  • Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov
  • Written By: Lew Wallace, Keith R. Clarke, John Ridley
  • Release Date: August 19, 2016
  • Domestic Distributor: Paramount
  • Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Morgan Freeman

Box Office Info:
Budget: $100 millionFinanced by: MGM; Paramount
Domestic Gross: $26,410,477Overseas Gross: $67,650,834

ben-hur 2016
In February 2013 MGM landed a $650 million credit line from JP Morgan, which would help get the lion to be a functional studio once again, since they had to borrow from both Warner Bros and Sony to pay for their backend in hits like The Hobbit and Skyfall.  Flush with cash, MGM began active development in 2013 on the third big screen feature of Ben-Hur after the successful 1925 and 1959 films. 

The budget for Ben-Hur was $100 million and in April 2014, Paramount boarded the project and would co-finance 20% of the movie and handle domestic distribution and the bulk of budget would be covered by MGM.  After Paramount ran into problems with the religious community over the movie Noah, MGM added their president of Television Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey as producers — who were fresh off producing the miniseries The Bible and the film that recycled footage from The Bible, “Son Of God.”

Ben-Hur entered production in early 2015 and it was scheduled for release on February 26, 2016 which was the same weekend frame that The Passion Of The Christ opened on in 2004.  As the release date approached, there was not a peep from either studio about the expensive remake and no trailers were cut and not even a still image of the movie was issued.  At the end of October 2015, Paramount broke their silence on Ben-Hur by delaying it until August 12.  Paramount then dated Florence Foster Jenkins for August 12 and moved Ben-Hur back a week to August 19, where it would open against War Dogs and Kubo and the Two Strings.

The marketing material was split between appealing to action aficionados and faith based audiences.  The parallel marketing approach was reflected in TV spots and trailers, which some made no mention of anything religious and others were full of Jesus imagery and Christian rock music.  Paramount gave Ben-Hur a very strong marketing push, with pricey ads playing throughout the Rio Olympics, including TV spots that spliced in olympic athletes.  Paramount and MGM also partnered with numerous marketing organizations that helped with a grassroots campaign to attract religious auds.  A Ben-Hur Church Kit was sent out to churches, as a four-week sermon series and numerous screenings were held at churches across the country.

Despite the aggressive marketing and high audience awareness, tracking was coming in very soft for the movie and Paramount had hopes that the pic would reach $20 million opening weekend, but more conservative estimates placed an opening closer to $15 million.  Reviews were awful and it came in far below estimates with $11,203,815 in 3,084 theaters.  It placed #6 for the weekend led by holdovers Suicide Squad and Sausage Party.  Along with the the hubris of remaking a classic best picture winner, producers Burnett and Downey who call themselves “Hollywood’s noisiest Christians” had declared that Ben-Hur “will be the most anticipated movie release of 2016.”  After Ben-Hur‘s dismal opening weekend, Downey wailed on Facebook, “Fill me up Lord, I am on empty!”  Bwahaha!

Despite being awarded an A- cinemascore from audiences, Ben-Hur collapsed 59.3% in its second weekend to $4,560,825.  The remake closed its domestic run with a terrible $26,410,477.  About $14.5 million would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross, leading MGM to announce a huge $47.8 million write-down on Ben-Hur.

Ben-Hur opened in 23 overseas markets and pulled in mixed results with $10.7 million.  In its second offshore weekend, it expanded to 35 territories and grossed $6.3 million.  The overseas cume stalled at $67.6 million.

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