Even an epic chariot race made with today's computer technology couldn't redeem Ben-Hur.

Paramount Pictures' resurrection of the 1959 biblical epic opened in fifth place with weekend sales of US$11.4 million ($15.6m) in US and Canadian theatres.

Warner Bros' DC Comics feature Suicide Squad led the box office for a third weekend with US$20.7m, while two other new movies - War Dogs, an R-rated comedy starring Jonah Hill, and the animated Kubo and the Two Strings placed third and fourth.

The thin take for Ben-Hur highlights the challenge producers face bringing back old stories - let alone a classic that captured 11 Academy Awards. While sequels and remakes rank among the year's top hits, they are also among the worst flops. That shows movie-making remains a big risk even when the subjects are familiar - especially as budgets can reach US$250m and marketing runs tens of millions more.

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"With Ben-Hur, there was never a large amount of interest to begin with," said Gitesh Pandya, chief executive of the Boxofficeguru website. Many of the summer's sequels and remakes have had only moderate sales because people simply weren't excited about seeing a new version, he said.

Still, it's too early to pass judgment on Ben-Hur, he said, noting such films are aimed at international audiences.

Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios spent about US$100m making Ben Hur, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. Paramount was expecting domestic weekend sales of about US$20m, while estimates from forecasters ranged as high as $13m.

Critics' notices ran about 30 per cent positive at RottenTomatoes.com.

The group Faith Driven Consumer gave it four stars out of five.

Jack Huston stars as Judah Ben-Hur in the new release, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, whose credits include Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.