‘Ben-Hur’ (Photo: MGM/Paramount)
By Brett Lang, Variety
Ben-Hur could lose $100 million after collapsing at the box office last weekend.
The biblical epic cost well over $100 million to produce and tens of millions to market and distribute globally. That amounts to a hefty price, one that stands little chance of being recouped following Ben-Hur’s paltry $11.2 million domestic debut. The film will be lucky to top out at $30 million when it finishes its stateside run, and will almost certainly shed screens next weekend as theaters try to move more popular films onto that real estate.
Those estimates come from executives at rival studios. Sources close to the film, however, believe the ultimate losses will likely be between $60 million and $75 million, because they think that the film could do well on DVD and other home entertainment platforms. Ben-Hur seemed to resonate more strongly in the South, particularly with faith-based consumers.
Overseas, Ben-Hur may fare better. The film kicked off to $10.7 million from 18 international markets, representing 31 percent of territories where the movie will ultimately roll out. It could do $100 million of business overseas by the time it ends its run. It’s not clear what percentage of that will flow back to the film’s backers. Domestically, studios get roughly half of a film’s ticket sales, but internationally it varies by territory. Sources at rival studios put the film’s break-even point at approximately $250 million globally.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had some recent success with Barbershop: The Next Cut and the romantic drama Me Before You, put up more than half of the film’s budget with Paramount chipping in the rest and foreign distributors defraying production costs, sources say. Warner Bros. was originally approached to partner on the film, but passed, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. The studios’ financial risk was somewhat off-set by some foreign pre-sales, which helped reduce their overall exposure.
Ben-Hur follows a prince who seeks revenge against the Roman soldier who betrayed him by becoming a chariot racer. The film is the latest adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. A 1959 version with Charlton Heston was a box-office smash and scored an Oscar for Best Picture. That latest iteration stars Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman, with Timur Bekmambetov, who previously oversaw Wanted, directing.
Ben-Hur’s backers courted religious leaders extensively, holding a series of tastemaker screenings and producing spots with pastors and other figures from the Christian community espousing the film’s biblical values.
Paramount has had a rough run at the box office. It will likely make money on Star Trek Beyond, but it failed to draw crowds to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Zoolander 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Paramount’s financial performance is expected to come under much closer scrutiny by parent Viacom, whose board is planning to meet soon with its management to review the studio’s 2016 performance and 2017 budget.