Paramount remade the 1959 movie “Ben-Hur,” which won 11 Academy Awards — but critics are saying that the remake doesn’t even come close to the classic.
“Cheap and cheesy at every level, this ‘Ben-Hur’ barely qualifies as an epic,” wrote Seattle Times critic Soren Andersen, who contributed to the movie’s 37 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.
“If each generation gets the movie spectacles they deserve, then we probably had the new ‘Ben-Hur’ — a scattered and hokey, if well-meaning, mess — coming,” wrote TheWrap’s film critic Robert Abele.
The critically acclaimed 1959 film grossed $74 million on a budget of $15 million, which was the most money spent to make a movie at that time. The remake had a hefty budget of $100 million, and multiple trackers are currently setting its opening weekend gross at a paltry $12 million on average, while the studio is being more optimistic with a $20 million estimated gross.
See 9 of the worst reviews below.
Soren Andersen, The Seattle Times:
“Cheap and cheesy at every level, this ‘Ben-Hur’ barely qualifies as an epic. It’s a wholly unnecessary addition to the venerable franchise.”
Jonathan Pile, Empire Online:
“It almost certainly doesn’t need saying, but just in case — this latest feature-length version of ‘Ben-Hur’ will not be winning 11 Oscars. The sixth filmed version (a mini-series, two silent films, an animation and the famous one), it also follows the likes of ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Phantom Menace,’ which riffed on different elements of the story or the action. It’s an adequate retelling, mostly, but with moments of eye-rolling ineptitude.”
David Ehrlich, IndieWire:
“If each new ‘Ben-Hur’ is a reflection of the time in which it was made, this one may remember 2016 time as a grim time for blockbuster entertainment. But while our standards may change with the wind, our natures are set in stone. ‘Your situation is not unique,’ one character barks at the film’s eponymous hero, ‘and neither are you.’ However generic, forgettable and foolish as this ‘Ben-Hur’ may be, it mines some ancient strength in those words.”
Tim Grierson, Screen International:
“An epic tale of revenge and forgiveness with a junk-food centre, Timur Bekmambetov‘s Ben-Hur remake offers robust spectacle and some decent performances. But ultimately, the director of Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not the ideal filmmaker to capture this timeless story’s more nuanced emotional range, resulting in a movie whose good intentions are trampled by rampant earnestness and the project’s overall superflousness.”
Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger:
“What truly sinks the movie is the rest of the casting. With the ’59 film still regularly showing up on TCM (see clip below), this ‘Ben-Hur’ needs to work especially hard to stand on its own, creating its own indelible memories. But the only way it’s going to do that is by pulling in extraordinary people — charismatic actors who can hold the screen, and our eyes. Instead it has Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell.”
Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly:
“What has the passing of almost six decades given us? A fresh take on Ben-Hur that is more noble, dweeby, and neutered than a Sunday school in South Dakota.”
Daniel Eagan, Film Journal International:
“The acting in this version of ‘Ben-Hur’ is uniformly disappointing. Huston and Kebbell not only lack physical heft, they seem strangers, not mortal enemies fueled by hatred. (And don’t bother looking for a gay subtext — there’s barely a hint of physicality in the entire movie.) Freeman is oddly dispassionate, Santoro looks like he’s in a Hallmark TV movie, and even the superb Zurer is lost in a role that gives her nothing to do. It’s easy to see why Paramount and MGM would want to cash in on a proven property like ‘Ben-Hur’ (the 1959 version won 11 Academy Awards). With the success of shows like cable’s “Spartacus,” it’s too bad the studios couldn’t agree to invest a little more time and talent here.”
Matt Prigge, Metro:
“Bekmambetov seems bored trying to shoot clean, classical shots. He tries to spice up this stodgy Biblical epic; sometimes he knocks away the tripod to add some handheld grit. But he’s still stuck with a movie where actors stand around on-sets, barking exposition and stiff declamations. Eventually Morgan Freeman swings by to do little but look and sound like Morgan Freeman, like a famous star at the opening of a new McDonald’s. The actors do care, particularly Huston, who doesn’t try to be Heston, playing a flawed character, not a square-jawed icon.”
Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly:
“Both its running time (about two hours, compared to the 1959 film’s nearly four) and its overt religious message have been cut way back, leaving a truncated, plodding drama with minimal excitement and nothing worthwhile to say.”