The Movie Remake Machine Grinds On
Most moviegoers today were not alive when the original Ben Hur was released in 1925, so I’m sure that when it was remade in 1959 with Charlton Heston, there was not much of an uproar about it. Movie critics would agree though that the1959 version was considered a cinematic masterpiece in its day, with some of the largest set pieces ever assembled in Hollywood.
So of course it was only a matter of time before a couple of suits at MGM & Paramount poured over a list of classic movies and checked which ones have yet to be redone with a more modern look. This is a movie that nobody asked for and that eventually nobody will care about.
This is not the first time the movie industry has rehashed ideas just for the sake of lining the pockets of directors and actors. Part of this problem is the amount of remakes/reboots that Hollywood feels is necessary. To paraphrase Solomon “there is nothing new under the sun” and Hollywood is playing it to the hilt.
Unfortunately for Ben Hur, this was a stunning remake failure, even by today’s standards. The $100 million epic only took in an estimated $11.4 million over the opening weekend. One of the key factors that will be working against Ben Hur, is the international market and the audience it is failing to reach.
By comparison, the 2014 version of Robocop had an opening weekend of around $21.5 million with a budget of $100 million. The International box office took in $184 million, thus making it an extremely lucrative franchise that will surely spawn more sequels. Ben Hur will struggle to match that, as of recently the film currently has an international take around $10.7 million.
This is not inherently a bad thing. This process ebbs and flows throughout the years with varied success. For every Batman Begins there is going to be a Ghostbusters (2016). Where a movie studio gets it wrong, is when they take the original idea and transform the film into something completely different in tone, but leave the title in order to trigger our nostalgia happy center.
The Charlton Heston version clocked in at a whopping 3 hours and 44 minutes and had a lot of religious themes to go with some impressive chariot racing. Having a Christian theme in a film might not have been too much of a stretch to back on in 1959, but in 2016, it’s a bit of a reach. Mel Gibson’s Christ docu-drama Passion of the Christ is pretty much the benchmark for how to sell a Christian movie to the masses.
In this day in age, information can be accessed faster and better than it was 20 years ago, so the only way you would know if Cutthroat Island was any good, was to watch the trailer and make an assessment yourself, or to go pay and watch it. But now you can get hundreds of reviews at the drop of a hat and decide if a film is worth $10-15. Judging by the amount of fans and critics panning the film, it’s easy to see why Ben Hur is where it is.
This is in no way an indication that movie remakes are going to be in decline in the upcoming years. Movie flops happen on a weekly basis, So Ben Hur isn’t exactly the canary in the coal mine. In a four year span (2016-202) there is going to be roughly 140 remakes or reboots per IMDB.
These films are going to continue happen whether we like them or not, but we can certainly try to shape the direction of our beloved franchises with our wallets.