The upcoming historical epic Ben-Hur has more in common with the popular 1959 version starring Charlton Heston than naysayers would have you believe. As noted by Film Journal, the two movies are based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Both Ben-Hur films will be big budget epics, and they’ll also both contain somewhat of a religious theme.
You can even argue that the religious element of the new Ben-Hur, which stars Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston in the lead role, will be even less subtle about the Christ imagery.
However, where similarities end, the real problems begin. In fact, there are a few reasons that suggest wannabe blockbuster Ben-Hur is, in fact, utterly doomed.
First problem: The timing of the film’s release. Ben-Hur hits theaters on August 19, which is near the close of the summer movie season. Late August would ordinarily be a perfect place to plant a big-budget tentpole movie. This year, summer blockbuster success is down, and thanks to San Diego Comic-Con, moviegoers are now buzzing about big screen features due out in late 2017 and throughout 2018.
The only upcoming movie that earned a hype bump after SDCC was Suicide Squad, a DC comic book movie coming out in a few days. Although Ben-Hur dropped a new trailer, the reaction to the film has thus far been palpably more negative than the reception Suicide Squad received. For the most part, Ben-Hur was ignored.
That means aside from moderate outrage, Ben-Hur is in danger of being completely forgotten.
The second complication working against Ben-Hur is that, ironically, it manages to be less progressive than the 1959 take that came before it. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the commentary on the purposeful use of gay subtext in the previous Ben-Hur.
Timur Bekmambetov, the director of the 2016 version of Ben-Hur, has not exactly said anything to suggest the “former lovers” angle would make an appearance in the remake. In fact, the trailers have thus far given away nothing of the sort.
That will no doubt anger LGBT Americans who want to see more representation on the big screen. Erasing the homoerotic aspect of Ben-Hur while playing up the epic chariot race may seem like a total homophobic cop-out.
Even worse for Ben-Hur: If this was done to please Christian audiences, there are other elements suggested by trailers that could see Ben-Hur fail here as well.
Perhaps the first Ben-Hur trailer’s absolute lack of Christ (despite copious amounts of Christ imagery) was what inspired the second trailer to actually show the movie’s Jesus — as a way of reassuring Christian moviegoers.
In the previous version of Ben-Hur, Jesus didn’t talk. The acting was still impactful, but the remake showing a talking Jesus is a red flag. It suggests Ben-Hur will probably lack the subtlety to convey powerful movie messages that made the previous version an enduring classic.
Also, the sight of the religious figure demonstrates the enduring message of Hollywood’s racist “White Jesus” iconography. Yes, even an attempt at diversity via Morgan Freeman isn’t going to get people to ignore pro-white supremacy Christian whitewashing.
And so Ben-Hur will probably anger ultra conservatives for some reasons and non-white moviegoers for another.
Fourth and finally, Ben-Hur is in danger of failing to break even based on early estimates. According to Business Insider, Ben-Hur cost “just under $100 million to make.” That budget seems relatively tame when compared to the hundreds of millions routinely spent on superhero films.
The 1959 version of Ben-Hur was the most expensive blockbuster in history at the time of its release, costing approximately $15 million. And yet, as Movie Pilot points out, it grossed 10 times its budget in theaters.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Ben-Hur is expected to open “between $14 million and $15 million domestically.” And that’s without movie reviews or word of mouth via social media. If feedback isn’t kind, it could drive Ben-Hur’s earnings down even lower.
Such a disaster could drive earnings too far into the red to justify the existence of a modern Ben-Hur remake in the first place.
Do you plan to see Ben-Hur? Do you think Ben-Hur will flop or exceed expectations? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
[Image via Paramount]