Film Review Ben-Hur

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur, left, and Morgan Freeman as Ilderim, left, in a scene from "Ben-Hur."

Associated Press

In scrolling through the movie headlines, two of Variety’s caught my eye – in that they both seemingly act against one another in the magazine’s interest in providing clickbait stories about the box office.

The magazine wrote both that “movie stars still matter” while also asking if the “critical thrashing” was to blame for Ben-Hur’s poor performance at the box office. Besides the fact that they are posing two separate issues with the movie, I’d also argue a third option is more likely – no one wanted to see a remake of “Ben-Hur.”

I know zero people who were interested in the movie from the start when it was greenlit to its opening in theaters this past weekend.

It wasn’t about a lack of major A-list actors (though Morgan Freeman is in it, and the main cast is still recognizable even if you don’t know their names). It was more about there not being a need to redo the tale of Ben Hur, and additionally not bring anything new to the table.

We might have an entirely different discussion on our hands if “Ben-Hur” promoted the heavier religious elements in the movie in order to get the crowds that went to other Christian movies, which is putting the genre into a money-making industry in line with horror movies.

Instead the movie promoted itself to be the next swords-and-sandals action flick – a genre that hasn’t had a big box office win in a long time.

And even though critics did indeed thrash and trash “Ben-Hur,” they did the same to “Suicide Squad,” which didn’t prevent that movie from making a ton of money or keeping its place at the top of the box office for the third straight weekend.

It’s something there that I think is at the heart of the issue.

The interest around “Suicide Squad” hit a peak when its non-traditional trailer hit because it looked like something new. Regardless of how you felt about superhero movies, “Suicide Squad” made a lot of promises to be something you hadn’t seen before.

Though I personally didn’t feel it lived up to that, I think most people were desperate for it (and may still be desperately clinging to the notion it was good because it tried).

Remakes seem to be an easy choice for studios since it involves the least amount of creativity, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll be a success. Audiences weren’t drawn to “The Legend of Tarzan,” nor did “Ghostbusters” turn out to be the hit that most people hoped or thought it would be.

“Pete’s Dragon,” despite being widely adored as something that put the magic back in movies, also did very poorly at the box office even though it was a remake of a classic children’s movie and it was a children’s movie in general (the latter tends to give you a pass for a popular summer box office draw).

None of these did well, possibly because there was no one really asking for any of those remakes to be made.

The outlier this year is “The Jungle Book,” and that could be due to the fact that it was a Disney film or that it did create a visual spectacle that was widely touted by critics.

It’ll also be interesting if “The Magnificent Seven” remake will likewise buck the trend and become a late September blockbuster. Westerns generally don’t do well in theaters and Denzel Washington movies haven’t been the kind of hits his movies have been in the past, but it could be enough for the movie to piggy back on Chris Pratt’s success in “Jurassic World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

I doubt many people are clambering for a remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” though admittedly, there probably weren’t many people in 1960 clambering for a remake of “The Seven Samurai” but in a western setting.

I think, like the original, it’s bringing something new to the table – and something that might stir crowds away from Netflix. It’s a risk, certainly, to do something original – Paul Feig learned that with “Ghostbusters,” and not all audiences will take a risk on a movie where they don’t know the characters or the plot – but I think the current lineup of too similar remakes and endless sequels is part of the reason why crowds are simply staying at home.

What do you think of "Ben-Hur" and this year's summer movies? Leave a comment or email me at ncreason@cumberlink.com.

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