Box Office: “Ben Hur” becomes “Ben Who?” “High Water” hits per screen average double

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Not a big weekend for any film rolling out of Hollywood this Aug. 19-21. Summer is essentially over, so Laika’s traditional mid-Aug.-late Sept. release (“ParaNorman,” for instance) underwhelmed, with its kid-audience back in school. Just over $12 million is a shame, because “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a winner — smart, funny, beautifully animated. Expect this one to have Oscar legs. Go see it.

“War Dogs” suggests that Miles Teller is no box office star — yet, and that Jonah Hill’s top end of appeal is under $15 million in a movie where his name is above the title. $14 million and change for that one.

And “Ben-Hur” is final proof, if “Exodus: Gods and Kings” wasn’t proof enough, that big budget Biblical spectacles are too risky to throw a lot of money at. Even the huge returns on “Noah” didn’t allow it to break even. “Ben-Hur,” remade to death, on TV constantly, recast and rejiggered, with zero star power to sell it, hit just $11 million and change. Thousands of screens, millions upon millions of potential Christian viewers, and…zilch.

Bad reviews from critics, silence from the pulpit? Probably. It messes with the Gospels, and you don’t do that to reach that audience.

“Hell or High Water,” the big wide release of this summer, went into a few hundred more theaters and is doing well enough to stick around to mid-September. Not sure if I’d throw it into more theaters, though. Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges aren’t big enough names to get it above $6K per screen, in some 400 theaters. Not enough to crack the top ten. Not sure there’s much more to be made from a darkly funny and politically pointed modern Western/heist picture.

“Suicide Squad” continues to top the box office, over $20 million this weekend.

“Sausage Party” is looking like a sleeper, a dirty cartoon with a pro-atheism message will double or triple “A Tale of the Christ” at the box office. Ouch.

 

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