The 2016 summer of flops at the box office

John Cairns

Last time, I was doing my annual rundown of movies that were the big hits of summer, the top 10 of the domestic box office. Today, I am going to highlight the movies that were the disappointments of 2016 at theatres this summer.

The latest summer flop came out this past weekend. It was Ben-Hur starring Jack Huston in the role made famous by Charlton Heston the last time a movie titled Ben-Hur was released, back in 1959.

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That Ben-Hur movie was a big hit that won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. This latest one wasn't. It opened to just $11.4 million in domestic gross, well below the rumored $100 million production cost. So much for Paramount and MGM. This movie performed no miracles at the box office for them at all.

Many speculated as to why this movie tanked so badly. One theory floated at Variety was the movie flopped because there weren't any big stars. But that theory doesn't fly with me. In that case they'd have to pay Tom Cruise or somebody like that several million more dollars to be Ben-Hur, adding to the cost of the movie. And then the movie will end up costing too much, anyway.

No, I think the cold hard truth was that no one was crying out for another Ben-Hur movie. Plus, it was released in late August, which is a terrible time of year to expect anyone to flock to the cinemas.

Critics are now pointing to Ben-Hur and saying this is more proof this was a summer of flops at the box office. There have been many articles circulating recently talking about what a dismal summer it was for blockbusters. Yet, there was also a story in The Wrap this week saying the domestic box office for the summer is actually up three per cent! What gives here?

It's simple. While flicks like Ben-Hur were tanking, other movies like Suicide Squad, Finding Nemo or Captain America: Civil War were winning and doing big business, and that's what has driven the overall numbers. That's the way it goes in Hollywood, there is only so much room at the top. But still, it sure seemed like there were a lot of bombs this year.

Here's a rundown of some notable big-budget failures from this past summer at the movies:

First up, Warcraft, an adaptation of the computer game, which took in $47 million domestic. For whatever reason, movies about computer games or video games seem cursed at the cinemas in North America, so this showing doesn't surprise me. However, it did much better business in China, more than $200 million.

Then there was Alice Through the Looking Glass. Again, the original movie was Alice in Wonderland and that was released years ago, in 2010. But this one made only $77 million.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was the sequel to the 2014 summer hit. The problem was people were tired of these silly Turtles and it made a little under $82 million.

Independence Day: Resurgence was the sequel to the blockbuster hit from 1996 starring Will Smith. But this one had no Will Smith in the cast, and opened up against Finding Dory on its opening weekend. Its overall domestic haul is $102 million, reportedly well short of budget.

The BFG was an epic Steven Spielberg production that proved an epic flop. There was little buzz for this movie whatsoever and its domestic haul is only $53.8 million.

Then you have movies like X-Men Apocalypse, which took in $155 million, and Star Trek Beyond which took in $147 million. These numbers sound good until you factor in the enormous costs to make these movies of between a reported $170 and $190 million.

It was the same story for Ghostbusters. The sequel to the 1985 smash hit, with an all-female cast, also failed to make its money back.

There is a common theme to most of these. Many of these movies are sequels of one kind or another, movie franchises that had been showing up in cinemas for years and years. Moreover, they cost a heap of money to make, with lots of the same special effects that every movie has these days.

Of course, the audience is bored by this and doesn't show up. You would think folks in Hollywood would have figured out that bringing back these same old boring movie franchises from the crypt doesn't cut it anymore.

Why do they still do it? Because, uh, this strategy actually works sometimes.

The top movie of the summer of 2016, Finding Dory, is basically a sequel to Finding Nemo. The number two movie of the summer, Captain America: Civil War features the same Marvel characters that have shown up at cinemas for years. These were big hits, big moneymakers for 2016.

Because these big-budget sequels still work for some Hollywood studios, all the movie executives figure it will still work for them, too. Instead of producing something original, they waste their money churning out these familiar franchises.

That is basically why we're getting so many of these big-budget box office disappointments in 2016; there is a limit to how many of these sequels and retreads the film fans are willing to see.

In the case of Ben-Hur, we didn't need another remake. The last one was more than good enough, thank you.

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