Moviegoers put the hurt on ‘Ben-Hur’

The big-budget reimagining of “Ben-Hur” crashed and burned at the box office

LOS ANGELES — The big-budget reimagining of “Ben-Hur” crashed and burned at the box office, weighing in as one of the biggest flops of the summer during a weekend in which holdovers “Suicide Squad” and “Sausage Party” maintained their top spots.

The third version of Lew Wallace’s 19th century novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” from Paramount Pictures and MGM, took in an estimated $11.4 million in the U.S and Canada, which was only good enough for fifth place. Such a performance is an unequivocal poor result for a movie that cost about $100 million to make (after rebates). The film brought in $10.7 million internationally.

“Remaking a classic movie does put you under a microscope,” said Megan Colligan, the studio’s head of distribution. “You’re playing with something that is classic. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

One of the biggest challenges Paramount faced was how to top the 1959 Charlton Heston classic, which won 11 Oscars, was a huge financial success and is considered a landmark Hollywood epic. (There was also a 1925 silent film version of the tale.) The new project was directed by Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) with Jack Huston (“American Hustle”) as the title character.

The film’s updated action sequences, including the climactic chariot race, and an uplifting faith-based message seem to have worked for folks who actually went to see the picture. Moviegoers gave it an A-minus on CinemaScore. Audiences in Orange County, Calif.; Texas and along the Bible Belt turned out in droves.

Critics, however, weren’t impressed, giving the film a lowly 29 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The failure of “Ben-Hur” is another headache for Paramount, which is dealing with a mostly lackluster year at the box office. The Los Angeles-based, Viacom Inc.-owned company is ranked No. 5 out of the six major studios in terms of domestic box-office market share this year, ahead of Sony Pictures.

MGM, the company behind the original “Ben-Hur” movies, put up the majority of the production costs for the new film.

The superhero epic “Suicide Squad” from Warner Bros. added another estimated $20.7 million in its third week, landing in first place. Its domestic total to date is about $262.3 million. The R-rated Sausage Party” pulled in $15.3 million. With just a 55 percent week-to-week drop, the $19 million animated film has grossed $65.3 million to date.

Of the new releases, Warner Bros.’ “War Dogs” performed best, nabbing the No. 3 spot with $14.3 million. It met analyst projections of $12 million to $15 million and is a respectable start for a film that cost less than $50 million to make.

Based on a true story, “War Dogs” stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as a pair of twentysomething American hotshots who score a lucrative Pentagon contract to run guns for U.S. allies in Afghanistan.

“Kubo and the Two Strings,” the latest from stop-motion animation studio Laika Entertainment, landed in fourth with $12.6 million, barely meeting analyst expectations of $12 million to $15 million. Focus Features is releasing the picture for Laika, which is known for quirky family offerings such as “Coraline” and “The Boxtrolls.”

The animated tale follows a young boy as he fights off gods and monsters to solve the mystery of his father’s death. Reception of the picture has been positive for audiences and critics.

Laika did not disclose the budget for “Kubo,” about a boy in Japan who embarks on a heroic quest, but the Portland, Ore.-based studio’s movies usually cost $55 million to $60 million to make.