5 Reasons Why ‘Ben-Hur’ Bombed

The big-budgeted biblical bio failed to hit the faith-based sweet spot

Last Updated: August 22, 2016 @ 11:41 AM

It’s the box office flop Hollywood insiders saw coming weeks ahead of its release.

Paramount and MGM’s big-budget biblical epic “Ben-Hur” crash-landed in theaters this weekend opening to a paltry $11.4 million.

Made for $100 million, the movie will need some church-style saving in order to move out of the red.

Timur Bekmambetov‘s remake of the 1959 hit swaps Charlton Heston for Jack Huston as the prince Judah Ben-Hur, who seeks revenge on his adopted brother, a Roman army officer played by Toby Kebbell, after being falsely accused of treason and forced to spend years at sea.

Here are five reasons why the movie missed the mark:

1. Where was the fanbase?
It’s a reboot of a film that’s nearly 60 years old. Sure, 1959’s “Ben-Hur” was a monster hit back in the day, the 14th highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. But the only moviegoing audience familiar with the title nowadays are elderly. To younger audiences, even those who are middle-aged, “Ben-Hur” may as well be brand new.

2. The film lacked star power.
Yes, the budget was big, but spending $10 million more on a big-name star would have raised the floor on its extremely low opening number. The right star may have made the movie a hit even if critics hated it. This summer’s decades-later sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence” had same problem when Will Smith didn’t come aboard. In both cases, a brand name was not enough. “Ben-Hur” would have benefitted from a Will Smith, or his 2016 equivalent.

3. It didn’t hit the faith-based sweet spot.
“Ben-Hur” takes place during the time of Jesus — who makes an appearance in the story. But the story itself isn’t from the Bible and faith-based audiences may have lost touch with the story over the years. After all, the popular original novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” was first published in 1880.

4. It is a budget and marketing fail.
While “Ben-Hur” does drive home faith-based themes, the movie’s marketing instead revolved around the movie’s climactic chariot race. The point of its religious story wasn’t driven home enough among Christian audiences. Paramount could take a page out of Sony’s book: With its Affirm Films, the studio released six of the top ten faith-based titles of all time, all with production budgets leaps and bounds lower than $100 million. Sony and Affirm’s “Heaven is for Real” is No. 2 with $91 million, third place is “War Room” at $67 million, No. 4  is “Miracles From Heaven” with $61 million, No. 7 is “Soul Surfer” with $43 million, No. 9 is “Risen” at $36 million, and  No. 10 is “Courageous” having grossed $34 million.

5. Critics didn’t like it.
The film was roundly loathed by reviewers who panned it for being dimensionless and lacking the spectacle and mystery of the 1959 film. It earned a paltry 29 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and dismal 37 Metacritic score.