LOS ANGELES • Amid new pressure on Viacom to turn around Paramount Pictures, the studio misfired again over the weekend: Ben-Hur, which cost Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about US$100 million (S$135 million) to make, not including marketing expenses, arrived to a disastrous US$11.4 million in domestic ticket sales.
Big-budget flops are no longer uncommon in Hollywood. What is unusual is the patience that Paramount's corporate owner has afforded the studio.
Added to Ben-Hur, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Zoolander 2 failed to find audiences for Paramount. Star Trek Beyond has been a hit. But domestic ticket sales for that film trail its series predecessor by 36 per cent.
Last Friday, as Viacom ousted its chief executive, media analyst Michael Nathanson called Paramount a "truly shocking" problem, noting in a report that the studio may lose US$350 million this year.
Paramount did protect itself financially on Ben-Hur by teaming with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which paid for 80 per cent of the production costs. Paramount also believes that Ben-Hur can take in US$100 million overseas.
"Movies such as Ghostbusters, Independence Day and Ben-Hur certainly looked like they were going to be big going into the summer, but audiences, especially in the world of remakes, have been very tough," Mr Rob Moore, Paramount's vice-chairman, said in a telephone interview on Sunday.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov and counting reality TV honcho Mark Burnett as a producer, Ben-Hur, which opened in fifth place, appeared to run into several problems.
It was a poorly reviewed remake of a 1959 bliblical epic for which few were clamouring. Moviegoers have also generally ignored sword-and-sandal epics in recent years.
In terms of turnaround efforts at Paramount, Mr Moore pointed towards coming films such as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, with Tom Cruise; Arrival, a science-fiction thriller; and Fences, an adaptation of the August Wilson play starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis that is seen as an Oscar candidate.
For the weekend, Suicide Squad (Warner Bros) was again No. 1. It took in about US$20.7 million, for a three-week domestic total of US$262.3 million, according to comScore. Overseas, it has taken in US$310.4 million.
Among new wide-releases, the R-rated comedic drama War Dogs (Warner Bros) came in third. Costing at least US$45 million to make, the film, which received mediocre reviews, collected an estimated US$14.3 million. At No. 4 was animated movie Kubo And The Two Strings (Focus Features), which delighted critics and cost Laika Entertainment US$55 million to make. It debuted with about US$12.6 million in ticket sales.
NEW YORK TIMES