Well this is interesting. Paramount Pictures just announced that they will release the new version of Ben-Hur on August 12, 2016, instead of February 26. Barring any further changes, that means the film will now come out on the same day as The Shack, which is also based on a best-selling novel that features Jesus as a character.
Paramount did not offer any reason for the change, but one can always speculate.
For one thing, Ben-Hur might need more time in post-production. While the producers have shown bits of footage at faith-themed conferences, the studio has not yet released a trailer, which may or may not mean that they are still working on getting enough footage ready that can be shown to the public at large.
Second, in its original release date, Ben-Hur was sandwiched between two other Jesus movies: Risen, which opens January 22, and The Young Messiah, which opens March 11. The new date allows it to avoid competing with other films in that genre — a genre that, incidentally, will be parodied in Hail, Caesar!, which opens February 5.
Third, while late-February release dates worked well enough for earlier Jesus movies like Son of God and especially The Passion of the Christ, a more action-oriented spectacle like Ben-Hur — with its sea battle and its deadly chariot race — is arguably better-suited to a more blockbuster-friendly release date in the summer.
The question now is whether any of the other films scheduled for August 12 will blink and move out of Ben-Hur’s way.
In addition to The Shack, that weekend is also currently booked by the Pete’s Dragon remake, the R-rated animated film Sausage Party and the supernatural thriller Spectral. But it is The Shack, in particular, that might be imperiled by the Ben-Hur move, since both of those films are targeting the “faith-based” audience.
Time will tell. In the meantime, people like me who were thinking of re-reading the original book before Ben-Hur comes out now have more time to do so.
Update: Anne Thompson says the filmmakers “needed more editing time”.