This summer was noteworthy for several box office disappointments. Outside of a handful of titles, most of the big-budget studio fare stumbled commercially. Even a well-received film like Star Trek Beyond has only managed $293.8 million worldwide to date. Several would-be tentpoles and franchise starters fell short of their aspirations, and Hollywood may have saved the biggest flop of them all for last.
In August, Paramount released a $100 million remake of the epic Ben-Hur, and the results were clearly not what the studio was hoping for. Receiving a critical drubbing (read our review), the film came in sixth place during its opening weekend, grossing a measly $11.2 million at the box office. It became apparent that it was going to lose Paramount a great deal of money, and now the full extent of the potential damages has been revealed.
According to THR, Paramount and MGM are facing a $120 million loss for their investment. As of this writing, Ben-Hur has made just $54 million worldwide, which is obviously disastrous. Though it still has yet to open in several international markets, the foreign box office is not expected to be a saving grace. Per the report, Ben-Hur will have difficulties crossing $75 million globally. Since MGM footed more than 80 percent of the production budget, they will be hit the hardest. Paramount is expected to lose around $13 million.
While a number of the high profile films faltered this year, the season received a boost from several moderately-budgeted works that found an audience. For instance, MGM’s own Me Before You brought in a strong $200.6 million worldwide, and the comedy Bad Moms grossed $141.9 million globally. It will be interesting to see what lessons (if any) the studios learn from this turn of events. One of the reasons why distributors were interested in the Dan Gilroy legal drama Inner City (starring Denzel Washington) is because a number of them saw diminishing returns with hopeful blockbusters in 2016 and were looking for something to turn a profit. There’s a greater chance a film makes money if it’s more cost-effective.
Still, one bad season won’t be enough to completely discourage studios. They just need to be smarter about what they green light. Franchises like Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the DC Extended Universe all post high numbers, meaning that audiences remain interested in genre pictures. Ben-Hur is a special situation in that there wasn’t really a demand for it, so it was ill-fated from the start. Moving forward, the companies will need to manage their film slates better so they can avoid more incidents such as this.
In the meantime, Paramount should be able to bounce back from this setback. Their fall line-up is full of intriguing films that should draw in moviegoers. Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival is generating substantial buzz out of the fall festivals and has a budget of “just” $50 million. Additionally, their other prestige offerings, like Allied and Fences, should do fine. On the franchise side of things, Paramount has Transformers: The Last Knight coming next summer, and that series consistently hits $1 billion worldwide. Ben-Hur was a colossal misfire, but it shouldn’t be the start of a downward trend.
Ben-Hur is now playing in U.S. theaters.